Sotheby’s has announced the re-discovery of Antonio Canova’s Bust of Peace, of the late 18th and early 19th Century sculptor’s ideal heads. In this particular case, the figure of peace was given to Canova’s long-time British patron whose family owned it for generations. Eventually, the artist behind the bust and the subject were lost to family memory. The contents of the aristocratic house were sold in the 1960s. The work eventually found its way into the hands of the current owner whose risk and research has produced the new attribution.
Because carved Canova statues are very rare, Sotheby’s is being very conservative in estimating the statue’s value. The whisper number is more than £1 million. But even that number is quite conservative. Take this example, another Canova marble, ‘Bust of Murat’ was sold in November 2017 for EUR 4.3 million at auction. In pounds that’s £3.75m. And The Bust of Peace has an extraordinary provenance dating back all the way to its conception in 1814. It also has an idealized subject and historical significance. All that Sotheby’s, Director of European Sculpture and Works of Art, Christopher Mason, will say is, “we expect a great deal of excitement.”
The artist behind one of the most celebrated sculptures in Britain, The Three Graces, Antonio Canova (1757-1821) is as revered today as he was during his lifetime. Honoured in verse by Lord Byron, Canova was considered the preeminent sculptor of his time, recognised not only for his skills as a carver, but also as a diplomat and dignitary for the Papal court.
Now, on 4 July in London, Sotheby’s will offer one of the few autograph works by Canova ever
to come to auction. Long thought lost, the Bust of Peace has not been seen in public for over 200
years since it was shown for the first time at the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1817.
The sculpture belongs to Canova’s celebrated series of Ideal Heads (Teste Ideale). Considered
among the artist’s most intimate works, the Ideal Heads embody Canova’s ideal of beauty, and
were developed with the express purpose of gifting them to friends and patrons. The Bust of Peace (1814) was carved for his first British patron and close friend John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, in thanks for his long term patronage and friendship, and in part for his help in repatriating art from Italy looted by the French armies during the Napoleonic Wars.
Having been passed down through five generations of the Cawdor family following John Campbell’s death in 1821, the sculpture was forgotten over time. By 1962, when the contents of the family house Stackpole Court in Pembrokeshire were sold at auction, the Bust of Peace was simply described in the catalogue as ‘a white marble bust of a lady wearing a diadem’.
Now, following extensive research by the present owner, who acquired the sculpture as an unattributed work, the bust has been identified as the long-lost Bust of Peace by Canova. The masterful work is a significant rediscovery, of seminal importance within Canova’s oeuvre, and has great historical resonance.