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Xavier Martinez

Turner celebrates life of artist Xavier Martinez with Feb. 25 sale

Xavier Martinez, ‘Mexican Mother and Child,’ estimated at $10,000-$15,000
Xavier Martinez, ‘Mexican Mother and Child,’ estimated at $10,000-$15,000

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Turner Auctions + Appraisals will present a sale titled The Collection of Bohemian Artist Xavier Martinez and His Family on Saturday, February 25, beginning at 10:30 am Pacific time. Featuring more than 200 lots, the auction spans about 110 years and five generations related to famed Northern California artist Xavier Martinez (1869-1943). Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

Items include artworks created by and given to Martinez, art produced by members of subsequent generations, and a wide range of family possessions saved through the years such as photos, correspondence, books and ephemera. Never seen before by the public, this historical collection is sourced from the family’s multi-generational homes in Northern California – first in Piedmont and Carmel, then in Pebble Beach. Several pairs of Chinese vases from other collectors round out the sale.

Besides an array of artworks by Martinez, there are paintings, drawings, sketches, etchings, works on paper, photographs and sculpture by Micaela Martinez DuCasse, Ralph DuCasse, Chiura Obata, Josephine Wood Colby, Albert Thomas DeRome, Leo Lentelli, Arnold Genthe, Benjamen Chin, Gardiner Hale, Evelyn Otheto Stoddard Weston, Eugene Delacroix and Del F. Lederle. Other lots include silhouettes, photos of Martinez, caricatures of his bohemian circle of friends, and his 1915 Gold Medal Panama-Pacific International Award.

Xavier Martinez, ‘Hillside Landscape with Bay Beyond,’ estimated at $1,000-$2,000
Xavier Martinez, ‘Hillside Landscape with Bay Beyond,’ estimated at $1,000-$2,000

Xavier Martinez, the most renowned of his family members, was acclaimed for his portraits and tonal landscapes. He was born in Guadalajara to a Mexican father and Spanish mother. After his mother died when Xavier was age 17, he was fostered by Rosalia LaBastida de Coney (1844–1897); when her husband Alexander Coney was appointed Consul-General of Mexico in San Francisco in 1886, Martinez followed them there, arriving in 1893. He enrolled in the California School of Design and graduated in 1897, when he also became a member of San Francisco’s storied Bohemian Club. Founded in 1872 and continuing today, this is a private club for “gentlemen who are connected professionally with Literature, Art, Music, or the Drama” and those whose love or appreciation of these objects “make them worthy companions in artistic fellowship.” This association with the Bohemian Club was to continue for many years. Also in 1897, Martinez – known to his friends as “Marty” – sailed to France and entered Ecole des Beaux Arts, Atelier Gerome, in Paris. Graduating in 1899, he returned to San Francisco in 1901. There, connecting with friends old and new, he frequented Coppa’s Restaurant, a popular gathering spot of the Bay Area bohemian crowd, where Martinez painted the black cat frieze.

Chiura Obata mountain landscape, estimated at $2,000-$4,000
Chiura Obata mountain landscape, estimated at $2,000-$4,000

In 1906, Martinez moved across the San Francisco Bay to Piedmont to live with the family of Herman Whitaker, a writer and fellow Bohemian Club member, due to the horrific 7.9-magnitude earthquake that ravaged the city. Family lore, never confirmed but passed down through generations to great-grandson Bruce McCreary, has it that Martinez was saved from death by a trip to the bathroom: when the earthquake hit at 5:12 am, he had left his bed just before the bedroom wall collapsed on it.

Living in Piedmont at the Whitakers, he fell in love with and married their daughter Elsie, who, at 16 years old, was two decades younger than him. In 1913, they welcomed a daughter, Micaela, known as “Kai.” In 1923, after a marriage of highs and lows, Elsie and Xavier Martinez amicably separated, and Elsie and Micaela moved in with Harriet Dean, Elsie’s partner until Harriet’s death decades later. Their house was just down the street from Martinez’s studio, and they were all devoted to each other through the years.

Ralph DuCasse, ‘Abstract with Yellow Blocks,’ estimated at $500-$700
Ralph DuCasse, ‘Abstract with Yellow Blocks,’ estimated at $500-$700

During his life, Xavier Martinez was friends and colleagues with many of the arts’ leading lights of the time – Henri Matisse, Maynard Dixon, Jack London, Gottardo Piazzoni and poet George Sterling. Martinez’s art was exhibited at the Bohemian Club, the Panama Pacific International Exhibition, the Palace of Fine Arts, the San Francisco Museum of Art, and the New York World’s Fair in 1940. He was also an art teacher and professor for decades at leading Bay Area art schools, including the California School of Arts and Crafts (renamed the California College of the Arts in 2003), where he taught for more than 30 years, retiring in 1942. Today, his paintings are in the permanent collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the Monterey Museum of Art, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, the Oakland Museum of California, Mills College Art Museum, and Guadalajara Art Museum.

Highlights of the February 25 auction include Xavier Martinez’s Mexican Mother and Child, a circa-1930s oil on art board that is signed with a monogram at the lower right. It was exhibited at the Laguna Art Museum in its 1998-1999 show East of Eden: Images of Steinbeck’s California, and has an estimate of $10,000-$15,000.

Also by Xavier Martinez is the circa-1900s oil on board Hillside Landscape with Bay Beyond. Its estimate is $1,000-$2,000.

Group of more than 200 letters Xavier Martinez wrote to his daughter between 1932 and 1942, estimated at $800-$1,200
Group of more than 200 letters Xavier Martinez wrote to his daughter between 1932 and 1942, estimated at $800-$1,200

Another standout is Lot 205, a group of more than 200 letters Xavier Martinez wrote to his daughter, Micaela “Kai” Martinez DuCasse, between 1932 and 1942. The letters are crisp and readable, and a number of them include drawings. The lot consists of 12 packets, each containing approximately 10 to 50 letters, together estimated at $800-$1,200.

Works by other artists include a 1947 mountain landscape by Chiura Obata (1885-1975), estimated at $2,000-$4,000; and Abstract with Yellow Blocks, a 1964 oil on canvas by Ralph DuCasse (1916-2003), estimated at $500-$700.

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