NEW ORLEANS – Neal Auction Company is offering an important circa 1920-21 William Woodward (American/New Orleans, 1859-1939) oil painting of the “SS Atenas,” a 5,000-ton banana reefer/passenger ship from the United Fruit Company’s “Great White Fleet,” depicted moored at Havana Harbor.
The 30-by-24-inch oil is almost identical in composition to the 15-foot round canvas mural Woodward completed in 1921 for the ceiling of the entrance rotunda at the United Fruit Company building at 321 St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans, now removed and conserved in a private collection.
The Woodward painting – probably a finished study for the iconic 1921 United Fruit Company mural – is from a private collector who acquired it from the family of a merchant marine and U.S. Naval captain who had once served aboard the “Atenas.”
Woodward, accompanied by his wife Louise, is known to have traveled aboard the “Atenas” to Havana where he made oil studies to aid him in the creation of the United Fruit Company mural. William Woodward is considered the most important painter in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast during the early part of the 20th century.
The 1921 mural made quite an impact when it was completed for the million-dollar, 11-story United Fruit Company building. The mural description by the July 1921 New Orleans’ Illustrated News described it as “a riot of glorious color toned down to the aristocracy of harmonious good taste.” A review in the December 1921 Item Magazine described it as “a wonder of flashing blues and scarlets and golds haled from the tropics.” In the Illustrated News article, Crawford Ellis, the United Fruit Company president responsible for the evolution of the United Fruit Company building, was called a “genius” who created “something of everlasting value to city, state and nation.”
By 1920, the United Fruit Company had single-handedly replaced King Cotton with Top Banana and had amassed a fleet of ships, which were dubbed the “Great White Fleet” by Teddy Roosevelt because of their heat deflecting white paint.
Neal Auction Company’s lot featuring the William Woodward painting is expected to fetch upwards of $75,000 when offered Nov. 19, 2011.
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