How to mix classic art with contemporary design
How To Mix Classic Art With Contemporary Design Christie’s

How To Mix Classic Art With Contemporary Design Christie’s How To Mix Classic Art With Contemporary Design Christie’s

Similarly, the Art Institute of Chicago’s recent show of old master portrait prints explored how artists like van Dyck influenced contemporary artists like Chuck Close. “We brought printmaking into the present,” said James Rondeau, the museum’s president and director.

Jan Brueghel the Elder and Hans Rottenhammer I, “Winter Landscape,” oil on copper, $150,000-$250,000

Find bathing beautiesAs long as your paintings aren’t valuable heirlooms, traditional art can be used to add character to a bathroom. And, given that many bathing spaces abound in modern, glossy white surfaces, a painting can be a way to add deeper tones or colour.

These two paintings show the power of small groupings, and would work the same trick in a small cloakroom.

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Want to know what’s set to be hot in gardens this year? Look no further…

Jean Baptiste Greuze, “L’Attention,” oil on canvas, 1780, $80,000

Pieter van der Heyden’s “Nemo Non: Everyman Looks for His Own Profit.”

“They want to be associated with the new and the now,” said Edward Dolman, chairman and chief executive of Phillips auction house, who spent much of his career at Christie’s chasing works by old masters but now focuses on contemporary art.

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‘A piece of classic art, properly set and displayed within a contemporary space, can truly ignite the imagination’

Ippolito Caffi, “The Grand Canal, Venice,” oil on canvas, $70,000-$90,000

George Stubbs, “A Sleeping Cheetah,” Mezzotint, 1788, £3,000-£5,000 ($3,900 to $6,500)

Jacopo de’ Barbari, “Victory Reclining Amid Trophies,” Engraving, circa 1498, £3,000-£4,000 ($3,900-$5,200)

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Andrea della Robbiam “Two Sleeping Soldiers From a Lunette Representing the Resurrection,” circa 1518-19

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Because of an editing error, an article on Monday about the dwindling market for old master paintings omitted the given name and the title of an expert who commented on contemporary artists who talk with passion about the genius of old masters. He is Thomas P. Campbell, the director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Having struggled with shrinking inventory and elusive profits, auction houses appear to be devoting most of their attention and resources to contemporary art, the most popular area of their business.

Some attribute the increasing interest in contemporary art to the rising popularity of contemporary architecture. “People who come into the contemporary field like colors that go well with their couches,” Mr. Van de Weghe said.

The founder and principal of Phillip Thomas Inc, which has completed projects at many of the top buildings in New York City — including 15 Central Park West, River House, and One Madison — maintains that beautiful materials and meticulous attention to detail are essential to creating a successful design. 

Albert Dubois-Pillet, “Barges on the Seine,” oil on canvas, 1877-78, $48,000

Hang a staircase galleryLine drawings and prints with splashes of red unite this group of different styles and sizes of art, lending a dynamism to the display. A limited palette links with the stair carpet and the paint shade for a varied but united result.

TELL US…What do you think about mixing antique art with contemporary décor? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

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While acknowledging that the old masters market can be “very spiky,” Alexander Bell, the worldwide co-chairman of Sotheby’s old master paintings department, said: “We still very much believe in old masters,” adding that “we’ve all got to evolve in the way we present our material and engage with our clients.”

Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, “The Holy Family With the Annunciation to the Shepherds Beyond, Italian Renaissance” oil on panel, circa 1500, $80,000-$120,000

Trends: Mixing Old Masters and Antique Artworks into a Modern Scheme

Curate a collectionThis Darwinian collection of butterflies is arranged in a deliberately abstract pattern, showing how antique images can inject character into a space. As a spin on tradition, they are still displayed over an old-fashioned bureau, but also surrounded by an eclectic collection of furniture.

