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    SAMUEL S. CARR (American, 1837-1908)
    The Oyster Seller, Coney Island
    Oil on canvas
    10 x 18 inches (25.4 x 45.7 cm)
    Signed lower left: S.S. Carr

    Laurence Witten, Fairfield, Connecticut, 1957;
    By descent to the present owner.

    Samuel Carr's luminescent The Oyster Seller, Coney Island belongs to his highly collected series of Long Island beach views, executed between 1879 and 1882, which, more than any other contemporary genre paintings, chronicled the leisure activities of America's burgeoning middle class. The English-born Carr had immigrated to New York in 1863, quickly establishing his vocation as a painter of children frolicking in meadows or along country roads, much in the manner of J.G. Brown. His move to Brooklyn in 1870, where he lived with his sister and brother-in-law and shared a studio with Clinton Loveridge, offered him fresh subjects in Coney Island, the beach resort closest to his neighborhood.

    By the 1870s Coney Island claimed the status of New York's most popular seaside resort, thanks to the introduction of railroad and steamship lines to Long Island. Vacationers eager to escape the sweltering summer heat of the city flocked to Coney Island to enjoy "restaurants, saloons, variety shows, shooting galleries, bathing pavilions, an iron pier, and band concerts" (L. Morris, Incredible New York, New York, 1951, p. 115). Carr's depictions of Coney Island capture the liveliness of beachside activities available to all ages. His typical compositions, exemplified by the present work, feature distinct groups of well-dressed people placed along a diagonal expanse of beach, bordered by a sliver of ocean and topped by a pale blue, cloud suffused sky. In many of these paintings, amorous couples stroll arm in arm, children build sand castles or jump in the waves, ladies wearing bustled dresses chat beneath parasols, and men in boaters conduct business deals. In others, entire families watch acrobats or puppeteers, pay for a donkey ride, or have a portrait taken by a professional photographer.

    Indeed, photography was yet another a newfangled entertainment at Coney Island - visitors could also pay to look at pictures through a camera obscura in the pavilion on West Brighton Beach - and Carr stylistically references photography in his paintings: figure groups appear static, as if posing for a camera lens; and both his interest in the effects of sunlight versus shadow and his strong use of blacks, whites, and grays, shot through with an occasional bright color, recall the graphic contrasts of photography.

    What makes the The Oyster Seller, Coney Island absolutely unique in Carr's Coney Island oeuvre is his foregrounding of the seaside pastime of oyster eating. During the 1870s and '80s, oysters were virtually synonymous with Coney Island. The oyster beds around New York City, including Coney Island, produced 700 million oysters annually, a third of the entire nation's oyster trade. "Oystermania" consumed rich and poor New Yorkers alike: one could purchase six oysters on the half shell for twenty-five cents at Delmonico's five-star restaurant or shucked oysters for twenty-five cents per quart from a street vendor; oyster cookbooks flourished, and most New York families ate two oyster dinners weekly. On Coney Island, oysters were the most popular snack, surpassing even the novelty Frankfurt, and beachgoers washed down their ten-cent platters of oysters with pints of beer. Pop-up "boat stores," like the one in The Oyster Seller, Coney Island, dotted the shoreline, with vendors selling their wares not only to beachgoers, but also to local restaurants, fish markets, and saloons.

    In the present work, unlike any other of his Coney Island paintings, Carr accentuates the oyster trade by filling the central composition with a boat store, whose counter displays a bucket of oysters, blocks of ice, and accompanying bottles of sauces. Carr also gives unusual attention to the barefooted and coatless working-class oyster seller: anchoring the left side of the painting, he stares directly at the viewer and serves as a class and compositional counterbalance to the dapper bourgeois men on the right. One of Carr's stock trios of children dig in the foreground sand around scattered oyster shells, but most of the other fashionable figures are contained within the lines of the dory and its sail. Carr was certainly aware that Coney Island, as home to a growing number of entertainment establishments, also attracted the working class. His architectural device of the boat here even suggests that it was working-class commerce that that provided a "framework" for middle-class leisure. But Carr omits any signs of the hardships of the oyster industry, favoring instead a vision of Coney Island as utterly halcyon.

    Condition Report*: Unlined canvas; light surface grime; frame accretions along extreme edges; faint craquelure with impact craquelure center left; stable surface; under UV exam, areas in the sky, boat awning and sand in lower left quadrant appear to fluoresce, but it is unclear whether or not they are original pigments.  Framed Dimensions 17.75 X 25.75 Inches
    *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, 2014
    10th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 8
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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