A confluence of international exhibitions points to intensifying interest in Old Master sculpture

  • Algardi's Allegory is part of the exhibit Body and Soul: Masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture at Moretti Fine Art, 24 East 80th Street, from October 21 to November 19.

    Algardi's Allegory is part of the exhibit Body and Soul: Masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture at Moretti Fine Art, 24 East 80th Street, from October 21 to November 19.

  • At Moretti Fine Art is Madonna, by Andrea Riccio (circa 1510), a life-size sculpture.  It is the first statue by the artist to be rediscovered in many years, and is the first work by him in terracotta to come on the market since the Thyssen Madonna and Child was acquired by the J.  Paul Getty Museum in 2002.

    At Moretti Fine Art is Madonna, by Andrea Riccio (circa 1510), a life-size sculpture. It is the first statue by the artist to be rediscovered in many years, and is the first work by him in terracotta to come on the market since the Thyssen Madonna and Child was acquired by the J. Paul Getty Museum in 2002.

    Andrew Butterfield and Fabrizio Moretti

  • Thomasso Brothers' exhibition Scultura III, October 21 through October 31, 2010, at Otto Naumann, 22 East 80th Street, New York, will include Joseph Willems (circa 1705-1766) A black man holding a mixing bowl, 1736.  Terracotta.  Height: 74.9 cm

    Thomasso Brothers' exhibition Scultura III, October 21 through October 31, 2010, at Otto Naumann, 22 East 80th Street, New York, will include Joseph Willems (circa 1705-1766) A black man holding a mixing bowl, 1736. Terracotta. Height: 74.9 cm

    Tomasso Brothers

With the launch of their first collaborative exhibit Body and Soul: Masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture at Moretti Fine Art, 24 East 80th Street, from October 21 to November 19, Andrew Butterfield and Fabrizio Moretti will join a growing number of important galleries and museums that have recently mounted exhibitions focusing on Old Master sculpture.

“There is a new and striking intensity of interest in Old Master sculpture,” said Butterfield.  “This renewed focus is evident in a number of shows that have opened recently, including Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection in the new Lynda and Stewart Resnick Exhibition Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which included more than forty-five pieces of sculpture; Beauty and Power: Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Peter Marino Collection on display at The Huntington in San Marino, CA; and gallery shows staged by the Tomasso Brothers in New York, and by Galerie Ratton-Ladrière and Galerie J. Kugel in Paris.”

Butterfield also points to ongoing efforts by the Prince of Liechtenstein, one of the foremost private collectors in the world, to build a tremendous collection of sculpture for the Liechtenstein Museum in Vienna. Earlier this year, he paid over $15 million dollars for a single Renaissance bronze.

According to Butterfield, the driving force behind this interest is the fact that Old Master sculpture is one of the last remaining fields in which it’s still possible to discover overlooked masterpieces by the greatest artists.

“You can barely do so in Old Master paintings and drawings, and it is virtually impossible in antiquities as well as in Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art,” he says.  “But in Old Master sculpture newly discovered objects of supreme significance are found almost every month.  In this field you might find sculptures by Donatello, Bernini, or Verrocchio. Meanwhile, in Old Master painting it’s considered a big deal if you find a work by a pupil of Verrocchio.”

He continued: “Historically, sculpture was not as well documented as painting, so it was easier in the past for a great work by a great artist to be lost in the shuffle of time.  Furthermore, scholarship on sculpture in the modern era has lagged behind that of painting by about a generation or so—far fewer artists have been systematically photographed or catalogued. There is more material to be found, and more chances to fill gaps in the scholarly record.”

Take for example one of the greatest bronzes in the history of European art: the life-size “Corpus,” which Bernini made for himself in the 1650s. It went missing in the 18th century and when it reappeared in Venice in 1909 no one knew who had created it. The wealthy American collector Thomas Fortune Ryan, bought it and brought it back to New York, and then in the 1930s it passed into the collection of Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge. There was no catalogue of Bernini’s oeuvre at that time, and thus no way to check the work’s provenance. So when the piece went up at auction following Geraldine’s death in 1975, the “anonymous bronze” failed to sell. In fact, it didn’t receive a single bid—even at $200.  Meanwhile, as she was a famous dog breeder, her bronze statuettes of dogs were sold for thousands of dollars. 

A few months later the sculpture was again put up at auction, and this time it did find a buyer, for $2,000. But when it resurfaced in London in the 1990s, it again garnered little interest, and after several attempts sold for roughly $20,000. Only in 2001 did anyone begin to suspect that it might have anything to do with the great Bernini…and only in 2005, through Butterfield’s efforts, was the work’s identification confirmed.  As a result, it was purchased and gifted to Art Gallery of Ontario a year later for an undisclosed sum known to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

“It was an extraordinary sequence of events to be sure, but findings like this continue to happen with some frequency in this field,” said Butterfield.  “A similar story about an Old Master, Impressionist or Modern painting or drawing is virtually inconceivable.”

In New York:

Body and Soul: Masterpieces of Renaissance and Baroque Sculpture,

October 21 through November 19, 2010, at  Moretti Fine Art, 24 East 80th Street, New York, www.andrewbutterfield.com and morettigallery.com.

Scultura III, October 21 through October 31, 2010, at Otto Naumann, 22 East 80th Street,

New York, www.tomassobrothers.co.uk

On the West Coast:

Eye for the Sensual: Selections from the Resnick Collection, October 2, 2010 to

January 2, 2011 at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, www.lacma.org

Beauty and Power: Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Peter Marino Collection

October 9, 2010 through January 24, 2011, at The Huntington, www.huntington.org

In Paris:

Anticomania, September 14 through December 14, 2010  , Galerie J. Kugel, 25 Quai Anatole France, Paris, 75007, Paris, www.galeriekugel.com

Exceptional Sculpture, Ratton- Ladrière, September 15 through October 26, 2010,

11 Quai Voltaire, 75007, Paris

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