Published: January 31, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Richard Stedman Estate Services
ST PETERSBURG, FLA. — The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney estate auction featuring 22 sculptures by the Whitney Museum founder and great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt from her landmark Old Westbury, N.Y., studio, was simulcast live online on January 21 by Richard Stedman Estate Services. Included were six of the large bronze garden statues, the sculptor’s personal examples from her Italianate villa, and they were led by her 7-foot-tall bronze “Shepherd” sculpture, which sold for $137,500 to an undisclosed American buyer in the Northeast. The “Shepherd” was one of 22 Whitney sculptures in the auction, of which a total of 54 lots in the sale, including the 22 sculptures, brought the majority of the sale’s $575,000 total.
Van Stedman, the firm’s owner, for decades has specialized in collections and institutional sales. He has some Vanderbilt family clients and happened to be speaking with them about the studio, which remains for sale, awaiting the right buyer for the niche property. The family initially tried to include the art and antiques as a package to any prospective buyer. When that tack proved unsuccessful, the studio was staged and “decluttered.” “They asked me if I would like to sell those items,” said Stedman. “They thought it would be a good fit, and it turned out that it was. We got a lot of attention and some super strong prices.”
Stedman said the sell-through rate was about 90 percent with some 2,000 registered bidders participating via LiveAuctioneers, Invaluable and AuctionZip.
During World War I, Whitney dedicated a great deal of her time and money to various relief efforts, one of which was to establish and maintain a fully operational hospital for wounded soldiers in a town about 22 miles northwest of Paris. While at this hospital, she made drawings of the soldiers, which became plans for her memorials in New York City.
Whitney’s 5-foot battle bronze with “Study II, Battle Scene No. 2” for the Madison Square Victory Arch realized $53,750. In the scene, soldiers in various active poses flank other figures. The wall relief sculpture was accompanied by a full-size, framed pencil study. It was one of two companion 65-inch-wide bronze reliefs, each with their full-size, framed pencil studies that were offered as individual subsequent lots in this sale. And it was a personal example kept by the sculptor, removed by the auctioneer’s staff from her landmark Old Westbury, N.Y., studio in November 2022 during real estate staging.
“Study I, Battle Scene No. 1,” a 5-foot bronze for the Madison Square Victory Arch, was bid to $46,250. In this scene, a soldier with his arms by his sides advances with soldiers on both sides in various action poses. Like the wall relief sculpture discussed above, it was accompanied by a full-size, framed pencil study.
The sculptor’s 10-year-old daughter Barbara was captured in a large wallflower bronze in which the young girl is depicted standing on a green variegated marble stepped plinth. Fetching $31,250, the 20-by-5-3/8-by-5-inch sculpture was signed and dated 1913 together with artist copyright symbol and stamped Valsulani Cire Perdue on the top of the base.
Also possibly designed for the Madison Square Victory Arch was a 2-foot World War I relief bronze, “Blinded,” also known as “After the Battle.” In this sculpture, two soldiers advance with one holding a rifle and the other standing upright, a victim of poison gas. This smaller counterpart to the two other related relief bronzes sold for $17,500.
From the estate, a large oil on canvas by Venetian genre artist Ettore Tito (Italian, 1859-1941) of horses and figures earned $18,125. It measured 36½ by 49 inches, was in a period framed, signed and dated 1909 lower right.
Whitney’s “Titanic Memorial,” which stands along the Potomac in Washington, DC is considered by critics as the most important achievement in her artistic career. The statue was built from a $50,000 prize from a competition that she won in 1914. In the sale, a maquette plaster sculpture with wax overlay, a portrait bust study for the head portion of her USS Titanic White Star Line shipwreck victims memorial statue, went out at $19,375. At 8½ by 5-5/8 inches, the unsigned object was on a wooden plinth platform base. An early bronze version is discussed in Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Sculpture by Ellen E. Roberts who notes that the figure model for the statue was Whitney’s studio assistant Ramon.
A Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) watercolor, “Gigi,” a domestic scene in which Isabel Jeans as Aunt Alicia bathes in the tub while Hermoine Gingold as Madame Alvarez is seated in conversation, brought $13,125. Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton, CBE was a British fashion, portrait and war photographer, diarist, painter and interior designer, as well as an Oscar-winning stage and costume designer for films and the theater. The work was initially identified as Leslie Caron’s movie character bathing while listening to tales from the Isabel Jean character; however, a retired journalist and Beaton enthusiast provided the correction to the auction house. From Beaton’s Academy Award winning motion picture costume commission, one of seven Academy Awards for this film, the watercolor painting heightened with gouache measured 13-1/8 by 17-1/8 inches and was signed lower right, and inscribed “Gigi Aunt Alicias Bathroom” lower left.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The firm’s next sale will be conducted in July. For additional information, www.museumappraisers.com or 212-327-2616.
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
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