An exceptional selection of no fewer than five paintings by American Impressionist Richard Edward Miller and an early study for a John Singer Sargent masterpiece have collectors eagerly awaiting Bonhams New York’s Dec. 3 American Paintings sale.
Sargent’s study Head of a Spanish Musician is perhaps the most talked about lot of the sale. The oil on canvas sketch is signed and dates from the period when Sargent was in Spain at work on his masterpiece El Jaleo, now within the collection of Boston’s Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum. It is one of the few preparatory studies for the famed final work to remain in private hands. A number of other studies are with the Gardner Museum and more still at Harvard University’s Fogg Art Museum.
Boasting a rather fantastic history, Sargent apparently gave the oil on canvas to the wife of painter William Higginbottom when she admired the sketch, referring to it as ‘the Matador.’ He supposedly cut the work from its stretcher and presented it to her on the spot — which may explain the unstretched nature of the work today. The canvas subsequently passed through that family and is said to have survived the bombings of World War II, miraculously hanging on the only wall left standing in their destroyed home. This storied piece carries an estimate of $200,000-$300,000.
Also expected to attract collector interest is an excellent group of Richard Edward Miller works. From the renowned John R. Longmire Collection comes the oil on panel Breezy Day (estimate $300,000-$500,000) and Seated Nude (estimate $125,000-$175,000). Hailing from a collection originally owned by the artist’s brother-in-law comes a lovely Miller piece titled Young Lady Sewing, depicting a young, finely dressed lady and her mirror reflection (estimate $150,000-$250,000).
A particularly lively piece titled Le Carnaval en Bretagne, by Frederick Arthur Bridgman, is also expected to inspire bidders. Depicting mischievous children costumed as witches, soldiers and frontiersmen, the scene also includes a Jack-O-Lantern making for a Halloween feel.
The signed and dated oil on canvas also boasts a well-documented provenance. The piece was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1869 and published in Le Monde Illustre during that same year. It later served as an illustration in the book American Art of the Nineteenth Century Paris Salons (Cambridge University Press, 1990). Estimated at $60,000-$80,000, the work is sure to touch off competitive bidding.
An important work by Eastman Johnson is also expected to spark keen interest. Titled Reading Boy, the oil on board features a young boy kneeling on a bench reading a book. Considered by Johnson specialist Patricia Hills to "carry all of the characteristics associated with Johnson, the painting clearly displays his mastery of depicting figures emerging from the dim light of a Victorian interior." Dated 1863, one cannot escape the possibility that the artist is conveying a tableau of loneliness and isolation — as the child’s brothers or even father are off at war. Signed and dated ‘E. Johnson/63’, and having at one time been in the collection of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, the piece is expected to fetch $125,000-$175,000.
Also, not to be overlooked is the charming catalog cover lot — Backyard with a Cat by Abbott Fuller Graves. Estimated at $100,000-$150,000, this enchanting image is of the backyard of a New England farmhouse, thought to be in Kennebunkport. The canvas is signed by the artist and has been exhibited at Masterworks of American Impressionism from the Pfeil Collection.
"The remarkable quality and number of truly notable lots makes this a wonderful opportunity for collectors of American paintings," states Alan Fausel, Director of American Paintings for Bonhams New York.
The illustrated auction catalog will be online for review and purchase in the weeks preceding the sale at www.bonhams.com/us. Previews open at Bonhams NY on Nov. 29, continuing daily until the auction. For more information on the specialty department, please visit: www.bonhams.com/americanpaintings.