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Lost Masterpiece by Antonio Canova Appears at Auction

Lost Masterpiece by Antonio Canova Appears at Auction Not Seen in Public for over 200 Years Bust of Peace is one of only a Handful of Autograph Works by Canova ever to come to the Market

London, 28 May 2018 – The artist behind one of the most celebrated sculptures in Britain, The Three Graces, Antonio Canova (1757-1821) is as revered today as he was during his lifetime. Honoured in verse by Lord Byron, Canova was considered the preeminent sculptor of his time, recognised not only for his skills as a carver, but also as a diplomat and dignitary for the Papal court.

Now, on 4 July in London, Sotheby’s will offer one of the few autograph works by Canova ever to come to auction. Long thought lost, the Bust of Peace has not been seen in public for over 200 years since it was shown for the first time at the Royal Academy summer exhibition of 1817.

The sculpture belongs to Canova’s celebrated series of Ideal Heads (Teste Ideale). Considered among the artist’s most intimate works, the Ideal Heads embody Canova’s ideal of beauty, and were developed with the express purpose of gifting them to friends and patrons. The Bust of Peace (1814) was carved for his first British patron and close friend John Campbell, Lord Cawdor, in thanks for his long term patronage and friendship, and in part for his help in repatriating art from Italy looted by the French armies during the Napoleonic Wars.

Having been passed down through five generations of the Cawdor family following John Campbell’s death in 1821, the sculpture was forgotten over time. By 1962, when the contents of the family house Stackpole Court in Pembrokeshire were sold at auction, the Bust of Peace was simply described in the catalogue as ‘a white marble bust of a lady wearing a diadem’.

Now, following extensive research by the present owner, who acquired the sculpture as an unattributed work, the bust has been identified as the long-lost Bust of Peace by Canova. The masterful work is a significant rediscovery, of seminal importance within Canova’s oeuvre, and has great historical resonance.

Christopher Mason, Director, Sotheby’s European Sculpture & Works of Art Department, said: “This is one of the most exciting rediscoveries I have encountered, the culmination of years spent piecing together fragments of information that together now tell the complete story of what is a truly exceptional, long-lost work. The Bust of Peace is one of a small series of works that Canova made late in life for his closest friends and patrons and so, as you might expect, each marble is executed with a befittingly high degree of care and attention. The sculptor’s ability to breathe life into cold marble is unrivalled in Neoclassical sculpture. This one is a technical tour de force, displaying Canova's absolute mastery in marble, particularly with the beautiful carving of the hair and the purity of the expression. Autograph works by Canova are fantastically rare on the market, and so to be offering this bust, newly-rediscovered and with such a special story behind it, is something remarkable indeed.”








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  • Sotheby’s London, 4 July 2018 Antonio Canova (1757-1822) Bust of Peace white marble
    Sotheby’s London, 4 July 2018 Antonio Canova (1757-1822) Bust of Peace white marble
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Canova, The Bust of Peace (side, cut out)
    Canova, The Bust of Peace (side, cut out)
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
  • Canova, The Bust of Peace (back, cut out)
    Canova, The Bust of Peace (back, cut out)
    Sotheby’s Auktionshaus
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