Monday, 29 May 2017

"Attributed to Sion" is a work by Gérard de la Vallée

Carlo Bonte, from Belgium, sells on 14 June 2017 an "attributed to Sion" Saint Cecilia, estimated at 8,000 to 12,000 Euro.

The painting was sold in 2008 at Hampel as a Peeter Sion (1649-1695) as well, but is now, according to the RKD, attributed to Gérard de la Vallée (1596-1667). I don't know why the auction house reverted to the previous attribution.

A very good argument for the Vallée attribution is that another copy of the work, sold at Tajan in 1996, is signed, as reported by the RKD. The works are nearly identical (size as well), a major difference is the additional group of angels or putti at the top right, above the door. But otherwise, as far as can be determined from the small black-and-white photo of the other work, I see no reason to attribute the one for sale to another artist. It sold at Tajan for 38000 French Francs, or some 6,000 Euro. It was sold again at Piasa two years later for 29000 French Francs, which is less than 5,000 Euro (I have no illustrations to compare, but from reading the description and sizes, they seem to be the same work).


The story doesn't end here though: the circle of dancing putti is taken from a still older work by (or after?) Peter de Witte (1553-1628), now in the Frans Hals Museum. It is dated to about 1585-1595, so before the birth of Vallée, and depicts King David playing the harp.

Other versions of de Wit exist, one in a much better condition but the whereabouts are unknown to me. An earlier attribution of this work (or another very similar uncleaned copy) was to Hans Rottenhammer (1579-1625), who has made similar works with dancing putti or angels (the ones with wings are angels, putti don't have wings).

Another version was sold at Dorotheum in 2006 as "German School, 17th century" for 7,000 Euro. It looks like a copy after the others.

The central two angels also reappear nearly the same in a Frans Francken from the Lyon Museum, but perhaps we are straying into the coincidence territory here.

In 2008 it fetched 17,000 Euro (against a 20,000 Euro estimate), so the current estimate is considerably lower.

The 2008 estimate and price seem to have been rather high, the current estimate is in line with what both the other version, and other works by De la Vallée fetch. It is a very attractive work though, and a nice example of how elements of older works get reused in a way we would now call plagiarism (or intertextuality if we were pretentious and post-modern).

UPDATE: Conan, from France, sells another version, attributed correctly to the "School of" Pieter de Witte, on 6 October 2018. The estimate is a quite reasonable 2,000 to 3,000 Euro. 

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