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Victorian masterpieces shine at Christie's October Sale of 19th Century European Art
James Jacques Joseph Tissot, In the Conservatory (Rivals). Oil on canvas, 15 1/8 x 20 1/8 in. (38.4 x 51.1 cm). Estimate: $2,500,000-3,500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2013.

NEW YORK, NY.- On Monday, 28 October, Christie’s will present the fall sale of 19th Century European Art in New York. The well-curated sale boasts a diverse selection of 93 lots, representing key schools and artists. Highlighting the sale is James Jacques Joseph Tissot’s Victorian masterwork, In the Conservatory (Rivals), while works from Alberto Pasini and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot are among the Orientalist and Barbizon highlights. Female artists also figure prominently in the sale, including Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau and Rosa Bonheur, among others. The sale represents artists from a total of twelve different European countries, including Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Italy.

In the Conservatory (Rivals) by James Jacques Joseph Tissot, which hails from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, is a tour-de-force of the artist’s skill (estimate: $2,500,000-3,500,000). Gifted to the Museum by the esteemed collector Mrs. Jayne Wrightsman, this painting showcases, through an impeccably detailed execution, the splendors of wealth that were available in the 1870s this comedy of manners is set against the backdrop of afternoon tea in a lush conservatory. Tissot, a French-born Anglophile, settled in England in 1871 and Rivals was likely aimed toward appealing to the new generation of collectors. A classic example of Tissot’s “storytelling,” the Victorian work incorporates a plethora of gestures, expressions, and interactions between the subjects, but the plot is kept vague. This deliberate ambiguity keeps viewers imagining what has just happened.

Also popular among Victorian audiences were grand scenes of England’s historical past. Edmund Blair Leighton’s A Call to Arms (To Arms!) is an iconic representation of the universal themes of Arthurian legend (estimate: $400,000-600,000). This work depicts a young knight and his new bride leaving the church where they have just been married, only to be interrupted by another knight in full armor who has come to tell the groom that he is needed for war. An impressive five feet tall, To Arms reveals Leighton’s skill as an accomplished draftsman and is one of the artist’s sixty-six paintings to have been exhibited at the Royal Academy over a span of forty-two years.

Elizabeth Jane Gardner Bouguereau also sought to evoke emotion in her viewers through the painting Moses in the Bulrushes (estimate: $250,000-350,000). Born in New Hampshire, Elizabeth Gardner traveled to Europe in the 1860s to study art, eventually settling in Paris. It was here that she would study with several of the leading artists of the time, including William Bouguereau, whom she would later marry. She also began one of the longest Salon careers in history while in Paris, lasting forty-six years, from 1868 to 1914. Moses in the Bulrushes was Gardner’s entry in the Salon of 1878 and addresses a theme from religion that was traditionally considered too grand and monumental for a female artist. The moment she chose to depict was from the Old Testament, when the Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the newborn Moses in a basket in the Nile; her handmaiden peeks through the bulrushes to ensure they are not seen. The personal and intimate feeling of the work is what differentiates Gardner’s work from that of her husband, to whom she is often compared. This entry would help cement her place in the male-dominated world of Academic painting.

Among the strong selections of Orientalist Art will be On the Steps of the Mosque, Constantinople by Alberto Pasini (estimate: $100,000-150,000). Italian-born, Pasini spent much of his time in France. In an 1855 French expedition to the Near-East, he encountered Orientalism, the style that would have a profound impact on his art. Pasini’s realistic painting depicts different social types brought together by the common bonds of trade and religion. Another highlight is Benjamin Constant’s An Afternoon Idyll, circa 1855, a scene of a late afternoon with a storm brewing in the distance (estimate: $150,000-250,000). Constant captured intense light effects and environmental richness by juxtaposing the darkening skies against the bright seas and costumes of the young women.

Among the Barbizon highlights of the sale is La mare aux vaches à la tombée du jour by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, which has been in the same private collection for nearly thirty years (estimate: $180,000-220,000). This atmospheric landscape represents the artist’s meditations on nature and was never intended to portray specific moments in time or place. It was this approach, so exquisitely executed in this painting, which earned Corot the reputation as a “poet of landscape,” rather than a “painter” of it. Despite its openness to interpretation, Corot’s skill in perfectly capturing his surroundings is remarkable, as the work portrays the moment of crepuscule, when the land is bathed in half-light and the sky still retains the beauty, light, and color of the already-set sun.

The October sale of 19th Century European Art will include several works of art from renowned institutions. Twelve pieces from the Toledo Museum of Art will be sold to benefit the Acquisitions Fund, including Félix Ziem’s Embarquement devant la bibliothèque Marciana, a lovely Venetian cityscape, which has been in the museum’s collection for 91 years (estimate: $60,000-80,000). Also included are works by artists such as Henri-Joseph Harpignies, Jozef Israëls, and Joseph Bail, among others. In addition to Tissot’s Rivals, two other works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art will be sold, as well – François Vernay’s Still-Life with Fruit (estimate: $8,000-10,000) and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Deux Bateliers en Rivière (estimate: $120,000-180,000).

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