Arcimboldo reversible fruit bowl painting could bring $5m at Christie's New York

As we've reported, the expected top lot in Christie's upcoming auction of Old Master paintings is one of just two paintings by Hans Memling in private hands: Virgin Nursing the Christ Child.

It is not, however, the only painting which is of a vanishingly small selection.

An important new addition to the small corpus of accepted works by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (Milan (?) c. 1527-1593), is the painting A Reversible Anthropomorphic Portrait of a Man Composed of Fruit is one of only three invertible portraits by the artist that are known to have survived and one of the very earliest examples of independent Italian still-life painting (estimate: $3-5m).

This remarkable invertible panel, perhaps painted for Emperor Rudolf II, reads in one direction as a still life of various fruits arranged in a wicker basket, but when rotated 180 degrees is suddenly transformed into a composite head of a man.

A truly fresh to the market discovery is Thomas de Keyser's (Amsterdam 1596/97-1667) Portrait of a Gentleman (estimate: $300,000-500,000). To be sold for the first time in almost ninety years, this exquisite work by the pre-eminent portrait painter in 1620s Amsterdam is monogrammed and dated 1627, the period when De Keyser was at the height of his artistic powers.

Arcimboldo reversible painting fruit
Arcimboldo's reversible fruit bowl painting


The sitter, though unidentified, most likely came from the artist's circle of wealthy patrons, and according to one scholar may have been the artist Pieter Lastman, the teacher of Rembrandt.

Another highlight from the collection of Robert Smith is a pair of paintings by Francesco Guardi (Venice 1712-1793), Capriccio with a ruined late gothic arch, with fishermen on a bridge and Capriccio with a classical ruined arch, river bank with fishermen, a temple beyond (estimate: $1.2-1.8 million).

Dating from Guardi's mature period, these works are realized on a larger scale than most of his other examples of this type. Painted as pendants, these capriccios complement one another by presenting two ruinous landscapes with chronologically and stylistically distinct architectural features.

In the two works, Guardi masterfully juxtaposes the architectural details of a late gothic groin vault with a classical triumphal arch, both artfully weathered by time.

Christie's auction takes place on January 25-26 in New York.

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