DescriptionMAXFIELD PARRISH (American 1870 - 1966)
The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Murals, four murals offered in two lots,
East Wall Reception Room A and East Wall Reception Room B, 1914
Oil on canvas
63-3/4 x 74-1/4 inches (each)
Note: for additional information, review the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Mural letters (51 pages total).Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Old Westbury, NY [1914-1942];
Acquired by descent (Pamela Whitney le Boutillier), Old Westbury, NY [1942-1999];
Private collection, Houston, Texas [1999-present]
The Murals of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Cornish Colony Museum. Cornish, New Hampshire, 1999;
Six Parrish Murals for Gertrude Whitney. Edenhurst Gallery, Los Angeles, California, 2001-2002.
Maxfield Parrish (1870 -1966) Exhibit. Brooklyn Museum, New York, 2000 (East Wall Reception Room and South Wall Reception Room exhibited in this venue).
National Exhibit of Maxfield Parrish. Five Museum venues: Memphis, Tennessee; Portland, Oregon; Reno, Nevada; San Diego, California and Macon, Georgia, 2004-2005.
Cornish Colony Museum Exhibit Catalogue. 1999 pp. 1-12;
Maxfield Parrish: The Masterworks, Gilbert, Alma. Tenspeed Press, Berkeley, California, 2001. pp.147-162.
These four murals by Maxfield Parrish are arguably the finest works he ever created. The artist himself acknowledged the quality of his workmanship by praising Mrs. Whitney for the opportunity she afforded him to exhibit an extraordinary range of color. The self-praise came from an artist known for his overwhelming humility regarding his own creative genius.
These four paintings were commissioned by the greatest woman art collector of her time, if not one of the greatest collectors in all of American history. Mrs. Whitney's impact on the art world and support of the Whitney Museum are legendary.
For any collector of Maxfield Parrish, these paintings are a once in a lifetime opportunity. There will never be four finer examples of his work available for public sale. Their creation is a vivid demonstration of Parrish's genius. They represent some of the finest art owned by one of America's most prominent early 20th century collectors, who herself connected the heritage of two of America's greatest industrial powers: the Whitneys and the Vanderbilts.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney commissioned Maxfield Parrish to create murals for the reception area of her studio in Old Westbury, New York that was being designed for her by the prestigious architectural firm of Delano and Aldrich. The murals were to be installed in the four walls of her reception room. The artist executed them from 1914 to 1918 for a price of $16,000 which included the North Wall mural, the longest single work done by Parrish.
Le Boutillier contacted Alma Gilbert in 1997 through her son, Congressman John le Boutillier and asked for suggestions about taking down and cleaning the murals with the idea of exhibiting them for the first time to the public.
The murals were taken down by the firm of Alan Farancz Conservation Studio, cleaned and stretched. The frames were designed following a Stanford White concept by Dale Shafman of Cornish, New Hampshire. The exhibit at the Cornish Colony Museum in 1999 broke all records of attendance and saw visitors from every state as well as several countries. The murals comprising three of the walls: South, East and West walls were acquired by the current owners from the Whitney Family via the brokerage services of Alma Gilbert.
In August of 2001 the six murals were exhibited by the Edenhurst Galleries, Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Almost a year later, on Monday, July 29, gallery owners discovered that two of the panels comprising the 1914 West wall, had been cut from their frames and extracted out of the gallery through an opening in the ceiling in a daring, sophisticated robbery. These two works are still missing.
The Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Murals became a true turning point not only in the life of the artist, but for American art in general and they represent a very important milestone in the way that art was reproduced. Parrish was allowed by Mrs. Whitney to use all the rich tones he had not allowed himself to use due to the limited lithographic capabilities of lithographers of the day. Parrish wrote Mrs. Whitney thanking her for allowing him to use full usage of his palette and then changed American art by challenging his lithographers to gear up their equipment to be able to reproduce the intense colors he wished to use. Lithographers accepted the challenge and the result of their efforts caused Parrish to be declared the "most reproduced artist in the history of art". This changed the way that art could be presented to the public.
These murals represent the most painterly effort by Parrish in this media. The artist imbedded miniscule fragments of lapis lazuli, emerald and ruby chips in certain portions of the composition, notably the belt of two of the models. They are the most worthy, albeit the least known of the mural scenes.
