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Sotheby's Auction of 19th Century European Art features discoveries not seen in decades
Sir John Lavery, The Green Sofa. Est. $700,000/1 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s bi-annual 19th Century European Art auction in New York will be held on 8 November 2012, featuring 105 exceptional works of art, including masterpieces by William Bouguereau, Giovanni Boldini, Jules Breton and others which have not been available on the market in more than 50 years. The preview exhibition will open in Sotheby’s New York headquarters beginning on 2 November.

An important discovery in this sale is a group of six paintings formerly in the collection of self-made American businessman Obed J. Wilson, highlighted by William Bouguereau’s masterful La branche de cerisier (The Cherry Branch) from 1881 (est. $1.5/2 million). The painting was sold to Obed J. Wilson in 1881 within months of leaving the artist’s studio, and he later donated it to Twin Towers Senior Living Community in Cincinnati, Ohio, which he and his wife helped support and where it has remained on display since. Proceeds from their sale will benefit projects and operations at Twin Towers. Separate release available

The sale offers an exceptional group of paintings by William Bouguereau reflecting every period of his career, with works spanning from 1869 to 1901, all fresh to the market and having been in Private Collections for decades. Highlights include Prêtresse de Bacchus (est. $700/1 million), which features a single model and belongs to a series the artist referred to as ‘fantasy paintings.’ He isolates his subject within a vast landscape and, without any contextual framework beyond her costume, she becomes representative of a lost, ancient ideal. Jeunes filles de Fouesnant revenant du marché (est. $500/700,000) is an early work from 1869 by the artist and a rare Breton subject; one of an even more select series of paintings depicting the daily life of the region’s people inspired by one of Bouguereau’s summer trips to Brittany.

Sir John Lavery’s The Green Sofa (est. $700/1 million) is a sophisticated composition that was held in the distinguished collection of the late Katherine W. Mellon. The sitter, Mary Auras, was a well-known German model working in Paris at the time and who sat for many of Lavery’s paintings, as well as for other artists. Through its subtle color harmonies, broad paint handling and bold compositional lines, this painting reveals the influence that James McNeill Whistler, Lavery’s close friend, had on his work.

Early in his career and when he first moved to Paris, Giovanni Boldini appealed to popular demand for pre-Revolutionary imagery in a series of small, intricately detailed paintings of directoire subjects, and Les Dômes (Versailles) (est. $100/150,000) is an excellent example of his early style. Completed soon after his visit to the extravagant palace in the spring of 1875, the present work depicts the Bosquet des Dômes, one of Versailles’ many bosquets (small, formal gardens). It has been held in a distinguished American collection since the 1940s.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot is well-represented by 3 works in this sale, including the rare figurative work, La Petite Pie (est. $250/300,000). The title references two magpies in the work and alludes to the noisy bird and a nickname given to the young model: “the little chatterbox.” It was acquired by Joan Whitney Payson in 1951 and has remained in the family’s collection ever since.

An offering of Orientalist paintings is highlighted by Ludwig Deutsch’s The Scholars (est. $400/600,000). Painted in 1901, three young scholars contemplate illuminated manuscripts of various kinds. Having already established himself as the premier painter of Arab guards and sentinels, Deutsch embarked on a new theme in the late 1890s – that of the Arab literati. Pensive images of letter-writers, scribes, and scholars of Islam and Islamic law abound in Deutsch’s mature paintings, a reflection, perhaps, of the artist’s increasing erudition about Middle Eastern culture.

* Estimates do not include buyer’s premium.

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