magic name this
auction season has been "Whitney." The season got off
to a big bang with the sale of "Garçon avec pipe,"
by Pablo Picasso, which had been consigned by the Greentree Foundation
from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney (see The City Review article) and
more than $104 million, a new world auction record for any work
The Whitneys not only collected Impressionist and Modern Art but
also American paintings and several have been consigned to this
auction, most notably "Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife,"
by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Lot 10.
The Sargent portrait of the famous novelist and his wife is one
of the most famous paintings not only in Sargent's oeuvre but
in the history of American art. Painted in 1885, the oil on canvas
measures 20 ¼ by 24 ¼ inches. It is a startling
composition with the author walking towards the viewer's left
while staring at the viewer and his wife seated at the viewer's
right and looking to her left. The picture, moreover, is quite
abstract. The author is a vertical and the wife is a bright almost
circular cocoon at the right. The middle of the picture is dark
and the foreground space is undetailed. Despite the relatively
somber palette, the figures and the composition are very elegant.
One senses one has momentarily distracted the figures who are
gracious enough to go on with their "business."
Describing it as "perhaps the best known and most widely
recognized of the striking, informal portraits John Singer Sargent
began painting in the early 1882, the catalogue provides the following
"It was one of the Whitney's favorite paintings and, though
it was requested for inclusion in numerous exhibitions, they were
reluctant to part with it for long periods of time, such was their
enjoyment of living with this unique painting. Robert Louis
Stevenson and His Wife dates from a period in Sargent's
when he spent much of his time away from his studios in Paris
and London working at the artist's colony at Broadway, a picturesque
village in the English Cotswolds. The resultant paintings are
imbued with an impressionistic vitality and spontaneity lacking
the formal commissioned portraits that had earned the artist his
reputation until that point. Robert Louis Stevenson and His
Wife is the second of three portraits Sargent painted of the
Scottish author. The first, an endeavor of 1884, now missing and
most likely destroyed by Stevenson's wife Fanny, was not to the
artists's liking. In Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife
Sargent realized his notion of the writer in motion and conversation.
A third portrait of 1887, now in the collection of the Taft Museum,
Cincinnati, Ohio. It was commissioned by Charles Fairchild, a
Boston banker, for his wife, an admirer of Stevenson's work. Sargent
painted Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife while
Bournemouth, a resort town on the coats of England south of London,
where Steven and his wife Fanny lived at Skerryvore, a house inherited
from Stevenson's father and named after a lighthouse the family
firm built in Argyll, Scotland. Sargent likely met Stevenson through
Henry James or R.A.M. Stevenson, the writer's cousin who also
studied painting with Sargent in Paris..."
The catalogue entry also provides a quotation from Stevenson about
was down again
and painted a portrait of me walking about in my own dining-room,
in my own velveteen jacket, and twisting as I go my own moustache:
at one corner a glimpse of my wife, in an Indian dress, and seated
in a chair that was once my grandfather's but since some months
goes by the name of Henry James's, for it was the novelist loved
to sit adds a touch of poesy and comicality. It is, I think, excellent,
but is too eccentric to be exhibited. I am at one extreme corner:
my wife in this wild dress, and looking like a ghost is at the
extreme other end: between us an open door exhibits my palatial
entrance hall and part of my respected staircase. All this is
touched in lovely, with that witty touch of Sargent's but of course
it looks damn queer as a whole."
Sargent gave the Stevensons the painting as a gift and Stevenson's
wife wrote to her mother-in-law that "It is lovely, but has
a rather insane appearance, which makes us value all the more.
Anybody may have a 'portrait of a gentleman' but nobody ever had
one like this. It is like an open box of jewels."
The lot has a conservative estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000.
It sold for $8,800,000 including the buyer's premium as do
all results mentioned in this article.
There are two other wonderful "Whitney" Sargents and
they also are of very, very high quality.
