The upcoming Old Masters Part I Sale at Christie’s London on 6 July will feature a remarkable masterpiece in marble: the Bust of Helen by renowned neo-classical sculptor Antonio Canova.
Created between 1816 and 1817, this exquisite artwork holds immense historical and artistic value. With an estimated value of £2.5 million to £4 million, the bust is offered by the Trustees of The Londonderry Heirlooms Settlement, making it a unique and highly coveted item in the market.
Unravelling the History
Antonio Canova gifted the Bust of Helen to Robert, Viscount Castlereagh, a prominent British politician and statesman of his time. This gesture symbolized Canova’s appreciation for Lord Castlereagh’s efforts in returning works of art to Italy after the Napoleonic Wars.
Since then, the bust has been passed down through generations and is now in the possession of its present owners. Notably, the artwork has only been exhibited twice, the most recent being over 25 years ago at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, in the 1997 exhibition titled “Canova – Ideal Heads.” Prior to that, it was showcased at the Royal Academy of Arts in London during the 1972 exhibition “The Age of Neo-Classicism.”
A Rare Opportunity to Marvel at Helen
Before the auction, art enthusiasts and collectors will have the privilege to admire the Bust of Helen during its public viewings in Hong Kong (24-28 May) and New York (10-14 June). Subsequently, the artwork will return to London for the Classic Week pre-sale exhibition, offering visitors an opportunity to appreciate the sculpture’s magnificence firsthand from 1 to 6 July. The timing of this auction aligns with the dedicated exhibition “Canova: Sketching in Clay” at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., paying homage to the artist’s bicentenary year after his passing in 2022.
The Masterful Artistry of Antonio Canova
Antonio Canova’s mastery of European marble carving is well-known, and the Bust of Helen stands as a testament to his exceptional talent. The sculpture showcases Canova’s ability to capture exquisite beauty with astounding realism. The viewer is greeted by the flawless luminosity of Helen’s skin, the flowing locks of her hair, and an undeniably timeless elegance that permeates the entire artwork.
An Iconic Figure: Helen of Troy
Helen of Troy, famously referred to as “the face that launched a thousand ships,” has been a subject of fascination in art and literature for millennia. The Bust of Helen forms part of Canova’s series of “Ideal Heads,” which he predominantly created in the later stages of his career. These heads are considered a distinct group within Canova’s body of work, as highlighted in the aforementioned exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum. The inclusion of the Bust of Helen in this series further emphasizes its significance.
Unveiling the Artist’s Connection
The forthcoming auction of Helen on 6 July at Christie’s London provides a unique opportunity to own a piece of art history that held great personal significance for Antonio Canova himself. As a meaningful gift, the bust establishes a direct connection between the artist and the viewer, offering a rare glimpse into Canova’s persona and artistic sensibilities.
In conclusion, the Bust of Helen by Antonio Canova is an extraordinary masterpiece that embodies the timeless allure and artistic finesse of one of Greek mythology’s most celebrated figures. With its rich historical provenance, remarkable craftsmanship, and personal connection to the artist, this artwork promises to captivate both art enthusiasts and collectors alike. The upcoming auction at Christie’s London is an event of great significance, showcasing the immense value and cultural significance of this exceptional piece of art.
Images: Christie’s Images Ltd 2023