ART+, all about the art market
June 2022 1785 

Record Knüpfer at Auction Again

Beneš Knüpfer: Duel of the Tritons in London

A canvas more than two metres wide by the Czech painter Beneš Knüpfer is one of the items at the May auction of the 19th century European art in London. According to the catalogue, it is the painting of the famous motif Duel of the Tritons, exhibited in 1892 at the Jubilee World Exposition. The painting was already auctioned two decades ago and the price it fetched then, USD 31,000, still remains the artist’s global auction record.

Beneš Knüpfer: Duel of the Tritons / oil on canvas / 109,2 x 223,8 cm / Estimate: 25-35 000 GBP / Christie's 2. 5. 2014 Beneš Knüpfer: Duel of the Tritons / oil on canvas / 109,2 x 223,8 cm / Estimate: 25-35 000 GBP / Christie's 2. 5. 2014


Knüpfer was one of the last representatives of late romanticism and naturalistic sensualism in Czech art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. The complicated life of the artist known for his paintings of the sea and mythical creatures was affected by many twists, coincidences and fateful encounters. He spent over thirty years in Italy, and the coastal landscapes near Anzio on the shore of the Tyrrhenian Sea and near Ancona on the Adriatic Sea were the settings for his works.

In the Czech auction environment, Knüpfer is one of the more frequently auctioned artists. His Czech record was broken for the last time this January by the canvas On the Way from Prayers, which sold for CZK 690,000. However, the work offered on May 2 in the Sotheby’s auction catalogue is exceptional due to its format and provenance. Knüpfer’s canvas with the motif of Duel of the Tritons (110 x 224 cm), according to the information from the catalogue, comes from the New York collection of Jan Klein, from which it was first sold at a Sotheby’s auction in 1997. At that time, the pre-auction estimate was USD 25,000–USD 35,000 and it sold for USD 31,000 including fees, which was then roughly CZK 1.1 million. This amount remains Knüpfer’s world auction record until today.

Now the same painting is to be auctioned with an estimate of USD 25,000–USD 35,000, which, however, is a little less at today’s exchange rate than seventeen years ago. It is not clear whether it will exceed its starting auction price.

It is interesting that Knüpfer was awarded an Archduke Carl Ludwig of Austria Gold Medal in 1892 at the Chicago World’s Fair for a painting with the same motif as Duel of the Tritons. Allegedly, this work was purchased by Emperor Franz Joseph I for 5,500 guldens for his collections in the Picture Gallery of the Vienna Museums. The painting offered at Sotheby’s will therefore be another variation by the artist. Coastal scenes with sirens and naiads were probably the artist’s most popular motif. Up to twenty various small studies of this motif appeared only on the Czech market.

However, the canvas Duel for a Naiad, offered two years ago by Meissner-Neumann, probably another variation by the artist of the same work, stands out among them. It has remarkably similar dimensions and approach to the motif as the London work. However, one can see differences in the colours and signature even from a smaller reproduction. Whereas the London variation is signed “Benes Knüpfer/ROMA”, the Meissner-Neumann variation is just “B.K.”. It did not sell for the starting price of CZK 300,000 in Prague.

Beneš Knüpfer: Duel for a Naiad / oil on canvas / 113,5 x 224 cm / Meissner - Neumann 27. 5. 2012 / unsold Beneš Knüpfer: Duel for a Naiad / oil on canvas / 113,5 x 224 cm / Meissner - Neumann 27. 5. 2012 / unsold


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