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    ALEXANDER HARRISON (American, 1853-1930)
    Le Grand Miroir
    Oil on canvas
    47-1/2 x 98-1/4 inches (120.7 x 249.6 cm)
    Signed lower right: Alex. Harrison


    Sotheby's, New York, April 23, 1998, lot 32.

    Champs de Mars Salon, Paris, 1896;
    The Carnegie International Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1896;
    The Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1896-7, no. 124;
    Private apartments of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, in 1898;
    Federal Reserve Board, Washington, D.C., "Highlights and Footnotes of American Art from the Collection of Graham Williford," January 22-March 15, 1991.

    J. B. Waterbury, "Paris Letter," Brooklyn Life [New York], May 23, 1896, p. 10.
    San Francisco Call, Vol. 84, No. 166, November 13, 1898, mentions Le Grand Miroir hanging in the personal apartments of William II of Germany.

    This majestic seascape is the painting which both launched and secured Alexander Harrison's reputation as one of the finest sea painters of his day. In a review following the painting's enthusiastic reception at the 1896 Champs de Mars exhibition in Paris, Jennie Bullard Waterbury penned an effusive appreciation of it, mirroring the general sentiment, and using its faithfulness to nature to make a dig at the Impressionists: "Alexander Harrison's Grand Miroir is a remarkable study of the sea at low tide, 'remarkable' even for Alexander Harrison. The little ripples curve and curl and caress and lap and lip the sand after the fashion of live nature's little waves; and the sea is opalined and dimpled, and mutinous and softly treacherous like the genuine sea. The work is legitimate, without a hint of virtuosity or flourish. Just the sea we know. Who cares for any other sea? The sea of the impressionists, for instance, wherein the waves look like crepe-lisse ruching, with a cream-colored embroidery on the edge. When we onlookers desire ruching, we can buy it; but when we want sea, the next best way to get it, if we do not find it convenient to go to the sea shore, is to study it apres Alexander Harrison."

    Philadelphia-born artist Thomas Alexander Harrison spent most of his career in France where he specialized in painting the sea and won many awards for his work in international exhibitions. Some of his most beautiful paintings are nocturnes, where he studied the effects of moonlight on water.

    Harrison studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Paris in 1878 to study at the École des Beaux-Arts with Gerome and Bastien-Lepage. Chafing under the restraints of the schools, he traveled to Breton, where at Pont-Aven and Concarneau he turned his attention to marine painting and landscape. Harrison rented a ramshackle cottage near the Brittany town of Beg-Meil, and each evening raced to the dunes to watch the sun set over the ocean. Late in the summer of 1896, he was joined there by struggling writer Marcel Proust and composer Reynaldo Hahn. He opened their eyes to how light plays on water: "We have seen the sea successively turn blood red, purple, nacreous with silver, gold, white, emerald green, and yesterday we were dazzled by an entirely pink sea specked with blue sails." (Hahn to Marie Nordlinger, quoted in William C. Carter, Marcel Proust, A Life (New Haven, 2000), p. 197.) Hahn is considered the inspiration for the title character in Proust's attempted first novel Jean Santeuil, but another character, "C", seems to be based on Harrison, along with aspects of the character Elstir, the painter in Remembrance of Things Past.

    Condition Report*: Unlined canvas; there appears to be minor frame wear along the edges and a few spots of surface grime, most notably along edges; otherwise, there appear to be no visible condition issues; under UV exam, there appears to be an approx. 2 x 1 inch spot of inpainting in the horizon line at the center right edge, two small approx. 1 x .5 inch sections of inpainting in the reflections at approx. 6 inches from the center left edge; a thin approx. .5 inch vertical line at the center of the canvas, and a few dots along the bottom edge; this painting retains its original frame.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2015
    2nd Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,638

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