Christie's offers unusual Hannibal work by Poussin

Fri Mar 15, 2013 6:46pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Auction house Christie's will offer an unconventional painting by French classical artist Nicolas Poussin, depicting Carthaginian general Hannibal astride an elephant, in July, expecting it to fetch 3-5 million pounds ($4.5-7.5 million).

The early work is not considered one of the artist's best and was little known until it appeared in public at an exhibition in Rouen in northern France in 1961.

But the auction house is hoping that its provenance - the painting was originally in the collection of Poussin's greatest patron in Rome, scholar Cassiano dal Pozzo - will help boost interest when it goes under the hammer in London on July 2.

"It was painted right after he arrived in Rome and he obviously developed as his career progressed," said Georgina Wilsenach, head of old master and British paintings at Christie's.

"I don't think that takes away its appeal," she added. "It is quite unusual. In terms of (Poussin) works coming up for auction, I think that most are religious paintings or mythological subjects."

The canvas, dating from the mid-1620s and measuring around 1.0 by 1.35 meters, depicts Hannibal on an elephant leading his troops on the fabled journey from Iberia into northern Italy via the Alps to attack Roman forces in the Second Punic War.

The dramatic early picture from an artist famed for works like "The Death of Germanicus" and "The Abduction of the Sabine Women" was snapped up by Cassanio for the then extravagant sum of 40 scudi.

According to Christie's, Poussin's patron paid over the odds for Hannibal in an apparent bid to help the artist who had fallen seriously ill while in Rome and, unable to work, found himself penniless.   Continued...

"Hannibal Crossing the Alps on an Elephant", a painting by Nicolas Poussin, is seen in this undated handout picture provided by Christie's in London March 15, 2013. REUTERS/Christie's Images/Handout