Auction 104 Antiques & Works of Art, Silver & Jewellery


The Virgin appearing to St. Bernard of Clairvaux

Master of the Legend of the Magdalen, Attrib. (b. 15th/16th century)


40.000 - 60.000

Session 2

15 April 2021


Oil on wood

27,5x37,5 cm



Additional Information

In this composition, the Virgin Mary appears standing up holding the Baby Jesus who is sitting on her arms, and which wraps around her neck on the right side.We are facing the representation of the Madonna “ablactatio” since Baby Jesus does not drink from the Virgin's naked breast.On the left side of the Virgin appears the figure of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who kneels in front of the figure of the Virgin Mary who squeezes her breast from which the milk gushes, which wets Saint Bernard's lips, thus showing the representation of the Madonna "lactation".
There are several versions of this composition, notably the one that was in the collection of Dr. Hans Wetzlar and that was attributed by the art historian Max Friedländer to the Master of the Magdalene Legend.
This painting was put up for auction by Sothebys on June 9, 1977 - The Collection of the late Dr. Hans Wetzlar - as lot number 48. It reappeared on the art market on December 8, 2005 at Sotheby's in London as lot number 203.
We can evidence the circulation in the art market of the following paintings with a very similar composition:
- At the May 25, 1988 auction, at Sotheby's in London, as lot number 62;
-At the Christie’s London auction on November 21, 1991, as lot number 109 - this one attributed to a follower of Bernard van Orley;
-At the April 21, 2005 auction of Sotheby’s London, as lot number 14.

Provenance: Label on the back to refer to the collection of John Rushout, 2nd Baron of Northwick.

The 2nd Baron of Northwick art collection

Of the various labels on the back of this painting, one in particular stands out. The one related to the 2nd Baron of Northwick art collection and the year 1859.

It is not an easy task to trace back the origins of the Northwick family as various untimely deaths and lack of direct succession to some of the title’s incumbents, have hindered a homogenous genealogy.
The Northwick’s Rushout surname first emerges associated to a French merchant that settled in London in the 17th century. A talented businessman he will rapidly grow enough wealth to buy the Northwick Park estate in Blockley, close to the Gloucestershire and Worcestershire borders.
This first generation Rushout determination for social climbing drove him to invest in a good education for his son James (1644-1698). His priorities did indeed pay off as James would eventually get a seat in the Commons and later, in 1670, a post as ambassador in Constantinople. It was this second Rushout that became 1st Baronet of Northwick Park and who, on his death, one year after assuming his ambassadorial commission, left in inheritance to his son, also James (1676-1705), the important and valuable estate that would later be passed on to his grandson (1701-1711) and subsequently to his fourth son (1685-1775), the 3rd and 4th baronets respectively. The latter sudden and unexpected succession would push him into abandoning a military career and to marry, in 1729, Lady Anne Compton a daughter of the 4th Earl of Northampton, with whom he would father one male heir, John, and two daughters. In 1775, after a brilliant political career, he was succeeded by his son as 5th Baronet of Northwick.
Having studied at Oxford, John became the Member of Parliament for Evesham in 1761, a seat he occupied until 1796. The following year he was granted the title of 1st Baron of Northwick. In 1799 he joins the Society of Antiquaries but, on his death in 1800, he leaves his newly acquired peerage, as well as all his vast estates, to his son. Contrary to his ancestors the 2nd Baron did not study in one of the main English Universities as, in the 1780s, his father had sent him to study in Neuchâtel, in Switzerland. In the following decade he would undertake his Grand Tour, during which he got himself acquainted with prestigious fellow travellers such as Edward Gibbon, Horatio Nelson, the diplomat William Hamilton and his wife Emma and such Italian artists as Antonio Canova and Vincenzo Camuccini.
The late 18th century revolutionary turmoil in continental Europe was propitious to art collecting, and Baron Northwick quickly understood the opportunities open to him. Searching advice from specialists and collectors such as William Hamilton and Payne-Knight, he started acquiring works of art for his future collection. Beginning with small objects -ancient coins, precious stones, cameos and intaglios - he will soon step up his buying to the occasional old master prints and paintings.
As the decade came to a close, news from his father deteriorating health intensified. On returning to England to claim his estate, the 2nd Baron is faced with a vast array of properties scattered around the country, and immediately decides to invest on their income growth potential, so that he could continue his fast-developing investment in art.
In the early decades of the 19th century, once he establishes important links with major art dealers and fellow collectors, his interests will eventually consolidate on fine art, particularly on paintings, that from then onwards, he will acquire systematically with integrity and coherence. Soon, the shortage of space will drive him into purchasing a new home adjacent to Hyde Park in London.
By 1830 the 2nd Baron adds a new wing to his Northwick Park country seat in order to accommodate his ever-growing collection. By 1838, already well aware of the shortage of space for storing and exhibiting his works of art, he buys another property, Thirlestaine House in Cheltenham, to which, between 1840 and 1858, he continuously adds new galleries and wings.
By then he was allowing visitors in, a practice maintained up to the end of his life, as is evidenced in the album “Notes and sketches on works of art in the collection of John Rushout, 2nd Baron Northwick of Thirlestaine”, compilated by the artist and art historian Sir George Scharf (1820-1895). Now deposited in London’s National Gallery, in it the author illustrates in drawings what he saw over a 3-day visit in November 1856.
Simultaneously, the 2nd Baron was an active member of London’s fashionable cultural societies such as the Society of Antiquaries and the Society of Dilettanti and a keen follower of Christies art auctions. It is also well known that he was involved in the promotion and support of institutions created with the purpose of making art accessible to wider audiences, such as the British Institution founded in 1805.
A recognized and cherished figure in the art world, he will be described in 1888 by George Redford in his book “Art Sales: A History of Sales of Pictures and Other Works of Art” as:
“He (Lord Northwick) was a most pleasant and cheerful gentleman, extremely simple and unpretending in his manner, with a slight, rather short, figure, and a face, round, smiling, and fresh in complexion. I remember him well as an ‘habitué’ of Christies, more than forty-two years ago, and in summer he generally wore a suit of Nankeen, a kind of cool dress which has long since disappeared”.
Just short of his 90th birthday, the 2nd Baron Northwick dies in 1859 and, soon after, his collection starts its fast-demise phase. Without a will, offspring or clear direct heirs, the entire collection will be sold by Phillips the auctioneers over 21 sessions that extended well into 1860.
The contemporary press covering of that extraordinary sale was thorough and information regarding each session, buyers and values attained by each lot, was avidly consumed by the public. Nonetheless many of the artwork’s trail would be lost and today only a few works from Lord Northwick’s collection can be identified in the National Gallery.
A selection of works remained in Thirlestaine House, as the 3rd Baron (1811-1887) would himself acquire a number of his ancestor’s paintings. In the 20th century, on the death of his descendant and heir, Captain Spencer-Churchill, these were also eventually sold by Christie’s, disappearing into anonymous private collections.

Oliver Bradbury e Nicholas Penny, “The Picture Collecting of Lord Northwick: Part I”in The Burlington Magazine, 144, No. 1193 (2002), pp. 485-496.
Oliver Bradbury e Nicholas Penny, “The Picture Collecting of Lord Northwick: Part II” in The Burlington Magazine, 144, No. 1195 (2002), pp. 606-617.
Frida Forsgren, “The Rise and fall of Leonardo’s Christ Among the Doctors in Bernt Holm’s Art Collection at Gimle Gård” in Journal of Early Modern Studies, 2020, pp.99-108.

Closed Auction