In Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s short life, he found time as a 13-year-old to sit for a portrait that could be worth as much as $2 million when it goes up for auction at Christie’s in Paris next week. (Nov. 27).
Mozart, born in 1756, was dead by the age of 35, but he left a legacy of music that certified him as a genius and is studied to this day for its composition.
The rare portrait of the Austrian composer will be sold by British auction house Christie’s in Paris. The sale price has been estimated to range between $882,000 and $1.32 million.
But it would come as no surprise if the final price was closer to $2 million, given the subject and its rich history.
“Pietro Lugiati was very impressed by the talent of the young Mozart when he was traveling in Italy with his father,” Astrid Centner-d’Oultremont, head of the Old Masters department at Christie’s Paris, told Reuters.
Classic art, often by masters, has been going through a resurgence of interest by collectors.
The painting, one of four of the composer, was painted in 1770 by Italian painter Giambettino Cignaroli. Pietro Lugiati, a Venetian government official, ordered the painting after watching Mozart perform in Verona the same year.
Mozart is pictured playing a harpsichord, wearing a white wig and red dress coat.
“The journey to Italy had become unavoidable on the path to recognition for every musician, no matter how young they were,” Christie’s said in a statement.
The painting has also taken its own remarkable journey. Unlike many period artworks, it has impeccable provenance.
Father Leopold Mozart wrote about painting in a letter to his wife, dated Jan. 7, 1770. He notes that it was done in two successive sittings, according to Christie’s.
“We were invited to the home of a nobleman, Sig. Regazzoni. The receiver general of Venice, Sig. Lugiati, asked the cavalieri to inquire with me whether I would permit a portrait to be made of Wolfgang; which was done yesterday morning,” he writes.
“Today, after mass, the second sitting was meant to take place. We then continued with Wolfgang’s portrait sitting, and we only sat down to eat at three o’clock.”
The portrait is one of only a few painted during Mozart’s lifetime, the auction house states.
It passed into obscurity until Leopold von Sonnleithner, a friend and patron of Beethoven and Schubert, discovered the painting in 1865.
The painter’s identity has also been a bit of a mystery.
“All evidence points to it being the work of a Veronese painter in the circle of Pietro Lugiati, as the commission was undertaken with such rapidity,” Christie’s notes.
“Two artists from the Cignaroli family were suggested at the beginning of the 20th century — Giuseppe, called Fra Felice (1726-1796), and Giandomenico (1722-1793); however, a more stylistic approach points to it being the work of a more assured painter.
“The suggestion that this is the work of Giambettino Cignaroli, the most famous Veronese artist of the 18th century and Lugiati’s cousin, is an attractive one.”
Such a rich, and somewhat controversial provenance will make this sale equally surprising.