Barbara Johnson’s Vermeer will be sold in Christie’s Old Master auction in London this July. The estimate is £6-8m which might strike one as absurdly low for a work by Vermeer who has only 36 known works to survive and this one of the two remaining in private hands. But there’s a story behind the picture that begins with it not looking a lot like what most viewers would expect a Vermeer to look like. Here’s Christie’s PR pitch, note the emphasis on authenticating the work with scientific evidence:
The star lot is the famous painting of Saint Praxedis by Johannes Vermeer of Delft (1632-1675), from 1655, which is the earliest dated picture by the artist and one of only two from his rare oeuvre to remain in private hands (estimate: £6-8 million, illustrated above). The results of recent material technical analysis conducted by the Rijksmuseum in association with the Free University, Amsterdam endorses Vermeer’s authorship of the picture. They establish not only that the lead white used in the paint is consistent with Dutch painting and is incontrovertibly not Italian; they also reveal a precise match with another established early painting by Vermeer – Diana and her Companions, in The Mauritshuis, The Hague. The match even suggests that the exact same batch of paint was used for both paintings.
While we’re at it, let’s hear from the specialists who wrote the catalogue essay:
An image of concentrated devotion and meditative poise, this famous painting of Saint Praxedis is here offered for sale at auction for the first time in its brief documented history. First considered to be by Vermeer in 1969, the picture has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since, largely on account of its unusual subject matter in the context of Vermeer and of Dutch painting in general. Saint Praxedis was firmly brought into the oeuvre of Vermeer in 1986, and in 1995 featured in the seminal monographic exhibition on the artist at the National Gallery of Art, Washington and mauritshuis, The Hague, as his earliest known painting. At the time it was the only work by Vermeer, from an established corpus of 36 paintings, to remain in private hands. Since then, the ex-Beit/Rolin Lady at the Virginals, a picture that was for a long time dismissed as being by a follower of Vermeer, has been re-accepted into the oeuvre further to its sale at auction in 2004 for £16,425 million (Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 2004, lot 8) and is also now in private ownership.
A copy of the catalogue entry can be downloaded via this pdf: CKS1537_lot39