The dealer Richard Feigen has been quick to take on the auction houses in the press (over issues both serious and petty) but even quicker to go to them when selling his greatest treasures. Over the last decade he has auctioned, often taking risk off the table with various forms of guarantees, works by Max Beckmann, Orazio Gentilischi and J.M.W. Turner. These last two works were bought by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for substantial sums.
At the height of his career, Feigen would make these kinds of museum sales directly himself without needing the pressure of underbidders to achieve his price. Over the years he sold works to more than a hundred museums, including the Getty, the Louvre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The paintings were by a broad range of artists from Rembrandt to Jasper Johns to James Rosenquist. That Feigen turned to the auction houses in his late seventies and early eighties to achieve top dollar for the works he bought over a lifetime tells us more about the changing shape of the art market than it does about Feigen’s skill or stature.
Feigen likes to call himself a collector dressed up as a dealer but that’s just what dealers used to say to try to take the sting out the profits they were making off their clients, especially museums. Everyone likes to buy works that seem like they will never be sold. What makes Feigen different isn’t his acting like a collector but his being the last of the dealers who bought strategically and opportunistically believing that, over time, art would out perform money.
Feigen’s approach was born in the inflation-cursed seventies. He often contrasted the limited number of great works of art against the profligate printing of money. With that in mind, Feigen bought what he thought best across a wide range of styles, regions and time periods. Although his most significant holdings have now been liquidated, Feigen still has work that must be sold. Today, Christie’s announced several of those—including a $800k John Constable, a $3m Guercino and $4m Carraci—are going to be sold in early May. Here’s the auction house’s release:
Christie’s announces Property from the Collection of Richard L. Feigen, the renowned and influential American art dealer. Featuring early Italian and Baroque paintings, as well as 18th century British landscapes, several paintings from the Collection will be offered in the Old Masters sale in New York on May 2, 2019. Artists represented in the sale include Annibale Carracci, Guercino, Lorenzo Monaco, and John Constable, among others. A global tour of select highlights from the collection will tour to Los Angeles, New York, London, Dubai and Hong Kong.
Francois de Poortere, Head of Department, Old Masters, comments, “Known for his discerning eye and impeccable taste, Richard Feigen has always been a true visionary in the global art world. He has made countless and startling discoveries throughout his career and continues to champion the field of Old Masters. It is an honor to be offering several of his most cherished paintings.”
As a veteran art dealer, Mr. Feigen is renowned for his connoisseurship which spans from Italian paintings to contemporary art, and for counting top collectors and institutions around the world as his clients. His first gallery opened in Chicago in 1957 with a focus on Expressionism and Surrealism, and soon thereafter he opened his New York gallery in Soho specializing in contemporary art. He represented several artists early in their careers notably Francis Bacon, and in 1970 he organized John Baldessari’s first exhibition. With galleries in New York and London, Mr. Feigen was influential in placing important works at the Louvre in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, among other institutions. Mr. Feigen also authored a semi-autobiographical collection of essays TALES FROM THE ART CRYPT: The Painters, the Museums, the Curators, the Collectors, the Auctions, the Art.
An important group of early Italian and Baroque works compose the core of the collection, led by Annibale Carracci’s Virgin and Child with Saint Lucy and the Young Saint John the Baptist, which is a naturalistically rendered tender moment that was likely made for a Bolognese patron and inspired by the influence of Correggio and Parmigianino (estimate on request). A testament to his connoisseurship, after Mr. Feigen bought the Virgin and Child at auction in 1987, he was responsible for firmly reattributing the work to Carracci. Also on offer is Lorenzo Monaco’s The Prophet Isaiah, a gold-ground tondo made in the first decades of the 15th century from the Annunciation alterpiece in the Galleria dell’ Academia, Florence (estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000) and two works by Guercino, Vanitas Still Life, the only known still life by the artist (estimate on request) and Saint John in Wilderness (estimate: $500,000-700,000).
British Romanticism is represented with John Constable’s The Skylark, Dedham (recto); Study of a Cow Standing in a Stream (verso), a nearly Impressionistic work created late in the artist’s career with a palette knife (estimate: $800,000-1,200,000).