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Flag Day highlights Bonhams American Art sale
Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936), Flag Day, oil on canvas, Painted in 1918. (estimate: $500,000-700,000). Photo: Bonhams.

NEW YORK, NY.- Flag Day, a significant work by American Impressionist, Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936) will highlight Bonhams American Art sale in New York on November 19 (estimate: $500,000-700,000). This year marks the 100th anniversary of Armistice of World War I on November 11th as well as the painting’s execution in October of 1918.

Theodore Earl Butler was born in Columbus, Ohio and began his artistic training under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York. He set off for Paris in 1886 where he studied at the Académie Julian. He moved to Giverny in 1888 and became closely associated with the group of Americans who worked in the artists’ colony there. Giverny was famously home to Claude Monet, who was the expatriates’ greatest influence. Butler formed a close personal relationship with Monet, who became his father-in-law after Butler married Suzanne Hodseché in 1892. Butler travelled back to New York in 1913 for a mural commission and participated in the landmark Armory show of that year. World War I prevented his return to France for eight years and it was during this period in New York that Butler witnessed the spirited parades that inspired Flag Day.

Flag Day depicts the Fourth Liberty Loan parade in New York City, which was led by President Woodrow Wilson in October 1918, as the end of the war approached. The large-scale composition focuses on the striking flags of the Allies soaring down Fifth Avenue that were interspersed with dazzling red Liberty Loan banners. The spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral are seen in the background, placing the viewpoint at 53rd street and 5th Avenue looking South. In the autumn of 1918, Fifth Avenue was coined the “Avenue of the Allies” due to these spectacular international displays of flags.

Flag Day is part of a tradition of urban flag paintings by both European and American masters, from Monet and Édouard Manet to Childe Hassam and George Luks. There are very few works of this magnitude that Butler painted on this subject. Another example entitled Flags of 1918 features a similar composition and is in the collection of the Birmingham Art Museum (Birmingham, Alabama) and indeed many comparable flag paintings by Butler’s contemporaries are in institutional collections.

This painting will be included in Patrick Bertrand's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Theodore Earl Butler and has been requested for inclusion in an exhibition of the artist’s work, at the Columbus Museum of Art (Columbus, Ohio) in September 2021.

Flag Day is consigned as part of a selection of six works from a private collection in Chicago, which includes city scenes by Guy C. Wiggins and Colin Campbell Cooper.

Jennifer Jacobsen, Director of American Art, remarks: “Bonhams is honored to offer Theodore Earl Butler’s Flag Day as a highlight of our upcoming sale of American Art. This important American Impressionist work is emblematic of the patriotic atmosphere during the autumn of 1918, an internationally historic time period. It is a superb example of the artist capturing a significant moment in modern city life.”

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