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American Paintings
The Collections of A. Alfred Taubman
Sotheby's New York

6:30 P.M., November 18, 2015


Sale 9432

Heade swanp


Lot 11, "The Great Florida Sunset," by Martin J. Heade, oil on canvas, 54 1/4 by 96 inches, 1887

By Carter B. Horsley

This auction of American Paintings from the Collection of A. Alfred Taubman, the shopping center magnate and former chairman of Sotheby's, November 18, 2015 at Sotheby's New York is highlighted by major works by Martin J. Heade, William McGregor Paxton, Charles Burchfield, Reginald Marsh, and Stuart Davis.

The star of the auction was Lot 11, "The Great Florida Sunset," by Martin J. Heade (1819-1904).  An oil on canvas, it measures 54 1/4 by 96 inches and was painted in 1887.

Henry Morrison Flagler, a partner with John D. Rockefeller in the Standard Oil Company, commissioned Heade to paint this large painting for the Spanish Renaissance style Hotel Ponce de Léon Hotel in St. Augustine, Flordia in 1887.  Flager had been responsibile for pioneering the development of the East Coast Railway in Florida and the resort towns of Miami and Palm Beach where he erected the 1,000-room Royal Poinciana Hotel and the Palm Beach Inn that was later renamed The Breakers in 1901.

The painting was the largest in Heade's oeuvre and remained at the hotel that in 1964 became Flagler College and the painting eventually moved to Whitehall, Flagler's Palm Beach estate that is now known as the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum.  The painting was bought by Mr. Taubman in 1988,.

Heade actually painted two large tropical scenes for the Hotel Ponce de Léon, the other a slightly smaller View from Fern-Tree Walk, Jamaica, that is now in a private collection.



It has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000.  It sold for $5,850,000, an auction record for the artist.

The sale total was $13,036,750 with 23 of the 31 offered lots selling.

Homer boat

Lot 24, "The Summer Cloud," by Winslow Homer, watercolor on paper, 13 1/2 by 19 3/4 inches, 1881

Lot 24 is a good watercolor on paper by Winslow Homer (1836-1910) entitled "The Summer Cloud."  It measures 13 1/2 by 19 3/4 inches and was painted in 1881.  It was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the National Gallery of Art in Washington in 1995-6.  The lot depicts two women huddling in the lee of a flat-bottomed fishing boat called the "Summer Cloud" in the fishing village and artist's colony of Cullercoats near Tynemouth in England.  The lot has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000.  It sold for $1,800,000.

Homer bay

Lot 4, "Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester," by Winslow Homer, watercolor on paper, 10 by 13 3/4 inches, 1880

Lot 4 is a good watercolor on paper by Homer entitled "Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester."  It measures 10 by 13 3/4 inches and was painted in 1880.  It was exhibited at Kennedy Galleries in New York in 1972  and was once in the collection of John T. Dorrance Jr. and was acquired by Mr. Taubman at Sotheby's in 1869.

The catalogue provides the following commentary on the lot by Katherine E. Manthorne, a professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York:

"Certainly Winslow Homer’s art was reborn when he left behind what he regarded as the bondage of a Boston lithography firm and the horrors of Civil War battlefields for the rugged beauty of this busy New England seaport. Having practiced watercolor since that first visit in 1873, he returned in the summer of 1880 to further his studies in the medium. This time he took up residence on Ten Pound Island, in the middle of Gloucester Harbor. Named in 1644 in reference to its usage as a place for grazing rams (a “pound” was an old English measure for how much land a sheep or ram needed for grazing), it provided the perfect retreat for a New York based artist who famously kept out prying eyes when he was working by placing a sign on the studio door “Winslow Homer is not at home.”... Art dealer J. Eastman Chase recalled: “Here he lived for one summer rowing across to the town only when in need of materials. The freedom from intrusion which he found in this little spot was precisely to his liking.” It was an incredibly productive interlude, when he produced over 100 watercolors including Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester. By December Doll & Richards, the Boston gallery that would handle his work for the remainder of his career, exhibited them to great acclaim....

