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    Description

    Eanger Irving Couse (American, 1866-1936)
    The Pottery Connoisseur, circa 1930
    Oil on canvas
    20 x 24 inches (50.8 x 61.0 cm)
    Signed lower left: E-I-Couse - N-A-
    Titled on stretcher: The Pottery Connisseur [sic]

    PROVENANCE:
    The artist;
    Kibbey Couse, the artist's son, by descent from the above;
    Veda and Ward Vickery, Taos, New Mexico, acquired from the above, 1964;
    By descent to the present owner.


    The Pottery Connoisseur exhibits the finest qualities of Couse's mature oeuvre: the romantic subject of the contemplative lone Indian craftsman, dramatic firelight chiaroscuro, and a tonal burnt-orange-gold palette affecting a poetic atmosphere. Equally significant, The Pottery Connoisseur points to the connoisseurship developed by art enthusiasts in New Mexico at mid-century. Notables in the Taos art community from the late 1930s through 1960s, Veda and Ward Vickery from Wichita, Kansas, amassed an impressive collection of Taos School paintings; among them, the present work, purchased directly from Couse's son Kibbey in 1964, has remained a treasure in the Vickery family.

    In the early 1930s when he painted The Pottery Connoisseur, Couse was at the height of his career, having fully established himself within the Taos artist colony. After decades of training in illustrious institutions, including the Chicago Art Institute, National Academy of Design in New York, and Académie Julian in Paris, he first heard about Taos in 1902 through his artist friend Ernest Blumenschein, who described the incomparable light and fresh subjects that New Mexico had to offer. Enticed, Couse and his wife, fellow artist Virginia Walker, began spending their summers in Taos, all too happy to leave behind the rat race of New York. In 1910, they refurbished a Spanish monastery there into a home and studio. Five years later, the Taos Society of Artists was formed, and Couse was elected its first president. His paintings from this period readily adopted a brighter palette and indigenous subjects, particularly the Pueblo Indians, whose gentle demeanor and artistic practices reminded him of the Chippewa Indians he had drawn as a boy in Saganaw, Michigan. Couse's celebrity in Taos continued to grow well after his family permanently settled there in 1927, due in large measure to the patronage of the Santa Fe Railroad, which published over twenty of his paintings on covers of its annual calendar.

    Couse repeated two primary themes in his Taos paintings: the Pueblo naturalist outdoors by a stream, usually fishing or meditating, and the Pueblo craftsman in an adobe interior illuminated by firelight. For the latter "firelight paintings," Couse employed his own studio on Kit Carson Road as the setting, situating his solitary subject in the alcove he had specially outfitted with a kiva fireplace. Rather than offer an expansive view of the object-filled studio, Couse radically compressed the space and minimized the backdrop of these firelight compositions in order to focus on the subject, squatting in profile and engaged in his particular creative endeavor. Couse's firelight artisans demonstrate a wide variety of skills: playing the tom-tom or flute, shaping and decorating pots, drilling turquoise beads, painting a war shield, making kachina dolls and hair ornaments, weaving blankets, inspecting beaded bags, wrapping or straightening arrows, or conjuring spirits.

    The Pottery Connoisseur depicts one of Couse's devoted models, Ben Lujan, carefully assessing a Zia pot, so identified by its undulating geometric band and stylized red flower with berries. Other carefully placed vessels-a Southern Plains storage jar in the corner and a Pueblo, possibly San Ildefonso, pot by his hip--underscore his role as a potter and pottery expert. Couse's attention to the sitter's muscular physique and the details of his breechcloth, leggings, and moccasins (assorted costume props from the studio) reflects his academic training under William Adolphe Bouguereau at the Academie Julian. Indeed, Couse here paints a portrait of the Native American as a classicized figure with refined body and mind. Further romanticizing the atmosphere of The Pottery Connoisseur, dramatic light, produced from the studio fireplace beyond the picture plane, casts an "alter-spirit" shadow of Ben Lujan on the wall, while heightening the rich coloration and textures of the adobe setting. Firelight illuminates not merely the artisan, but the Zia pot, the product of his creativity. This particular pot, one of hundreds that Couse collected, was an especial favorite and appears in several firelight paintings, including Pottery Maker by Firelight (private collection), Tom-Tom Player-Firelight (Rockwell Museum of Art, Corning, New York), and The Pueblo Weaver (private collection).

    Couse's firelight Pueblos, in their artistic endeavors, were substitutes for Couse himself, and the subject of the present lot, an Indian artist-connoisseur, would have particularly resonated with art connoisseurs Veda and Ward Vickery. The Vickerys fell in love with Taos after their first visit there in the late 1930s, ultimately buying a summer home in Ranchos de Taos and assembling collections of rugs, pottery, beadwork, and paintings by Couse, Oscar Berninghaus, Ernest Blumenschein, Ernest Martin Hennings, Victor Higgins, Joseph Henry Sharp, and Walter Ufer. From Couse's personal collection of Native American Artifacts, the Vickerys selected the Zia pot featured in this painting, which accompanies this work. Their memoirs describe the moment they discovered The Pottery Connoisseur: "We had owned two small Couse paintings for a number of years and had wanted a larger one typical of his Santa Fe calendar work. While working on our Taos house, the artist's daughter-in-law, [Marion], offered us some hollyhocks for our yard. In picking up these plants, we looked at the paintings remaining in Couse's studio. . . . We selected and purchased this painting. This was the artist's favorite size, which he liked to paint. . . . The old Indian pots which the artist used in composing his paintings were still sitting on high shelves around the studio, too precious and too valuable to even dust. We searched until we found both the old [Zia] pot and the water jar that were painted in our picture. Kibbey climbed up and brought them down so we could see and handle them. After making our purchase of the painting, Marion prevailed on Kibbey to make us a present of the old [Zia] pot as a housewarming gift. Needless to say, we were both thrilled to no end to receive such a treasure. I honestly believe this is the first of Couse's pots to be removed from the studio as they have carefully preserved it just as it was when he died in 1936."

    We wish to thank Virginia Leavitt, granddaughter of E. I. Couse, for providing invaluable information on this lot, which will be included in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.




    More information about Eanger Irving Couse, also known as Couse, Eanger Irving, Coase, E. Irving, Couse, Eanger-Irving, Eanger Irving Couse.

    Condition Report*: Unlined canvas; there appears to be no major visible condition issues to note; under UV light, there appears to be no inpaint. Framed Dimensions 26 X 30 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. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2017
    3rd Wednesday
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