19th Century European Art to be Auctioned at Sotheby’s

. October 3, 2009

Sotheby’s autumn sale of 19th Century European Art Including Important British Paintings will be held in New York on October 22, 2009, and will offer a selection of high-quality works representing the best artists, schools and styles of the 19th century. Works from the sale are estimated to bring in excess of $10.5 million and will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New York galleries beginning October 17.

William BouguereauAmong the highlights of the sale is French Academic painter William Bouguereau’s Jeune Fille à la Cruche (Young Girl with a Water Jug) (est. $750,000/1 million). By 1885, when the artist painted Jeune Fille à la Cruche (Young Girl with a Water Jug), France had emerged from decades of great social change. Revolutions had replaced kings with presidents, transformed farms into factories, and the demands of modern business threatened the agrarian way of life. Yet, easing such concerns were finely painted portraits of country children, like the present work’s model, who sits alone on a rough-hewn stone bench, resting from her task of carrying a clay water jug. In his sensitive portrayals of peasant girls, Bouguereau elevated the image of France’s most humble citizens; painted as a full-length portrait and set in a vertical picture space in front of a loosely painted landscape, Bouguereau gives his model iconic stature despite the rough cloth of her dress and her bare feet. There is simultaneously a naturalistic truth to Bouguereau’s representation of the young girl, her cheeks slightly flushed from her demanding labor, her small hands unable to surround the thick handle of the weighty jug.

Bouguereau’s Le Bruit de la Mer (est. $300/500,000) presents quite a different child subject. Here the blond model wears a well tailored dress and coiffed hair and holds a shell to her ear. Shells at the time were an exotic and expensive collectible as exploration and colonialism expanded.

Gustave Courbet’s 1867 canvas La Trombe will also be offered (est. $400/600,000). Experts have divided Courbet’s fascination with the sea into five distinct periods, which correlate to visits to five different coastal towns. La Trombe dates to Courbet’s 1867 visit to Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer and depicts a menacing storm bearing down on a tiny woman on a rock. Because Courbet rarely included figures in his seascapes, the inclusion of the tiny figure makes the painting all the more interesting, though her meaning remains elusive.

This season the sale will feature a strong selection of works by British artists led by Frederic, Lord Leighton’s monumental Venus Disrobing for the Bath (est. $1.2/1.5 million). Venus Disrobing for the Bath is the first of Leighton’s important nudes, which challenged the prevailing notions of Victorian propriety in favor of unadulterated beauty. Surprisingly, Leighton’s controversial nude was defended by critics, suggesting the prestige and popularity of paintings (even those of nudes) that reinterpreted Greek myths or Classical artifacts for a contemporary audience.

John William Godward’s Beauty in a Marble Room, painted in 1894, is also among the highlights (est. $400/600,000). Godward, one of the foremost Victorian Neoclassicists, built an illustrious career creating images of idealized feminine beauty within a Greco-Romaninspired idiom. In Godward’s picture, we see a young auburn-haired woman posing against a highly-polished, veined marble backdrop. The implied impermanence and vulnerability of her youthful form draped in delicate, sheer fabrics provide a striking foil to ideals of strength and timelessness suggested by the marble setting.

The Victorian period was a golden age for the portrayal of children in art and literature. Children of bourgeois and aristocratic families enjoyed great attention, and portraits of them with rosy-cheeks happily playing with faithful family pets were in great demand. Arthur Elsley was first known as a skilled depicter of canine and equestrian subjects, yet upon witnessing the success of his fellow artists’ happy childhood scenes, Elsley followed suit. In Weatherbound, the artist depicts two sisters and their faithful pet taking shelter from the snow (est. $150/200,000).

Edward Robert Hughes’ Dream Idyll (A Valkyrie) presents a seductive, strange, Symbolist scene that captivated audiences at its exhibition in 1902 (est. $100/150,000). The painting is a relatively early experiment in the Symbolist style for Hughes, whose earlier subjects were often based on Shakespearean and other literary themes. Here, Hughes creates an aesthetic mood rather than a particular story and the picture, as its title suggests, serves as a starting point for the imagination, a way to bring out what is hidden in the subconscious.

Two works by Alfred James Munnings are among the highlights of the sale, both originally from the renowned Matsukata Collection in Japan. In A Huntsman, circa 1913, Munnings records a peaceful moment for horse and rider as the foxhound searches for a scent (est. $150/200,000). In The Barn (est. $100/150,000), Munnings captures the curiosity of two horses, whose ears are pricked and heads are slightly turned towards the viewer as if we have intruded upon the scene. Munnings depiction of the subtle tonality in the horses’ coats pays tribute to the noble beasts that would soon after be marginalized with the rise of industrialization.

Sotheby’s sale of 19th Century European Art will once again offer a selection of Orientalist works by some of the finest artists of the genre, led by Leopold Carl Müller’s rediscovered depiction of A Street Scene, Cairo. (est.$600/800,000). Müller’s picture boasts a spectacular provenance – it was purchased the year it was executed by William Henry Vanderbilt and descended in his family until its sale at Sotheby’s predecessor Parke-Bernet in 1945. The painting has remained in a private collection since its sale in 1945, and was only this year discovered when Sotheby’s research revealed its full provenance. In fact, the painting remains in its beautifully carved original frame and can be seen hanging in a period depiction of the Vanderbilt’s salon in their Fifth Avenue mansion. Jean Discart’s skillful depicture of The Pottery Studio, Tangiers, will also be included (est. $100/150,000).

The auction will also feature a collection of six Polish paintings from the Slotkowski Collection in Chicago. Pride in his Polish ancestry influenced Dr. Eugene L. Slotkowski’s passionate interest in Polish culture, art and history, especially as it intersected with Polish-Jewish relations; highlights of the collection both demonstrate the extraordinary variety and depth found in the nineteenth-century Polish art genre, and attest to Dr. Slotkowski’s keen connoisseurship and his enduring appreciation of his heritage.

Image: William Bouguereau, Jeune Fille à la Cruche, 1885. Est. $750,000/1 million. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Category: Auction News

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