The mile and a half wide mouth of Gloucester’s outer harbor is marked on the west by Norman’s Woe and on the east by the Eastern Point Lighthouse. During that summer we can imagine Homer exploring every rocky outcropping and cove along its waterfront, both on foot and by boat. To make this watercolor he likely positioned himself along the western shore of the outer harbor, near where Stage Fort Park stands today. There the grassy slopes still descend down to the water’s edge, much as Homer depicted them. His predecessor Fitz Henry Lane rendered this spot many times, including his Stage Rocks and Western Shore of Gloucester Outer Harbor (1857; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). For local resident Lane deep historical significance imbued this geographical site, thought to be the first place where the English settlers landed and constructed their fledgling community, the term “stage” referring to the fish flakes they would erect there for salting and drying the cod....For the visitor Homer, its value seems to have been in the striking combination of topography and light.

Although Homer rarely commented on his own art, he insisted that an artist should strive for “the truth of that which he wishes to represent,” which could be attained only by observing in “out-door light.”...As he elaborated: “Out-doors you have the sky overhead giving one light; then the reflected light from whatever reflects; then the direct light of the sun: so that, in the blending and suffusing of these several illuminations, there is no such thing as a line to be seen anywhere.”...A quick glance at Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester bears out his remarks; the haze of the sky and the broken reflections on the water make even the horizon line difficult to discern. A new subtlety is apparent in his handling of the watercolor, which he allows to puddle and soak the page, leaving behind clouds and slight movement of water’s surface that appear more as aqueous traces and stains rather than as deliberately painted forms. The boats and island receding toward the horizon along with the grassy sliver of land in the left foreground function as accents in a design rather than participating in a human narrative. In his later years, after he settled in Prout’s Neck, Maine Homer will distill his art down to the essence of land, sea, and sky, devoid of human figures. Here we have a foreshadowing of that later development: a picture that encourages the viewer to contemplate the seacoast in this protected cove, with the yacht sailing close to shore, in a moment of tranquil beauty."

The lot has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It failed to sell.



Silva

Lot 18, "The Beach at Long Branch, New Jersey," by Francis Augustus Silva, oil on canvas, 12 by 24 inches, circa 1869

Lot 18 is a very nice coastal scene by Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886) entitled "The Beach at Long Branch, New Jersey."  An oil on canvas, it measures 12 by 24 inches and was painted circa 1869.  It has a modest estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.  It failed to sell.


Demuth

Lot 12, "Roses," by Charles Demuth, watercolor and pencil on paper, 17 7/8 by 11 7/8 inches, 1926

Lot 12 is a very fine floral watercolor and pencil on paper entitled "Roses" by Charles Demuth (1883-1935).  It measures 17 7/8 by 11 7/8 inches and was painted in 1926.  It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.  It failed to sell.


Marsh

Lot 7, "Merry Go-Round," by Reginald Marsh, tempera on linen mounted on masonite, 36 by 48 inches, 1930

Lot 7 is a large and wonderful tempera on linen mounted on masonite by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954) entitled "Merry Go-Round."  The catalogue notes that Mr. Taubman's "collection of works by Marsh showcases the artist at the height of his creative powers," adding that "from Central Park, to the Metropolitan Opera, to Coney Island, these pictures reveal Marsh’s unparalleled ability to represent the chaotic, evolving and vibrant world around him in a wide range of media. When considered together, they also reveal Mr. Taubman’s admiration for this artist who, with his keen eye and in his distinctive style, captured the spirit of 1930s and 1940s New York City unlike any other."

The catalogue provides the following fine commentary on the painting by Marilyn Cohen, an assistant professor at The New School, Parsons:

"Born 1898 in Paris to expatriate American painters, Reginald Marsh is best known for his paintings of the masses at their leisure in New York City. Financially secure, given an inheritance from a grandfather in the Chicago meatpacking industry, Marsh had a studio on 14th Street near Union Square from which he could observe the urban hub-bub as it was evolving in 1920s and 1930s New York. Here was a newly metropolitan population in contrast to the rural society of nineteenth-century America, and Marsh was thoroughly absorbed in recording it. Marsh’s paintings exude the energy of public life—its spectacles, whether they be the burlesque shows, subway crowds, 14th Street shoppers, sideshows or bathers on Coney Island. Coney Island was in fact a venue only recently available to working-class New Yorkers via the subway connection of Manhattan to Brooklyn in 1915. It is the nature of leisure for the working class—rowdy, desperate and flashy—that Marsh represented.