Maxfield Parrish left a microcosm of the images of his friends and neighbors of the Cornish Colony within the panels of the Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney commission. In the panels, which included the North Wall, South, East and West walls, Parrish depicted many of the artists, writers, and historians of this famous colony as well as members of his household. He depicted himself once (figure bowing on the East Wall Reception Room) and then twice, with his face hidden behind other figures in the North wall.
The predominant figure in most of the panels was that of his favorite model Sue Lewin. Parrish uses her both for male and female person figures as he did in the Curtis panels (1912-1916). It is also interesting that Parrish chose to use Sue in the poses of two other famous works: Griselda South Wall Reception Room and The Knave Watching Violetta Depart from the Louise Saunders book Knave of Hearts done later in 1922 (left figure East Wall Reception Room B).
Shown in the North Wall were poets and playwrights Percy and Marion MacKay, author Winston Churchill and his wife Mabel, Sue Lewin, Lydia Parrish, art historian Abeline Pond Adams, artist Lucia Fairchild Fuller and his handyman the handsome Kimball Daniels who at one time had courted Sue Lewin.
East Wall Reception Room A: left to right: Kimball Daniels, Sue Lewin, Maxfield Parrish, Kimball Daniel, and two additional figures of Sue.
East Wall Reception Room B: left to right: Sue Lewin, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, Sue the next four figures and Marion Morse MacKay.
South Wall Reception Room A: left to right: Sue, Mabel Harlakenden Churchill, and again Sue the next three figures.
South Wall Reception Room B: left to right: Sue flanks the figure of Mabel Harlakenden Churchill. This is the smallest panel with the least number of figures.
Estimate: $2,000,000 - $4,000,000.
MAXFIELD PARRISH MURALS CONSERVATION HISTORY The mural series was installed between 1914 and 1918. We believe that at a later date possibly in the early twenties, the mural was coated with resin varnish with a tone in it, but not by Maxfield Parrish. It is possible that Robert Chanler, a friend of Mrs. Whitney, who was in the house working on the other wall decorations on the second floor, could have toned the murals. Evidence is very clear that the mural was restored between 1920s and the early 1980s. At the later date, the Metropolitan Museum conservators cleaned the murals and in-painted areas. This was no doubt because of the darkening of the resin varnish layer and the soot from the fireplace. It is also believed that the mural was periodically cleaned, especially the large mural, because it resided on the wall above a fireplace that was in constant use. Cleaning tests were evident in the murals upon site visits which took place on May 5, 1999 by the Alan M. Farancz Painting Conservation Studio. There are a number of large cleaning tests on the South Wall Reception Room B through the seated figures. These tests actually removed all of the layers including the 1920s vanish. There is also evidence of water damage to the wall opposite the doorway (East Wall Reception Room A and B circa 1914). Both of the murals that flanked the window as well as the floral section above the window had been repeatedly affected by water seepage and drips. There is documentary evidence that the dimensions given to Mr. Parrish were wrong. This caused adjustments during the installation. A seventy-year-old mural that has never been cleaned would indeed be rare. There is no photographic or written documentation on the former treatments available. The surface materials as well as the original materials were examined in cross-section. Samples were taken for chemical microscopy to determine their solubility parameters. This was performed to develop the materials to remove all post historic layers. The analysis revealed that the initial varnishing of the mural was performed before the murals were cleaned and that there are carbon particles incorporated in the matrix. The various restorations and work carried out over the years has caused the raised surface nubs to be abraded in areas throughout the mural. Ultra violet and infra red examination of the surface indicated that there were scattered areas of former retouching throughout the surface. Ultra violet examination under the microscope indicated that the layer of darkened tone from the twenties was on top of a good portion of the abrasions. This former in-painting was performed with artists' oil paint in a natural resin material. The layers of post historic material (except for the 1920s resin layer) were removed with a solvent soap mixture that did not affect the original paint layers. Even the various pink, red, and orange color passages were not affected by the mixture. There was evidence that during one of the previous restorations some of the color areas were found to be incorporated in the layers on top of the adjacent color passages. The original paint layer is very sound as it appears as though there was never any flaking. There are some areas of traction cracking from the original drying of the paint layer, which is not untypical of Parrish's technique. The murals were flattened and relaxed with moisture and pressure using weights and blotters. The murals were lined to a new piece of linen canvas with BEVA 371 film. The lined murals were stretched on new redwood stretchers. The murals were given a thin brush coat of Acryloid B72. Any paint losses were filled with Sherwin Williams C-50 putty to the level of the surface and sealed