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Property from a Prominent Private Collection

The Swan Boats

The Swan Boats
signed 'George Luks' (lower right)
oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted circa 1922-23.
Chapellier Galleries, New York.
Mrs. Catherine Auchincloss, New York.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts, bequest from the above.
Sotheby's, New York, 23 May 2018, lot 92, sold by the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Architectural Digest, vol. 45, 1988, p. 192.
The Magazine Antiques, vol. 152, 1997, p. 595.
Artnews, vol. 97, 1998, p. 182.
Boston, Massachusetts, Joan Peterson Gallery, George Luks Exhibition, June 15-July 16, 1966.
New York, Owen Gallery, George Luks: An Artistic Legacy, October-December 1997, pp. 5, 25-27, 35, fig. 3, cover illustration (as Swan Boats).
Winona, Minnesota, Minnesota Marine Art Museum, 2018-2022, on extended loan.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

From November 1922-August 1923, Ashcan painter George Luks took an extended trip to Boston as the guest of his former artistic mentee Margaret Sargent, who was a cousin of the celebrated Impressionist painter John Singer Sargent. Sargent acted as Luks’ guide to the city, showing him all of the local sites of interest, including Beacon Street, Faneuil Hall, Copley Square and Boston Public Garden. By the end of his stay Luks was smitten with the city, declaring: “I know why you call this the Athens of America. I am a Bohemian. I have lived in Paris and all those other places, but there is nothing like Boston!” (as quoted in R. Gambone, “The Search for a Usable Past: George Luks’ Faneuil Hall, Boston, 1923,” Essays on Art and Architecture, Newcastle, United Kingdom, 2006, pp. 73-74) The trip resulted in numerous canvases inspired by the city, including the present work. Rendered with vivid brushstrokes of blues, greens and reds, Luks’ sun-dappled composition The Swan Boats brilliantly encapsulates this beloved and iconic Boston pastime.

Robert Gambone writes regarding Luks’ Boston output: “The paintings Luks executed during his ten month Boston stay…display a striking diversity of style and technique” which included “a Post-Impressionist pointillism and Prendergast-influenced airiness evident in Swan Boats.” (Essays on Art and Architecture, p. 74) Indeed, The Swan Boats represents a rare but potent departure from Luks’ celebrated gritty urban imagery and its darker palette. Laying quick brushstroke after brushstroke, Luks effectively captures the essence and brilliance of a bright Boston summer’s day.

A Boston institution, the Swan Boats originated in 1870 when Robert Paget was first granted a license to operate a boat for hire by the city of Boston. A few years later in 1877, Paget and his contemporaries invented a catamaran which included a foot-propelled peddle wheel arrangement with a swan to cover the captain. The Swan Boats continued to gain popularity and momentum over the decades and were already an icon of the city by the time Luks arrived in Boston in 1922. Paget’s descendants continue to operate the Swan Boats, and they consistently rank among one of the top tourist attractions in the Boston area to this day.

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