Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson (American, 1847-1906)
L'Amour Ménétrier (also titled Pupils of Love or Cupid, the Fiddler)
Signed with artist's initials and dated 'SPBD-/1877' bottom left; also signed 'Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson' verso, and with French preparater's stencil verso, oil on canvas
41 x 43 in. (104.1 x 109.2cm)
Private Collection, Virginia.
Paris Salon, 1877, no. 724 (exhibited as L'Amour Ménétrier).
Philadelphia Society of Artists, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1881.
"Autumn Exhibition," Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, United Kingdom, 1891 (per label verso).
Corporation Gallery, Brighton, United Kingdom, 1910.
Goupil Gallery, London, United Kingdom, January 1911.
"Catalogue of Paintings by Sarah B. Dodson," The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, April 16-May 14, 1911.
"Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings by Sarah Ball Dodson," American Art Galleries, New York, New York, December 16-29, 1911, no. 43.
Sylvester R. Koehler, "The Exhibitions: Second Annual Exhibition of the Philadelphia Society of Artists," in The American Art Review 1881, vol. 2, p. 108 (illustrated as The Pupils of Love).
Russell Sturgis, "The Work of Miss Sarah Dodson," in Scribner's Magazine, April 1908, vol. XLIII, pp. 509-512, referenced p. 509 (illustrated as L'Amour Ménétrier).
Catalogue of the Exhibition of Paintings by Sarah Ball Dodson, December 16-19, 1911, American Art Association, Managers, New York, 1911, no. 43.
John E. D. Trask, The Work of Sarah Ball Dodson: An Appreciation, Dolphin Press, Brighton, between 1911 and 1928, p. 17, no. 84.
Barbara Gallati, "The Paintings of Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson 1847-1906," in American Art Journal, vol. 15, no. 1, Winter, 1983, pp. 67-82.
Although Sarah Paxton Ball Dodson was regarded as one of the most technically accomplished artists of her generation, most parts of her career and œuvre remain unknown today. According to scholar Barbara Gallati, this is in part due to her poor health, which prevented her from standing too long at her easel, thus limiting her production, but also a result of her unique style and taste for grandeur, which in the eyes of the critics perpetuated the common, albeit false notion that women artists only excelled at painting "the tame and the pretty."
Dodson is known for her monumental paintings of either mythological or religious subjects, which she executed in the most academic manner, thus removing herself from the more modern movements at play. A Philadelphia native, she entered the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1872 and chose to study under Christian Schussele, who also taught Thomas Eakins and Cecilia Beaux. Like many women artists in the late 19th century, she eventually decided to leave the United States, and by 1873 settled in Paris, where she trained under distinguished masters (Évariste Vital Luminais, Jules Joseph Lefebvre and Louis Maurice Boutet de Movel, respectively) and competed against local artists by exhibiting at the Salon.
The present work, L'Amour Ménétrier, is one of the artist's finest early works. Dated 1877, it follows La Danse, the first painting Dodson ever exhibited, which appeared at the 1878 Paris Exposition Universelle. Both works exemplify Dodson's affinity for large compositions, as well as her fierce attention to detail. They also reveal her strong desire to make a mark in the art world and stand out amongst her female peers. When the two works were shown at the Second Annual Exhibition of the Philadelphia Society of Artists, Sylvester R. Koehler wrote in a review: "A new name to most visitors will be that of Sarah P.B. Dodson, a Philadelphian of French training, who exhibits two pictures of a vein entirely different from everything else to be seen in the collection. Her Pupils of Love and her frieze, The Dance but more especially the former seem inspired by French art of the last century, in the pale delicacy of colour [sic] as well as in connection. There is perhaps a little overstraining in the drawing, to ensure the expression of motion but the power of invention and the spirited execution are worthy of all recognition." As Barbara Gallati has pointed out, the complex composition of L'Amour Ménétrier is reminiscent of Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23, National Gallery of London), which further illustrates Dodson's wish to affiliate herself with the Grande Tradition of painting. With its chain of semi-nude bacchantes seemingly entranced by Cupid's melody, the work also carries a charming French rococo flavor, reminiscent of François Boucher's seductive mythological scenes, usually tinted with pink and white harmonies.
Dodson slowly turned away from the Rococo manner after completing L'Amour Ménétrier. Instead, she started to adopt a style both reminiscent of the Great Italian masters, especially Michelangelo, but also strongly influenced by the English Pre-Raphaelites, with whom the artist shared a certain affinity for poetic landscapes and love themes. True to her aesthetic choices, Dodson left Paris by 1891 and settled in Brighton, England, where she painted until her last days. After her death, her brother, Richard Ball Dodson "attempted to achieve a measure of posthumous recognition for her" and battled to have his sister's paintings included in the collections of some of America's best museums, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In 1910-1911, he also curated an impressive series of exhibitions and sales between Brighton, London, Philadelphia and New York, featuring eighty-eight of his sister's works. Deeply representative of Dodson's early, enchanting style, L'Amour Ménétrier was prominently featured in each of the viewings; it also served as the visual reminder of Dodson's unlimited ambition and taste for aesthetic challenges, which she set for herself throughout her intense, yet abbreviated, career.
We wish to thank Dr. Barbara Gallati for her kind assistance in researching and cataloguing the present lot.