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The Wolff Collection of Master Drawings

Press release   •   Mar 14, 2018 08:03 UTC

French school, 18th century: A female painter in an oriental atelier. Estimate: DKK 20,000-30,000 / € 2,700-4,000

This coming May, the largest internationally oriented and privately-owned collection of drawings in Denmark will be up for auction at Bruun Rasmussen in Copenhagen. The collection spans from European Master Drawings from the 16th century to the 19th century Danish Golden Age, all of which belonged to the Danish lawyer and art collector Benjamin Wolff (1790-1866). Highlights from this collection will be presented to the public in Paris from 21-22 March, in London from 15-16 May and finally in Copenhagen from 24-28 May.

After a twelve-year posting in 1817–1829 for the English trade agency Cruttenden, Mackillop & Co. in India, the Danish lawyer and avid art collector Benjamin Wolff (1790–1866) returned to Denmark as a wealthy man and acquired Engelholm Manor south of Copenhagen.

Over the course of 30 years, Wolff assembled an extraordinary collection of drawings ranging from 16th century European Old Masters to 19th century Danish Golden Age and Indian art. Except for a national bequest in 1915 and two minor exhibitions in the 1980s, the corpus of this collection, numbering over 2,000 drawings, has remained in the family since his death in 1866, intact and unpublished for five generations until today. The Indian drawings were sold at Bruun Rasmussen in 2016, and now the European drawings will be sold,” says Julie Arendse Voss, Head of the Department of Fine Art at Bruun Rasmussen.

Drawings Purchased Abroad and at Danish Auctions
Wolff was a dedicated administrator and an avid traveller, and the extensive collection is a testament to a broad international perspective on the world. He is known to have purchased drawings while abroad. Of noteworthy mention is an album of drawings by the German neoclassical painter Johan Zoffany. Crowned by the artist’s enigmatic self-portrait, the album was originally commissioned by Zoffany’s close friend in India, Colonel Claude Martin (1735-1800) – bearing his ex-libris and two finished portraits. A total of fifty-three drawings remain, executed after the artist’s return to England. The drawings include allegories, a portrait of the artist and his family, as well as sketchy compositions for known paintings or drawings inspired by them. Claude Martin's Zoffany Album offers a historical and artistically valuable insight into the final years of the artist's life.

The majority of the drawings in the collection, however, were acquired at auctions in Copenhagen, including the estate sales of the art collector and Keeper of the Kunstkammer J.C. Spengler (1839), the art collector and architect Gottfried Schaper (1853), the Danish Golden Age painter C.W. Eckersberg (1854) and the art collector, High Commissioner of War and auctioneer Johan Christian Fick (1866).

European Master Drawings and Danish Golden Age

The acquisitions from these auctions consist mainly of 16th and 17th drawings from the Italian schools. Especially the mannerists, a mid-/late 16th century movement spanning throughout Europe, are represented by some fine sheets. One example being Bartolomeo Passarotti, an exquisite draughtsman especially known for his vivid crosshatching. His mysterious portrait of a seated woman looking directly at the viewer is one of the top lots of the collection. The northern schools are also well represented. One sheet attributed to Bartholomeus Spranger, a Flemish native who combined Dutch painting with Italian influences, shows Minerva surrounded by the conquered. Drawings of this size and quality are rarely seen on the market.

The strength in Wolff’s collection of Danish drawings lay not only in the fine works by the well esteemed artists such as Nicolai Abildgaard, C.W. Eckersberg and Martinus Rørbye, but also in the variety, quantity and quality of drawings by lesser known Danish artists of the late 18th century and first half of the 19th century, such as J. L. Lund, Julius Friedlænder and Hermann Carmiencke.

Benjamin Wolff – “An Amateur and A Collector”

At a young age, Benjamin Wolff attended the lower-ranking schools at the Academy in Copenhagen. He remained himself a dedicated draughtsman throughout his life. “I became”, as he phrases it in his memoirs, “an amateur and a collector”.

His appreciation of Danish draughtsmanship was shared by the art establishment in Copenhagen, but on a far wider scale. Benjamin Wolff’s ambition to build a collection is generally regarded as that of a man inspired by the tradition of “l’ancien régime” – an ambition that would coincide with the burgeoning and then more modern idea of a national collection of Danish drawings.

Preview in Paris + London
A number of the drawings from The Wolff Collection will be on view at 12 rue Drouot, Paris 9e., opposite Hotel Drouot on Wednesday 21 March 11 am - 6 pm and Thursday 22 March 11 am - 9 pm. A part of the collection will also be on display at the Royal Danish Embassy in London 15-16 May.

Preview and Auction in Copenhagen
All of the auction lots from the collection will be on display at Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers of Fine Art, Bredgade 33 in Copenhagen from 24-28 May. The auction will take place at the same address on Wednesday 30 May at 2 pm. 

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Bruun Rasmussen Auctioneers is one of Scandinavia’s leading international auction houses, and one of Denmark’s oldest. It all started on 6 October 1948, when Arne Bruun Rasmussen conducted the first traditional auction in the saleroom at Bredgade 33 in Copenhagen. Today, Jesper Bruun Rasmussen stands at the helm of the family-run business together with the third generation of the family, his son Frederik and daughter Alexa, and the company’s CEO Jakob Dupont.

In 2004, the first online auction was launched, and today the auction house has expanded to include departments in Copenhagen and Aarhus and representations in Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Spain, Italy, Thailand and the US. About 100,000 lots are put up for auction each year at the traditional auctions and daily online auctions. Here you can bid on everything from art, antiques, modern design and jewellery to books, coins, stamps, wine and weaponry.