with AYAA ethanol. The areas of abrasion and loss were in-painted with Maimeri Conservation colors in Acryloid B722 varnish medium. A final protective varnish of Acryloid B67 was applied by spray. TREATMENT (performed by Alan M. Farancz Painting Conservation Stuio from 1998 to May 10, 1999) The murals were removed from the original site. To facilitate this, they were superficially cleaned to remove dust and dirt. An isolating varnish of Acryloid B72 was applied to the surface by brush. The murals were then faced with Japanese Mulberry tissue, and a special paste was used as the adhesive. A layer of muslin was attached to the Japanese tissue facing with paste. There were four inches of extra muslin all along the sides of the mural sections that was left to secure the mural to the Sonotube. The two mural sections East Wall Reception Room A and East Wall Reception Room B (both installed in 1914), as well as the section above the window were rolled off the wall using a Sonotube. The murals were separated along the edges with a specially fabricated spring steel spatula. This worked very well and there was very little damage incurred to the murals fabric. The remaining murals were intended to be removed in the same manner. Unfortunately the original installation process had changed as each section was installed. It is believed that the room had been painted prior to the installation, and that to reinforce the attachment of the murals, small holes were put into the wall so that the adhesive would grip better. One of the murals had been partially removed from the wall after attachment and a second layer of adhesive was applied. The detachment of the remaining murals from the wall was performed with the murals flat, not rolled from the wall. It was originally attached with a white lead adhesive. The murals were removed from the site to the Manhattan studio. All of the residues on the verso of the canvas (brown coat, plaster, and white lead) were removed. The protective facing layers were removed from the paint layer. The canvas was in very good condition with only minor tears along the edge. There were a number of small holes scattered in the canvas which were probably the result of the installation process to release air pockets. South Wall Reception Room A and South Wall Reception Room B
The mural is oil on canvas, attached to the wall with a white lead adhesive above molding to the ceiling. The canvas is in sound condition. The surface contains dirt, gritty soot, and carboniferous grime. The murals were located above a fireplace and there is residue from smoking of tobacco incorporated into the grime layer. There are layers of varnish that are not from Maxfield Parrish. The original paint layer is in excellent condition. Ultra violet examination reveals that there has been more than one previous restoration. Examination under the microscope indicated that a layer of darkened tone from the twenties was on top of a good portion of the abrasions. This former in-painting was performed with artist's oil paint in a natural resin material. The layers of post historic materials were removed with a solvent mixture that had no affect on the original paint layers. The various pink, red, and orange color passages were not affected by the solvent mixture. The various restorations and work carried out over the years has caused the raised surface nubs to be abraded in areas throughout the mural. This was no doubt because of the darkening of the resin varnish layer and the soot from the fireplace. Examination of a cross-section of the murals indicated that the layer of resin varnish that lies on the four small mural sections contains carbon particles that probably came from the fireplace. The UV light shows areas of lighter and darker reflectance that translates into different time periods of restoration. It is known that the Metropolitan Museum conservation staff worked on the murals in the early 1980s. There are also indications that Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney's friend, Robert Chanler, a muralist, had worked on them in the 1920s. The saturation level of the light indicates that the darker spots are of a more recent restoration. UV photography was only carried out on two paintings to demonstrate the condition of all the murals. The outside edges of the perimeter of the canvases contain areas of abrasion, some small tears and restoration from the installation where the murals were joined up. There are some losses along the left edge of the canvas. The former restoration includes glazing to reinforce the shading on the stone ledge that some of the figures are sitting on. Some Outline of clothing was heightened. The blue sky areas (South Wall Reception Room A) have had paint nubs abraded from former cleaning or wiping. In this set, there was cosmetic compensation done to the sky and figures in the South Wall Reception Room A, the tree and figures in the South Wall Reception Room B. The glaze on the faces was reinforced, as well as all of the dark lines. South Wall Reception Room A has added a strip of canvas where the mural didn't fit the entire wall. The sky contains abrasion of the nubs from former cleaning. The former cleaning in the figures is quite evident in the photographs. The UV photo of the South Wall Reception Room B shows the lines reinforced in the central figure. The small section over the doorway was very damaged and has been extensively retouched.
*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. 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.
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