Old Master Prints & Drawings from the Collection of Matthew Rutenberg

At Auction May 21, 2020

Our May 21, 2020 sale of Old Master Through Modern Prints opens with a special section—the first hundred lots of the sale—dedicated to fine old master prints and drawings from the collection of the late Matthew Rutenberg. Here, John Marciari, the Charles W. Engelhard curator and department head of drawings and prints at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, touches on Rutenberg’s life as a connoisseur. 

Matthew Rutenberg in Rome.

Matthew Rutenberg was a seemingly omnipresent—and yet perpetually mysterious—figure in the art world. Born and raised near St. Petersburg, Florida, he developed a lifelong passion for art at a young age, and well before he took any courses in the history of art was already completely familiar with the collections at the Ringling Museum in nearby Sarasota. He was educated at Harvard and even as an undergraduate was recognized to have an extraordinary knowledge of Western art history. He later studied at the Warburg Institute in London and was briefly an assistant curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but then moved to New York, and for most of his career, was associated with the art market. He seemed to know everyone, and with his extraordinary memory, everything about the market for old masters. He would recall paintings sold years before, by whom and to whom, and when walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty, or many other museums, could effortlessly rattle off long tales about the provenance of the works on view and any drama that lay behind their acquisition. 

Jacob Philipp Hackert, Ruins of the Temple of Diana, Nîmes, watercolor, pen and ink. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000. From the collection of Matthew Rutenberg.

Matthew was never, however, a public figure, but instead a consultant and advisor both to important dealers and major collectors in America and abroad. Similarly, he wrote a handful of pieces for the New York Times and the New York Review of Books, but was also the long-time confidant of many writers and critics at those publications. Matthew was indeed a kind of éminence grise, a quiet presence behind the scenes, but one who would be recognized by anyone who regularly attended old master auctions, lectures, or exhibitions, even if many never understood his role. He was generous and loved to assist museums, bringing works to the attention of curators he admired and steering donations to many institutions including the Metropolitan, the Ashmolean, the Fitzwilliam, the Yale University Art Gallery and British Art Center, the Harvard Art Museums, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg and of course, the Ringling; following his wishes, some works from his estate will be donated to these museums and others. A lover of life, a devoted friend, and a perpetually entertaining raconteur with a famously wry sense of humor, Matthew—and his endless store of stories about the art world—will be dearly missed.

Aniello Falcone, The Plague, red chalk, circa 1650s. Estimate $3,000 to $5,000. From the collection of Matthew Rutenberg.
Giovanni Paolo Panini, Studies of Three Grooms, pencil. Estimate $2,000 to $3,000. From the collection of Matthew Rutenberg.

Matthew’s own collections were as wide-ranging as his interests, but with a few areas of particular concentration. His own academic interests led him above all the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century across all the European schools: the work of Jacques-Louis David and his followers in France, for example, but also artists like Samuel Woodforde, Franz Kobell, or Jacob Philipp Hackert. Many of those who associated Matthew with the market for old masters were surprised by his interest in Modern art: British artists like Tony Bevan, Cedric Morris, or Frank Auerbach, or lesser-known figures like Julio González and Emilie Mediz-Pelikan. It was, however, especially in the world of old masters that he loved to find the overlooked or miscatalogued items especially in smaller auctions. He also had a temperamental weakness for the unattributed work of high quality, and he made a regular habit of calling friends and colleagues, directing them to some upcoming work, and challenging them to find an attribution. There are more than a few such works in his own collection, as well as works by recognized old master and nineteenth-century artists including a Plague Scene by Aniello Falcone, the Three Grooms by Giovanni Paolo Panini, and prints and drawings by Delacroix and Géricault. 

Lots 1–100: Old Master Prints & Drawings from the Collection of Matthew Rutenberg

Jacques-Louis David, Mère et Enfant, brush and light brown ink and wash over pencil. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000. From the collection of Matthew Rutenberg.
Albert Marquet, La Pose dans l’Atelier, black chalk, circa 1910. Estimate $7,000 to $10,000. From the collection of Matthew Rutenberg.

More Highlights: Old Master Through Modern Prints, May 21, 2020

Related Reading: Beyond the Bestiary: Fantastic Beasts and Figures of Myth in Old Master—and Modern—Prints and Meisterstiche: Albrecht Dürer’s Master Engravings