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Balthus masterpiece leads the Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection at Christie's
Balthus, Thérèse sur une banquette, oil on board, 1939. $12-18 million. © Christie's Images Ltd 2019.

NEW YORK, NY.- This May, Christie’s will offer The Dorothy and Richard Sherwood Collection across 20th Century Week, with highlights featured in both its Evening Sales of Impressionist and Modern Art on 13 May, and Post-War and Contemporary Art on 15 May. Further examples from the collection will be offered in sales of American, Indian and South Asian and Japanese and Korean Art as well as Picasso Ceramics. The Sherwoods were admired within the collecting community for studying deeply and selecting paintings, drawings and sculptures that excited and challenged them. The result is a collection of discerning taste and exceptional quality. The works being offered reflect their profound connoisseurship, their appreciation of the creators and the creative process, and their great adventures of the heart and mind.

Max Carter, International Director, Head of Department, Impressionist and Modern Art, New York, remarked: “Dorothy and Richard Sherwood’s home was unlike any other, as much for the profound sense of thoughtfulness and purpose as the exceptional range and quality of its works of art. Each room displayed a trove of treasures ranging from Richard Diebenkorn’s seminal Berkeley #32, acquired from Ferus Gallery in 1960, to Balthus’s 1939 masterpiece Thérèse sur une banquette. One of Balthus’s outstanding achievements, this remarkable painting hung in the Sherwoods’ living room for nearly sixty years, last seen publicly as the cover of the “Cats and Girls” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013. No better Balthus has appeared at auction and none is likely to again. We are honored to offer these unique works this spring at Christie’s.”

The fine art collection of Dorothy and Richard Sherwood represents a lifetime of travel and discovery, an embrace of global art and artists—and erudition reaching across categories and continents. As pioneering civic leaders in Los Angeles, the Sherwoods were visionary thinkers and leaders who made an indelible impact on some of the finest arts institutions in the world.

After serving in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and marriage to Dorothy “Dee” Romonek in 1953, Richard “Dick” Sherwood won a prestigious Sheldon Traveling Fellowship from Harvard Law School that transported the newlyweds around the world for one year of continuous travel. During this time, the couple studied new genres and began collecting paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture that stimulated their senses and captured their imaginations.

Following Dick’s Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Felix Frankfurter, the young couple returned to Beverly Hills to build their lives and a family. Dick joined O’Melveny & Myers, the law firm in which he practiced for 38 years, specializing in antitrust, intellectual property and trade.

As trailblazing patrons of the arts, Dee and Dick were immersed in the dynamic 1960s California art scene and knew many of its leading artists. Their early acquisition of an iconic Berkeley painting by the young Richard Diebenkorn led to a decades-long friendship. David Hockney joined them for festivities in their home and garden, as did the sculptor Robert Graham. Emerging artists, museum curators, art historians and dealers frequented their gatherings. Across decades, the couple devoted their time, prodigious energy and resources to helping build some of the leading cultural institutions in Southern California, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and the Center Theatre Group. The Sherwoods supported LACMA with dual fervor, where Dick long served as the board’s President, and later Chairman, and Dee as President of the institution’s Art Museum Council. Today, LACMA’s permanent collection includes numerous works that were brought to the museum through the Sherwoods’ shared leadership and patronage.

Over the years, the Sherwoods avidly built their private collection, buying what they loved and living joyously with their art. Pieces often arrived in their home straight from an artist’s easel or directly from a nail in a painter’s studio. Their art ranged across periods and continents including works by Picasso, Matisse, Henry Moore, Stuart Davis, Frank Stella and Wilhelm Hammershøi.

Leading the collection is the tour de force by Balthus, Thérèse sur une banquette, 1939 (estimate: $12-18 million), which will be offered in the 13 May Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern Art. The present picture is the last of the artist’s renowned series of portraits featuring his muse, Thérèse Blanchard. In late 1935 Balthus became acquainted with Thérèse, a girl from a large family that lived a few blocks from the artist’s new studio. She was fourteen years old when she posed in 1939 for Thérèse sur une banquette. Between 1936 and 1939, Thérèse featured in “a series of ten paintings that must be regarded as [Balthus’s] most perceptive and sensitive portrayals of a young sitter and among his finest works,” Sabine Rewald has written. “The portraits of Thérèse, showing her reading or doing nothing but dreaming, inaugurated what would be the leitmotif of Balthus’s oeuvre.” In Thérèse sur une banquette, Balthus showcased his primarily professional, compositional concerns — aiming to depict his model in a novel, unique posture, with neither a familiar nor apparent precedent. He moreover sought to evoke her inner world with a sense of presence that was outwardly and convincingly grounded in the mechanics of movement, while exalting the sublime architecture of her youthful figure. Balthus established the complex lineaments of her extended posture, and every telling nuance in her expression, as she appears completely absorbed in a moment of play.

In featuring his teenaged subjects, Balthus captured an essential aspect of their physical deportment: their ability to casually move—seemingly with a modern dancer’s agility and ease—from one posture into another, naturally and unselfconsciously assuming positions that adults might normally avoid as clumsy or maladroit. Such poses might challenge even a practiced, professional artist’s model, and are consequently rarely encountered in figure painting. “In 1939 Balthus completed one of his most emblematic paintings of a peculiar state, close to the graceful state of childhood, which precedes the beginning of the heavy, awkward age of adolescence,” Jean Clair wrote. “The portrait of Thérèse on a Bench is caught in the sort of delicate balance that cannot last for more than a moment… Yet this body in unstable balance is invincibly drawn; it slides towards the further shore to which the gravity of adulthood inexorably leads, when play and its ease can no longer counterbalance the leaden weight of things.” Here Balthus matches his renaissance idol, Piero della Francesca’s mastery of geometric balance and proportion, with Thérèse’s triangular form bisected by the thread hanging from her right hand.

Highlighting the Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale on 13 May, is Richard Diebenkorn’s Berkeley #32, from 1955 (estimate: $6-8 million). With its rich tapestry of intertwining forms, Berkeley #32 is one of the finest examples of the expressive brushstrokes that define the artist’s important series of paintings. While refreshingly modern in its execution, the work is also a supreme example of the artist’s debt to those he considered the heroes of art history, in particular his beloved Matisse. Diebenkorn leaves areas of pentimenti intentionally visible and combines this with the aqueous fluidity of the paint application to give the painting a fresh yet subtle spontaneity. Describing this period, the critic Thomas Albright said, “Returning to strong, vivid colors—emphasizing tart, acidulous greens, hot, dry salmons and deep full-bodied blues—Diebenkorn built up rich, juicy paint surfaces. They were arranged in loose but welldefined color planes, that plunged diagonally into space, setting up an acute “birds-eye” perspective. The strongest of these paintings achieved an extraordinary balance between abstraction and dizzying panoramas of natural landscape” (T. Albright, Art in the San Francisco Bay Area, Berkeley, 1985, p. 65). Widely exhibited and cited in literature on the artist, including as the catalogue cover for the 2013 exhibition entitled “Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, 1953-1966” staged by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Berkeley #32 stands as the pinnacle of one of the artist’s most important bodies of work.

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