Christie’s is currently running the online sale Face Time: People in Art through the Ages, a themed auction which looks at portraiture and the representation of people in art, whilst tracing the evolution of the human image from the Renaissance through to the early 20th century.
Comprising 51 lots, including paintings, drawings, sculpture and portrait miniatures, works range in estimates from £600 to £40,000. The sale not only considers portraits through time, but also across cultures. From 16th Century Italian portraiture through to album depicting minorities in China, figurative art has been a method of exploring and contrasting how people have viewed themselves and others throughout history.
In the West the tradition of portraiture stretches back to the sculpture of the Greek and Roman empires. With the fall of Rome centuries followed in which figurative representation, even of specific people, became more generic, and then with the Renaissance came the resurgence of the distinctive personal likeness. This shift emerged with the revival of interest in Greco-Roman culture and a greater interest in individual identity. This is the same moment that the notion of the artist as an individual also began to solidify, an idea that gave rise to a plethora of self-portraits.
If the reality of the individual is one of the essential marks of European portraiture from the 15th Century through to the present, it also ‘seeks to bring out whatever the sitter has in common with the rest of humanity’, as the great art historian Erwin Panofsky wrote. Bringing together Western and Chinese figurative art at the end of the chronological scope of Face Time highlights this commonality across cultures and peoples, a hugely important notion to maintain in today’s society.
Face Time: People in Art Through the Ages is now open for browsing and bidding online until 23rd June. Click here to view the full sale.
Olivia Ghosh, Specialist and Head of Sale, comments: “Portraits conjure up a variety of images for different people and this sale seeks to encompass a variety of these categories. Old Masters by Joseph Wright of Derby or Cornelius Johnson; Pre-Raphaelite works by George Watts and Edward Coley Burne-Jones; imposing marble busts
looking back to the antique; Impressionist reimagining of the classical models from André Lhote or Christophe Voll, into the fauvist colours of Umberto Brunelleschi’s 1920 self-portrait”.
Olivia continues “Portraits have always been fascinating to me, both for the stories they tell about people we know and the stories concealed by the unknown sitters. I can retell myself the tale of Ajax when looking at an imposing 19th century bust of the Greek warrior, or I can make up my own version of the life of an unknown woman in Mantua in the 16th century from her painting. Portraits act in this way like conversations down the centuries. From this perspective Face Time: People in Art Through the Ages is a visual representation of history, tracing the way that the subject matter wanted to be seen, how social representation was played out – often far from the reality but always intriguing”.
Born in Montemurlo (Tuscany), the artist spent most of his life in Paris and became one of the most sought after illustrators working with several prestigious Parisian publications. Brunelleschi was a close friend of fellow artists such as Picasso, Chaïm Soutine, Kees Van Dongen, André Derain and, in particular, Amedeo Modigliani.
Brunelleschi’s style was initially formed in the French Art Nouveau climate, but it gradually evolved into an original style that, although inspired by Aubrey Beardsley’s illustrations, was influenced by other sources such as 18th-century Venetian painting and orientalist designs as used by the Ballets Russes.
In the 1920s he diversified into set and costume designs for the Folies Bergère, the Casino de Paris, the Théâtre du Châtelet. In Italy, he worked for opera houses such as La Scala in Milan and the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.
He was asked to design the costumes and scenery for the premiere of Puccini’s opera Turandot at La Scala in 1926. In 1929, the artist was awarded with the Légion- d’Honneur for artistic merit.
Painted after the original in the collection of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria by Teniers, who made copies of 243 works from the Duke’s collection to be used as the models for engravings included in the book the Theatrum Pictorium, published in the 1660s. This work was previously in the collection of the Dukes of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace and is still in its Blenheim frame.
Burne-Jones was well known for creating caricatures to amuse his children and friends, such as William Morris, emphasizing their physical quirks; while Burne-Jones was tall and slender, Morris was short and stout. Here Burne-Jones was writing to the daughter’s friend (and daughter of his friend Charles Eliot Norton), asking her to take a parcel to his wife. These works, which have always been in the artist’s family, show a private side to a public figure.
Princess Amalie of Baden (1754-1832) was the daughter of Ludwig IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt. Although once considered as a possible bride for the future Tsar Paul II of Russia, it was her sister who married the Russian heir and Amalie married her first cousin, Charles Louis of Baden, who would become first Grand Duke of Baden in 1806.
Known for her intelligence as well as her ambition, Amalie oversaw advantageous marriages for many of her eight children who would count among their number the Empress of Russia, the Queen of Sweden, the Queen of Bavaria, the Duchess of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, the Grand Duchess of Hesse and the Grand Duke of Baden.
In the present portrait, she wears the Order of St. Catherine, an order created by Peter the Great in 1714. It was the only Russian order for which women were eligible throughout most of the Romanov era.