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The Haussner's Restaurant Collection:

19th Century European and American Paintings


6 PM, November 2, 1999

"After the Bath" by Jean-Léon Gérome

Lot 31, "After The Bath," by Jean-Léon Gérome (1824-1904),

a 32 1/2 by 26 1/4 inch oil on canvas, circa 1881

By Carter B. Horsley

For more than three score years, Haussner's Restaurant was the most celebrated restaurant in Baltimore as well as one of the most extraordinary in the country because of its very vast and impressive collection of 19th Century European and American paintings.

The restaurant has now been closed but will be reopened as a culinary school under the auspices of the Baltimore International College. "The time has come for us to move on," Mrs. Frances Haussner George, who has operated the restaurant with her husband, Stephen Shriver George, for the last 30 years. The restaurant was founded by her parents, William Henry Haussner and Frances Wilke Haussner, who bought their first painting in 1939, "Venetian Flower Vendor," by Eugen de Blaas (1843-1931) on their fourth wedding anniversary and concentrated mostly on academic figural and genre pictures. That 39 by 51 inch oil on canvas is Lot 88 in this sale and has a high estimate of $400,000. They also bought some Old Master paintings, some of which were auctioned at Sotheby's Oct. 14, 1999, sculptures that will be included in Sotheby's Nov. 3, 1999 auction of 19th Century European Furniture and Decorations, and some other American paintings, including an Albert Bierstadt painting of Lake Louise in Canada, that will be included in Sotheby's Dec. 1, 1999 auction of Important American Paintings.

If the proverbial "saloon" in movie Westerns always seemed to have a large painting of a voluptuous nude woman at the bar, then Haussner's was the Uffizi and Pitti of American restaurants as its collection of such works was eye-catching, to say the least, and, more importantly, very fine. Its bar, the catalogue notes, was "Strictly Stag."

This evening sale was held on the seventh floor of Sotheby's building, whose expansion is not yet completed, and attendees were unable to visit the very impressive roof garden cafe on the 10th floor with its rather surprising and impressive skyline views since that closed at 5PM. The entrance to the auction house apparently is still not complete and therefore was rather more appropriate to a suburban warehouse and its elevators were not especially impressive. Indeed, in sharp contrast to the quite spectacular exhibition spaces on the 10th floor with their very high ceilings, the auction itself was very crowded and cramped. Even though this department does not attract the throngs of the "big" auctions, many people had to stand and several were particularly galled at a bespectacled man in a blue striped suit who brought along his wife and two children and insisted on occupying all of those seats plus two others even when the children and mother had wandered off. The appalingly arrogant, bespectacled man was not seen bidding on anything and hopefully will not be seen again. His lack of breeding was all the more bothersome because the auctioneer lingered for great whiles on many lots.

Despite such quibbles, this auction was very successful with 128 of 134 lots selling for a total of $10,127,325. This was a remarkably high percentage of lots being sold and several were at very strong prices. Several lots also sold at quite low prices and it appeared that reserves were very low.

The highlight of the auction is Lot 31, "After The Bath," by Jean-Léon Gérome (1824-1904), shown at the top of this article, a 32 1/2-by-26 1/4-inch oil on canvas that was painted circa 1881. The exquisite painting, which was once in the collection of William Astor, is conservatively estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $1,047,500, including the buyer's premium, to a "Middle Eastern private collector."

The catalogue's description of this work notes the following about the women in the painting:

"Gérome chooses not to portray them in erotic or 'splendid' poses. Instead, he observes the movement of muscle and flesh as the body turns, and records the manner in which the light falls on the skin; for the artist, the numan body itself was a thing of beauty. The structure of the bones, the mechanism of the musculature, and the flexibility of the skin were wonders, beauties of nature to be observed, studied and reported. Consequently, both he and his friend Edgar Degas sometimes placed their models into awkward positions to reveal, in full splendor, the anatomy of the human body."

Another outstanding and impressive painting of a nude is Lot 40, which happens to have the same title as the Gérome. This 61-by-34-inch oil on canvas by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000 and is dated 1894. This lot was passed at $230,000! A much earlier painting by the same artist is Lot 37, "Faun and Bacchante," a 21-by-26-inch oil on canvas that was executed in 1960 and has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $125,000, not including the buyer's premium.

Lot 46 is a very lovely work by Bouguereau's wife, Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau (1837-1922), who, the catalogue remarks, "was not only the first American woman painter to exhibit at the Paris Salon (1866), but the first to be awarded a Salon Medal." "Her studio in the rue Nôtre Dame les Champs became the Mecca of American travelers and art lovers, attracted by the renown of her Salon achievements and the pride in the uniqueness of her position in the French capital. She faithfully adopted the forms and artistic vision of William Bouguereau, whom she married in 1896 when she was 59," it continued. The painting, "The Dove Fanciers," is a 68-by-47-inch oil on canvas and has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000. It sold to "London trade" for only $222,500, including the buyer's premium, but that was enough to establish a new world record for the artist.

