The Art History Babes

Four fresh Masters drink wine and discuss all things visual culture.

The Babes Spend an Evening With Some Old Masters

By: Ginny Van Dine

Two hundred and fifty years. That’s how many orbits around the sun it’s been since Sotheby’s last held a preview of Old Masters paintings in San Francisco, California. Sotheby’s, the international fine art auction house, has a strong presence in the States and has for many decades. However, most of Sotheby’s previews and sales in the States have been focused in New York City. New York has a larger and longer established market for fine art than California does. But with the ever expanding Silicon Valley, the tech business nouveau riche present a new more serious market for fine art patrons and clients on the West Coast. Hence, this preview of Old Masters paintings in San Francisco.  A preview is meant to generate interest in upcoming works for sale and draw in clients who ideally, will later bid on works at auction. Old Masters are European artists who worked within the general range of the 15th-19th centuries. Most commonly, these are majority male painters whose work can range from estimated prices of under $1,000 - to prices in the millions.

So how did the Babes find themselves in a Sotheby’s Old Masters preview? If you listened to our Templeton Mania episode you’ll remember our friend and art collector Alan Templeton, who was invited to this event and graciously added us as his plus fours. This particular preview came from the Otto Naumann collection and will go to auction in January. Some of the highlights included paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder, Diego Velázquez, Canaletto, and Orazio Gentileschi (father of Artemisia Gentileschi).

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First we had time to walk through the space, one of the galleries located in the very hip Minnesota Street Project. It was a treat to view the work up close and in a more intimate space than you might find in a museum. Jen had a keen eye for the beautiful painting on copper by Jan Brueghel the Elder which seemed to be a crowd favorite and will likely sell quickly. Sotheby’s provided a talk, highlighting certain pieces in the preview which provided some cool facts. Paintings on copper, such as the Brueghel piece, do not absorb the pigment as much as canvas does, so copper paintings often maintain their vibrant color much longer, allowing the painting to look like it did when it was first created. This is evident when looking at the Brueghel painting which has tremendously rich colors even after many centuries. Another piece discussed in the talk was a still life by the Milanese female painter Feda Galizia, who worked during the 16th century. Here’s what I love about art history (well one of the many things): I have studied Italian Renaissance and Baroque artists for years and had never heard of Galizia or seen her work, she was a total surprise to me. There are always more artists to discover, even ones who have been gone for centuries. So, expect a Feda Galizia episode in the future.

The art market, as we’ve discussed on the podcast before, is a complex beast. There are many layers to it and it can be incredibly exclusive. Four fresh master’s who make an art history podcast are not the typical target audience for a fine art auction preview. But, I think Sotheby’s is onto something with presenting their preview in San Francisco as it addresses wider audiences who have the means to buy fine art, but not as much exposure to fine art sales as say New Yorkers or Londoners do. The Old Masters preview was a very fancy evening but more importantly we got to look at amazing art and hear experts talk about it: and we love that stuff, we really do.

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