Centuries’ Old Art Mystery Solved

A valuable, 300-year old Italian Baroque masterpiece painting, whose whereabouts were not publicly known for centuries until earlier this year when it was identified in a Texas warehouse, will be offered in a fine arts auction by Heritage Auction Galleries (www.HA.com) in Dallas, Texas, and online, Nov. 20, 2008.

Now owned by a private family corporation, the painting was previously owned by an 18th century Italian nobleman and an early 19th century St. Louis, Mo., fur merchant who outfitted explorers Lewis and Clark.

“The three-foot by four-foot painting, The Vision of Saint Bruno, was created around 1700 by the celebrated Italian master, Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) with assistance from his nephew, Marco Ricci (1676-1730) for the landscape. The work is a rediscovery of major art historical importance,” said Dr. Edmund Pillsbury, Heritage’s chairman of fine arts and former director of Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum.

Saint Bruno, founder of the Carthusian order, is shown in a landscape scene, reclining on the ground as he contemplates angels above.

“The painting’s grand design, confident use of rich Venetian palette, fluid brushwork and its beautifully preserved surface, show Sebastiano Ricci at his finest. The work is a grand example of why the artist enjoyed wide appeal in 18th century England, France and Austria as well as his native Italy,” said Dr. Pillsbury.

“It was in the collection of Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764) of Venice, a famous connoisseur, art critic and author who, among other notable cultural achievements, shaped the Royal Collection in Dresden into the stunning chronological history of European painting it is today. Not having known the whereabouts of The Vision of St. Bruno any time after the 1776 publication of Algarotti’s collection, modern-day Ricci scholars have consistently recorded this painting in their catalogues as lost.”

After learning earlier this year the painting was in the possession of a Dallas area family and stored in an art warehouse, Dr. Pillsbury examined it, quickly identified its significance as the lost Ricci masterpiece, and with the family’s help and independent research solved the mystery of its provenance.

It was acquired after Count Algarotti’s death by Polish-born fur trader, banker, brewer and important art collector Joseph Philipson (1773-1844), the first permanent Jewish settler in St. Louis. Charles Samuel Rannells (1813-1877), a St. Louis lawyer and state senator, obtained it between 1844 and 1848 from Philipson’s estate, perhaps in payment of legal fees.

The Rannells family then owned it for more than 160 years, passing it from one generation to another. It was never publicly exhibited or published, but the family proudly hung it at their residences. It has been consigned to the auction by a Rannell family descendant, explained Dr. Pillsbury.

The Joseph Philipson Gallery of St. Louis was the very first collection of Old Master paintings west of the Mississippi and one of the earliest assembled anywhere in the United States. It was known only through an 1844 probate list of 400 artworks until The Vision of Saint Bruno came to light. Philipson’s goal as a collector was to establish the first public art museum in the Gateway City, and failing that in Cincinnati, Philadelphia and New Orleans. He assembled some 400 works of Renaissance, Baroque and early 18th century paintings by Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Poussin, Rosa, Hals, Murillo and many other masters.

Paintings by Sebastiano Ricci have reached $2.4 million in recent sales. The Vision of Saint Bruno has been conservatively estimated for its Dallas sale in the range of $600,000 to $800,000.

“Although Joseph Philipson and Francesco Algarotti were, quite literally, oceans apart, they both perceived something exceptional in this expression of Ricci’s talent. They also shared a desire to express their creativity by striving to assemble the finest painting collections of their time.”

For additional information, call 800-872-6467 or visit www.HA.com.

COMMENT