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    Description

    Gerald L. Brockhurst (British, 1890-1978)
    The war widow (Andromache), circa 1923
    Oil on gessoed cradled hardwood panel
    18 x 13-3/4 inches (45.7 x 34.9 cm)
    Signed lower right: Brockhurst

    PROVENANCE:
    The artist;
    (Probably) Knoedler & Co., New York;
    Charles E. Feinberg, Detroit, Michigan;
    Private collection, Providence, Rhode Island, acquired from the estate of the above.

    EXHIBITED:
    Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, date unknown (label verso).

    LITERATURE:
    A. Finberg, "Gerald Brockhurst's Paintings and Drawings," The Studio, vol. 85, May 1923, p. 247 illustrated, titled Andromache.

    This ravishing portrait by British society painter Gerald Brockhurst had a fascinating history before she ever left the artist's studio, as well as during her journey afterwards. With her ruby red lips, magnificently stylish velvet hat, and elegant contrapposto of her head-which accentuates the profile of her long neck as she twists to glance over her shoulder-Brockhurst's woman in iridescent blue-black is an exceptional example of the artist's "fantasy portraits." Brockhurst based such beautiful and mysterious women loosely upon physical types he most admired, intending them as allegories for life's passages. In the case of this painting, the theme is enduring the loss of a loved one.

    The artist originally titled this panel Andromache when he painted it circa 1923, a few years following the conclusion of World War I. The title refers to the Greek princess recorded in Homer's Iliad who lost every male member of her immediate family during the Trojan War-her father, brothers and beloved husband, Hector. In choosing this title, Brockhurst drew a direct analogy between the grief of an ancient woman and the insufferable loss of this modern one, and by extension all contemporary women whose men perished in the recent and exceptionally brutal "Great War."

    In May 1923, Brockhurst's Andromache appeared as a full-page black-and-white reproduction in the London-based arts magazine The Studio, accompanying a laudatory article on Brockhurst's recent work (A. Finberg, "Gerald Brockhurst's Paintings and Drawings," The Studio, vol. 85, May 1923, p. 247 illustrated). [Please refer to page 66 in the present catalogue for an image of the painting as it appeared in The Studio.] In addition to providing a terminus ante quem for the undated painting, the Studio reproduction documents its original appearance which, as UV examination has revealed, the artist chose to strategically alter and enhance, along with changing its title to the more generalized The War Widow.

    Sometime between May 1923, and the unidentified year it was acquired by Charles E. Feinberg (1899-1988), the distinguished Detroit collector and celebrated Walt Whitman bibliophile, The War Widow was partially reworked by the artist to give it a deeper level of gravitas. Rather than placing the woman against a blank bright background as he had done originally, Brockhurst created a landscape and skyscape behind her. He filled the top half of the painting with banks of moody indigo-colored clouds (storm clouds of war?), allowing them to gradually clear from the middle of the painting to the low horizon. To the left of the figure, the artist included a glimpse of hills and perhaps a lake. Additionally, Brockhurst decided to lengthen and straighten the edges of the woman's coarsely chopped bob, which is, coincidentally, a hairstyle in tremendous vogue right now, almost exactly a century later. He also enlarged and puffed up the figure's right sleeve so that it creates a more dynamic line against the background. Ultimately Brockhurst's changes yielded a painting of much greater emotional resonance.

    As a collecting personality, Charles E. Feinberg bought in tremendous depth when he truly loved something. He did just that with the American writer Walt Whitman, amassing the finest and largest collection of Whitman books, manuscripts and correspondence in the world, which now finds its home, as he desired, in the Library of Congress. In a tribute to Feinberg written shortly after his death, scholar Ed Folsom wrote: "His ceaseless activity on behalf of Whitman studies wove a kind of magical goodwill and friendship among three generations of Whitman scholars; he set the tone and made Whitman scholarship not only one of the most intellectually exciting fields in American literature, but one of the warmest and most friendly of scholarly communities ("Charles E. Feinberg: A Tribute," Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, vol. 6, no. 1 (1988), p. 39).

