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William James Glackens (1870-1938)
On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection
William James Glackens (1870-1938)

Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell)

Details
William James Glackens (1870-1938)
Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell)
signed 'W. Glackens' (lower right)
oil on canvas
32 x 26 in. (81.3 x 66 cm.)
Painted in 1914.
Provenance
The artist.
C.W. Kraushaar Art Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Macbeth Galleries, New York, acquired from the above.
Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln Isham, Korset, Vermont, acquired from the above, 1934.
Sotheby Parke-Bernet, New York, 24 May 1972, lot 186, sold by the above.
Acquired by the late owner from the above.
Literature
G. Pène du Bois, William J. Glackens, New York, 1921, f.p. 32, illustrated.
New York Evening Post, Wednesday Gravure, February 15, 1933.
"The Thirteenth Exhibition of Contemporary American Oils," The Bulletin of the Cleveland Art Museum, June 1933, p. 101.
"William Glackens, Painter," Index of Twentieth Century Artists, vol. II, no. 4, January 1935, pp. 63-64.
M. Davidson, "The Gay Glackens: In Memoriam," The Art News, vol. 37, December 17, 1938, p. 9, illustrated.
I. Glackens, William Glackens and the Ashcan Group: The Emergence of Realism in American Art, New York, 1957, f.p. 112, illustrated.
I. Bennett, A History of American Painting, London, 1973, p. 161, fig. 162, illustrated.
Saint Louis Dispatch, Sunday Supplement, May 9, 1982, illustrated.
W. Gerdts, William Glackens, New York, 1996, pp. 125, 127, pl. 102, illustrated.
D. Ngo, ed., Art + Architecture: The Ebsworth Collection + Residence, San Francisco, California, 2006, n.p., illustrated.
B. Ebsworth, A World of Possibility: An Autobiography, Hunts Point, Washington, 2012, pp. 131-32.
M. Tsaneva, William Glackens: 101 Masterpieces, 2014, n.p., illustrated.
T.A. Carbone, “All About Eve? William Glackens’s Audacious Girl with Apple,” The World of William Glackens, vol. 2, New York, 2017, pp. 115-16, fig. 88, illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, Mrs. H.P. Whitney’s Studio, Exhibition of Modern Paintings by American and Foreign Artists, January 5-18, 1916, no. 21.
Cleveland, Ohio, Cleveland Museum of Art, Thirteenth Exhibition of Contemporary American Oil Painting, June 16-July 16, 1933.
Springfield, Massachusetts, Springfield Art Museum, October 1933.
Kansas City, Missouri, William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Opening Exhibition: A Loan Exhibition of American Paintings Since 1900, December 10, 1933-January 4, 1934, n.p.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Contemporary American Painting, April-May 1934.
New York, Whitney Museum of American Art, William Glackens Memorial Exhibition, December 14, 1938- January 15, 1939, no. 82, illustrated.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Department of Fine Arts, Memorial Exhibition of Works by William Glackens, February 1-March 15, 1939, no. 78.
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum, Impressionism Reflected: American Art, 1890-1920, May 8-June 27, 1982, n.p.
St. Louis, Missouri, St. Louis Art Museum; Honolulu, Hawaii, Honolulu Academy of Arts; Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, The Ebsworth Collection: American Modernism 1911-1947, November 20, 1987-June 5, 1988, pp. 10, 98-99, 205, no. 27, illustrated.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Twentieth-Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, March 5-November 12, 2000, pp. 105-07, 283, no. 21, illustrated.
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, The Museum of Art; Water Mill, New York, Parrish Art Museum; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Barnes Foundation, William Glackens, February 23, 2014-February 2, 2015, pp. 83, 109, 112, 122, pl. 46, illustrated.
Special notice

On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial interest in the outcome of the sale of certain lots consigned for sale. This will usually be where it has guaranteed to the Seller that whatever the outcome of the auction, the Seller will receive a minimum sale price for the work. This is known as a minimum price guarantee. This is such a lot.

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Lot Essay

At the turn of the 20th century, the pioneering Ashcan School poignantly recorded everyday life in New York City, seeking to portray the metropolis and its people in a fresh and uncompromising manner. Led by Robert Henri, George Bellows, George Luks, Everett Shinn and William Glackens, the set generally promoted a focus on meaningful, urban subject matter, from all strata of society, above stylish execution. Directing equal emphasis on meaning and style within his artwork, Glackens was a notable exception. One of the artist’s finest achievements, Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell) encapsulates Glackens’s unparalleled abilities for capturing modern social life in New York, while also providing a personal view into the lives of the American avant-garde at the time of its execution.

