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Sothebys Spring Auction of 19th Century European Art in New York
Jehan-Georges Vibert, Gulliver and the Lilliputians, Est. $500/700,000.

NEW YORK.-Sotheby’s spring auction of 19th Century European Art in New York will feature a broad selection of paintings and sculpture of the highest quality across all areas of the category. The auction is distinguished by an extraordinary offering of works by the Academic painter William Bouguereau and a major discovery of a work by French artist Jehan-Georges Vibert. The auction also contains a strong selection of Victorian paintings and great works by Jean-Léon Gérôme.

This auction will be followed in the afternoon by The Orientalist Sale, a dedicated offering of 19th century Orientalist Art. After nine years, Sotheby’s brings this sale back to New York with a retrospective offering of the finest works by artists of all nationalities who were interested in the region. The sale of approximately 300 lots is expected to bring $25.2/35.2 million.

Following Sotheby’s success with works by William Bouguereau in the last season, eight works by the artist will be featured, all of which come from private collections. A profound appreciation for Bouguereau’s work continues today, and he remains one of the most sought-after artists in the 19th-century European art market. While Bouguereau’s painting style remained consistent throughout his career, his choice of subject varied. Today he is best known for his tender portraits of children, such as the ambitious 1899 double portrait, Les Deux Soeurs, (est. $1/1.5 million), a technical tour de force.

The sale includes an exciting range of the Bouguereau’s work. La Première Discorde (Cain and Abel), 1861 (est. $1.2/1.5 million, is a rare opportunity to see an early example of his Salon submissions, which he was proud to put forth for all of France to view. The biblical subject and moral tone reflect the high standards of the prestigious exhibition and contrast sharply with Distraction, est. $250/350,000, a portrait painted seven years later, which depicts a young girl in contemporary dress pausing for a moment before an open book. These paintings represent Bouguereau at his best, a superior technician and staunch supporter of beauty and tradition.

Lost to the public for over a century, the masterpiece Gulliver and the Lilliputians, by the 19th century French artist Jehan-Georges Vibert, was recently discovered in a private American collection and will be offered in the April sale (est. $500/700,000). This work from 1870 depicts the first chapter of Jonathan Swift’s famous 1726 satire. The upper echelon and army of the Kingdom of Lilliput are present in this 19th century version of the scene that greeted Gulliver when he awoke after being shipwrecked in Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Early records reveal that Vibert painted two versions of Gulliver and the Lilliputians; one is in the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery in upstate New York, and the other remaining painting, the present lot, was recently located in a private American collection and has not been seen in public for over 100 years.

A strong Victorian offering includes two paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Watching and Waiting (est. $700/900,000) once belonged to Henry Clay Frick and is being offered by The Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, sold to benefit the Collection Fund. A number of Alma-Tadema’s pictures were shown at the Chicago World’s Columbia Exposition in 1893, and the artist soon began to attract a number of American clients fascinated with his precisely detailed scenes of ancient life. After several works were acquired by famous collectors, such as William Henry Vanderbilt and the Carnegies, Pittsburgh industrialist and emerging art market force Henry Clay Frick visited Alma-Tadema’s studio in 1895 and acquired the present work two years later. Another work by Alma-Tadema, In the Temple, 1871 (est. $700/900,000), in which a young priestess sounds her cymbals as a procession enters the courtyard, once belonged to American television producer Allen Funt, well known as the creator and host of Candid Camera from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Two works depicting scenes of peasant life are Giovanni Battista Torriglia’s Blowing Bubbles, circa 1925, Property from the Estate of Marguerite and Wencel Milanowski (est. $140/180,000); and The Market Girl, 1900, by Eugen von Blaas (est. $300/500,000). By 1881, von Blaas had established himself as the “painter of Venetian beauties,” and The Market Girl is emblematic of this subject. In this work, a beautiful young fruit seller is flanked by her wares – baskets filled with brightly colored fruit, including pomegranates and apples. Her gold jewelry and teal head scarf frame her beautiful face and abundant curls, a hairstyle then at the height of fashion. Like all of von Blaas’ peasant girls, she is cheerful and self-assured.

The sale will also feature an early work by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Les Bords du Tibre dans Rome (est. $400/600,000). This work, dated January 1826, is considered one of the earliest documented paintings from Corot’s first trips to Italy. The subject is the Aventine Hill which is crowned with a monastery, and like most of Corot’s works from his early Italian period, this painting is executed in a fluid, plein-air technique, the goal being to create a rapid “snapshot” of a specific location and time of day. The result is spontaneous and captures an immediate visual appeal.

Jean-François Millet’s Les Deux Becheurs (est. $80/100,000) depicts two men digging in tandem, one of a handful of laboring scenes that particularly consumed him and to which he repeatedly returned throughout his career. The present work forms a kind of male counterpoint to Millet’s imagery of women gleaning, which he was developing simultaneously, as an equivalent indictment of the harshness of life for the poorest members of the French economy. Vincent Van Gogh greatly admired Les Deux Becheurs by Millet and created a drawing and painting after the same theme; these works now belong to the Kröller-Muller Museum, Otterlo and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Millet’s influence as the premier painter of rural working subjects can be seen in Le Semeur (The Sower) (est. $40/60,000) by Léon-Augustin Lhermitte, who produced slightly more modernized versions of famed Millet subjects. In Le Semeur, Lhermitte followed Millet’s well-known painting of The Sower from 1850, with a solitary farmer striding through his field, but where Millet’s sower wore a timeless tunic and a shapeless cap that might have been pulled from the illuminated manuscripts that both artists admired, Lhermitte’s sower wears long trousers over his wooden sabots and a lumpy, but contemporary, brimmed hat. Lhermitte’s drawings absorbed old traditions into new arrangements while stressing the long continuity of rural practices that defined the French countryside.

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