The rise of the Caravaggisti

December 15 2016

Image of The rise of the Caravaggisti

Picture: via Apollo

In Apollo Magazine, Emma Crichton-Miller looks at how collectors are increasingly going for Caravaggesque pictures:

‘There is a growing number of collectors with an interest in dramatic pictures,’ says Henry Pettifer, Christie’s head of Old Master and British paintings. Based largely in Europe and America, these collectors look for ‘powerful imagery, a strong narrative, dark and light’, Pettifer says. Great examples of paintings by the followers of Caravaggio rarely come to market, but when they do emerge, they can fetch high prices. In 2014 at Sotheby’s London, the monumental yet tender Sacrifice of Isaac, painted in Spain around 1617 by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, one of Caravaggio’s most gifted followers, sold for £3.7m. In January this year, Orazio Gentileschi’s seductive Danaë (1621) sold for $30.5m at Sotheby’s New York. Both set new artist records. More surprising was the $5.2m paid the previous day for The Crowning with Thorns from the Taubman collection, among the first known works by Valentin de Boulogne. Unlike Gentileschi and Cavarozzi, the French painter arrived in Rome too late to meet Caravaggio in person, most likely absorbing his style through Bartolomeo Manfredi, Caravaggio’s most influential follower.

Among Dutch followers, it is the works of Hendrick ter Brugghen and Gerrit van Honthorst that have performed best at auction. Ter Brugghen’s beautiful The Bagpipe Player in Profile (1624) [top], seized by the Nazis in 1938 and returned to the heirs in 2008, sold at Sotheby’s New York in 2009 for a record $10.2m. It was bought by London dealer in Dutch paintings, Johnny van Haeften, who sold it to the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Another looted painting, Honthorst’s racy and atmospheric The Duet (1624), sold at Christie’s New York in 2013 for $3.4m – an artist record. The following January that record was broken again, when the recently rediscovered A Merry Group Behind a Balustrade With a Violin and a Lute Player (1623–24) attracted fierce bidding at Sotheby’s New York, reaching $7.6m.

Alexander Bell, Sotheby’s co-chairman of Old Master paintings worldwide, warns against generalisations. ‘Caravaggio did not have just one style, and the best of his followers also diverged separately from his example,’ he says. ‘Paintings by the premier league of Caravaggio followers come up so rarely that when they do come to market, the price achieved depends very much upon the particular picture.’ Having said that, Caravaggesque paintings ‘do appeal to a modern sensibility’. ‘They are eye-catching and immediate,’ Bell adds.

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