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A Coign of Vantage

A Coign of Vantage
signed and inscribed 'L. Alma-Tadema/op. CCCXXXIII' (on the sphinx's plinth, center left)
oil on panel
25 1/8 x 17 5/8 in. (63.8 x 44.7 cm.)
Painted in 1895.
with Arthur Tooth & Sons, London, probably acquired directly from the artist.
with M. Knoedler & Co., New York, acquired directly from the above, 23 December 1895.
Clarence Melville Hyde (1846-1918) and Lillia Babbitt Hyde (1856-1939), New York, acquired directly from the above, 19 February 1896.
Her estate sale; Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 7 March 1940, lot 69.
with L. J. Marion (probably Louis J. Marion (1904-1984)), acquired at the above sale.
with Gimbels Art Gallery, New York, by 1945, until at least 1946.
Terrence Harold Robsjohn-Gibbings (1903-1976), New York and Athens.
His sale; Sotheby's, London, 26 February 1964, lot 85, as On the Terrace.
with Charles Jerdein, London, acquired at the above sale.
Allen Albert Funt (1914-1999) and Marilyn Laron Funt, New York and California, by 1969.
His sale; Sotheby's, Belgravia, 6 November 1973, lot 27.
with The Fine Art Society, London, acquired at the above sale.
John Stanley Marshall Scott (1935-2020), London, 1974, until at least 1977.
with M. Newman Ltd., London.
Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above, 5 April 1977.
J. C. Francis, 'Fine Art Gossip,' The Athenæum, London, 30 November 1895, pp. 759-760.
H. Zimmern, Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema R.A., London, 1902, p. 72.
R. Dircks, 'Sir L. Alma-Tadema O.M., R.A., R.W.S.,' Art Journal, London, December 1910, pp. 16, 32, illustrated.
The Art News, vol. XXXVIII, New York, 24 February 1940, p. 3.
Art News, New York, 15-31 March 1945, p. 37, illustrated, as Coin [sic] of Vantage.
C. R. Henschel, Exhibition Celebrating Knoedler, One Hundred Years 1846-1946, exh. cat., New York, 1946, under no. 121.
L. Knoedler Sterner, 'Knoedler Century: Selling Art Since 1846 to an Expanding Country,' Art News, New York, April 1946, p. 20, illustrated.
G. Reynolds, Victorian Painting, London, 1966, p. 123.
M. Amaya, 'The Painter Who Inspired Hollywood,' The Sunday Times, London, 18 February 1968, p. 27, illustrated.
J. Maas, Victorian Painters, London, 1969, pp. 182, 203, illustrated.
R. Ash, 'The Sale of The Allen Funt Collection of Paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema,' Art At Auction: The Year at Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 1973-74, New York, 1974, pp. 76, 81, fig. 6, illustrated.
M. Amaya, 'A Vision of Rome,' The Victorians: A World Built to Last, New York, pp. 84-85, illustrated.
Alma-Tadema, New York, 1977, n.p., no. 37, illustrated.
V. G. Swanson, Alma-Tadema: The painter of the Victorian vision of the Ancient world, New York, 1977, pp. 38-39, 41, 140, illustrated.
R. Borger, Drei Klassizisten: Alma Tadema, Ebers, Vosmaer, Leiden, 1978, p. 16, no. 333.
B. B. Fredericksen, Alma Tadema's SPRING, Malibu, CA, 1978, pp. 14-15, illustrated.
C. Wood, Olympian Dreamers: Victorian Classical Painters 1860-1914, London, 1983, pp. 49, 120, illustrated.
R. Ash, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, New York, 1990, n.p., pl. 29, illustrated.
V. Swanson, The Biography and Catalogue Raisonné of the paintings of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London, 1990, pp. 253, 456, no. 371, also illustrated on the back of the slipcase.
R. Jenkyns, Dignity and Decadence, London, 1992, pp. 234-235, 283, illustrated.
J. Rishel, 'Baltimore and Cincinnati, Alma-Tadema,' Burlington Magazine, vol. 134, no. 1070, London, May 1992, p. 333.
