Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844-1900)
Property from an Estate
Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844-1900)

Young Woman sitting on a Sofa

Mihály Munkácsy (Hungarian, 1844-1900)
Young Woman sitting on a Sofa
signed and dated 'M. De Munkacsy. 1887' (lower left)
oil on panel
45 ½ x 34 ¼ in. (115.6 x 87 cm.)
with Galerie Sedelmeyer, Paris, acquired directly from the artist.
Potter Palmer (1826-1902) and Bertha Honoré Palmer (1849-1918), Chicago, acquired 1887.
Honoré and Potter Palmer, Jr., Chicago, by descent.
Vincent Hugo Bendix (1881-1945), Chicago, acquired directly from the above in 1930.
His sale; Sotheby's Parke Bernet, New York, 29 May 1942, lot 25, as Reverie.
C. K. Marcell, New York.
By descent to the present owner.
C. Sedelmeyer, M. von Munkácsy, Sein Leben und seine künstlerische Entwicklung, Paris, 1914, p. 150, illustrated p. 151.
V. Lajos, Munkácsy Mihály Élete És Muvei, Budapest, 1958, p. 334, no. 441, illustrated p. CLXII.
Chicago, Art Institute of Chicago, Works Exhibited at the Opening of the New Museum, 19 November - 31 December 1887, no. 168, as Reverie.
South Bend, Indiana, University of Notre Dame, 1935-1942, as Reverie.

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Lot Essay

In the 1870s and 1880s, Mihály Munkácsy was regarded as one of the famous and sought-after artists by collectors across Europe and North America. Born Mihály Lieb in 1844 in the small Hungarian village of Munkacs, the orphan and apprentice carpenter rose to become an internationally acclaimed painter-prince in Paris. He received his earliest artistic instruction from the itinerant painter Elek Szamossy before studying briefly in Budapest, Vienna and Munich. On the advice of Wilhelm Leibl, Munkácsy made his way to the Dusseldorf studio of Ludwig Knaus, whose humorous, anecdotal painting had a lasting impact on the young artist. His best known work from his time in Knaus’ studio, entitled The Last Day of Condemned Man, received the gold medal in the 1870 Paris Salon, and made the 26 year-old artist famous overnight.
In 1874 he married the Baroness de Marches, the widow of the artist’s Luxembourg patron, and this brought about a striking change in all aspects of the artist’s oeuvre. Munkácsy climbed out of the despair and darkness of The Last Day of Condemned Man, and turned to a more colorful and joyful mode of painting, exchanging the wretched poverty of Hungarian village life for the elegance of the bourgeois salons of the French capital. His splendid townhouse on the Avenue de Villiers, completed in 1880, and the scene of sparkling soirees attended by celebrities from the worlds of art, literature and music frequented by Liszt, Massenet, Paine, Dumas and directly behind the figure of the young woman, the brass salver displayed prominently by her hand, the rich furniture and sumptuous wall-hangings all surrounding a spectacular floral display which completes the environment of luxury. It is interesting to note that the work is executed on a large, single piece of mahogany panel, a testament to the wealth of the artist himself.
Munkácsy’s anecdotal, emotionally inflected genre painting made him the darling of American collectors and his works eventually found their way into the most celebrated collections of the American Gilded Age. The artist visited the United States several times, and his arrival in New York on November 15th, 1886 for the 23rd Street Tabernacle Exhibition resembles the state visit of a monarch and was front page news. Works by the artists were snapped up by the wealthiest art patrons of the age, and the present work was purchased directly from the artist’s dealer Sedelmeyer by Potter and Bertha Palmer of Chicago in 1930.
Potter Palmer was responsible for much of the development of State Street in Chicago and was an early investor in the consortium that would become Marshall Fields department store. He and his wife were avid art collectors, and they filled their mansion on Lake Shore drive with purchases made abroad based on the advice of Sarah Hallowell, an advisor from Philadelphia who introduced the couple to painters in Paris and to the latest artistic trends of the French capital. The Palmers were on the cutting edge of art collection of the time in Chicago, and they moved away from the current trends and began collecting the artists of the new Impressionist movement. At one time they owned twenty-nine Monets and eleven Renoirs, which form the basis of the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago.

We are grateful to Dr. Judit Boros for confirming the authenticity of this work.

(fig. 1) J.W. Taylor, Potter Palmer Mansion. © Archival Image Collection / The Art Institute of Chicago.

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