Among the other fine nudes are Lots 34A, 36, 38 and 39. Lot 34A, "Aurora," is a lyrical work James Bertrand (1823-1887) that is 89-by-40-inch oil on canvas that has a high estimate of $160,000. Lot 36, "Love Captured," is a very delightful, Fragonardesque oil on canvas, 23 by 18 1/2 inches, by Rudolph Rössler who was born in 1864 and it is dated "Wien 90" and has a very conservative high estimate of only $15,000. It sold for $18,000, not including the buyer's premium. Lot 38 is a stunning study of two flying nudes entitled "The Balance of The Zodiac," by Luis Ricardo Faléro (1851-1896), a 29 1/2-by-20 1/2-inch oil on canvas that has a high estimate of $60,000. A photograph in the catalogue showed that this lot hung behind the restaurant's bar next to Gerome's "After The Bath." It sold for only $37,500, not including the buyer's premium. Lot 39, "Pandora," is a beautiful, 38-by-29 1/2-inch oil on canvas by Jules Joseph Lefebvre (1836-1911) that has a conservative high estimate of $50,000. It sold for $42,000, not including the buyer's premium.

"Entrance to a Roman Theater" by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema

Lot 49, "Entrance to a Roman Theater," by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema,

27 3/4 by 38 1/2 inch oil on canvas, 1866

Another important highlight of the auction is Lot 49, "entrance to a Roman Theater," by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912), a 27 3/4-by-38 1/2-inch oil on canvas, 1866, still in its ornate and theatrical original frame designed by the artist, shown above. The work is estimated at $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $640,500, including the buyer's premium to an American private collector.

A far more impressive frame surrounds Lot 102, "A Musical Interlude," a very pleasant, 23 1/2-by-39-inch oil on canvas by Angelo Zoffoli (active 1860-1910). Shown below in its frame, this lot is conservatively estimated at $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for only $21,850, not including the buyer's premium.

A Musical Interlude" by Angelo Zoffoli

Lot 102, "A Musical Interlude," by Angelo Zoffoli,

23 1/2 by 39 inches, oil on canvas

Lot 7 is a superb painting by Jules Dupré (1811-1889) that was formerly in the Carnegie Collection in Pittsburgh. "Riding in Fountainebleau," it is a 38-by-45-inch oil on canvas that is evocative of the great brushwork of Gustave Courbet and the lyricism of Corot. It is a very strong example of the work of the artists who concentrated much of the work in the forests at Fountainebleau. It is very conservatively estimated at $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $200,500, including the buyer's premium, to an American private collector.

Another impressive work is Lot 26, "Fleeing Wallachian Horses," by Adolf Schreyer (1828-1899), a 40-by-67 1/2-inch oil on canvas that vividly depicts a group of horses crashing through a fence and has a high estimate of $150,000. It sold for only $75,000, not including the buyer's premium.

Lot 74, "I'se Biggest!," is perhaps the most famous painting by Arthur John Elsley (1860-1952), a very charming work that shows a young girl standing on a book next to a very large dog. Executed in 1892, the 32-by-24-inch oil on canvas was reproduced often and carries a high estimate of $250,000. It sold to an American private collector for $673,500, including the buyer's premium, a record for the artist. At one point, the auctioneer asked one of Sotheby's staff taking phone bids if she was "sure" her caller did not want to make another bid, only to look up and realized that she had hung up on the caller and he remarked that hanging up indicated she was "sure," the comic highlight of the auction. Another charming Elsey, Lot 77, "Whose Turn First?" sold for $415,000, including the buyer's premium, way over its high estimate of $120,000.

Dog pictures were definitely popular as Lot 80, "The Dog Fancier," by Briton Rivere (1840-1920), sold for $101,500, including the buyer's premium, well over its high estimate of $80,000.

Cats were not ignored as the sweet "Best Friends," by Emile Munier (1810-95), fetched $200,500, including the buyer's premium, exceeding its high estimate of $70,000 and inspiring applause at the auction.

The auction includes several good works by Daniel Ridgeway Knight (1839-1924) and John George Brown 1831-1913), both American painters, and numerous very handsome still lifes, animal and genre pictures, generally of very high quality, that altogether give a very good representation of academic painting in Europe.

Most of the paintings offered were European, but the few American paintings did well. Lot 84, for example, "Maid Among The Flowers," by Daniel Ridgway Knight (1839-1924), sold for $211,500, including the buyer's premium, way above its $150,000 high estimate, and Lot 60, "Short," by John George Brown (1831-1913) sold within its estimates for $55,000, including the buyer's estimate. Lot 14, "Bleak December," a good landscape by William Lucien Picknell (1854-97), sold for $75,000, not including the buyer's premium, more than twice its high estimate.

Among the very few passes was Lot 52, "A Roman Matron," by John William Godward (1861-1922). A fine painting, it was offered in an ornate frame that could be bought but the lot's last bid of $190,000 fell far short of its ambitious estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.

William Henry Haussner began his restaurant career as a chef working in the Museum Restaurant in Nuremberg, Germany, that occupied a former art gallery. He came to the United States in 1926 and opened a restaurant on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore and soon attracted a clientele that included H. L. Mencken, the writer. After 10 years, he moved the restaurant to a new site on the same avenue. His wife, Frances Wilke Haussner started the art collection and her husband became a "quick convert and more works followed as buying trips to New York became more frequent" and they acquired numerous works at auction from the J. P. Morgan, Cornelius Vanderbilt and Henry Walters estates. "Perhaps it was inevitable, as the collection reached heroic proportions, that the Haussner's would purchase one of the world's largest paintings, an 18,000-square-foot panorama, 45 feet high and 402 feet long, titled Pantheon de la Guerre, a memorial to the men who fought in World War I. Unable to properly display the entire work, the central part of the painting was donated in 1959 to the Kansas City Liberty Memorial Association at a dedication ceremony that included President Truman," according to the handsome catalogue, which contains several pictures of how the restaurant once looked.


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