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The National Geographic Collection: The Art of Exploration
6 December 2012
New York, Rockefeller Plaza
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
The Duel on the Beach
signed and dated '© N.C. Wyeth/-1926-' (lower left)
oil on canvas
48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Commissioned by Carl G. Fisher
Dr. John Oliver La Gorce (President and Editor, National Geographic Society 1954-1957)
Gifted to the National Geographic Society by Dr. La Gorce's widow, Ethel Bloedorn, 1963.
"Duel on Beach," Washington Post, May 9, 1926.
"The Duel on the Beach, A New Oil Painting by N.C. Wyeth...," unidentified Washington newspaper, n.d.
R. Sabatini, "The Duel on the Beach," Ladies' Home Journal 48, September 1931, illustrated.
R. Sabatini, The Black Swan, Boston, Massachusetts, 1932, illustrated on dust-jacket.
D. Allen and D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, pp. 226, 263.
"Behind the Scenes," National Geographic 195, May 1999, n.p., no. nos., illustrated.
C.B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. II, London, 2008, pp. 492-493, no. I.1039, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., Mayflower Hotel, April-May 1926.
Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art, Memorial Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by N.C. Wyeth 1882-1945, May 19-June 9, 1946, no. 19.
Washington, D.C., National Geographic Society, Explorers Hall, and elsewhere, The Artist Explores Our World, July 14-November 27, 1988, no nos.
The Duel on the Beach is a captivating scene that brilliantly demonstrates N.C. Wyeth's gift for narrative and composition. Originally commissioned by Carl G. Fisher for Rafael Sabatini's article of the same title in the September 1931 issue of Ladies' Home Journal, the painting was also used as a dust-jacket illustration for Sabatini's book that expanded on the article, The Black Swan. According to Christine Podmaniczky, "Passages in the story that describe aspects of the painting suggest that Sabatini may have written them to correspond with the painting." (N.C. Wyeth, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. II, London, 2008, p. 493).
In The Duel on the Beach, Wyeth captures a dramatic sword fight that sparks the viewer's imagination, while demonstrating the artist's mastery of light, color, and detail. Here he presents a vigorous struggle as one man lunges at another, his attempt at victory thwarted by a well-executed block. A group of pirates stand below, acting as an engaged audience. Wyeth employs a high-keyed palette for the clothes of the duelers and the spectators, setting them off against the more subdued palette of the seascape and sky. He utilizes a play of light, highlighting some areas and shadowing others, to heighten the drama and visual appeal of the scene. As in all his best works, each figure acts as a unique character, with body position and facial features and expression carefully thought out and marvelously presented to create a thoroughly engaging scene that fuels the viewer's imagination. A skilled landscape painter, he sets the scene against a majestic seascape under beautifully hued, billowing clouds, which heightens the scene beyond mere illustration to a beautifully rendered painting of timeless appeal.
Christine Podmaniczky writes of the present work, "This painting, commissioned for the entrepreneur and pirate enthusiast Carl G. Fisher, was certainly in Fisher's possession by May 1926. Correspondence at the National Geographic Society makes it clear that John Oliver La Gorce supplied Wyeth with photographs of several of Fisher's friends, whose portraits the artist incorporated into the picture (for example, the two pirates watching between and behind the duelers are James Allison, president of Allison Motors, Indianapolis, Ind., at left, and John Oliver La Gorce, National Geographic Society, at right)." (N.C. Wyeth, Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, p. 493)
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