Sotheby’s, New York, forthcoming Old Master sale features one of Batoni’s most dramatic figural compositions, a large canvas of Susanna and the Elders, which was commissioned in 1751 by Count Ernst Guido von Harrach of Vienna and sent by the Harrach family for sale in London in 1991.
It was bought in but was acquired by the present consignor the following year. The work, which measures 99cm by 136cm, has not been seen in public for more than 40 years. Unusually, Batoni does not emphasise the erotic, voyeuristic allure commonly seen in most depictions of the subject and opts instead for intimidating terror as the frightened woman does her best to cover herself while the two leering elders hover over her and paw at her clothes.
Pompeo Batoni is best known today as the leading 18th-century Roman portraitist of British aristocrats making their “Grand Tour”, but his religious and secular paintings have received little attention. As recently as 1960, John Walker, then the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, rejected Batoni’s grand Triumph of Venice, Batoni’s first major non-religious painting made in 1737 for Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador to the Papal court, when he had first pick of the works being donated by the Kress Foundation. Batoni’s masterpiece was then sent to the North Carolina Museum of Art.
Susanna and the Elders, has received a pre-auction estimate of $6m-$9m, Sotheby’s New York Old Master sale, 31 January 3013