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    William Sommer (American, 1867-1949)
    Psyche and Moonlight Sonata (Study for Psyche) (two works, one double-sided), circa 1916

    Psyche (double-sided)
    Oil on board (recto); Charcoal on board (verso)
    21 x 12-1/2 inches (53.3 x 31.8 cm)
    Bears estate stamp lower right

    Moonlight Sonata (Study for Psyche)
    Watercolor on paper laid on board
    7-7/8 x 5-1/2 inches (20.0 x 14.0 cm) (sheet)
    Titled lower right: Moonlight Sonata

    Property from The Wainwright Collection of American Modernism

    The artist;
    Estate of the above;
    Joseph M. Erdelac, Lakewood, Ohio;
    Constance Erdelac, Cleveland, Ohio, by descent;
    Dod and Annie Wainwright, Fort Myers, Florida, acquired from the above, 2005 (Psyche), and circa 2007 (Moonlight Sonata).

    Riffe Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, "William Sommer: The Modernist Muse in Ohio," May 5-July 2, 1994 (Psyche);
    The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, "Transformations in Cleveland Art, 1746-1946: Community and Diversity in Early Modern America," May 19-July 21, 1996 (Psyche on loan from the Joseph M. Erdelac Collection).

    N. Gilson, "No use for New York," The Columbus Dispatch, May 5, 1994 (Psyche illustrated on front page of the arts section);
    W.H. Robinson, et al, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Transformations in Cleveland Art, 1746-1946: Community and Diversity in Early Modern America, Cleveland, Ohio, 1996, pp. 81-82, 250, fig. 77, no. 187, illustrated (Psyche).

    The art of path-breaking Cleveland School Modernist William Sommer was heavily influenced by his lifelong fascination with poetry, philosophy, and music. As William Robinson noted in his seminal exhibition catalogue, Transformations in Cleveland Art 1796-1946 (The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, 1996, p. 81), "[Sommer's] pursuit of transcendent spirituality derived partly from his admiration for Arthur Schopenhauer and German idealist philosophy. The artist's infatuation with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche and the poetry of Ezra Pound validated his exaltation of power and energy over the conventionally beautiful or pleasing."

    These words can fittingly describe the present work, Psyche, of circa 1916, and its related sketch in watercolor, notably titled Moonlight Sonata, the nickname a critic had given to Beethoven's famous Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, because its poetic first movement evoked for him a boat floating in the moonlight on Switzerland's Lake Lucerne. Sommer's Moonlight Sonata indeed seems to draw upon thoughts of ethereal beings gleaming under a shaft of moonlight, surrounded by blue radiance.

    Contemporary with these works is Sommer's own announcement concerning the future direction of his painting, which he made in response to studying reproductions of work by the German Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter; to the recent European efforts that painters William and Marguerite Zorach and August Biehle brought back to Cleveland; and to paintings by Matisse and Kandinsky he had seen in the 1913 Armory Show: "Since I dropped the old way of painting and have become free from conventions, I have developed myself in an original way. We post-impressionists are beyond copying. . . . I believe art should be as spontaneous as the song of a bird. No one taught the bird to sing. I do not care a snap for academic proportions." (quoted in Robinson, p. 81)

    Sommer's experiments with radical distortions of form and color resulted in works of art with much greater expressiveness and emotional resonance. The artist embraced the idea that reality exists at a mysterious, psychic level beyond the world of everyday thought and knowledge. As William Robinson noted, "Believing that true reality exists not in the material world but in the mysterious realm of dreams and imagination, Sommer wrote in one of his notebooks: 'Art is no longer a sensation we take up with the eyes alone. Art is the creation of our spiritual, inward vision, nature just starts us off. Instead of working with the eyes we conceive with the unconscious and thus the [artist's] complete changing of nature.' " (quoted in Robinson, pp. 81-2)

    The closed eyes of the winged muse in Sommer's Psyche, depicting the Greek personification of the Soul, embodies this quest for inward-turning experience. Psyche exists in a vividly colored, ambiguous space, her face covered with a mysterious turquoise shadow and her wings double for the shadow her long attenuated body is casting. The circles all over her red torso may allude to the brilliantly-colored butterfly markings that will unfurl at the conclusion of her metamorphosis. Perhaps the long white and blue striped element at the right is not merely a tree, but rather the piano keyboard that generated the music responsible for evoking the transformation.

    Condition Report*: Psyche: Framed under glass. Pinholes along the edges. 1x1 1/2 inch areas of loss along the extreme center left edge and mild losses the the extreme corners. 1/2 inch spot of water damage in the top left quadrant. Moderate toning. Vestiges of old adhesive verso. Board is slightly concave.
    Moonlight Sonata: Framed under acrylic. Scattered foxing. 1/4 inch tear on the right edge. Several hard creases on the right side noticeable in natural light.
    Framed Dimensions 29 X 20.5 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. 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, 2021
    7th Friday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 11
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 641

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