Lot 7 is
a beautiful watercolor and pencil on paper by Sargent of "Madame
Roger-Jourdain. It measures 12 by 22 inches and was executed circa
1883-5. It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It
sold for $2,696,000. It is, according to the catalogue, "an
elegant and sensual watercolor depicting Sargent's Parisian friend
and neighbour, Henriette Roger-Jourdain, daughter of the artist
Henri Moulignon. She lived with her husband, Joseph, also an artist,
along the Boulevard Berthier, adjacent to Sargent and other 19th
Century luminaries, including painters, composers and poets. Ever
a stylish couple, the Roger-Jourdains acted a s frequent hosts
and art patrons and were entranced in the artistic milieu of Paris
in the 1890s. Madame Roger-Jourdain particularly captured the
imagination of those around here, inspiring musical compositions
and portraits alike. Giovanni Boldini, who took over Sargent's
studio on the Boulevard Berthiker in 1886, painted his Portrait
of Madame Roger-Jourdainin 1889."
Gabriel Fauré dedicated "Aurore" to Madame Roger-Jourdain
"Whitney" Sargent is Lot 18, "Venetian Loggia,"
an oil on canvas that measures 28 ¼ by 31 ¾ inches.
It has a modest estimate of $3,000,000 to $4,000,000 given its
size, its painterliness and its marvelous composition. It
for $5,608,000. "Stylistically and technically, Venetian
Loggia belongs to the extraordinary series of pictures of Italian
women stringing beads or strolling leisurely in the courtyards
of old palazzi Sargent painted during his two Venetian sojourn
as.The majority of these Italian paintings also share compositional
elements, such as the artist's treatment of space, steep recession
and unconventional cropping, all of which are evident in the two
Venetian interiors in the collections of the Sterling and Francine
Clark Art Instituteand the Carnegie Museum of Art. A luminous
palette or rich whites, grays and black dominates Venetian
Loggia, creating a sense of mystery and exoticism that is
punctuated by the intense accents of red and pink scattered throughout
the composition. The contrasting tonalities of light and dark
found in the richly painted black areas of the model's shawl and
the open doorway silhouetted against the lighter hues of the background
reveal the impact and continuing assimilation of Sargent's close
study of Velasquez, whose paintings Sargent had copied at the
Prado in Spain a few years earlier."
The Sargents may be the stars of the auction, but there are important
highlights including several works by Maurice Prendergast (1858-1924)
and a fine Albert Bierstadt.
has a very lovely pair of watercolors by Prendergast, Lots 21
and 22. Lot 21 is entitled "The Band Concert, Luxembourg
Gardens." It is the front-cover illustration of the catalogue
and measures 16 by 7 ¾ inches. It is dated 1893. Lot 22
is entitled "Bal Bullier, Latin Quarter." It is the
back-cover illustration of the catalogue and measures 15 ¾
by 7 ½ inches. It is dated 1894. Each work has an estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. Lot 22 is perhaps the lovelier, or at
least the livelier of the pair and the dancing girl combines the
ebullience of Lautrec in an early Picassoesque setting. Lot
21 sold for $579,200. Lot 22 failed to sell.
Prendergast is Lot 35, "The Seashore," a stunning oil
on canvas that measures 24 by 35 inches and was painted circa
1918-1923. It is a very strong oil with a rich palette and has
an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It failed to sell.
provenance clearly worked its magic on the three Sargents, but
did not carry over to all the auction's lots. Nonetheless, prices
were very high for many lots and appeared to mark a new plateau
in the American paintings market.
Lot 58 is
a stunning, medium-size painting of "El Capitain, Yosemite,"
by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). An oil on canvas that measures
18 by 24 inches, it was executed in 1864 and has an estimate of
$1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,912,000.
some crackling, the painting has the hallmarks of a great Bierstadt,"
strong composition, fabulous light, interesting cloud formations
and great technique. Bierstadt can be uneven but at his best,
as indicated here, he is sublime. What is incredible about him
and Church is that present-day photographers might have to spend
months to witness the incredible skies recorded by the painters
and then might miss it even with their high-fangled equipment
as sunsets change very very quickly. Their ability to capture
the quintessential sunsets was remarkable.
