Sheffield steal? An auction feeding-frenzy

Yesterday there was a rather remarkable set of paintings up for sale at Sheffield Auction Gallery, and prices rocketed on some intriguing lots.

Lot 756 Vision of the Shepherd was described as ‘Manner of’ the Genoese painter Giovanni Francesco Castiglioni (1641 – 1710), with an estimate of £100 – 150. I wonder if the low estimate means that these paintings were being sold without reserve from a deceased estate. Like a number of other paintings in the sale it seemed to be mid-restoration.

Sheffield Castiglione Shepherd

It was a tempting estimate for a painting that measured 84 x 123 cm, and it sold for £64,000. Someone must think it could be the real deal; Castiglione’s God creating the animals sold for £337,250 at Christie’s December 4th 2012 lot 41.

I don’t know Castiglione, so I can’t really comment on this one. I’d need a better photo. I liked the next lot, again ‘Manner of’ the French caravaggist Valentin de Boulogne (1594 – 1632) The Denial of St Peter 119.5 x 171.5 cm with an estimate of £300 – 500.

Sheffield Valentin de Boulogne

This looks pretty convincing to me. If so it sold for a very reasonable £20,500.

Lot 762, a capriccio of a port city attributed to Louis de Caullery (c.1580 – c.1621), oil on copper 50 x 65.7 cm, had a maker’s stamp and the date 1604 on the back of its copper panel.

Sheffield Louis de Caullery

It sold for £18,500 against an estimate of £3,000 – 5000.

There were also a good few of the Old Master paintings that were the staple of Bonhams Knightsbridge sales when I was portering: perfectly attractive ‘circle of’ Marco Ricci and Pier Francesco Mola selling for low four figures, and this version of Francesco Furini’s Lais selling for £2,600 against an estimate of £400 – 600.

Sheffield Furini Lais

There were two prostitutes in Ancient Greece called Lais. They became conflated into one woman, a popular subject for painters. Lais of Corinth was said to be one of the most famous women in the world, a favourite of Aristippus the philosopher, who wrote two books about her, and the Olympic champion Eubotas of Cyrene. Lais of Hyccara’s clients included the orator Demosthenes, who offered her 1,000 drachmas for a single night. She took one look at him and raised the price to 10,000. Then she slept with Diogenes for free. Later she made the mistake of falling in love. She went home with a man from Thessaly, where the jealous women of Thessaly stoned her to death.

The Sheffield painting was clearly not autograph, and the other version I’ve found is studio.



Are they based on two different originals? Furini liked to vary his versions, but the difference in the breasts is unusual. Different patron? Overpaint? Bowdlerising? Bare breasts good, breast-squeezing bad. Sheffield called their painting Love for sale which gave it a rather Victorian air.

Victorian pictures don’t fetch what they used to, as everyone knows. A Benjamin Williams Leader of Cambria’s Shore signed and dated 1910 sold for £1,150 against a £500 – 800 estimate. I’m sure that wouldn’t have happened a few years ago.

I liked this portrait, called Italian School, but English and close-to-Richardson.

Sheffield Gent possibly Sir Samuel Garth

The sitter looks like Sir Samuel Garth FRS (1661 – 1719), doctor, poet, writer and member of the Kit Cat Club. He tried to set up a free dispensary for the poor, but the idea was squashed by vested medical interests. An all-round good man. If so – and since we were on holiday I haven’t been to London to check – it sold for a modest £950 hammer to some lucky person against a £300 – 500 estimate.

Most unusual painting in the sale might have been this one, a spectacular Homage to King Louis XIV after Charles le Brun and Adam Frans van der Meulen. This sort of composition is more usual in prints than paintings, down to the illusionistic marbled surround.

Sheffield Homage to Louis XIV

But Dad’s favourite was this Fish Vendor’s Stall in a landscape. Described as Flemish School, early Nineteenth Century, it must surely be c.1570, and painted by someone with an eye to Pieter Aertsen.

Sheffield Fish stall

It sold for £580 against an £300 – 500 estimate, which seems pretty good value for 115 x 161.5 cm of old oak panels. It should be an interesting clean; otherwise, Mum said, it could always make a good headboard!

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