‘It is impossible not to like this colourful fantasy of carefree shepherds and shepherdesses eating, drinking and dancing in a wooded glade,’ says Paul Raison, Head of Old Masters Private Sales in London, of Arcadia by 17th-century Flemish painter Frans Francken II.
The fantasy of Arcadia, a rural paradise uncorrupted by civilisation, stemmed from Greek mythology and shepherds were considered the Arcadian ideal of virtue. Their perceived purity allowed artists to depict them in titillating situations while remaining socially acceptable to patrons and collectors (who would have, Raison adds, secretly relished the scenes under the pretence of Arcadian innocence).
Depictions of Arcadia enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in 17th-century Netherlands against a backdrop of decades of war, when Dutch artists found solace in recreating this ‘lost’, carefree golden age. For Raison, ‘the yearning for peace and plenty is almost as relevant today as it was then, making this joyous scene perfect for our time.’
With two gems set on the same band, the ‘toi et moi’ ring — meaning ‘you and me’ in French — is symbolic of a couple’s union. ‘For the true romantic, these rings capture the essence and spirit of love,’ says Mei Y. Giam, Head of Private Sales in the Jewellery department in London.
Toi et moi rings have played a part in some of history’s most passionate romances — both Napoleon Bonaparte and John F. Kennedy proposed with one.
‘The heart-shaped diamond is one of the most difficult cuts to make,’ Giam explains. ‘Along with sparkle and brilliance, they display a dazzling internal purity that seems to come from the very heart of the diamond. A single true heart is rare. To have its equal — as a pair — is extraordinarily special.’
Oriental-inspired objects were the height of fashion in Europe from the late 16th century, thanks to increased trade between the West and the Far East. European imitations of lacquer, known as ‘japanning’, were developed to meet the demands of the stylish elite.
This japanned cabinet-on-stand combines influences from East and West. Its outer doors depict in gilt a scene from the Chinese fable The Prince and the Bird — in which the Prince of Lu, captivated by the magnificent bird, tries to entertain it with music and dancing. The seven legs of the cabinet, in contrast, depict Classical figures with Greek ionic columns above their heads.
The cabinet’s delicate decoration and rarity indicate that it was made for an educated and wealthy French collector, states Amjad Rauf, a European Furniture specialist in London. What makes it even more special is that it remains in excellent condition.
Ma exemplifies Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s jagged and discontinuous style of portraiture, combining the faces of family, friends and neighbours with features taken from magazines and online images. Executed in 2016, Ma is one of few fragmented portraits by Quinn to depict a figure with blonde hair.
According to Celine Cunha, a Post-War and Contemporary Art Specialist in New York, the work’s title may reference Quinn’s mother Mary. In a 2014 interview, Quinn said, ‘In some way, I am always painting and drawing my mother, especially being that I lost her when I was 15 years old’. The artist added ‘Mary’ to his name after her death in remembrance.
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Quinn’s complex work reflects his own disjointed history, says Cunha, referencing his childhood in Chicago’s public housing projects and abandonment as a teenager. Quinn, who was born in 1977, has since found international recognition as an artist.