Louis-Jean Desprez, “La Chimère de Monsieur Desprez,” Etching, circa 1777-84, £20,000-£30,000 ($26,000 to $39,000)

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A shortage of old master treasures, fewer up-and-coming old master specialists and public attention on the highest-selling pictures (which are in the contemporary market) are partly responsible for the shift in emphasis.

To fill curatorial positions, museums are having to look to Europe. The Getty, for example, recently hired Davide Gasparotto — the former director of the Galleria Estense in Modena, Italy — as its senior curator of paintings.

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“Perhaps they would rather put their resources into other, potentially more profitable departments,” said Nicholas Hall, the former co-chairman of old master paintings at Christie’s, who left in July, along with Benjamin Peronnet, Christie’s head of old master and 19th-century drawings.

The old masters category generally denotes the period after the Renaissance and mostly describes European artists — including Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Goya and El Greco — who were known for their highly detailed, realistic paintings and drawings, along with the floral still lifes of Flemishmasters like Jan Brueghel the Elder.

The art world is making adjustments, juxtaposing old masters alongside contemporary artists in exhibitions, galleries, art fairs and auction sales. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is planning a $600 million wing for contemporary and modern art; in March, it filled its temporary satellite, the Met Breuer, with unfinished works from the 15th century to the present, presenting Renaissance masters like Titian and Rembrandt alongside contemporary artists like Brice Marden and Kerry James Marshall.

“The Duchesse de Polignac in a Straw Hat,” was featured in “Vigée Le Brun” at the Met.CreditMusée National des Châteaux de Versailles et de Trianon

Add wit to a dining areaThis historic portrait is the kind of picture that would have hung over a Downton Abbey-style dining table, so this more casual arrangement makes a clever contrast. Note, too, the fact that it’s unframed – a definite trend and a way to highlight the change of context.

At a time when contemporary art is all the rage among collectors, viewers and donors, many experts are questioning whether old master artwork — once the most coveted — can stay relevant at auction houses, galleries and museums.

Pick the right shadeThe painting says traditional portrait, but the painted backdrop lets you know this is a modern scheme. The sky blue is natural enough to work with the painting and stately upholstery, but also ticks the box for on-trend teals.

Imagine this space with a plain white wall and you’ll appreciate how the colour lends real impact and energy.See more bold colour schemes

Old master curators are also increasingly hard to come by. In university art history programs in the United States, contemporary art is “by far, the most popular,” reports Richard Meyer, an art history professor at Stanford University, in his book “What Was Contemporary Art?” (MIT Press, 2013).

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“Lot and His Daughters,” an early 17th-century oil work by Peter Paul Rubens, sold for $58 million in July. But such old master paintings rarely come up for auction.Creditvia Christie’s

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“You can’t find curators with the right training and knowledge of European art in American art graduate programs anymore,” Mr. Sainty said. “They want to do contemporary art.”

Pierre Marcel-Beronneau, “Salomé,” four paintings, three on canvas, one on wood, priced individually, $45,000, $55,000, $65,000 and $85,000.

Even as the collecting world continues to obsess over contemporary art, there are bargains to be had in the category of old masters, both at auction and in galleries, particularly if you’d be happy with a print or engraving. A few examples follow of old master works, currently — or coming up — for sale.

This mixing of genres has been prominently tested at Christie’s themed sales, which include works from many different time periods.

Elizabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun, “Portrait of Countess Yekaterina Skavronskaia,” oil on canvas, 1790, $660,000

In light of these developments, old masters have become a collecting opportunity. Printings and engravings can go for $4,000 to $5,000. While Orazio Gentileschi’s 17th-century “Danae” sold at Sotheby’s in January for $30.5 million, “that is less than a Christopher Wool and half the price of a Warhol,” Mr. Sainty said. “You can buy a really good Rembrandt for $40 to $50 million. That’s not a lot of money when you think about how many Rembrandts there are — and how many Jeff Koons.”

