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19th Century European Art at Sotheby's New York: Spring auction to feature 'An American in Paris'
Jean Béraud, Bois de Boulogne. Estimate $600/800,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s annual spring auction of 19th Century European Paintings in New York will be held on 18 May 2016, featuring 96 exceptional works of art that showcase in the artistic diversity of the era: from the Belle Époque to Academic realism to Sporting Art. The auction will be on public exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning this Saturday, 14 May.

Leading the sale is a selection of 19 works formerly from the collection of Margaret Thompson Biddle. Described by her contemporaries as American by birth and French in spirit, Mrs. Biddle embodied the idea of an American in Paris. After marrying, Ambassador Anthony J. Drexel Biddle, Jr., in 1931, the couple began a diplomatic tour of Europe including stays in Norway, Poland and England. After World War II, Mrs. Biddle moved into a fashionable townhouse off the Boulevard Saint-German hosting a diverse group of guests from General & Mrs. Dwight Eisenhower to Pope John XXIII to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as well as notable French politicians, artists and writers.

Her esteemed collection included paintings by masters of the 19th and early-20th centuries, including works by Corot, Gauguin, Renoir, Monet – and the present group of works by Jean Béraud, Eugène Galien-Laloue and Stanislas Lépine on offer this May. These works have long been held in storage, unseen for more than half a century. Many of the collection’s paintings depict the urban bustle of Parisian boulevards, shops and cultural institutions Mrs. Biddle enjoyed in her daily life. Bois de Boulogne (estimate $600/800,000) and Scène sur Les Champs-Élysées (estimate $500/700,000) each reflect Béraud’s strength as an artist and the vibrant culture of Belle Époque Paris.

Beyond Mrs. Biddle’s collection, the auction is highlighted by a full-length portrait of Celia Tobin Clark by Giovanni Boldini (estimate $1/1.5 million). Mrs. Tobin Clark was the wife of Charles W. Clark, son of copper magnate and United States Senator, William H. Clark. Upon its completion in 1904, Boldini invited Mrs. Clark to his Paris studio to unveil the portrait describing it as “magnificent and with nothing to change.” The portrait has remained in her family since its completion and is being sold by her descendants. In November 2010, Sotheby’s set two of the top three auction prices for works by Giovanni Boldini with two examples of his life-sized portraiture.

A selection of five paintings by William Bouguereau will be offered in the sale and led by Le Sommeil (estimate $800,000/1.2 million). Bouguereau submitted Le Sommeil to the Salon of 1864, a pivotal moment when he moved from the "Grand Genre" of history painting towards more familial scenes, including the idealized peasants and children for which he is best known. By rendering these subjects on a large scale, he granted them a heroic dimension that was previously reserved for historical or mythological subjects, and the formula brought him extraordinary success for which he remains celebrated to this day.

Sporting art in the sale will be led by Sir Alfred James Munnings’ North Cornish Hunt (estimate $800,000/1.2 million). Known for his ability to combine established hunting iconography with a fresh new vision, this monumental work is an elegant demonstration of Munnings understanding of composition and color.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Marcoussis – les Vaches au Paturage is an excellent example of the artist’s celebrated landscapes (estimate $400/600,000). This particular work was in the esteemed collection of Samuel P. Avery, and sold in 1897 to James J. Hill, founder of the American Transcontinental Railroad Network, whose collection of paintings by Corots was rivalled only by Harry Osborne and Louisine Havemeyer and the artist’s biographer, Étienne Moreau-Nélaton.

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