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A bronze figure of seated nude woman braiding her hair, by Barthelemy Prieur (1536-1611), circa 1570-80. Estimate $600,000 – $1,000,000. Photo Christie’s Image Ltd 2015

On a rectangular molded ebonized wood base, inscribed in white paint 31289.39, 7 3/8 in. (18.2 cm.) high

Provenance: Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington, until donated to
Charleston Museum, 1931, until de-accessioned
Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 28 October 1967, lot 25.

Literature: M. Schwartz, ed., European Sculpture from the Abbott Guggenheim Collection, New York, 2008, pp. 170-171, no. 90.

COMPARATIVE LITERATURE: W. Bode, The Italian Bronze Statuettes of the Renaissance, ed. and rev. by J. Draper, New York, 1980, CCXV
Paris, Musèe du Louvre, Les Bronzes de la Couronne, 12 Apr. – 12 July 1999, p. 182, no. 321.
G. Bresc-Bautier, G. Scherf and J. Draper, eds., Cast in Bronze: French Sculpture from Renaissance to Revolution, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 24 February – 24 May, 2009, pp. 102-147.

Exhibited: San Francisco, The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Renaissance and Baroque Bronzes from the Abbott Guggenheim Collection, 3 Mar. – 11 Sep. 1988, L. Camins ed., pp. 127-130, no. 44.

Notes: Compositionally based on the ancient marble Nymph ‘alla Spina’, Prieur’s Seated Nude Braiding Her Hair is one of a small number of elegant and finely cast bronze statuettes of simple ‘genre’ subjects, that have been successfully placed in the oeuvre of Henri IV’s court sculptor.

The present cast is exceptional for its exquisite detailing and beautiful copper-brown patination. The model is known in other examples in the Huntington Collection, San Marino and the Metropolitan Museum, New York and the Wallace Collection, London. Of these, the latter is considered the finest cast, and the Abbott Guggenheim version is closely aligned in the detailed folds of the drapery, delicately rendered braided hair and facial features, contrasting with the expanses of smooth skin. The Abbott Guggenheim figure is more upright and less languid than the Wallace version, in which a slight tilt of the neck exaggerates the arch of the nude figure’s back.

Prieur first came to the attention of Henri IV when the King visited Sedan, in northern France, where Prieur was working in the autumn of 1591. After witnessing his talents, Henri IV soon entrusted Prieur with creating works intended to glorify him across Europe. The group of genre subjects Prieur created, virtually unique at that time, were first associated with each other by Bode and then Weihrauch, and later accredited to Prieur after comparison to his documented bronze allegories on the monument to Anne, duc de Montmorency, which was in the Parisian church of the Celestines. In particular the oval facial of Nude Woman Braiding Her Hair, with her high rounded forehead and long nose, is typical of Prieur.

André Le Nôtre, who created the gardens and park of both Vaux Le Vicomte and Versailles, owned a version of the bronze, and it appears in the 1693 inventory of his collection as ‘une femme assize quy trais ses cheveux’. Prieur’s great reputation as a small-scale bronze modeller and caster is based on the meticulous attention given to individual details which bring his simple, elegant compositions to life. In the present bronze the elongated individual fingers curl around the flowing locks of unbraiding hair and the little toe of her right foot gently lifts upwards, suggesting that the figure is sitting still, but that her hands and feet are in unconscious motion as she pauses, lost in thought.

Christie’s. THE ABBOTT GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION: A NEW YORK KUNSTKAMMER, 28 January 2015, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

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