Object lessons

Object lessons: from a potentially record-breaking Gérôme to a painting commissioned by a whiskey distillery

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Our pick of highlights from the next fortnight's auctions and fairs

The French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme was fascinated by Egypt and the Middle East, and the paintings he produced of the region marry a precise academic realism with a hefty dose of Orientalist fantasy. Riders Crossing the Desert comes from an anonymous Middle Eastern collector who amassed one of the world’s largest private Orientalist collections during the 1980s, when European and US buyers dominated the field—today, many come from the Middle East, encouraged in part by institutions in the region which are forming Orientalist collections. Conversely, Gérôme has fallen somewhat out of fashion with Western collectors, and Artnet’s price database shows that prices for his work—which reached a peak at Sotheby's London with the sale of Femme Circassienne Voilée (veiled circassian beauty, 1876) in 2008 at just over £2m with fees—have failed to make a post-recession comeback. This, then, looks a big price for the riders but, as Claude Piening, Sotheby’s head of 19th century European paintings, says, the depiction of "stoic travellers" was "chosen to hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York [on loan] for almost a decade, from 2007 to 2016."
Jean-Léon Gérôme, Riders Crossing the Desert (1870). Highlights from the Najd Collection, Sotheby’s, London, 22 October. Estimate: £3m-£5m

The French artist Jean-Léon Gérôme was fascinated by Egypt and the Middle East, and the paintings he produced of the region marry a precise academic realism with a hefty dose of Orientalist fantasy. Riders Crossing the Desert comes from an anonymous Middle Eastern collector who amassed one of the world’s largest private Orientalist collections during the 1980s, when European and US buyers dominated the field—today, many come from the Middle East, encouraged in part by institutions in the region which are forming Orientalist collections. Conversely, Gérôme has fallen somewhat out of fashion with Western collectors, and Artnet’s price database shows that prices for his work—which reached a peak at Sotheby's London with the sale of Femme Circassienne Voilée (veiled circassian beauty, 1876) in 2008 at just over £2m with fees—have failed to make a post-recession comeback. This, then, looks a big price for the riders but, as Claude Piening, Sotheby’s head of 19th century European paintings, says, the depiction of "stoic travellers" was "chosen to hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York [on loan] for almost a decade, from 2007 to 2016."

Thomas Hart Benton’s social realist paintings were formative for the Regionalism movement in American art during the 1920s and 30s. The avid Leftist cashed in on some capitalist dollars, however, when he took commissions for big brands like American Tobacco and Esso. Whiskey Barrels, created for the Peoria, Illinois-based Hiram Walker liquor company—once the largest distillery in the world—was reproduced as a full-page ad in Life magazine, promoting Imperial Whiskey (now Maker’s Mark), the first whiskey to pioneer the barrel-ageing technique. The painting was stored and forgotten until it was recovered in a Canadian warehouse in the 1980s. Since then, it has hung in the Maker’s Mark Kentucky distillery board room.
Thomas Hart Benton, Whiskey Barrels (1945). American and European Art, Hindman, Chicago, 17 October. Estimate: $600,000-$800,000

Thomas Hart Benton’s social realist paintings were formative for the Regionalism movement in American art during the 1920s and 30s. The avid Leftist cashed in on some capitalist dollars, however, when he took commissions for big brands like American Tobacco and Esso. Whiskey Barrels, created for the Peoria, Illinois-based Hiram Walker liquor company—once the largest distillery in the world—was reproduced as a full-page ad in Life magazine, promoting Imperial Whiskey (now Maker’s Mark), the first whiskey to pioneer the barrel-ageing technique. The painting was stored and forgotten until it was recovered in a Canadian warehouse in the 1980s. Since then, it has hung in the Maker’s Mark Kentucky distillery board room.

The market for the work of Cedric Morris (1889-1982) has shot up in the past five years, encouraged by a critical reassessment of the British artist, plantsman and co-founder of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, at which Lucian Freud was among the first pupils. In 2017, Poppies sold for a record £131,000 (est £25,000-£35,000) at Christie’s London. Auction house Sworders originally set a record for Morris’s work in 2016 when it sold Easter Bouquet for £49,000. Now it is selling Foxgloves, with some of the proceeds donated to the Benton End House and Garden Trust, a charity that intends to transform Morris’s former home into an arts and horticultural education centre.
Cedric Morris, Foxgloves (1932). Modern British and 20th Century Art, Sworders, Essex, 22 October. Estimate: £30,000-£50,000.

The market for the work of Cedric Morris (1889-1982) has shot up in the past five years, encouraged by a critical reassessment of the British artist, plantsman and co-founder of the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, at which Lucian Freud was among the first pupils. In 2017, Poppies sold for a record £131,000 (est £25,000-£35,000) at Christie’s London. Auction house Sworders originally set a record for Morris’s work in 2016 when it sold Easter Bouquet for £49,000. Now it is selling Foxgloves, with some of the proceeds donated to the Benton End House and Garden Trust, a charity that intends to transform Morris’s former home into an arts and horticultural education centre.