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Marco (Fra Mattia) della Robbia, “Coat of Arms of the Bonsi della Ruota Family”

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Thomas, who spent his formative years living in New York City and South America, recognised his passion for interior design at an early age. ‘Collecting is a passion of mine,’ he reveals. ‘I spent my childhood… looking at beautiful objects at auction, in shops and in other people’s homes. Art is very important to making a space come alive. The way that art is installed should give life to [it].’ 

Their departures followed a year of spotty sales, in which the values of works by old masters — a pantheon of European painters working before around 1800 — fell by 33 percent, according to the 2016 Tefaf Art Market Report.

An appreciation for old masters, experts say, also requires a deeper history of collecting and an educated eye. Christie’s, for example, trains its old master specialists for six to seven years, whereas its contemporary experts get three to four years. And new collectors tend to find contemporary art more accessible.

Francesco Zuccarelli, “View of the River Thames From Richmond Hill,” oil on canvas, 1752, $525,000

Sotheby’s Exhibition, “Glazed: A Legacy of The Della Robbia,” New York, Oct. 21 – Nov. 12, $100,000 to $3 million

Make a masterstroke in a studyAny creative homeworker needs a range of stimuli and this beautifully eclectic spectrum is sure to keep the inspiration flowing. There’s a subtle symmetry at work, too: white frames match each other, as do black.

And the central frame and oil painting are two halves, sat side by side.Check out more inspiring workspaces

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While the Frick is eager to reach today’s audience, the museum is also wary of straying from its mission of showing classic European art and sculpture.

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Honour the architectureThis magnificent space with authentic architectural features is the perfect setting for period oil paintings. But the tastefully modern furniture, dark blue paint shade and updated-classic flooring ensure the mood is fresh and fashionable.

‘People often get nervous about incorporating classic pieces into contemporary settings,’ says interior designer Phillip Thomas. ‘But there doesn’t have to be a disconnect between a contemporary interior and a classic piece of art or furniture. You just have to give it a whole new energy and meaning within that contemporary space.’

When prime masterworks do come up for auction, they perform well, as evidenced by the $58 million paid in July for Peter Paul Rubens’s “Lot and His Daughters” at Christie’s London’s old masters sale, the second-most expensive work ever sold at auction by the artist.

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Pierre Subleyras, “The Duke of Saint Aignan Investing Girolamo Vaini, Prince of Cantalupe and Duke of Selci, With the Insignia of a Knight of the Holy Spirit,” oil on canvas, 1737, $350,000

“We’re losing a sense of the value of the past, including the value of past art,” Mr. Meyer said in an interview, “not just the aesthetic value, but the ways in which it can teach us about the cultures and the people who came before us.”

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Last year, the museum started an online series called “The Artist Project,” in which contemporary artists talk about historical works at the Met that inspired them — like John Currin on Ludovico Carracci’s 1582 oil on canvas, “The Lamentation.”

Jean-Baptiste Pater, “Soldiers and Vivandières Around a Campfire,” oil on canvas, $100,000-$150,000

Delve into historyThe art of tapestry is reinvented in this scheme. What could be a fusty family heirloom in some hands is given a fresh context with a grey backdrop, industrial lighting and a rough-hewn bench, which all work in harmony with the tones of the tapestry.

An ancient craft is reworked for the present, yet still does the same job as in previous centuries – adding warmth and texture to walls.

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“When you hear contemporary artists talking with passion about the genius of old masters — that, we assume, will help open up the historical fields to new audiences,” Thomas P. Campbell, the director and chief executive of the Met, said, “to understand that all art was once contemporary.”

Pieter van der Heyden, “Nemo Non: Everyman Looks for His Own Profit,” Engraving, circa 1558, £4,000-£6,000 ($5,000 to $8,000)

Jakob Marrel, “Roses, Tulips, Iris,” oil on panel, 1644, $500,000

Jan Brueghel the Elder, “Landscape,” oil on copper, 1606, $591,000

At Christie’s over the last few weeks, two experts in old master paintings and drawings quietly left the auction house.

