NEW MARKET, Tenn. – An extraordinary and virtually unknown collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterworks amassed by the former president and later chairman of the board of Eastman Kodak will be auctioned with no reserve on Sept. 15, 2010, at the John W. Coker gallery in New Market, Tennessee. Internet live bidding will be provided by LiveAuctioneers.com.
The Dr. Albert K. Chapman (1890-1984) collection, which has been privately held in three subsequent generations of the Chapman family since the 1930s, includes artworks by Childe Hassam, Alfred Sisley, Pierre Bonnard and 30 other distinguished artists from the period 1870 to 1950. None of the paintings were exhibited at any time while in the hands of either Dr. Chapman or his heirs. Additionally, the collection is graced by a superb pastel work by Mary Cassatt that has been exhibited only once since joining the Chapman collection – at the Smithsonian Institution in 1970.
The collection’s 80+ artworks, many accompanied by bills of sale or other written provenance, are described by auctioneer John Coker as “lost and forgotten treasures that are sure to excite the fine art community.”
“Very few people even knew Dr. Chapman’s collection existed,” Coker said. “Most of his acquisitions were made prior to the 1960s, and once he purchased a painting, he did not want it out of his possession. With the exception of the Cassatt, the paintings were never exhibited or displayed outside the family home after he acquired them.”
According to Dr. Chapman’s grandson and granddaughter, who are the collection’s consignors, not even the few close friends their grandparents, and later their parents, chose to entertain in their homes had any idea the artworks were originals. “This is a family of intensely private, highly refined people who would not have made a point of mentioning the art was original, as this might have been misconstrued as an ostentatious show of wealth,” Coker said.
Dr. Chapman’s greatest prize was Childe Hassam’s (American, 1859-1935) oil on canvas titled Royal Palms, Cuba. Its bill of sale indicates that the 25- by 30-inch artwork depicting towering palm trees against a cloud-filled turquoise sky was purchased from the M. Knoedler & Co. gallery in 1948 for $1,500. The 1895 painting was previously owned by Horatio S. Rubens, a Cuban-American tobacco industry lawyer who boasted that he had bankrolled the sinking of the U.S.S. Battleship Maine during the Spanish-American War. “We believe Rubens was quite likely the original owner,” Coker said.
In 1980, art historian Kathleen Burnside contacted Dr. Chapman in hopes of photographing Royal Palms, Cuba for a Childe Hassam catalogue raisonne. “Until that point, no one was really sure the artwork existed,” Coker said. “Unfortunately, both Dr. and Mrs. Chapman were in failing health at the time of Burnside’s request, and the painting was not photographed, but it is scheduled to be included in an upcoming catalogue raisonne.”
Mary Cassatt’s (American, 1844-1926) Simone Talking to Her Mother, a 25- by 30-inch pastel on paper, was another of Dr. Chapman’s purchases from the M. Knoedler gallery. He acquired it in 1950 for around $5,000. Making a rare exception, Dr. Chapman loaned the artwork to the Smithsonian in 1970 for Adelyn Dohme Breeskin’s exhibit and accompanying catalogue raisonne. Ten years later, Dr. Chapman received a letter from a man hoping to buy the painting from him. Paperwork discovered in the Chapman archive documents the doctor’s sincere reply: “Thank you for your enquiry of December 5, but I have no intention of selling the Mary Cassatt. Living with it gives us entirely too much pleasure to have it depart.”
The Cassatt painting’s colors are “extremely crisp,” Coker said, a reflection of the care it had received over three generations. “It was displayed in Dr. Chapman’s bedroom, then in his daughter’s bedroom, where there was no direct exposure to sunlight.”
The trail of provenance accompanying Simone Talking to Her Mother is an illustrious one. Its previous owners included ambassadors and dignitaries from Spain, Italy and other nations. The painting is estimated at $400,000-$700,000.
The spectrum of colors in the Chapman collection seems to parallel the world of prismatic color in which Dr. Chapman worked on a daily basis, said Coker. “He was a brilliant inventor who held a patent for some sort of prismatic effect used in photography,” Coker said. “When you look at his art selections as a whole, you’ll see the same array of colors as in a prism.”
Among the many artworks featuring a prismatic color palette is Pierre Bonnard’s (French, 1867-1947) Landscape St.-Tropez, a 1956 acquisition that depicts a lush view of mountains across a bay, with a bridge in the foreground that leads to a beachside village.
Another alluring work is Gustave Loiseau’s (French, 1865-1935) oil on canvas titled Roof Top View from Artist’s Studio. “This is one of my favorites from the collection,” said Coker. “The view through an open window overlooks the rooftops of the city, all in pastel shades, and it’s accented by a vividly colored red geranium plant on the window sill. When you look at this artwork, the range of hues is quite compelling.”Pont Aven by Emile Bernard (French, 1868-1941) was one of Dr. Chapman’s later acquisitions, purchased in 1961 from the M.R. Schweitzer Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York. The hilly village landscape with grazing fowl and a church steeple is accompanied by a two-page letter [written in 1961 in French, with translation to English] from the artist’s son, in which he confirms that his father painted the unsigned picture in 1889 in Brittany.
Paysage Ain, a 1917 painting by Suzanne Valadon (French, 1865-1838) – mother of Maurice Utrillo – was purchased from Sam Salz Inc. of Park Avenue, New York in 1953, for $5,750. The verdant, long-range view from a hillside perspective was previously in the collection of Edouard Herriot (1872-1957), three-time Prime Minister of France. The picture was exhibited twice in Paris – in 1924 and 1931. The Chapman archive included a letter from Sam Salz in which the art dealer wrote: “I have known of this painting for a long time, and it was always my intention to buy it for myself.”
Coker said he made it his mission to locate all existing written provenance held in Dr. Chapman’s records so the paperwork could be permanently reunited with the artworks. “Luckily, Dr. Chapman kept his receipts, and eventually I was able to find all of the backups by digging through his files,” said Coker. “I felt it was very important to document the history of these paintings so it wouldn’t be lost.”
The Chapman collection is far from one-dimensional, Coker said. “Dr. Chapman grew up in Ohio, and of course he lived in Rochester, New York, as president and later chairman of Eastman Kodak, but he appreciated the work of a variety of regional artists.” Three noteworthy regional paintings in the collection are Anthony Thieme’s (American, Rockport school, 1888-1934) Entrance to Magnolia Gardens in Spring, Charleston, S.C.; A.T. Hibbard’s (American, Rockport school, 1886-1972) Late Sun; and Harry Leslie Hoffman’s (American, 1871-1964) oil on board titled The Cotton Pickery – Savannah.
Additional highlights of the collection include Camille Pissaro’s (French, 1830-1903) graphite-on-paper work titled Young Lady Reading in Bed and Alfred Sisley’s (English, 1839-1899) Conte crayon-on-paper sketch for the painting La Rade de Cardiff.
Coker said the condition of the artworks in the Chapman collection across the board is “as original as anyone could ever wish for. The paintings are untouched, with no visible signs or cleaning or repairs.”
“This magnificent collection most certainly would have been welcomed by any of the major auction houses in New York, London or Paris, so it is a tremendous honor for us to have been chosen to sell the artworks for Dr. Chapman’s heirs,” Coker said.
The no-reserve auction of the Dr. Albert K. Chapman Fine Art Collection will be held on Sept. 15, 2010 commencing at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. All forms of bidding will be available, including live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers.com.
For additional information on any painting in the sale, call John Coker at 865-475-5163 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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