    In terms of the visual arts, Feinberg admired the work of Gerald Brockhurst, and not only owned The War Widow, which he likely purchased from Knoedler Galleries (the artist's New York dealer), but also commissioned the portraitist to paint his wife, Lenore. That portrait is visible above the fireplace in a photograph of him in the living room of his home at 872 W. Boston Boulevard in Detroit where he lived from the 1940s on (photo Bill Rauhauser, Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, Michigan). Feinberg also had a massive collection of Brockhurst's prints, some of which appear to be on the rear wall in the same photo. He gifted a generous cache of them to the Detroit Institute of Art.

    There have been only two owners of The War Widow-Charles E. Feinberg and the current owner. The present owner recalls, "I purchased The War Widow from Charles Feinberg's wife, Lenore, and her younger brother, Frank, in 1992. As the owner of a fine arts handling company based in Detroit, we were hired by the Library of Congress to pack up rare books and original drafts by Walt Whitman and others given to them by the estate of Charles Feinberg. I became obsessed with The War Widow while working in their home. Frank was an 80+ year old bachelor and quite the character. While I was working, he told stories about the authors who stayed with them such as Ezra Pound and WH Auden, the literary salons Charles would hold, and the history of the area. The Boston/Edison neighborhood was an exclusive area, home to many important Michigan industrialists of the early 20th Century including Henry Ford, the Fisher brothers, Michelson (a lumber baron), Kresge, B. Siegel of department store fame, and Burroughs to name a few. The Feinbergs had lived in that district since the 1930's together with Frank, who protected their historic silver Judaica collection and library during the Detroit riots with a garden hose and rifle from World War I. Charles had made his fortune with heating fuel oil which eventually became Speedway Oil and gasoline."

    Interestingly, in Detroit, Charles Feinberg was not alone in his enthusiasm for Brockhurst. The present owner reminisced: "Frank Feinberg told me at that time many of the industrialists married women from New York and brought them back to Detroit to elevate the culture of the city. (This has been confirmed to me by several sources of his generation.) Lenore was from New York, and Brockhurst had been in the city painting society ladies such as Mrs. Mellon. Brockhurst soon became the portraitist of choice for the New York wives of the Detroit industrialists. It was at the same time that Feinberg commissioned Brockhurst to paint Lenore that he purchased The War Widow."
    "I didn't have the money to buy the painting at the time," the owner revealed, "so Frank offered to let me pay 'over time' provided I delivered each check to him personally with a visit! It took many months to pay it off, and I actually cashed out my small retirement fund to complete the purchase, worried they might change their mind and not sell it to me. Happily, it all ended well. I've enjoyed her so much all these years."

    We are grateful to conservator Julie Espinoza-Orosco, Las Negras Studio, Dallas, for her firsthand examination of the present work. Her report detailing its excellent condition and changes made by the artist is available upon request.


    More information about Gerald L. Brockhurst, also known as Brockhurst, Gerald L., Brockhurst, Gerald, Brockhurst, Gerald Leslie, Brockhurst, Gerald R., Gerald L. Brockhurst, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst.



    Condition Report*: On cradled stable hardwood panel, prepared with gesso. Panel is flat without any bowing and the paint film is in excellent condition. Frame abrasion with some gilding transfer at extreme edges. Scattered finely patterned craquelure commensurate with age. An approximately 1 1/2-inch horizontal superficial scratch on the figure's proper right cheek which will likely disappear if the painting is cleaned and revarnished. Yellowing to the varnish layer. A pinpoint white accretion, probably paint, in upper right corner. A faint L-shaped scratch in upper right corner.
    Under UV: heavily-applied varnish fluoresces green unevenly, different layers are visible. Artist repainted the background to add a landscape to the previous blank background. As a consequence of this enhancement the background fluoresces differently than the figure.
    Framed Dimensions 26.625 X 22.25 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
    June, 2021
    4th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 6
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