An extraordinary and virtually unknown collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterworks amassed by the former president and later chairman of the board of Eastman Kodak will be auctioned without reserve on Sept. 15, 2010, at the John W. Coker gallery in New Market, Tennessee.
The Dr. Albert K. Chapman (1890-1984) collection, which has been privately held in three subsequent generations of the Chapman family since the 1930s, includes artworks by Childe Hassam, Alfred Sisley, Pierre Bonnard and 30 other distinguished artists from the period 1870 to 1950. None of these paintings were exhibited at any time while in the hands of either Dr. Chapman or his heirs. Additionally, the collection is graced by a superb pastel work by Mary Cassatt that has been exhibited only once since joining the Chapman collection – at the Smithsonian Institution in 1970.
The collection’s 80+ artworks, many accompanied by bills of sale or other written provenance, are described by auctioneer John Coker as “lost and forgotten treasures that are sure to excite the fine art community.”
“Very few people even knew Dr. Chapman’s collection existed,” Coker said. “Most of his acquisitions were made prior to the 1960s, and once he purchased a painting, he did not want it out of his possession. They are untouched, with no visible signs or cleaning or repairs, and with the exception of the Cassatt, the paintings were never exhibited or displayed outside the family home after he acquired them.”
According to Dr. Chapman’s grandson and granddaughter, who are the collection’s consignors, not even the few close friends their grandparents, and later their parents, chose to entertain in their homes had any idea the artworks were originals. “This is a family of intensely private, highly refined people who would not have made a point of mentioning the art was original, as this might have been misconstrued as an ostentatious show of wealth,” Coker said.
Dr. Chapman’s greatest prize was Childe Hassam’s (American, 1859-1935) oil on canvas titled Royal Palms, Cuba, which will be included in an upcoming catalogue raisonne. Its bill of sale indicates that the 25- by 30-inch artwork depicting towering palm trees against a cloud-filled turquoise sky was purchased from the M. Knoedler & Co. gallery in 1948 for $1,500. The 1895 painting was previously owned by Horatio S. Rubens, a Cuban-American tobacco industry lawyer who boasted that he had bankrolled the sinking of the U.S.S. Battleship Maine during the Spanish-American War. “We believe Rubens was quite likely the original owner,” Coker said.
A succession of European ambassadors and dignitaries had previously owned Mary Cassatt’s (American, 1844-1926) Simone Talking to Her Mother, a 25- by 30-inch pastel on paper that was another of Dr. Chapman’s purchases from the Knoedler gallery. He acquired it in 1950 for around $5,000. Making a rare exception, Dr. Chapman loaned the artwork to the Smithsonian in 1970 for Adelyn Dohme Breeskin’s exhibit and accompanying catalogue raisonne. Ten years later, Dr. Chapman received a letter from a man hoping to buy the painting from him. Paperwork discovered in the Chapman archive documents the doctor’s sincere reply: “Thank you for your enquiry of December 5, but I have no intention of selling the Mary Cassatt. Living with it gives us entirely too much pleasure to have it depart.”
Dr. Chapman was a “brilliant inventor” who held a patent for a type of prismatic effect used in photography, Coker said. “When you look at his art selections as a whole, you’ll see the same array of colors as in a prism.” An example would be Pierre Bonnard’s (French, 1867-1947) Landscape St.-Tropez, a 1956 acquisition that depicts a lush view of mountains across a bay, with a bridge leading to a beachside village.
Other alluring works include Gustave Loiseau’s (French, 1865-1935) Roof Top View from Artist’s Studio and Emile Bernard’s (French, 1868-1941) Pont Aven, purchased in 1961 from the M.R. Schweitzer Gallery on Madison Avenue in New York. The hilly village landscape with grazing fowl is accompanied by a two-page letter [written in 1961 in French, with translation to English] from the artist’s son, in which he confirms that his father painted the unsigned picture in 1889 in Brittany.
Paysage Ain, a 1917 painting by Suzanne Valadon (French, 1865-1838) – mother of Maurice Utrillo – was purchased in 1953 for $5,750 from Sam Salz Inc. of Park Avenue, New York. The verdant, long-range view from a hillside perspective was previously in the collection of Edouard Herriot (1872-1957), three-time Prime Minister of France. The picture was exhibited twice in Paris – in 1924 and 1931. The Chapman archive included a letter from Sam Salz in which the art dealer wrote: “I have known of this painting for a long time, and it was always my intention to buy it for myself.”
Coker said he made it his mission to locate all existing written provenance held in Dr. Chapman’s records so the documents could be permanently reunited with the artworks. “Luckily, Dr. Chapman kept his receipts, and eventually I was able to find all of the backups by digging through his files,” said Coker.
Dr. Chapman also appreciated the work of a variety of regional artists.” The collection includes Anthony Thieme’s (American, Rockport school, 1888-1934) Entrance to Magnolia Gardens in Spring, Charleston, S.C.; A.T. Hibbard’s (American, Rockport school, 1886-1972) Late Sun; and Harry Leslie Hoffman’s (American, 1871-1964) oil on board titled The Cotton Pickery – Savannah.
Additional highlights of the collection include Camille Pissaro’s (French, 1830-1903) graphite-on-paper work titled Young Lady Reading in Bed and Alfred Sisley’s (English, 1839-1899) Conte crayon-on-paper sketch for the painting La Rade de Cardiff.
“This magnificent collection most certainly would have been welcomed by any of the major auction houses in New York, London or Paris, so it is a tremendous honor for us to have been chosen to sell the artworks for Dr. Chapman’s heirs,” Coker said.
The no-reserve auction of the Dr. Albert K. Chapman Fine Art Collection will be held on Sept. 15, 2010 commencing at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. All forms of bidding will be available, including live in the gallery, absentee, phone and live via the Internet through Live Auctioneers. Complete auction and bidding details appear on John Coker’s Web site. The fully illustrated auction catalog may be viewed online at beginning Aug. 10.
John W. Coker’s auction gallery (antiquesonline.com) is located at 1511 W. Hwy. 11E, New Market, TN 37820. For additional information, call or email or visit the company’s Website.