E. Becker and E. Prettejohn et al., Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, exh. cat., Zwolle, 1996, pp. 98, 122, 254-256, 260, no. 79, also illustrated on the cover.
R. J. Barrow, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, London and New York, 2001, pp. 147, 161-163, 181, illustrated.
J. B. Jiminez and J. Banham, eds., Dictionary of Artists' Models, London and Chicago, 2001, pp. 327-328.
E. Swinglehurst, Lawrence Alma-Tadema, San Diego, 2001, p. 100, 110-111, illustrated.
R. J. Barrow, The Use of Classical Art and Literature by Victorian Painters, 1860-1912, Lewiston, NY, 2007, p. 38.
R. Verhoogt, Art in Reproduction: Nineteen-Century Prints after Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Jozef Israëls and Ary Scheffer, Amsterdam, 2007, pp. 13, 14, 30, 524, 537, pl. 1, illustrated.
H. Mallalieu, 'Collector Releases 1,000 Items from Hoard,' The Times, London, 14 June 2014, online only edition.
W. Joustra, Kunst Kleurt het Leven: Leven en werk van Sir Lawrence Alma Tadema, Bornmeer, 2015, p. 92, illustrated.
E. Prettejohn and P. Trippi. eds., Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, exh. cat., London, 2016, pp. 44, 108, 125, 127, 196, 224, fig.159, also illustrated on the cover.
Q. Broughall, 'Changing Their Sky, Not Their Soul: Lawrence Alma-Tadema's Vision of the Ancient Mediterranean,' The Ancient Mediterranea Sea in Modern Visual and Performing Arts: Sailing in Troubled Waters, New York, 2017, p. 204.
J. Hilton, 'Cecil John Rhodes, the Classics and Imperialism,' South Africa, Greece, Rome: Classical Confrontations, Cambridge, 2017, pp. 109-110, fig. 3.11, illustrated.
X. Zhang, M. Constable, K. L. Chan, J. Yu, and W. Junyan, Computational Approaches in the Transfer of Aesthetic Values from Paintings to Photographs: Beyond Red, Green and Blue, Singapore, 2018, p. 64, illustrated.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, on long-term loan, 1971-1972.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victorians in Togas: Paintings by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema from the Collection of Allen Funt, March-April 1973, no. 27, illustrated.
Rotterdam, Rotterdam Arts Foundation, Ary Scheffer, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Charles Rochussen: of De Vergankelijkheid van de Roem, 12 May-24 June 1974, p. 3, fig. 2, illustrated, as Een geschikt punt.
Leeuwarden, Gemeentelijk Museum Het Princessehof, De wereld van Alma Tadema, July-September 1974, p. 31, no. 35.
Sheffield, Sheffield City Art Galleries, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1836-1912, 3 July-8 August 1976; also Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Laing Art Gallery, 21 August-13 September 1976, no. 20, illustrated on the cover.
Williamstown, Massachusetts, Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Empires Restored, Elysium Revisited: The Art of Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 21 September 1991-5 January 1992; also Baltimore, Walters Art Galley, 5 February-31 March 1992; Cincinnati, Taft Museum, 23 April-11 June 1992; Memphis, Dixon Gallery and Gardens, 12 July-6 September, pp. 26, 106-107, no. 43, illustrated.
Amsterdam, Van Gogh Museum, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 29 November 1996-2 March 1997; also Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery, 21 March-8 June 1997, no. 79.
Leeuwarden, Fries Museum, Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, 1 October 2016-7 February 2017; also Vienna, Belvedere, 24 February-18 June 2017; London, Leighton House Museum, 7 July-29 October 2017, pp. 44, 108, 125-127, 196, 198, 224, no. 117, fig. 159, also illustrated on the cover.
Lowenstam, Knoedler, circa 1910.

