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The property of the 7th Earl of Harewood’s Will Trust, sold by order of the Trustees

Hall of the Grand Council, Doge's Palace, Venice

Hall of the Grand Council, Doge's Palace, Venice
signed 'John S. Sargent' (lower left)
oil on canvas
20 ¼ x 28 in. (51.5 x 71.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1898.
Possibly, given by the artist to
Mrs Robert Mathias (Ena Wertheimer), from whom purchased by
Henry Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood (1882-1947), by 1925, and by descent in the family.
T. Borenius, 'Old Master Drawings in the Collection of Viscount Lascelles', Apollo, April 1925, vol. I, no. 4, p. 192, illustrated as frontispiece.
Exhibition of Works by the Late John S. Sargent, R.A., London, 1926, p. 83 as 'Interior of the Palazzo Ducale, Venice'
Illustrations of the Sargent Exhibition Royal Academy 1926, London, 1926, p. 53.
W.H. Downes, John S. Sargent: His Life and Work, London, 1926, p. 372, as 'Interior of Ducal Palace, Venice'.
T. Borenius, Catalogue of the Pictures and Drawings at Harewood House and Elsewhere in the Collection of The Earl of Harewood K.G., G.C.V.O., D.S.O, Oxford (Privately Printed), 1936, p. 175, dated 1905, pl. LXIV.
C.M. Mount, John Singer Sargent: A Biography, New York, 1955, p. 448, no. K042, dated 1904, as 'Interior of the Ducal Palace, Venice'; 1957 edition, p. 358, no. K042; 1969 edition, p. 470, no. K082.
H. Honour and J. Fleming, The Venetian Hours of Henry James, Whistler and Sargent, London, 1991, illustrated p. 108, as 'Interior of the Doge's Palace, 1898'.
D. Seldin Janis in W. Adelson et al., Sargent Abroad: Figures and Landscapes, New York, 1997, p. 184, illustrated pl. 179, dated 1898, as 'Interior of the Doge's Palace'.
E. Hirschler in G. de Appolonia et al., Gondola Days, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, exh. cat., Boston, 2004, p. 163, illustrated fig. 116, dated 1898, as 'Interior of the Doge's Palace'.
M. Zorzi in W. Adelson et al., Sargent's Venice, New Haven and London, 2006, p. 148, illustrated p. 149, fig. 154, dated 1898, as 'Interior of the Doge's Palace'.
M. Zorzi in W. Adelson et al., Sargent and Venice, Milan, 2007, p. 100, illustrated p. 47.
R. Ormond & E. Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent: Venetian Figures and Landscapes, 1898-1913, Complete Paintings, New Haven, 2009, vol. VI, pp. 63-5, 231, illustrated p. 64, no. 1042.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by the Late John S. Sargent, R.A., Winter Exhibition, 14 January - 13 March 1926, no. 575, as 'Interior of the Palazzo Ducale, Venice'.

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Sarah Reynolds Specialist, Head of Sale

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Lot Essay

This is the first time that this rare and important oil by Sargent has appeared at auction. It was given by the artist to his friend Ena Wertheimer, daughter of the art dealer Asher Wertheimer. Ena was painted many times by Sargent, but her ebullient personality was perhaps best captured in a work entitled A Vele Gonfie, (At Full Speed), currently on show at Tate Britain in Sargent and Fashion. There she is depicted in a swirling cape and feathered hat, striding with bravura into the artist’s studio. At some point Ena parted with the picture, and it then entered the collection of Viscount Lascelles, later 6th Earl of Harewood by April 1925. It has consequently resided at Harewood for nearly a century.

Unlike most of Sargent’s Venetian oeuvre, which was executed in watercolour, often from a gondola, this is a considered study in oil. It was painted at a critical juncture when Sargent was contemplating how best to execute his commission for the Boston Public Library. The Council Hall, the most impressive room in the Doge’s Palace, provided a parallel instance of combining painting and decoration in a unified scheme. The picture also bears a marked similarity in mood and viewpoint, namely off-centre and to the right of the room, adjacent to the light source, to Sargent’s Royal Academy Diploma work, An Interior in Venice (fig. 1, 1899, Royal Academy). This depicted his friends Mr and Mrs Ralph Curtis, and Ralph’s parents, Mr and Mrs Daniel Curtis, seated in the salon of Palazzo Barbaro. The Curtis’, expatriates from Boston, resided in this stupendous palace for several decades, and Sargent, a distant cousin, was welcomed frequently as a house-guest. The RA picture encapsulates the languor and luxe described in the novels by their mutual friend Henry James. Although undated, the clear relationship between the two pictures suggests a date of execution for the present work of May 1898.

