Thought-Pourri: Discoveries Edition

The big news in the art world this week, which the NY Times broke last night, is the identity of the purchaser of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Salvator Mundi”, which sold at Christie’s in New York for a record-shattering $450 million. The lucky winner of the auction is Prince Bader bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan al-Saud, a somewhat obscure member of the Saudi royal family. It appears that the painting will now be put on public display at the Louvre’s brand-new outpost in Abu Dhabi, on extended loan from the Prince. The painting, or rather the kerfuffle surrounding it, will be the subject of my next piece for The Federalist, so watch this space.

And now, on to some other news from the creative world.

Valued Veneziano

A very beautiful, recently rediscovered “Crucifixion” by the Early Renaissance painter Lorenzo Veneziano (active 1356–1372) sold for $2.25 million at Bonham’s in London last evening – more than four times its pre-sale estimate. It features all the hallmarks of Quattrocento (14th century Italian) painting, including the use of a gold background, very early attempts at linear perspective, and costly blue pigments. The painting may have been part of a larger, hitherto unknown polyptych, in which a group of individual but related paintings are connected together by means of hinges, in order to sit atop an altar. Oftentimes these assemblages featured a large, central panel, flanked by two or more panels acting as “wings”, which could be opened or closed; one often sees scenes of Christ’s Passion surmounting the central panel, as in this Cinquecento (15th century Italian) example by Piero della Francesca. Unlike the Da Vinci, the Veneziano was properly included as part of a sale of Old Master paintings, but no word on whether the bidding war which drove up the price on this relatively small panel had anything to do with a renewed interest in the Old Masters market in the wake of the Da Vinci sale.


Costly Constable

Speaking of discoveries and auction sales, a British family was recently shocked to learn that a sketchy oil painting of the Thames, which hung on a wall underneath the staircase of their London home, turns out to be a lost preparatory study for a larger work called “The Opening of Waterloo Bridge” by John Constable (1776-1837), one of the greatest of all British landscape artists. I love the story of its discovery during a visit from an art expert from Sotheby’s, as described in The Torygraph:

“That’s a very nice Constable,” he told its owners, making small talk as he got ready to leave their house.
“What Constable?” replied the owner.

The painting sold at Sotheby’s in London last night for $3 million, about three times its estimated auction price.


Departed Designer

His name is probably unknown to you, and yet artist Ivan Chermayeff (1932-2017), who died in New York last weekend at the age of 85, is someone you’ll discover that you’ve known your whole life. Over the course of a very long career that began way back in the Mad Men era, Chermayeff designed corporate logos for many companies, including book publisher HarperCollins, the Showtime cable television network, and the Smithsonian Institution, among others. He also redesigned existing logos, such as that of the late, great Pan Am Airways, and NBC’s famous peacock, to make them cleaner, thereby adhering to his personal design philosophy of making such images less fussy and more easily recognized by the public. When not working in corporate matters, Chermayeff was also a sculptor, collage artist, and art professor, and while I can’t say that I like his sculptures – which were often giant, red-glazed objects such as numbers or geometric shapes – he was certainly a representative of a more optimistic and innovative time that came out of America’s rise to international importance following World War II.



Exciting Egypt

And finally not one, but TWO great stories out of Egypt to share, specifically related to the 18th Dynasty and the New Kingdom, a period from about 1550 BC to 1292 BC which produced some of the most sublime art and architecture of the Ancient World. First, archaeologists have discovered a large cache of 27 statues of the goddess Sekhmet, who was often portrayed as a lioness with the body of a woman, outside the ruins of the funerary temple of Amenhotep III, grandfather of the legendary King Tutankhamun. And speaking of King Tut, the very major news is that beginning in March of next year, a major traveling exhibition from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo will hit the road to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the discovery of the boy-king’s tomb back in 1922. The show will consist of 150 pieces, and will be the largest exhibition of King Tut’s treasures ever assembled outside of Egypt, meaning you will want to make the effort to see this. No word on whether the superb gold statue of Sekhmet from Tutankhamun’s tomb, pictured here, will be part of the show.


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