Brought to you by

Elizabeth Seigel
Elizabeth Seigel Vice President, Specialist, Head of Private and Iconic Collections

Lot Essay

With its thrilling, vertiginous drop and languorous evocation of the Mediterranean at the height of its ancient glory, Coign of Vantage has come to be regarded as one of the artist’s quintessential masterpieces. In many ways it anchored the collection at Temple of Wings, echoing the architect’s conception of the house as a Roman villa maritima, overlooking Berkeley and the Bay just as its antecedents had looked out over the Bay of Naples. It was an early purchase for the collection, and from there the acquisition of Leighton’s Bath of Psyche (lot 15) and Alma-Tadema’s reciprocal gift to Leighton, A Corner of My Studio, appeared as natural successors. Each picture can now be seen to resonate with the other, and to a sense of place, in a rich web of association.
The bronze animal in A Coign of Vantage (fig. 1) has been identified as a copy of the Egyptian sphinx from the Villa San Michele on Capri, later the house of the novelist Axel Munthe who published The Story of San Michele in 1929. The view there looks towards Sorrento, and was a popular tourist destination at the end of the 19th century. Alma-Tadema would have visited after inspecting the sites at Pompeii and Herculaneum, seeking inspiration for his pictures and gathering material for use as props. Capri was the site of the Emperor Tiberius’s villa, one of the most luxurious in the region, and Alma-Tadema would have expected his audiences to note the association.
The magnificent many-oared vessel arriving in harbor lower left would have been built for pleasure rather than combat: a large awning on deck indicates the comfort in which the party on board were conveyed. Both Seneca and Cicero noted the decadence of such boating parties around the bay, a sense reinforced by the poses and nonchalance of the beautifully dressed aristocrats, richly garlanded with flowers. This is a picture of grand luxe, ease and well-being, an escapist fantasy perfectly attuned to the wishes of a picture buying public who reveled in the warmth of its Mediterranean light. It proved the perfect antidote to the harsher northern climates in which the picture was exhibited, and exemplified Alma-Tadema’s commercial astuteness. At the height of his fame, his pictures of Ancient Rome, wealthy, secure and insouciant, reflected the success enjoyed by the newly rich plutocrats of Victorian Britain, who had made their fortunes building another Empire, a couple of millennia later.
It took time for Alma-Tadema to strike such a chord. The artist was born in Friesland, and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. From 1857 to 1858 he resided with the archeologist Louis de Taeye, who encouraged him to paint with historic accuracy and take up scenes from Merovingian history and Ancient Egypt. His first encounter with Italy came on his honeymoon in 1863 and proved transformative. In 1864, having won a gold medal at the Paris Salon, he was commissioned to paint 24 pictures by the London dealer Ernest Gambart for sale at his appropriately named French Gallery. The relationship with Gambart became critical to the artist’s development, for the dealer was able to suggest subjects that would prove commercially popular. By 1874, Gambart was able to commission A Picture Gallery (Towneley Hall Art Gallery and Museum) for the colossal sum of £10,000. The painting depicts a connoisseur inspecting a prospective purchase, in a gallery in Ancient Rome in just the same way as a collector might appraise a picture in Gambart’s gallery. A reassuring sense of continuity between the Ancient and Modern worlds was established. When Allen Funt, a later owner of A Coign of Vantage, exhibited his collection of Alma-Tadema at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the exhibition came to be known as 'Victorians in Togas'. Boating along the Thames became hugely popular in the late 19th century, the subject of numerous depictions of leisure by Tissot amongst others. Alma-Tadema’s commercial genius was to give such experiences a historical re-imagining.
Earning such vast sums, Alma-Tadema was able to enhance and embellish his studio houses. His ascent through the Victorian art world was rapid. He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1876, and full member in 1879. In 1899 he received a knighthood. In 1905 he received the Order of Merit – a particularly rare distinction. After his death a memorial exhibition was held at the Royal Academy.
A Coign of Vantage crossed the Atlantic to enter an American collection early. It was sold by Knoedler, the New York dealer, to Lillia Babbit Hyde, whose fortune, like Lord Leverhulme’s in England, was founded on the production of soap. (Leverhulme amassed a huge collection: in addition to numerous sales, much was left to the Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight.) It is perhaps unsurprising that the picture found its way into Allen Funt’s collection a century later. He was the creator of Candid Camera, and had an eye for the cinematic. The relationship between Alma-Tadema and the development of early cinema has tantalized art historians and has begun to be explored in exhibitions such as Lawrence Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity (2016, op. cit.) to which this picture was lent (no. 159). Certainly, Alma-Tadema had a keen interest in the stage, and he designed costumes, props and sets for the actor-manager Sir Henry Irving. But it is hard not to see at least a subliminal influence on pioneers of cinema such as Cecil B. DeMille in his pictures, especially processional works such as The Finding of Moses. Perhaps it is the cinematic quality to Alma-Tadema’s work that ensures his appeal to contemporary audiences.

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