One of the most important paintings by Sir Peter Paul Rubens to have remained in private hands, Lot and his Daughters will tour New York and Hong Kong, before coming to London on 7 July
Painted at the height of Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ career, Lot and his Daughters (circa 1613-1614), is an outstanding masterpiece of the artist’s early maturity, and one of the most important paintings by the master to have remained in private hands. Unseen for over a century, the work — which measures over two metres across — will be exhibited during Christie’s Classic Week in New York (8-15 April 2016), and in Hong Kong (26-30 May 2016), before being offered in London Classic Week, leading the Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale on 7 July.
When he painted Lot and Daughters, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) had already gained a reputation as one of the most important and fashionable artists in Antwerp, and was at the centre of the European artistic stage. He had worked in Rome, at the court of Vincenzo I Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, and, in 1609, was appointed court painter to the Archdukes Albert and Isabella of Brussels.
It was during this period that Rubens produced some of his most renowned works, including two monumental altarpieces, The Raising of the Cross, commissioned in 1610 for the church of St Walburga, and The Descent from the Cross, painted between 1611-1614 for Antwerp Cathedral. In addition to these public works, Rubens carried out a number of private commissions, instilling traditional religious subjects – including Lot and his Daughters – with an exciting new energy.
‘After the historic private sale of two Rembrandt Portraits to the French and Dutch states earlier this year, Christie’s is leading the masterpiece market by offering this monumental work by the other stellar artist of the Northern School, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. The impact of the painting in the flesh is overwhelming: we look forward to seeing the reactions of those who come to view it when we exhibit it in New York, Hong Kong and London,’ comments Paul Raison, Deputy Chairman, Old Master Pictures.
Taken from the Old Testament, Lot and his Daughters had been a favoured subject of Northern European artists since the Renaissance, with notable examples by artists including Lucas van Leyden, Jan Massys, Joachim Wtewael and Hendrick Goltzius. Exploring the themes of vice and virtue, it is a cautionary tale, and is one to which Rubens returned to throughout his career.
Pulsating with life, this canvas illustrates the events after Lot and his family fled the immoral city of Sodom, having escaped the desolate mountain town of Zoar. Fuelled by the desire to continue their lineage following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, his two chaste daughters conspired to seduce their father — to whom, according to the bible, Jesus was directly related, through David’s great-grandmother Ruth, who was descended from Moab.
A rare opportunity for both international collectors and institutions, Lot and his Daughters boasts a distinguished provenance: its first recorded owner was wealthy Antwerp merchant Balthazar Courtois, who died in 1668, listing the painting in the inventory of his estate as a ‘schouwstuck’, or chimneypiece (see above). It has not been established whether Courtois commissioned the painting from Rubens, but the description of it in his Antwerp house accords with the almost certain appearance of this picture in an Interior Scene (circa 1625-30) attributed to Frans Francken II (1581-1642) and Cornelis de Vos (1584/85-1651).
The work has changed hands on only a few occasions: in 1668, it was inherited by Courtois’s son Jan Baptist, before being passed to the wealthy Antwerp merchant Ghisbert van Colen. In 1698, it was bought from van Colen by the military commander and avid collector, the Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands; the painting was then given to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough (1650-1722) in 1706 by Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor (1678-1711), as a trophy in gratitude for the victories at Blenheim and Ramilies.
From 1740, Lot and his Daughters was displayed in England’s greatest early 18th century country house, Blenheim palace, joining the Duke of Marlborough’s extensive collection, which included at least 10 other pictures by Rubens. First displayed in the Great Room, it was hung in the Library in 1766, and had been moved to the Dining Room by 1810, where it was displayed alongside Ruben’s Venus and Adonis (also from the collection of Maximilian II Emanuel).
Around 1710-20, the canvas was slightly extended at the top and bottom edges, with the fine Blenheim frame — in which it still hangs — added to complement the palace’s James Moore-designed furniture. The work remained in the Marlborough collection for at least a century, until it was acquired by the entrepreneur, philanthropist and collector Baron Maurice de Hirsch de Gereuth (1831-1896) from whom it has been passed by descent.