PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF HUNT HENDERSON, NEW ORLEANSDuring the opening years of the twentieth century, New Orleans was more artistically engaged than any other city in the American South, owing to its well-established urban cosmopolitanism and its historical and cultural ties to France. It boasted a flourishing opera scene, an estimable School of Art at Newcomb College, and as of 1911, its own art museum, the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art. Yet the city had only one art collector of truly national standing–the sugar magnate Hunt Henderson, who assembled a world-class collection of avant-garde art, from Impressionism through early modernism, well before it was fashionable among his peers. “Undoubtedly Henderson was the most formidable collector of paintings and prints to live in New Orleans, in fact in the South,” Prescott Dunbar has written, “until the post-World War II period” (The New Orleans Museum of Art: The First Seventy-Five Years, Baton Rouge, 1990, p. 60). The exceptional group of works presented here on behalf of Henderson’s descendants, which this most prescient and discerning collector acquired during the opening decades of the twentieth century, represents a rare and remarkable chapter in the chronicle of modernism in the United States.By all accounts, Hunt Henderson enjoyed a rich and varied life. His father William had founded the Henderson Sugar Refinery in 1876, and Hunt assumed control of the prosperous enterprise after William’s death in 1900. He and his wife Jeanne divided their time between a town house at 1410 2nd Street in the Garden District of New Orleans and a country retreat at 829 East Beach in Biloxi, overlooking the Mississippi Sound. He traveled widely through Europe with Jeanne and their son Charles; he fished regularly, was active in the Carnival clubs of New Orleans, and “read more than do some who make a career of it,” according to a childhood friend. Yet his abiding passion was modern art. He bought his first Impressionist paintings from Durand-Ruel in New York no later than 1908, and more purchases followed in rapid succession. Well-represented among these acquisitions was the work of Degas, whose mother was from New Orleans and who had himself visited the city, the only French Impressionist ever to travel to America. A delicately rendered pencil drawing of a horse and jockey by Degas is among the works now offered for sale, as is an important canvas by Whistler, another of Henderson’s favorite artists. Henderson also accumulated dozens of Japanese prints, of the variety that had served as inspiration to the Impressionists themselves in forging their new, modern mode of painting. Nor did he shy away from the artists’ most recent and experimental efforts, acquiring examples from Monet’s London, Venice, and nearly abstract Nymphéas series shortly after their creation.The five paintings presented in the evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art, all but one purchased in 1913, reflect the scope and quality of Henderson’s early collecting. The two Monets are both quintessentially Impressionist in their focus on the artist’s fleeting sensations before nature. One depicts with exquisite subtlety a frosty road beneath a snow-laden sky, while the other captures the bolder effects of an orchard awash in late afternoon sun. The remaining three canvases show the Impressionists moving beyond the ephemeral moment, each in his own way. Renoir’s Femme lisant is soft and idealized, intimate and dreamy. Cézanne’s Côte Saint-Denis, with its geometric latticework of trees, reflects an increasingly abstract conception of the landscape, while Gauguin has wholly transmuted his Breton vista into flat zones of brilliant color. When the Isaac Delgado Museum, the first art museum in New Orleans, opened its doors in 1911, Hunt Henderson was a founding trustee as well as a generous lender of his exceptional holdings. “These pictures [have] given me a world of pleasure,” he wrote when his Whistler collection was exhibited there in 1917, “and I hope that this show will justify my enthusiasm” (ibid., p. 60). The only painting that Henderson’s descendants added to the family collection is a Daumier that depicts an art enthusiast raptly examining a folio of prints at a gallery–a selection that very likely speaks to the joy that Hunt Henderson himself took in the act of collecting. By the early 1920s, Henderson had expanded his aesthetic interests to incorporate the very latest directions in European modernism, which had received its sensational introduction in America not long before, at the 1913 Armory Show. Likely taking advice from the pioneering photographer and New York gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, who