London – Christie’s is proud to have been entrusted with the sale of a small group of carefully selected Old Master paintings from The Alfred Beit Foundation which will be sold at auction in the London Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale on 9 July. The works are being sold by the foundation in order to set up an endowment fund which is necessary to safeguard the long term future of Russborough, one of the greatest Georgian houses in Ireland, which was gifted by the Beit family to The Alfred Beit Foundation in 1976. Built almost 300 years ago, Russborough is in continuing need of restoration and improvements to the main house, wings & colonnades; outbuildings; estate grounds; walkways; water features; historical features; and visitors facilities. The Beit name is synonymous with the remarkable connoisseurship of successive generations of the Beit family, from Alfred Beit (1853-1906) and his brother Sir Otto (1865-1930), to Sir Alfred Lane Beit (1903-1994) who acquired Russborough in 1952 as a splendid home for him and his wife Clementine and their extraordinary collection. In 1986 they made one of the most generous philanthropic gifts in the arts to Ireland, in giving many of the most celebrated pictures from the Beit Collection to the National Gallery of Ireland. These included masterpieces by Vermeer, Gabriel Metsu, Jacob van Ruisdael, Goya and Gainsborough amongst others. This donation transformed the Gallery’s collection of Old Master Paintings and a wing of the Gallery was fittingly named ‘The Beit Wing’ in recognition of this remarkable gift.
The group of paintings that will be auctioned is led by two magnificent works on panel by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a bearded man (estimate: £2-3 million) and Venus and Jupiter (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million). The group also includes one of the most celebrated Kermesse scenes by David Teniers the Younger (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million), a rare religious work by Adriaen van Ostade, Adoration of the Shepherds (estimate: £600,000-800,000), and a pair of Venetian views by Francesco Guardi (estimate: £300,000-500,000). A selection of highlights from the group will go on view in pre-sale exhibitions at Christie’s in New York from 2 May to 12 May, followed by London (28 May to 1 June), Hong Kong (28 May to 1 June) and London in June and July.
Judith Woodworth, Chair of The Alfred Beit Foundation: “The Alfred Beit Foundation is committed to safeguarding the long term future of Russborough, as was the wish of the Beits when they entrusted the Foundation with their magnificent home in 1976. Built almost 300 years ago, Russborough is now in urgent need of ongoing major restoration, maintenance and improvements. In order to fulfil our responsibility to the Beit legacy, the endowment fund which will be established with the proceeds raised by selling this small and very carefully selected group of paintings is an absolute necessity. The roofs, stonework and electrical and heating systems need attention; the interiors require refurbishment and conservation to preserve the delicate stucco and wood work of outstanding Irish craftsmen, as well as a conservation programme for the magnificent artworks and furniture. Throughout the 200 acre parkland, restoration is planned for the walled garden and terraces dating from the 18th century, as well as ongoing development and replanting of the woodland areas throughout the demesne. Additionally the facilities for visitors need upgrading to reflect Russborough's claim to be one of the finest 18th century houses in Ireland open to the public.
Following four separate notorious thefts over a period of four decades, in the 1970s, 80s and early 2000s, six of the eight lots being auctioned have not been on view or even in storage at the house for many years due to security concerns. Against the backdrop of Sir Alfred Lane Beit’s extensive philanthropic gifts of many of the most celebrated pictures in the collection to the National Gallery of Ireland, the sale of these works will ensure the next chapter of this great house for the continued enjoyment, education and appreciation of current and future generations.”
Henry Pettifer, Head of Old Masters and British Paintings, Christie’s London: “We are delighted to have been entrusted with the sale of such a rich group of Old Master Paintings from the celebrated collection formed by Alfred Beit and his brother Sir Otto Beit. This historic collection is especially noted for its outstanding Dutch and Flemish pictures, and this auction will include two spirited oil studies by the most important artist of the northern baroque – Rubens; a masterpiece by David Teniers the Younger; and a rare Adoration of the Shepherds by Adriaen van Ostade. The sale of these paintings will provide today’s buyers with the chance to acquire works from one of Europe’s most famous private collections”.
The works being offered are led by two superb studies by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, one of the greatest geniuses of the Baroque. Executed with exceptional verve and sensitivity, the Head of a bearded man, in three-quarter-profile, is an outstanding example of Rubens’s ad vivum portraits (estimate: £2-3 million, illustrated left). Painted circa 1620 on a composite panel, which was typical for studies of this type, it shows the artist’s remarkable skill in modelling features and expressing character with a singular spontaneity and bravura.
The second of the studies, painted on a similar scale but completed at a slightly earlier date, is a beautiful modello for Venus and Jupiter, demonstrating Rubens’s masterful delicacy of touch and fluency in execution (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million, illustrated right). Illustrating a story from the first book of the Aeneid, it forms part of a series on the story of Aeneas that Rubens began at some point after 1602. The picture has a particularly distinguished provenance prior to entering the Beit Collection: it formed part of the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds, before being sold in the Reynolds sale at Christie’s in March 1795, and later passing to the Earls of Darnley at Cobham Hall, who owned masterpieces by Titian and Veronese.
DAVID TENIERS THE YOUNGER
The Beit Kermesse by David Teniers the Younger has long been heralded as one of the jewels in his oeuvre (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million, illustrated left). Dating to the 1640s, when he was at the peak of his fame, it is one of the most successful treatments of the artist’s most popular subject, and the only one to be painted on copper. Populated with a great array of characters, it excels in its depiction of anecdotal detail and incident. Its enormous appeal is evident in its stellar provenance, passing successively through some of the greatest French Old Master collections of the 18th and early 19th century, from the Marquis de Brunoy, to Antoine Dutarte, Lucien Bonaparte and the Comte de Pourtales, prior to being acquired by Alfred Beit (1853-1906) in 1895.
ADRIAEN VAN OSTADE
Adriaen van Ostade’s small scale and wonderfully intimate Adoration of the Shepherds was executed at the very height of his career in 1667 (estimate: £600,000-800,000, illustrated right). It is exceptional in the oeuvre of the artist, being a rare staging of a religious subject, where genre scenes otherwise dominate. It was exhibited in the renowned Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester in 1857, and it too has fine provenance, having once been part of the collection of the Hesse-Kassels, one of Germany’s most prominent families, before being owned by Empress Josephine. This work, like that by Teniers the Younger, was purchased by Alfred Beit (1853-1906) in 1895.
Dating to Francesco Guardi’s full maturity, the pair of Venetian views are a spirited and characteristically atmospheric treatment of one of Guardi’s most popular and enduring pairings, showing two of the most celebrated sights of Venice: the Piazza San Marco looking towards the Basilica, and the Piazzetta, flanked by two of the great secular buildings of the city, the medieval Doges’ Palace on the left and Sansovino's Libreria on the right (estimate: £300,000-500,000, illustrated page 3). Painted in afternoon light, on a small format, they are fine examples of Guardi’s late work.
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