Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-Antwerp 1640)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM THE BEBE AND CROSBY KEMPER COLLECTION (LOT 17) Crosby and Bebe Kemper were, for many years, among the most dynamic forces on the Kansas City art scene. It is, therefore, a privilege to be presenting for sale this picture from their collection, which illustrates both their eye for quality and the fascination with history which is a hallmark of the Kemper collecting taste. Kansas City has for decades been a fertile ground for the collecting of classic European art. It is home to the greatest painting by Caravaggio in the US (a painting rejected by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 1951) among many others in the Nelson-Atkins Museum. Crosby was an extraordinarily generous supporter of that museum and I well remember working with him, when in the face of considerable uncertainty over its condition, we went ahead and bought the magnificent Portrait of Mrs. Cecil Wade by John Singer Sargent at public auction in 1986. The belief in his own judgment, his commitment to Art with a capital ‘A’ and his unbounded generosity, all of which were exhibited with this purchase and its subsequent donation to the Nelson-Atkins Museum all typify Crosby both as a man and as a collector. The collection which he and Bebe formed is extremely eclectic, as one might expect from a couple of such intellectual curiosity. It includes the tender portrait of Baronne de Thiers, niece of the collector and Watteau’s great patron, Pierre Crozat, by the French 18th-century portraitist, Nattier, a portrait of Rembrandt’s patron, Susanna Pellicorne by Poelenbergh, as well as portraits by Greuze, Corot, Caillebotte, Degas, Wyeth and even Lucien Freud. Clearly Crosby and Bebe have been especially drawn to portraiture and perhaps that says something about their sociability and their humanity. When I came to America as a young art dealer in 1983, Crosby and Bebe, who were among my earliest clients, were unfailingly hospitable when I visited Kansas City or even when they came en famille to New York. Crosby passed away in January 2014, but his legacy will live on in the numerous institutions to which he and Bebe were so generous. Among them were the Nelson-Atkins Museum, but there was also the Kansas City Symphony, the Whitney Museum, Monticello and the Addison Gallery at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. In the end perhaps their greatest and most generous contribution was to their own Kemper Museum which houses an important collection of Post-War and Contemporary art. N.H.J. Hall
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)

Portrait of a bearded man

Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp)
Portrait of a bearded man
oil on panel, stamped on the reverse with the coat-of-arms of the city of Antwerp, with the monogram of the panel makers's mark of Michiel Vriendt (active Antwerp 1615-1637), and with the initial 'A'
25¼ x 19 1/8 in. (64 x 48.5 cm.)
(Possibly) Lady Lucas, removed from Wrest Park, Ampthill, Bedfordshire; Christie’s, London, 16 November 1917, lot 110, as ‘School of Rubens / Portrait of Justus Lipsius, in black dress trimmed with fur, white ruff and a gold chain, on panel, 24 x 19 in.’ (67 gns. to Sargent) .
with the Galerie van Diemen, Berlin, 1921 (noted, privately, as coming from England).
Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950), Tokyo, by 1922; Sotheby’s, New York, 13 March 1985, lot 117, as ‘Manner of Rubens’.
with Colnaghi’s, 1986.
R. Oldenbourg, Rubens, Klassiker der Kunst, Berlin, Leipzig, 1921, p. 178.
Matsukata Family Collection, Toyko, 1957, fig 14.
M. Nomura, Sekai Bijutsu Zenshu 3: Rubens Rembrandt, Yamada Shoin, 1967, fig. 14.
E. Larsen, ‘Three lesser known works by Rubens’, Jaarboek van het Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen, 1969, pp. 155-60.
Shuji Takashina, Kindai No Bijutsu, Matsukata Family Collection, 1971 , fig. 87.
Bridgestone Museum of Art, Tokyo, 1977, Foreign Paintings, no. 3.
Tokyo, Tasei Meiga, 1922.
Tokyo, Bridgestone Gallery, on loan, 1953-1977.
Tokyo, Bridgestone Gallery, Ex-Matsukata Collection, 1953, no. 16.
Tokyo, Bridgestone Gallery, 2nd Ex-Matsukata Collection, 1955, no. 2.
Kyoto, Municipal Museum of Art, Seijo Bijutsu Meisaku, 1957, no. 266.
Kurume, Ishibashi Art Gallery, Ex-Matsukata Collection, 1957, no. 2.

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Lot Essay

Portraiture as a specialty was never a major preoccupation for Rubens as it was to be for his pupil van Dyck, nevertheless the older artist executed masterly and beautiful portraits throughout his career, and of course his figure compositions are populated by convincingly life-like protagonists. The present portrait of an elderly man presents an exceptionally informal and lively description of a face as unpretentious as it is quizzically alert. It has something of the spirit of Rubens’ head studies, which were executed as modelli for the actors in his figure compositions, but is rather a striking record of a personality and was painted seemingly for no ulterior purpose.

The picture spent much of the last century in Japan, having been acquired by the important collector Kojiro Matsukata (1865-1950) perhaps before 1921, the date of publication of Rudolf Oldenbourg’s Klassiker der Kunst volume in which it was published for the first time. Discussed again by Erik Larsen in 1969 (who was told about the picture by his son-in-law who was then in Japan), its quality was again recognised, after cleaning in 1985/6, by Julius Held, then at the height of his powers as the leading authority on the artist (in a letter of 20 August 1986). The attribution was also confirmed by Professor Haverkamp Begemann (in an undated letter) and by Professor Michael Jaffé (in a letter of 24 March 1987), judging from a colour transparency and a black and white photograph.

Held was unwilling to be more precise than to suggest a date of execution of before 1620. In fact it must have been after 1615 for this was the year in which the panel maker Michiel Vriendt, whose monogram is stamped on the reverse, became a master in the Antwerp guild. The plasticity of the paint rendering the features of the face suggests a date closer to 1615 than to the end of the decade.

The identity of the sitter is not known. Held perceptively suggested that he be associated with the group of scholars and intellectuals in the circle of the Plantin press - the Offcina Plantiniana - the internationally famous Antwerp publishing house. In fact Rubens had a close association with it for much of his career, having been at school with its manager, Balthasar Moretus II (1574-1641). A pastime of the artist was to design frontispieces for the press’ books. The founder of the firm, Christopher Plantin (c. 1520-1589), had features not dissimilar to those depicted in the present portrait, but it seems unlikely that his descendants would have requested that he be portrayed in such an unconventional manner. Perhaps inspired by a view of the portrait similar to Held’s is the possible old identification of the sitter as Justus Lipsius (1547-1606), the greatly influential humanist and scholar who had taught Rubens’ elder brother.

The Colnaghi catalogue suggested a provenance for the portrait from the Dukes [sic] of Kent (= Henry de Grey (1671-1740)), whose titles included the Barony of Lucas, and his descendants. The portrait has not been traced among the pictures recorded as being attached to the barony; but perhaps connected is a portrait that was sold by the 9th Baroness Lucas in 1917 (see provenance above).

A copy in red(?) chalk of the head with the collar faintly indicated was traditionally ascribed to Antoine Watteau, however, this attribution has been rejected by Pierre Rosenberg and L.-A.Prat, judging from a photograph (Antoine Watteau 1684-1721. Catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan, III, 1996, p. 1301, no. R.568).

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