Published: October 18, 2016
CINCINNATI, OHIO — A long-lost portrait by a master of French Realism sold on October 15 at Cowan’s Auctions for $1,102,500. The painting, “Rayon de Soleil (Sunbeam)” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), was the highlight of Cowan’s successful fall fine and decorative art auction.
“The painting was fresh to the market and had not been publicly seen since it was purchased in 1909,” said Wes Cowan, founder and owner of Cowan’s Auctions. “It was a superior work, painted at the height of Bouguereau’s career and in tremendous condition. We’re overjoyed with the price but even before the sale we were confident that its resurfacing would create quite a stir in the market.”
Bidding for the painting began at $250,000 as a full salesroom watched in anticipation as five phone bidders and one floor bidder vied for the painting. Prices quickly escalated to $450,000 at which point only two phone bidders remained: one from America, the other British. The final two went back and forth in $50,000 increments until the hammer fell at $950,000. With the buyer’s premium, the final result was $1,100,250.
“The owner of the painting is simply ecstatic,” said Cowan. “In a tremendous display of generosity, she’s planning on using proceeds from the sale to establish an endowment fund for students in her hometown.”
Completed in 1899, “Sunbeam” is an exceptional example of Bouguereau’s talent. The work pictures a barefoot girl in a white dress as she stands against a garden wall, one hand raised to her chin in a pensive pose.
The whereabouts of Sunbeam had been unknown for more than 100 years, but it was recently discovered in the most unlikely of places thanks to a Facebook message.
Cowan received word from a Facebook friend that the painting was hanging in the parlor of a modest clapboard home in Elkhart, Ind. A trip to the home revealed the long-lost work truly was there, hidden in plain sight for more than a century.
Bouguereau was regarded as the foremost representative of French academic art during the second half of the Nineteenth Century. He was a member of the prestigious Académie des Beaux-Arts and exhibited his work at the organization’s salon for most of his life.
Today, he is still considered one of the most important artists of his time with his works hanging in some of the most prestigious museums in the world, including the Louvre, the State Hermitage Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
This was the third item Cowan’s has sold for more than $1 million since beginning operations in 1995. “Some people in this industry believe that seven figure sales can only happen in New York or other huge cities where the wealth is more concentrated. But increasingly we’re finding collectors and dealers get their news about fine art and auctions through the internet. Cowan’s has developed an international reputation and brand that is regularly followed by collectors, dealers and institutions. More and more, regional auction houses with these recognized brands are competing with New York for valuable property — and winning,” said Cowan.
Watch for a complete review of the sale in an upcoming edition.
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