Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

  • Posted on Jan 01, 2010 by

The Frick Art Reference Library holds more than 88,000 auction catalogs dating from the seventeenth century to the present. These catalogs are essential for researchers establishing the provenance of an art object. One of the unique holdings of the Frick within this collection is artist atelier auction catalogs. An atelier auction sells the contents of an artist’s studio, usually shortly after his or her death. An example of this type of auction that relates to the collections of NYARC institutions is the atelier sales held in May and June of 1900 at Galerie George Petit, Paris, for the animal painter and sculptor Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). The Horse Fair (1853-1855), arguably one of her most well-known paintings, is in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Met). Besides the Met, the Brooklyn Museum holds a work, the watercolor Head of a Bull (n.d.), by Bonheur in its collections.

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 Galerie Georges Petit. Tableaux par Rosa Bonheur; tome 1er, 1900.

The auction catalogs for the Bonheur atelier sales are available at the Frick Art Reference Library and the Met’s Thomas J. Watson Library. The first auction, May 30, to June 2, 1900, sold her paintings. The auction catalog for this first sale is mammoth, with the introduction and lots occupying 179 pages! Many of the lots are sumptuously illustrated with lithographs or small etchings. The lots in the catalog are grouped by subject (e.g. wild beasts, dogs, sheep), and the text in the catalog is in French with an English translation. Several of the 892 lots are annotated with prices in the copy held at the Frick. The second auction held from June 5, to 8, 1900, included Bonheur’s watercolors, drawings, prints, and sculptures. Its catalog is much more modest than the catalog for the sale of her paintings. The copy held at the Frick includes some price annotations, which accompany the 2,102 lots in the sale that are identified by title only.

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 Galerie Georges Petit. Tableaux par Rosa Bonheur; tome 1er, 1900.

The holdings of the Frick Art Reference Library Archives complement the Bonheur atelier auction catalogs held at the Frick. A letter in the collections of the Archives from Roland Knoedler (1856-1932) to Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) documents Mr. Frick’s visit to Bonheur’s studio in 1895. The Archives also holds an invoice to Mr. Frick from M. Knoedler & Co. for the purchase of a signed artist’s proof of a print of the painting The Horse Fair (mentioned above). The current whereabouts of this purchase is unknown.

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 Galerie Georges Petit. Tableaux par Rosa Bonheur; tome 1er, 1900.

Surprisingly, Bonheur can be linked to the current Upper East Side neighborhood in Manhattan, home of the Frick and the Met. A townhouse on 72nd Street between Second and Third Avenues has the signatures of well-known women artists emblazoned in the cement sidewalk in front of the building. Bonheur’s signature can be seen alongside the signatures of Mary Cassatt, Angelica Kauffman, and others. Please take the time to comment if you know more about this signature display, as its origins are a mystery to the staff at the Frick.

Suz Massen, Chief of Public Services, Frick Art Reference Library