The room depicted is the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (fig 2.) on the second floor of the Palazzo Ducale, where the Great Council of Venice met to vote on constitutional matters. Looking east along the length of this vast room (the dimensions are 177 feet by 78 feet in width: the ceiling is 49 feet high), the Bancale di San Marco on which the Doge sat surrounded by the Signoria, can be seen at the far end. Two colossal globes referencing Venice’s imperial and commercial history bifurcate the space, adjacent to a group of figures, touched in with the merest flick of the brush and diminutive in scale. The room was destroyed by fire in 1577, but this allowed the creation of its chief glory, a carved and gilded wood ceiling made up of 35 panels executed by the most distinguished artists of the day. Most prominent amongst these, in the painted oval closest to the Bancale, is the Apotheosis of Venice, by Paolo Veronese and his followers, a drawing for which was also owned by Lord Harewood. Other contributors to the ceiling were Jacopo Bassano, Jacopo Palma, called Il Giovane, and Jacopo Tintoretto. With his son Domenico, Tintoretto painted the Paradise on the eastern wall. Derived from the 13th Canto of Dante’s Paradiso, which was also commissioned by the Venetian government, it served as a visual reminder of the Republic’s dominant patronage in all the arts.

However, the pictures, sketched in with notable economy of means, appear to pre-occupy Sargent less than the atmosphere of the room, with its light streaming in from the Molo and Bacino penetrating areas of shadow. His rapid and bravura brushstrokes appear focused on the gilded decorative ceiling, which occupies half the picture space. As Erica Hirshler has noted: ‘The gilded-edged frames on the ceiling of the Hall of the Great Council of the Doge’s Palace were not simply a vehicle for Sargent to study the sensuous light of Venice as it fell across ornamental surfaces. They also served him as a model for the framing devices he designed to separate his own paintings on the ceiling of Boston’s library hall. Likewise the reflective qualities of gilt boiserie and stucco he studied in Venice may have helped inspire Sargent to continue to add glimmering three-dimensional ornaments to his painted decorations, which are studded with glided papier-mache, wood and lincrusta’ (E. Hirshler in Gondola Days, Boston, 2004, p. 163).

The picture was acquired by Lord Harewood after his acquisition of the Veronese drawing of Venice Triumphant, (fig. 3, c. 1581, Private Collection) formerly owned by the Earl of Pembroke and purchased at Sotheby’s, London on 10 July 1917, lot 438. The Finnish art historian Tancred Borenius (1885-1948), who advised on and catalogued the Harewood collection, described the drawing thus: ‘The whole composition has something indescribably festive and exhilarating, and of the function of the picture in the decorative scheme of the Hall of the Grand Council we can form a good idea in Lord Lascelles’ collection, for above Paul Veronese’s drawing there hangs a brilliant interior of that very hall painted by Mr Sargent … The artist has chosen his point of view near the west wall of the room with the sunlight streaming in from the Riva through the windows on the right. Tintoretto’s vast picture of 'Paradise' is above the Doge’s throne in the background, and next to it, on the ceiling is Paul Veronese’s oval pictures. The effect of the whole scene is curiously suggestive of Guardi’s interiors, and the painting of the ceiling must surely be pronounced a veritable tour-de-force of perspective’ (Apollo, April 1925, p. 192).

The 6th Earl of Harewood served with distinction in the First World War, being awarded both the Distinguished Service Order and the French Croix de Guerre. He married H.R.H. Princess Mary, later the Princess Royal, daughter of King George V, and sister of King Edward VIII and King George VI. He was Master of the Bramham Moor Hunt, and he and his wife were painted by Munnings in an exceptionally fine equestrian portrait (see lot 27 in the present sale). His taste as a connoisseur shows great discernment.

We are grateful to Richard Ormond for his assistance in preparing this catalogue entry.

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