Featured Lot: Oh How Sweet It Is

Adam de Coster, “A Young Woman Holding a Distaff Before a Lit Candle,” oil on canvas, 52 3/4 x 37 3/8 in. (c) Sotheby’s 2017

In this ongoing series for Fine Art Today, we take a longer look at the history and features of a soon-to-be-available artwork of note. This week: “A Young Woman Holding a Distaff Before a Lit Candle”.

Masters Week is just days away at Sotheby’s, and they’ve surely outdone themselves to kick off their 2017 auction schedule. Indeed, there are so many tantalizing lots available, we had difficulty choosing which one to feature. But the show must go on, and we’ve settled on an exquisite masterpiece by 17th-century painter and Antwerp Caravaggisti Adam de Coster (1586-1643).

With the title of “Caravaggisti,” it should come as no surprise to readers that de Coster was a master of chiaroscuro and, in particular, tenebrism (a technique championed by Caravaggio that features black backgrounds and dramatic contrast between light and shadow). De Coster is also known specifically for his compositions in which the central subjects are lit only by a single candle. Often, the flame of the candle is obstructed by a figure’s hand or arm, enhancing the spatial context and dramatic mood.

Highlighting Sotheby’s January 25 Master Paintings & Sculpture Evening Sale in New York City is de Coster’s “A Young Woman Holding a Distaff Before a Lit Candle.” Via Sotheby’s: “In this painting, the glow of a single flame illuminates the various rich fabrics and delicate features of a young woman set against a dark background. Vivid shadows cast throughout the composition define her engaging visage as well as the patterned details of her sleeve, the tufts of fur that line her robe, and the wispy tendrils of the distaff she holds near the candle. The same rich crimson color found in her robe and striped headdress is also subtly detectable in her supple lips, the apple of her cheeks, and the sheen of the stem of the candlestick. Distinct affinities are apparent between the present painting and de Coster’s ‘A Man Singing by Candlelight’ (circa 1625-1635, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), a work, like the present canvas, once thought to be by Honthorst. Both works depict a single figure dressed in a fur-lined costume, beautifully lit by the flame of what appears to be the same candle stick. Although it is tempting to think these two canvases may have once been pendants that hung at opposite sides of a grand gallery, the figures face in the same direction and hold slightly different places in the picture plane. Nevertheless, the undoubted connection between the two illustrates de Coster’s reworking of a successful and captivating compositional prototype.”

Auction estimates are between $1.5 million and $2 million. To learn more, visit Sotheby’s.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.


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