was instrumental in promoting modernism to American audiences, Henderson acquired work by the most avant-garde artists of the day from both sides of the Atlantic–Picasso and Braque, Matisse and Derain, Georgia O’Keeffe and Marsden Hartley, among others. An ebullient gouache by Raoul Dufy now on offer represents this important stage in Henderson’s collecting, which put him well ahead of his time. “A modernist was not easy to find in the New Orleans of the 1920s,” Louise Hoffman has written (Josephine Crawford: An Artist’s Vision, New Orleans, 2009, p. 101).Indeed, Henderson’s deep commitment to modern art brought him into direct conflict with other powerful figures in the New Orleans art world–most notably Ellsworth Woodward, the founder of the Southern States Art League and director of the Delgado Museum from 1925 until 1939. Woodward was staunchly conservative in his artistic tastes and values, dismissing Picasso and his ilk as “charlatans” and their work as mere “daubs”. He saw the mission of the Delgado as the promotion of regional artists with a traditional, realist bent. Vexed by Woodward’s intransigent attitude toward modernism, the aesthetically adventurous Henderson eventually withdrew his support from the museum in protest, officially resigning from the board in 1928. Hunt was not the only Henderson with a passion for avant-garde art. His sister Sarah was the co-founder and chief financial backer of the Arts and Crafts Club, which introduced innovative ideas about art to the New Orleans community through classes, exhibitions, and lectures. No less an avant-garde luminary than Gertrude Stein spoke at the Club in 1935, at Sarah’s invitation. Hunt’s sister-in-law Josephine Crawford studied at the Club until 1927, when she moved to Paris–very likely at Hunt and Sarah’s suggestion–to finish her training at the cubist painter André Lhote’s academy. Upon Josephine’s return, Hunt used his connections in New York to enable her and several other Club artists to exhibit at the influential Montross Gallery, which had helped to spread the gospel of modernism in the years after the Armory Show. When Hunt Henderson passed away in 1939, the lion’s share of his collection remained with his wife Jeanne and their son Charles; only a group of works by Whistler left the family, bequeathed to Tulane University. In 1959, highlights from the Henderson collection were exhibited at the Delgado Museum and subsequently at the Knoedler Gallery in New York. This marked the first time that so many of Henderson’s paintings, drawings, and prints–fifty-six in all–had been shown as an ensemble outside of his hometown. “Many are the hidden treasures, yet few are those who have known about them,” wrote John Rewald in the exhibition catalogue. “My hope is that there will be many visitors, for the occasion is unique and the offering exceptional.” After Jeanne Henderson’s death in 1970, the collection was partially dispersed. In 1974, Charles Henderson donated a Degas pastel, Danseuse en vert, to the New Orleans Museum of Art (as the Delgado was known by then) in memory of his first wife Nancy, who had served as a long-term trustee of that institution. A gift of a Renoir, Ravaudeuse à la fenêtre, followed in 1980, while a magnificent Red Poppy by Georgia O’Keeffe and one of Monet’s ethereal late views of London Parliament went to the Museum of Fine Arts in Saint Petersburg, Florida. The works presented here have all remained in the family until the present day, an enduring testament to Hunt Henderson’s discerning and enlightened taste. Christie's is delighted to offer Property formerly in the Collection of Hunt Henderson in our Impressionist & Modern Art Evening and Day sales on May 15-16, and in our American Art sale on May 23.PROPERTY FORMERLY IN THE COLLECTION OF HUNT HENDERSON, NEW ORLEANS
Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
Raoul Dufy (1877-1953)
signed, dated and titled 'Raoul Dufy 1937 Chinon' (lower right)
gouache, watercolor and brush and black ink on paper
20 7/8 x 25 ¾ in. (50.4 x 65.3 cm.)
Painted in 1937
Bignou Gallery, New York (by January 1938).
Hunt and Jeanne Henderson, New Orleans (acquired from the above, by 1939).
By descent from the above to the present owners.
New York, Bignou Gallery, Water Colors by Raoul Dufy, Castles of the Loire, January-February 1938, no. 16.
New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art and New York, M. Knoedler & Co., Inc., Early Masters of Modern Art, A Local Collection Exhibited Anonymously, November 1959-June 1961, no. 17 (illustrated).
New Orleans, Isaac Delgado Museum of Art, New Orleans Collects, Early Masters of Modern Art, November-December 1968, no. 14.
St. Petersburg, Florida, Museum of Fine Arts, 1970-2017 (on extended loan).