The magic of art at Christmas
A rare painting of Santa Claus “at work” unexpectedly turned up at Christie’s in New York last month. The oil-on-canvas by Norman Rockwell sold for $722,500 (€547,000), way above its estimate ($300,000- $500,000).
The painting is titled Deer Santy Claus based on the charmingly misspelt salutation in the child’s letter to Santa which hangs from the bedpost.
Rockwell was one of the most famous American artists of the 20th century and best-known as an illustrator for newspapers and magazines.
His original paintings occasionally turn up at auction and are eagerly sought-after by collectors. Christie’s described Deer Santy Claus as “a charming distillation of familiar Christmas lore” and said “this endearing painting captures the spirit of Christmas and the allure of Santa in the American psyche.
The oil-on-canvas, measuring 56.5cm by 47cm, was painted in 1921 for distribution by the Western Newspaper Union Syndicate but its location had been unknown until this past spring when it came to light.
From the secular to the religious – the timing could hardly be more appropriate for the announcement by Christie’s of the forthcoming auction of a major painting by Botticelli of the Madonna and Child.
The Italian painter Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) is one of the most important artists in history and his work, not surprisingly, rarely appears at auction. One of the few paintings by him still in private hands is Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, the star lot in a Renaissance-themed auction scheduled for January 30th in New York. The painting was owned for many years by the Rockefeller family and is known, informally, as The Rockefeller Madonna. Christie’s said the “beautifully preserved and exquisitely rendered masterpiece” which would originally have been “intended for private devotional use” has a pre-sale estimate of $5million-7million.
A drawing by Raphael Head of an Apostle (circa 1519-20) “surpassed all previous prices achieved not only for any Old Master drawing, but for any work on paper sold at auction” when it achieved the record price of £29.7 (€36.6 million) at Sotheby’ earlier this month. The drawing had a pre-sale estimate of £10-15 million.
The black chalk drawing, from the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth depicts one of the key figures in Raphael’s Transfiguration, one of the greatest of all Renaissance paintings, which now hangs in the Vatican Museum.
There is some art that money simply cannot buy as it is held in public ownership.
The National Gallery of Ireland on Merrion Square is holding an exhibition (until April) called Imagining the Divine, The Holy Family in Art in the Millennium Wing.
The gallery is closed on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day but re-opens on Thursday morning, December 27th. Admission is free.
Pope Benedict has recently pointed out that the gospels make no reference to animals surrounding the manger but would surely approve of The Adoration of the Shepherds painted by the Le Nain Brothers in 17th century France and which is the quintessential Christmas picture.
It was acquired for the State in 1961 at a cost of £7,500 from a gallery in Paris.
Finally, admirers of Harry Kernoff, and there are many to judge from his popularity at auctions, a 20th century Dublin artist of Russian Jewish roots might appreciate a Christmas gift of the first biography of the artist to be published.
Harry Kernoff; The Little Genius, by former RTÉ radio producer and author Kevin O’Connor, is published by The Liffey Press, nicely illustrated with colour and black-and-white images, and priced €19.95.