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To be sure, there is still a public appetite for viewing old masters. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s show “Vigée Le Brun: Woman Artist in Revolutionary France,” for example, drew more than 165,000 visitors. The Getty and the Frick Collection, which focus on historic works, say attendance remains strong.

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Giovanni della Robbia, Decorative amphora vase with dolphin handles, circa 1520-25

Jusepe de Ribera, “The Poet,” Etching, circa 1620-21, £6,000-£8,000 ($7,800 to $10,500)

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An artist known as the Master of the David and Saint John Statuettes and Giovanni della Robbia, “Saint Michael the Archangel,” circa 1500-10

Far from being nervous, he suggests, clients should embrace the potential for classic art and furniture to bring something new to a contemporary setting. ‘A piece of classic art, properly set and displayed within a contemporary space, can truly ignite the imagination. I love juxtaposing a contemporary piece of art with a classic piece, as there is a trajectory that art has taken… Classic pieces are part of that history and need to be appreciated and understood.’

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article misstated the nationality of Jan Brueghel the Elder, an old master painter known for floral still lifes. He was Flemish, not Dutch.

“We have no intention of selling old masters pictures or 18th-, 19th-century pictures, because these markets are now so small and dwindling,” he added. “The new client base at the auction houses — and the collecting tastes of those clients — have moved away from this veneration of the past.”

Nicoletto da Modena, “Ornament Panel With Bound Slaves and a Birdcage,” Engraving, late 15th century to early 16th century, £3,000-£4,000 ($3,900 to $5,200)

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“A lot of museums are focused on a false dichotomy — if they get young people in through contemporary exhibitions they’ll stay and get interested in old masters,” said Ian Wardropper, the Frick’s director. “I just don’t believe it. The point is to try to reach them in an intelligent way on their own terms and make it interesting — and that’s not easy; we’re all struggling with that.”

Pierre Marcel-Beronneau, two landscape paintings, each titled “View of Corsica,” $15,000 and $20,000

Antiques and period paintings are dusting off their fusty image. With the right contemporary setting, a carefully executed contrast between old and new can bring out the beauty of traditional masterpieces all over again. Old never looked so fresh.

The London dealer Guy Sainty, who has long specialized in old masters, said that he is mystified and frustrated. “I’ve been an art dealer for nearly 40 years, and I just don’t get it — I don’t understand where the collectors have gone, the people with knowledge,” he said. “There’s a sense somewhere that the American collector has simply lost interest in European culture.”

Pile on the giltAn all-white scheme gets a new twist with a striking and decorative gilt frame. The artwork isn’t centuries old, but is painted in tones that hark back to the 19th century. The arrangement of smaller photos and images on the other wall is a reminder that this home has contemporary art tastes, too.

A great balancing act.

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But masterpieces surface only rarely; private owners tend to hold onto them, as do museums. “It’s a real supply problem,” Mr. Dolman said.

Mix up your erasThis pretty still-life painting in a florid frame is partnered by a contemporary artwork, showing there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to your own home gallery. Flashes of yellow appear in both, as well as the cushions and side table, keeping a sense of flow.

Pier Leone Ghezzi, “Susannah and the Elders,” oil on canvas, late 1720s-early 1730s, £330,000 ($434,500)

“People who buy into the old master field have more connoisseurship — maybe more passion,” said Christophe Van de Weghe, a Madison Avenue dealer specializing in blue-chip work by modern masters from Matisse to Basquiat.

“All these new buildings — with high ceilings, big windows,” he added, “they scream for contemporary art.”

Light is lovely in itself, but it can also be used to bring out the beauty in objects and areas around your home

Orazio Gentileschi’s 17th-century “Danae,” which sold at Sotheby’s in January for $30.5 million.Creditvia Sotheby’s

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