Clearly Marsh himself was not part of the class he depicted. Educated in New Jersey at the private Lawrenceville School and then at Yale, the painter had worked on the Yale Record as a draftsman. Coming to Manhattan after graduation, he was hired by the Daily News and then by the newly inaugurated The New Yorker magazine to draw the various entertainments the city provided. Marsh’s newspaper and magazine drawings captured the restless cacophony of New York. He regularly attended vaudeville and burlesque shows, illustrating the various acts performing there as well as the crowds outside the movie theaters, at the Coney Island parks and beaches, and down-at-their-luck on the Bowery. His encounter with Thomas Hart Benton at the Art Students League in 1929 encouraged him to render painted versions of these popular subjects. Equally important, Benton’s use of tempera, the medium of the Old Masters, allowed Marsh to translate his intensely graphic style into paint in ways in which oil painting had failed him.

Unceasingly at work as an artist in the city, Marsh sketched, photographed and painted constantly. In fact, at his death he left over 200 sketchbooks, thousands of photographs, watercolors, prints and daily calendars, all of which offered detailed accountings of his output. At the same time that he studied the streets, he studied anatomy; he was also looking at the paintings of Eugène Delacroix, Peter Paul Rubens and Titian whether at New York City’s The Metropolitan Museum of Art or on trips to Europe. What made Marsh’s art so thrilling, and continues to titillate the spectator, is the documentary realism of his art—the newspaper headlines, candy wrappers, and theater marquees—all carefully recorded and incorporated into his paintings and prints using compositions taken from the Old Masters. This combination creates a paradox in his work, one discussed and analyzed by art historians seeking to unravel the personal and social character of his art. Marsh’s consistent reuse of subjects and themes over a 30-year period speaks to personal obsessions as well as to social change in the role of women and men during the Great Depression.

This fusion of disparate elements and concerns expressed his own distance from his subjects, an attempt to overlay these raucous scenes with some measure of order. There can be no doubt that Marsh was attracted to the erotic, disorderly crowds he documented. He was an heir to Baudelaire’s flaneur, a voyeur afoot in the city, in this case a city situated within a historical period of economic trauma. Marsh’s paintings have been labeled ‘carnivalesque’ by the cultural historian Jackson Lears in the ways they challenge the morality of the American way of life. The painter’s voyeurism is evident in the many subjects that are themselves performance-based whether Coney Island sideshows or burlesque theaters with marquees and banners that call out to onlookers loudly offering them relief from their daily troubles. His paintings tilt up and out to the spectator, beckoning them to enter a labyrinth of bodies. Above all, the pull of Marsh’s subject matter, literally and figuratively, is his ‘woman.’ Marsh’s burlesque queen, his movie siren or the female carousel rider can be read as one and the same woman. This woman takes over Marsh’s works, inviting the spectator into the scene much as her fleshiness and gaudy costuming captivated the artist himself.

It is this woman that we see in Marsh’s iconic 1930 painting Merry-Go-Round. Seated on a carousel horse whose mouth is permanently agape with excitement, she is carried aloft and along by the centrifugal force of the carousel. Two other women are also visible in the composition. One is clearly ogled by a man to her right, just as the spectator (or Marsh) may have been ogling the central woman set apart by her turquoise dress and hat.  The painting relates to a 1930 etching of the same subject (and a 1931 lithograph) illustrated in Norman Sasowsky’s 1976 catalogue of Marsh’s prints; at the time that Sasowsky wrote, however, the location of this painting was unknown. The subject also relates to such Old Master prototypes as Titian’s Rape of Europa wherein Europa is thrown off balance atop the bull spiriting her off, thus making Merry-Go-Round a characteristic Marsh revelation of an Old Master theme found in a contemporary setting! The graphic turmoil is unmistakable and akin to the erotic destruction of Delacroix’ 1827 Death of Sardanapalus which includes an ornamentally dressed horse at its left; the wind, the speed, the nature of abduction and seduction all coalesce in Marsh’s image to underscore layered meanings for the artist extant in the everyday. Marsh said he loved Coney Island because he could see thousands of unclothed bodies on the beach reminiscent of the great compositions of Michelangelo. Likewise, Coney Island rides such as the merry-go-round seen in Merry-Go-Round accessed legendary themes for Marsh pulsating with a life force that daily surrounded him."

