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    Description

    Ignace Spiridon (Italian, 19th Century)
    Sappho, 1884
    Oil on canvas
    98-1/2 x 55-1/4 inches (250.2 x 140.3 cm)
    Signed, inscribed and dated lower left: ISpiridon / Paris 84 (IS in ligature)

    PROVENANCE:
    Butterfields, San Francisco, November 18, 1999, lot 3026 as "Silk Stockings";
    Collection of actress Ronnie Claire Edwards (1933-2016), Los Angeles, California (1999-2009) and Dallas, Texas (2009-2015), purchased from the above;
    Estate sale of Ronnie Claire Edwards, Dallas, Texas, 2015;
    Private collection, Dallas, Texas, acquired from the above.

    EXHIBITED:
    World's Columbian Exposition (Italian Galleries, Palace of Fine Arts), Chicago, Illinois, May-September 1893.

    The Italian portrait and genre painter, Ignace Spiridon, enjoyed international celebrity during his career, living and working in the capital cities of Rome, Paris and Vienna where he found a ready clientele for his work. In Vienna in 1898, the American writer and humorist, Mark Twain, sat to Spiridon and then wrote about the extraordinary nature of the experience in a letter: "He wanted to paint one of me, and said he would make short work of it and not tucker me out; so I sat, and he made the best portrait that ever was -- and did it in eight hours. I never saw such a man to handle oils and skirmish with a brush. He is terribly accurate."

    The wasp-waisted, redheaded woman descending the stairs in Spiridon's monumental canvas of 1884 depicts Fanny LeGrand, the main character in Alphonse Daudet's novel Sappho of the same year. The story is a thinly disguised autobiographical account of Daudet's love affair with the notorious Parisian model-cum-courtesan, Marie Rieu, who used the sobriquet Chien Vert (Green Dog). Daudet wrote it when he was already beginning to suffer from the syphilitic paralysis that eventually killed him, and the story is a moral tale intended for his sons to read at age 20. The novel is an evocative portrait of a glorious demi-mondaine, an artist's model more moving than the works she inspires. Her helplessness and sexual beauty are a heady combination, which enslave her lover and bring about his moral and spiritual collapse. Daudet and Adolphe Belot transformed the novel into a play, which opened in Paris the following year. Daudet and Spiridon likely knew one another, since the painting and novel both date to 1884 and both men were in Paris then.

    In 1893, Spiridon's Sappho traveled across the Atlantic to represent the artist, together with his equally large and ambitious painting of another female figure shown overdressed and overly embellished, Follette, at the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. One reviewer wrote of the two paintings "In their essence they are Parisian. They defy folly; they celebrate...the woman of no virtue, the companion of Bohemians and students, the philosophic saint of materialism...The world, in the masterpiece of "Sappho," by Alphonse Daudet, has a perfect description of this Parisienne, old in sin, but capable of throwing a spell on the young Provencal who goes to the masked ball...She has ensnared a new lover."

    In 1900, Spiridon's painting, Sappho, was used as the basis for the poster advertising Clyde Finch's American play, Sapho, based on Daudet's novel. Fitch's play was at the center of a sensational New York City indecency trial involving the play's star and producer/director, Olga Nethersole, who was known in her day as the "British Bernhardt." The scene that caused all the furor on Broadway involved Sapho's lead character played by Nethersole, ascending a spiral staircase together with the naïve man to whom she was not married, presumably toward a bedroom. Although Nethersole, her co-star, and two managers were arrested for indecency, and the theater was closed two weeks later, she and her colleagues were acquitted by a jury after only 15 minutes of deliberation, and the play reopened two days later. The event is now considered a landmark case in the shift away from Victorian morality as it existed in America, and Nethersole herself a trailblazer in advocating women's intellectual independence. It is fascinating that the Broadway poster dramatically alters Spiridon's original painting by banishing the high-slit costume and entirely covering Sappho's legs with her dress.

    A recent owner of this painting was herself an actress, Ronnie Claire Edwards, who was best known for playing Corabeth Walton Godsey on the TV series, The Waltons.




    Condition Report*: Framed Dimensions 106.5 X 63.25 X 5.5 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
    June, 2018
    8th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 3
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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