LONDON.- This beautiful oil sketch of The Vision of Saint Anthony of Padua was painted by Murillo as a preparatory study of the artist´s final work (165 by 200 cm.), formerly in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin, but destroyed in 1945. Both the present and final work have been dated by scholars towards the end of the great Sevillian master´s career, circa 1670-1680.
The ex-Berlin picture is recorded through an old black and white photograph and the composition also exists in another version, of lesser quality, formerly in the collection of the Earl of Rosebery ( until sold London, Sotheby´s, 9 December 1987, lot 40), which was given to the Countess of Rosebery as a wedding gift by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild in 1878.
Murillo produced oil sketches as an integral part of his working technique and some thirty seven still survive today, although many more must have been lost. The artist´s prima idea for the present composition appears to be a drawing, today conserved in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, however it was through the oil sketch that the artist was able to develop his initial design through the articulation and definition of the poses of the figures, the treatment of the light and the overall choice of palette. The sketch, which is in a remarkable state of preservation, is characterized by rapid, fluid brushwork which combine to give the image a great sense of artistic creativity and immediacy as the artist worked out the composition on the canvas. Also of particular interest is the presence of free under-drawing, some of which can be seen by the naked eye in key areas, such as the figure of the Christ Child, but is more easily visible through an infrared reflectogram.
In his final version Murillo repeated faithfully the poses of Saint Anthony and the Christ Child (as well as the angels above), as displayed in the sketch, however the artist adapted the composition to a horizontal format, adding in two additional angels to fill the left side of the image, which hold a book and lily, the main attributes of the Franciscan Saint.
The Sketch, which has only recently been rediscovered, has an interesting and highly distinguished provenance. It belonged to Maréchal Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, 1st Duke of Dalmatia (1769-1851), whose wax seal is adhered to the reverse of the stretcher, the very same Napoleonic General who in 1810 was responsible for the appropriation of Murillo´s full-size version from the Convento de San Pedro de Alcántara in Seville, as described some thirty years later by the historian and biographer Don Francisco González León:
era de los mas celebrados de Murillo
el año 1810 cuando la invasión francesa, el mismo Mariscal Soult mandó a buscarlo con un piquete de tropa de infantería, que lo sacaron de su lugar y se lo llevaron
The final work ended up in the possession of Baron Mathieu Faviers, Intendant Général des Armées de France, who formed his collection in Spain under Maréchal Soult, before being sold in 1835 to the King of Prussia and subsequently entering the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
The sketch however appears to have entered into the collection of Maréchal Soult and was most certainly included in the great Soult sales in Paris, on 22 May 1852 ( as lot 63). Although the measurements in the auction catalogue appear to have been erroneously recorded (as 59 by 62 cm.), the description of the picture and subsequent provenance all points to this being one and the same work. It was acquired at the Soult sale by Anatole Nicolaievitch Demidoff, 1st Prince of San Donato (1812-1870), as corroborated by the catalogue entry in the subsequent San Donato sales of 1870, which lists the Soult provenance and furthermore reproduces the engraving by Flameng after the sketch, recording the precise composition of the present sketch.
The painting subsequently entered into the collection of William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley and Viscount Ednam (1817-1885), who was actively buying in Paris at around the time of the San Donato sale and who had acquired a number of other works by the Sevillian master only a few years earlier, in 1867, at the sales of the celebrated collection of the Marqués de Salamanca. Whilst it is not yet clear whether Lord Dudley acquired the painting directly at the San Donato Sale (or perhaps more likely through an agent), a photograph of the interior of his London residence, Dudley House on Park Lane (Fig.7), taken by the photographers Bedford Lemere in 1890, clearly shows the present oil sketch on an easel in the Red Drawing room, albeit in a different frame. The Bedford Lemere photograph also reveals that the room was hung exclusively with works by Murillo and in addition to the present oil sketch, five further paintings by the artist can be seen: The large Death of Saint Clare, sold by Lord Dudley to the Gemäldegalerie, Dresden in 1894, and four from the series of six paintings illustrating the story of the Prodigal Son, which during the 20th century belonged to Sir Alfred and Lady Beit at Russborough, County Wicklow, until bequeathed to the National Gallery of Ireland in 1987.
Following the death of Lord Dudley, the sketch was offered at Christie´s in London on 25th June 1892 (as lot 35), the catalogue entry confirming the San Donato Sale provenance. It was bought for 1,218 guineas by Thomas Agnew´s and Sons, whose label can still be seen on the reverse today, and was acquired from the London dealers by Sir Michael Shaw-Stewart, 7th Bart of Greenock (1826-1903), before passing by family descent to Sir Walter Guy Shaw-Stewart, 9th Bart of Greenock and Blackhall (1892-1976) of Fonthill Abbey in Tisbury, Wiltshire, by whom it was offered for sale at Sotheby´s in London in 1927. Annotated copies of the 1927 sale catalogue list the buyer as Van Ander, although the painting appears to have been bought-in and remained in the family, passing by inheritance to the seller´s grandson, Neil Rimington Esq, who kept the work at Fonthill Abbey until it was sold in London in 2010. At the time of the 2010 sale, with the exception of the Agnew´s label, none of the aforementioned provenance had been identified and furthermore the painting was erroneously given to the studio of Murillo.