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Sotheby's Sale of 19th Century European Art
Rosa Bonheur, The Horse Fair, est. $250/350,000.

NEW YORK.- Sotheby’s spring auction of 19th Century European Art in New York will be held on April 18, 2007, and will feature a broad selection of paintings and sculpture of the highest quality across all areas of the category. The auction is highlighted by a strong selection of Victorian paintings, including a masterpiece by John William Waterhouse; Impressionist and racing scenes by Sir Alfred Munnings; the most important private collection of works by Rosa Bonheur ever assembled (including a large scale watercolor version of her famous painting, The Horse Fair); as well as numerous paintings which have been off the market for many years, including some that have been lost since they were first exhibited in the 19th century. The sale will also feature important works by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and William Bouguereau, among others. Prior to their sale on April 18th, the works will be on public exhibition in Sotheby’s 5th floor galleries from April 13th through April 17. The sale of approximately 275 lots is expected to bring $19/27 million.

Included in the offering of works by Bonheur, from an important private collection assembled over a period of 20 years, will be a large scale watercolor replica of Bonheur’s most renowned painting, The Horse Fair (est. $250/350,000). The original has been at The Metropolitan Museum of Art since the auction of American millionaire Alexander T. Stewart’s collection in 1887 and remains one of their most popular paintings to date. Painted in 1867, the watercolor version replicates the action and movement of the large oil, but in a more delicate medium. Bonheur made many preliminary sketches and studies for her large painting exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1853. The influence of Delacroix and Géricault was crucial in the Salon painting, and Delacroix himself expressed his admiration for the work in his journal. Rosa Bonheur (1922-1899) was considered the most important female artist of her time. Among the other exceptional works by Bonheur being offered is Spanish Muleteers Crossing the Pyrenees from 1857 (est. $150/200,000) and King of the Forest from 1897. Throughout her career, Bonheur often chose to depict lone animals in their native settings, and in doing so, she bestows an air of nobility on her impressive subjects.

Among the examples of fine Victorian paintings in this sale are works by John William Waterhouse and Edmund Blair Leighton. Waterhouse’s masterpiece Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May ($1.75/2.5 million) depicts the scene of Persephone; Waterhouse was among the Pre-Raphaelite painters who re-interpreted this well-known tale from Classical mythology. While many of these works focused on dramatic depictions of Persephone’s dark descent into Hades, the present work reveals little of her brutal fate. In the stylistic shifts from precise detail and studied anatomy to Impressionistic tones, the work reveals Waterhouse’s interest in experimenting with academic conventions. Another impressive Victorian work featured in this sale is God Speed by Edmund Blair Leighton, from 1900 (est. $1.2/1.8 million), which was exhibited at the Royal Academy the year of its creation. In this work, a beautiful young noblewoman ties her richly embroidered red scarf around the arm of her knight – a token of her appreciation for his courage – and a reminder that her love awaits his return. His wide-eyed, earnest expression conveys his chivalrous devotion to her, in the ideal of courtly love, according to which it’s the knight’s duty to serve his lady first and foremost, and after her, all ladies. Leighton created a series of paintings devoted to the ideal of chivalry. Edmund Blair Leighton and his fellow artist John William Waterhouse were without a doubt the greatest exponents of Pre-Raphaelitism in its last and most elaborate phase. Painting a generation after Rossetti and Millais, Leighton revived interest in chivalric tales of heroic knights, damsels in distress, romantic bards and mournful kings, painting the same subjects with equal fervor.

The April sale will also include a strong offering of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. Highlights of the works being offered are Le Monastère Derrière les Arbres (est. $300/400,000) and Vetheuil, Bord de la Seine, estimated to sell for $80/120,000. The small village of Vetheuil, painted here by Corot, was also where Claude Monet retreated in 1878 due to financial hardships. Located near Giverny on the Seine riverbank, it quickly became the inspiration behind the Monet’s most prolific period and he spent five years in its environs. During the first two years alone, Monet created no less than 178 scenes of the village.

Another highlight of this sale will be a vibrantly colored work by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Paolo and Francesca (est. $200/300,000). While Ingres thought of himself as a painter of history, he is most known for his portraits. The story of Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Polenta is first told by Dante in the Divine Comedy. When Ingres took up the tale around 1814, a new translation of Dante’s masterwork made the Divine Comedy more accessible to French audiences, and the story of Paolo and Francesca in particular quickly became one of Paris’ favorite tragedies. Francesca, the daughter of a nobleman from Ravenna, had been wed in a politically arranged marriage to a much older man, Giovanni Malatesta, who was physically deformed and wholly absorbed by his continual wars. In Dante's retelling of the tale, the poet encounters Francesca and Paolo in the second circle of hell, where they have been condemned to fly through the whirlwind in a meaningless embrace for all eternity because of a moment of carnal love. Ingres focuses his attention to the fatal moment of Paolo’s kiss and Francesca’s quiet acquiescence.

Another interesting and important work being offered in this sale is William McGregor Paxton’s Odalisque with the Slave (Copy After Ingres) (est. $70/90,000), from 1932, which is a study of Ingres’ painting from 1839. Paxton was an esteemed member of the Boston School, a group of American Impressionists including Edmund C. Tarbell and Frank W. Benson who achieved commercial and critical success through their portrayals of elegant women in well-appointed interiors. The Ingres originally belonged to the well known Philadelphia collector Carroll S. Tyson, who was a close friend of Paxton, and the artist painted his version of Ingres’ masterpiece while studying the picture in Tyson’s home. Paxton carefully emulates the recumbent odalisque, lying barely clothed in her daybed, being entertained by her dutiful servant, her eunuch standing guard nearby. Paxton faithfully transcribes the geometrically-patterned textiles and sumptuous fabrics, even adopting Ingres’ vivid palette comprised of primary hues. This work is a skillfully rendered homage to the great French master and is testament to the lasting impact of European art on American artists.

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