Another Bierstadt is Lot 79, "The Wetterhorn," which
is dated 1857. Bierstadt studied in Europe and painted numerous
scenes in the Alps before returning to the United States and making
trips out West in the early 1860s. Many of European scenes are
excellent and display Bierstadt's best techniques, but tend to
be overshadowed in the American art market by the "grandiloquence"
of his great Western scenes. This lot, which has considerable
craquelure, has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold
(1823-1916) is a fine early painter of the American West and Lot
96 is a very dramatic and fine oil on canvas, entitled "Cascading
Waterfall." It measures 48 ¼ by 40 ¼ inches
and is dated 1856. It has a very modest estimate of $40,000 to
$60,000. It sold for $60,000.
Kensett (1816-1972) is most admired for luminous coast and Lake
George scenes but he did not always depict calm waters. Lot 61,
"On the Coast, Beverly Shore, Massachusetts," is a very
fine coast scene with dramatic breaking waves and a couple nestled
close to some large rocks with several ships on the horizon. It
was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Woolworth
of Maine. It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold
Lot 69 is
a less dramatic but charming oval landscape by Kensett. Entitled
"Landscape: Mount Chocorua from Conway, the oil on canvas
measures 21 ¼ by 29 ¼ inches and is dated 1854.
It has a conservative estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold
William Hart (1823-1894) is one of the early Hudson River School
painters and Lot 95, "Autumn in New Hampshire," is a
very charming, arched picture. An oil on canvas, it measures 18
by 14 inches. It has an estimate of $18,000 to $24,000. It
sold for $22,800.
Lot 97 is
a fine genre scene by Thomas P. Rossiter (1818-1871), oil on board,
20 ¼ by 26 ¼ inches. Entitled "Picnic above
the Hudson (Picnic by the Lake)," it was executed circa 1862.
A lovely picture of great charm, it has an estimate of $30,000
to $40,000. It failed to sell.
"In Memoriam of Giorgione," is an excellent oil on canvas
by Guy Pène du Bois (1884-1958), who is the subject of
an current exhibition at the Graham Gallery on Madison Avenue.
It measures 16 by 20 inches. It has an estimate of $15,000 to
$20,000. It sold for $45,000.
is a classic and nice marsh scene by Martin J. Heade (1819-1904).
An oil on canvas, it measures 13 by 26 inches and was painted
circa 1866-76. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It
sold for $489,600.
is a nice Lake George scene by Jasper Francis Cropsey. An oil
on canvas, it measures 12 ¾ by 21 inches and was executed
in 1866. It was acquired from the artist by W. H. Vanderbilt and
was later in the collection of Cornelius Vanderbilt III. It has
a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $204,000.
is a great and dramatic highly finished preparatory drawing for
one of the most important paintings by John Trumbull (1756-1843),
"The Death of General Warren at the Battle of Bunker's Hill,"
which is in the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.
A sepia ink and wash on paper, it measures 5 ½ by 8 1/8
inches and was executed in 1786. It has a modest estimate of $15,000
to $30,000. It sold for $232,000!
is a superb oil on panel by Oscar Bluemer (1867-1938) entitled
"American Night-Red Glare." An oil on panel, it measures
23 by 30 inches and is dated 1929. It has an estimate of $500,000
to $700,000. It sold for $904,000.
is a fine abstraction by Charles Sheeler entitled "Ballarvale
Revisited. A tempera on board, it measures 15 1/4 by 14 1/4 inches
and is dated 1949. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $310,400.
(1859-1932) was an artist heavily influenced by Ralph Albert Blakelock,
best known for his poetic moonlight scenes. Lots 88 and 87, "Grand
Canyon, Moonlight," and "The Spirit of the Night,"
are excellent examples of his windy, romantic style. The former
measures 36 1/2 by 30 1/4 inches and the latter measures 20 by
16 inches. The former has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 and
the latter has an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. Lot 88 sold
for $36,000 and Lot 87 sold for $27,000.