These 37 sheets are an important addition to a group of drawings, all of similar size and executed in the same technique, which represent subjects from the Old Testament. Their author, clearly a French artist active in the second half of the 17th Century, remains anonymous and has sometimes been called the Master of the Ovals owing to his predilection for scenes in this format. Five drawings from this group are in the Baltimore Museum of Art (S. Loire, 'Louis de Boullogne, peintre, graveur et dessinateur', Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, 1997 (1998), p. 121, figs. 31-4). Three are in the Uffizi, two in the Louvre (Loire, op. cit., figs. 35-6), one in Bruges and one in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm (Loire, op. cit., p. 120, fig. 30). A few others have appeared on the art market (e.g. Sotheby's, London, 16 April 1997, lot 137; Christie's, London, 4 July 2000, lot 154; Sotheby's, London, 5 July 2000, lot 35; Christie's, London, 1 July 2001, lot 97). There is a rapid sketch for one of the drawings in the present group, The Plague of Frogs, in the Louvre (16.4 x 20.7 cm; inv. 34058).
When they entered the collection of the Brooklyn Museum in 1927 as part of the Haslett Bequest, with an attribution to Poussin, these 37 drawings were grouped with eleven others, of similar size but on ivory laid paper and executed in a sketchier style. The drawings must have shared a long history as they were probably sold in one lot (see Provenance) in the Lélu sale in 1800 where they were catalogued as 'Mich. Corneille', an attribution found on the verso of one of this group, Joseph's brothers return to their father Jacob. It seems that other drawings by the Master of the Ovals have also been given to the Corneilles in the past. For example, the Paignon-Dijonval catalogue (1810, nos. 2631-2) described seven drawings under that name (four of them oval, the others rectangular) measuring 26 x 33 cm. and representing subjects from the Old Testament. But while they do show some similarities with the works by Michel Corneille II (1642-1708), the schematic and somewhat coarse handling rules out a firm attribution to this artist. More recently, Stéphane Loire (op. cit.) has proposed an attribution to Louis de Boullogne l'aîné (1609-1674), but his activity as a draughtsman is not well documented and his known paintings are not close in style to this group. The name of Pierre Monier (1641-1703) has also been suggested (for his drawings, see P. Rosenberg, 'A drawing by Pierre Monier', Burlington Magazine, CXXVII, 1985, pp. 786-9). Monier was a pupil of Sébastien Bourdon, whose influence on the Master of the Ovals cannot be disputed. One of the works in the present group, Abraham and the three angels, is directly inspired by a drawing of the same subject by Bourdon (Frankfurt, Städelsches Kunstinstitut, inv. 1225; Sébastien Bourdon, exhib. cat., Montpellier and Strasbourg. 2000-1, no. 193.1).
A last name deserves to be mentioned, that of the little known miniaturist and engraver Sylvain Bonnet (circa 1645-1705). His study for the frontispiece to Perrault's Hommes illustres, first published in 1696 (Berlin, Kupferstichkabinet, Vom spaten Mittellater bis zu Jacques-Louis David. Neuerworbene und neubestimmte Zeichnungen im Berliner Kupferstichkabinett, 1973, no. 162), is strikingly similar to drawings by the Master of the Ovals. A rapid sketch for the same composition is in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Paris (inv. Mas.1027).
Many of the drawings by the Master of the Ovals were reproduced in bodycolour on vellum by Jean Joubert (active 1676-1706), the majority of which are in the Louvre. Thirteen of them are exact copies (they even have the same dimensions) of drawings from the present group. A work in bodycolour by Joubert copying one of the Brooklyn sheets, Rebecca and the servant of Abraham, is included in the present sale (lot 65). Joubert was active alongside the more famous Nicolas Robert (1614-1685), specializing in the depiction of animals in the Atelier des Vélins du Roi. He was the master of Claude Aubriet (1665-1742).
We are grateful to Madame Claudine Lebrun Jouve for her kind help in cataloguing this lot.
List of subjects represented in the series
1. The Creation of the Sun and Moon (Genesis 1:16-19)
2. God presenting Eve to Adam (Genesis 2:18-25)
3. The Deluge (Genesis 6-8)
4. Noah and his Family after the Flood (Genesis 9)
5. The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9)
6. Abraham and the Three Angels (Genesis 18:1-19)
7. The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19)
8. Rebecca and the Servant of Abraham (Genesis 24)
9. The Dream of Jacob (Genesis 28:10-22)
10. Dinah and the Son of the Shechemites (Genesis 34)
11. Judah and Tamar in Enaim (Genesis 38:12-18)
12. Tamar reveals the identity of her seducer (Genesis 38:24-26)
13. Joseph telling his Dream of the Wheat-Sheaves (Genesis 37:1-11) 14. Joseph and Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39:19)
15. Joseph interprets the Dreams of the Butler and Baker (Genesis 40:1-23)
16. Joseph's brothers departing for Egypt (Genesis 42)
17. Joseph takes Simeon from his brothers (Genesis 42:18-24)
18. Joseph's brothers journey to Egypt a second time (Genesis 43)
19. Joseph receives his brothers in his house (Genesis 43:24-26)
20. Joseph's brothers beg for Benjamin's freedom (Genesis 44:14-34) 21. Joseph's brothers return to their father Jacob (Genesis 45)
22. The Daughters of Jethro, the Priest of Midian (Exodus 2:16-22) 23. God transforms Moses's staff into a serpent (Exodus 4:1-4)
24. Moses and Aaron before Pharaoh: 'Let my people go' (Exodus 5:1-2)
25. The Israelites forced to make bricks without straw (Exodus 5:6-15)
26. Moses and Aaron's rods transformed into serpents (Exodus 7:9-12)
27. The Plague of Frogs (Exodus 8:1-15)
28. The Plague of Flies (Exodus 8:30-32)
29. Moses and Aaron departing from Pharaoh (Exodus 12)
30. The Preparations for Passover, with the Death of the First-Born beyond (Exodus 12:31-36)
31. The Israelites resting beside the Red Sea (Exodus 14)
32. The Rain of Manna (Exodus 16:11-36)
33. The Gathering of Manna (Exodus 16:11-36)
34. Moses striking the Rock (Exodus 17:1-17)
35. The Meeting of Jethro and Moses (Exodus 18)
36. The Building of the Tabernacle (Exodus 25-28)
37. Moses with the Tables of the Law (Exodus 35)