Despite his experience as an illustrator and association with the gritty Ashcan movement, throughout his life, Glackens found his greatest stylistic inspirations in the expressive art of the French Impressionist movement. During frequent travels to Europe over the course of his career, often at the behest of noted patron Albert Barnes, Glackens acquired first-hand exposure to French art, especially that by Pierre-August Renoir and Claude Monet. Influenced by their technique, Glackens adapted a more vivid palette and spontaneous brushstroke than his American contemporaries. Regardless, the artist always maintained his dedication to the Ashcan focus on social subjects. In his 1923 monograph on the artist, Forbes Watson confirms, “His painting tradition is French, but his point of view is American...The whole attitude is American. The subject is seen through American eyes” (F. Watson, William Glackens, New York, 1923, p. 21).

In Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell), Glackens depicts the vibrant social scene at the restaurant of the Lafayette Hotel in Greenwich Village during the roaring early years of the twentieth century. At the time, Café Lafayette was a celebrated French-inspired establishment, serving “Huitres de Blue Point” and “Pate de Foie gras de Strasbourg.” As reported by one period restaurant guide: “Here, if anything, is a more actual corner of Paris… The Lafayette is more intimate and cozy and boasts a café on the corner that is one of New York’s most priceless possessions… The Café Lafayette should really be endowed by the State, to be maintained in perpetuity as a perfect example of continental charm transplanted to America” (G. Chappell, The Restaurants of New York, New York,
1925, p. 69). Popular with a diverse audience, the restaurant was a favorite haunt for Glackens, who lived nearby on Washington Square Park, as well as numerous other artists, writers, actors, actresses and cultural cognoscenti. Just steps away from Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s then-developing artistic enclave, the area’s establishments were also frequented by artists Everett Shinn, Edward Hopper and John Sloan, the latter of which also famously depicted this cafe in The Lafayette (1927, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

Beyond its legendary setting, Glackens’ Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell) features one of the era’s most infamous young actresses and girls-about-town, Kay Laurell. Originally from rural Pennsylvania, Laurell became one of New York’s most well-known beauties after notoriously appearing partially nude in the Vaudeville-like show Ziegfield Follies on Broadway. Photoplay Magazine noted that she “became famous overnight. One day she was a Follies show-girl among other show-girls; the next day all Manhattan knew her” (C. Brock, Twentieth Century American Art: The Ebsworth Collection, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000, p. 106) As seen in her flattering depiction in the present work, Glackens was one of Laurell’s many admirers, and perhaps even more, having been rumored to be romantically involved with his subject.

In Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell), Glackens captures the glamor of both Laurell and the setting through his characteristically vivid, jewel-toned palette and dynamic broken brushstrokes. Wearing a light, gauzy blouse, rendered with hints of bright blue and purple, Laurell stands out from the darker hustle and bustle of the café. Her large black hat, complete with feathered accoutrement, and lush red lips contrasting with her porcelain face, further announce her presence. Seated alone, Laurell delicately rests a cocktail between her fingertips as she gazes pensively past the viewer and out into the café. Providing masterful insight into her surroundings, Glackens cleverly expands the picture plane through his inclusion of the rest of the café in the mirror hanging behind his sitter, heightening the narrative quality of the scene and recalling Édouard Manet’s masterwork, A Bar at the Folies-Bergère (1882, Courtauld Institute Galleries, London). Delving deeper into the reflected scene unveils a range of additional characters, including a fashionista in an elaborate feathered hat at upper right as well as an engaged yet anonymous man seated at upper left.

Through this nuanced, vibrant composition, Glackens establishes his sitter as an accomplished self-assured woman of the modern age, out and about—potentially alone—at one of the most popular cafés in New York. By presenting this vision of social progress for women, Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell) breaks ground for Post War representations of independent women to come, including Cindy Sherman’s famed film-still series and John Currin’s quirky female portraits. Indeed, the present work was included in the first Whitney Studio exhibition not tied to an outside agency, demonstrating the painting’s acknowledged importance by one of the most influential patrons of Modern American art. As such, Glackens’ Café Lafayette (Portrait of Kay Laurell) not only stands as an important modern realist painting that enchantingly communicates the spirit of the boisterous modern era, but also foreshadows the radical developments in American painting for years to come.

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