The lot, a Marsh masterpiece, has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It failed to sell.


Davis

Lot 8, "New York Street," by Stuart Davis, oil on canvas, 11 by 16 inches, 1941


Lot 8 is a fine small oil on canvas by Stuart Davis (1892-1964) entitled "New York Street."  It measures 11 by 16 inches and the "mat" section is part of the painting.  It was executed in 1941.

The catalogue provides the following commentary by Diane Kelder, professor emerita at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York:


"During his long career, Stuart Davis was the consummate painter of modern American life. His idiosyncratic vernacular Cubism drew inspiration from the streets of New York, advertising, consumer culture and jazz. A distinctive feature of his methodology was Davis’s reassessment of earlier works, a practice which intensified in the last two decades of his life.

Completed in October 1941 New York Street is based on House and Street, 1931, a larger canvas which had been acquired nine months earlier by the Whitney Museum of American Art. Years later, the artist would characterize its bi-partite composition as a “mental collage.” The left side of New York Street retains the main elements of the earlier painting such as the street sign and the Bell Telephone logo which provided clues to the location, whereas SMITH, a timely reference to the state’s former governor is playfully replaced by the rather commonplace JONES. The right side, while repeating the curving structure and grids of the Third Avenue El against a background of office buildings, now features a fairly ornate armchair.

Its rich palette of turquoise, orange and pink, decorative flourishes and painterly execution distinguish New York Street from the hard-edged brightness of its predecessor. Appropriately, the canvas was shown in 1943 at the legendary Downtown Gallery where House and Street had made its first appearance."

The lot has an estimate of $250,000 to $450,000.  It sold for $490,000.



Paxton

Lot 10, "Nonchalance," by William McGregor Paxton, oil on canvas, 27 1/4 by 22 inches

Lot 10 is an excellent oil on canvas by William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941) entitled "Nonchalance."  It measures 27 1/4 by 22 inches.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary about the charming coquettishness of this work:


"Educated at the Cowles School of Art in Boston, where he studied with Dennis Miller Bunker, and in Jean-Léon Gérôme’s studio at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, William McGregor Paxton was known as a painter of exquisite interiors inhabited almost exclusively by women. As Ellen Wardwell Lee writes, “This Bostonian found his most congenial subjects in the everyday life around him as it was exemplified by young women pursuing their routine activities, in the decor of upper class New England. This motif served him admirably as a vehicle to convey the magic whereby chiaroscuro exalts beautiful forms and envelops the humblest objects in mystery, to orchestrate unusual color harmonies keyed by the bright hues of female apparel and to construct subtly balanced compositions in such a way that all these elements contributed to make his pictures paeans to feminine loveliness. In so doing he recorded what he saw in statements of an unsurpassed veracity harnessed by the impressionistic unity which raises truth to the dignity of high art” (William McGregor Paxton 1869-1941, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, p. 57). In Nonchalance, Paxton focuses on his beautiful subject in repose, bringing the viewer into an exotic and elegant scene. The abstract patterned backdrop against which the figure is set is a Japanese screen that appears in a number of his paintings. Captured by the artist’s brush, an ephemeral moment becomes a lasting image of serene contemplation and quiet beauty. Affixed to the stretcher of Nonchalance is a fragment of a label from The Corcoran Gallery of Art with the partial title Idle… suggesting this painting may have been exhibited in the Fifth Exhibition Oil Paintings by Contemporary American Artists of 1914-15 as Idleness."

The lot has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.  It sold for $187,500.



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