The month in review (part II)
In January, Princess Christina of Orange made headlines on the Dutch news. She is a Dutch princess of whom we do not hear much of these days. She is an aunt of the king of the Netherlands and the youngest daughter of the once queen Juliana. Princess Christina, it was announced, is planning to sell some of her artworks at auction. One of the items mentioned is a drawing by Rubens, the Flemish master, to be sold off in an auction by Sotheby’s. There is much talk about the fact that she is selling these artworks abroad, thereby offering no priority to Dutch institutions who may want to purchase them. The criticism also extends to the Dutch government, for not doing enough to keep the artworks in the Netherlands.
Let’s look at some of the headlines, as there are several:
- On the 8th of January, it was announced that Princess Christina was putting up for sale a copy of a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, made by an anonymous Italian artist. See NRC 8/01/2019. Until January 6 of this year, the artwork had been on view at the Teyler’s Museum in Haarlem (The Netherlands), as part of an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci. This isn’t the first time that Princess Christina brings to auction some of her treasures. In 1988 she sold a collection of hundred historical coins and medals.
- An article in January 17th issue of AD (Algemeen Dagblad) tells us Princess Christina earned 40 000 euros in the first auction of this month. However, prior to the first auction day she had already withdrawn the most important item featured on the auction listing: glass tulips by the French glass artist René Lalique. It is also not the first time the Princess suddenly withdraws an item from an auction sale: in 1996 she withdrew the top item from an auction of her belongings, a painting by Van Haarlem, representing Mars and Venus.
- A day later, on the 18th of January, we learn that a Chinese pot with lid, having pertained to princess Christina, is returning to the Hague. ‘Returning’ because this seventeenth century Chinese porcelain vase had previously belonged to queen Anna Pavlovna of the Netherlands. To prove this we are shown a picture of the inscription at the bottom of the vase. The pot had adorned her palace Buitenrust where in summer it stood in the fireplace. It now returns to the city where is will be placed in the Japanese style room of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Really.
Yes, indeed. With a Chinese porcelain vase originally stood in a fireplace and going to a Japanese lacquer room, an anonymous copy of a lost Da Vinci, and glass tulips being withdrawn from the auction, they could be the lines taken out of a funny detective story. Yet Princes Christina also planned to sell 13 old masters at Sotheby’s in New York today, on the 30th of January. The key piece of this auction, a Peter Paul Rubens drawing which was originally purchased in 1838 by Willem Frederik (the future king Willem II of the Netherlands, who married Anna Pavlovna) is a study to one of the artist’s major paintings, the Elevation of the Cross. Sir Peter Paul Rubens, the Americans call him. The charcoal drawing is said to have been sold for the equivalent of six million euros to Leon Black and is staying in New York. It’s serious business.
Let’s return for one moment to the 1988 sale of coins and commemorative medals. At the time, Princess Christina made it clear that she was selling this collection of 100 because her declining eyesight prevented her from fully appreciating these items, and thus provided her with little pleasure. I may very well imagine her saying this about one of the 13 drawings she sold today, much less when it concerns medals and coins. Gold, bronze, silver, copper …they come in different sizes, shapes and above all have some amazing relief works.
In my researches I’ve come across a commemorative bronze medal which was once treasured by ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, one of the most legendary ballerinas in history. It was issued to commemorate the date of the performance of the ballet Il Prometeo in Milan in 1814, in which her father Filipo danced the role of Mars. The choreography was made on Beethoven’s composition Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus by Salvatore Viganò, who had also premièred this ballet in Vienna in 1801. A detailed relief shows Prometheus fighting the eagle; the medal is part of Marie Taglioni’s legacy, now in the archives of the Institute of Music in the Netherlands.
I also leafed through a most interesting publication called Trésor de Numismatique et de Glyptique, issued under the reign of Napoleon III, which discusses and shows a total of 1400 medals, starting from the French revolution. Many of those coins carry the image of kings, emperors or politicians: Napoleon Bonaparte’s profile adorns many of them.
This is how the image of the coin, so often carrying an effigy turned to the right or the left, takes me back to Nannette’ s portrait. Nannette, who appears in profile, as if she were sitting still for a study, prepared to be commemorated on a coin, a medal or a plaque. Well, I believe we should have had one made this month. A commemorative medal should have been stamped for the grande dame of Viennese piano building: on Wednesday 16th of January was the anniversary of Nannette Streicher’s death and on January 2nd she would have celebrated her 250th birthday.