Perhaps it is fitting that the late St. Louis lawyer Christian B. Peper amassed a comprehensive collection of exquisite drawings, watercolors, oil sketches and paintings by the great 19th century topographical artist Edward Lear. Peper, who died last summer at the age of 100, earned an undergraduate degree in Classics from Harvard University, home of the Houghton Library which has the largest (upward of 4,000 works) and most important collection of art and archival documents by Lear. After Harvard, Peper returned to St. Louis, earned a law degree and established his own law firm, Martin Peper Martin in 1941. In addition to his law practice, Peper pursued his interest in the Classics and, beginning in the 1960s during visits to London, began collecting art. A board member and chief counsel of the St. Louis Art Museum, Peper generously donated several works to the museum, which showed a selection of his collection in the 2002 exhibition, A Gentleman Collects.
Ten works by Lear from the Peper collection will be sold in New York in the Old Master Paintings and Old Master & Early British Drawings & Watercolors sales on January 25th and 26th. These works span the length of Lear's career from the late 1830s until 1880, and much like Lear's own peripatetic life their subjects range from Italy to Greece and beyond the Mediterranean to Montenegro and Turkey plus as far afield as India, where Lear visited when he was in his sixties. In addition, almost every style and type of painting and drawing by Lear is represented in the Peper collection. The technique of his meticulous pencil sketches from the 1830s of Rome and Florence derive from the eighteenth century English topographical tradition. His expressive oil sketches of Villa d'Este in the Tivoli Gardens and a view of Cefalu, Sicily were done in the 1840s before he received any formal training in oil paint. His sketch of Andora, Italy is an example of his 'penned out' method where a preliminary sketch done in situ is later worked up in pen and ink and watercolor, following his pencil outlines and color annotations. A work like this -- which was for Lear's own reference and not made as a finished work or to be sold -- would have been the basis for the sort of finished watercolor exemplified by A fisherman's house on the Bosphorus of 1848, or the 1880 composition in oil, A view of Gwalior, India.
Christian Peper was as steadfast a collector of Lear as Lear was a traveler and artist, for it wasn't until 1996 when Peper was in his eighties that he made what he called his 'crowning acquisition', Lear's magnificent watercolor and bodycolor view of Montenegro, executed between 1870 and 1872, based on sketches from the artist's trip to the Dalmatian coast in 1866. Made for his most important patron, Thomas George Baring, 1st Earl of Northbrook, it was sold by his descendants in 1992 and Peper acquired it shortly thereafter, becoming only its second owner -- and a most appropriate custodian of this masterpiece. Property from the Estate of Christian B. Peper includes lots 40 and 54-60 in this sale, lots 259-273 in Old Master Paintings Part II, and lots 22-23, 85, 93, 94, 115, 119, 126, 128, 130 and 136 in Old Master & Early British Drawings & Watercolors
PROPERTY FROM THE ESTATE OF CHRISTIAN B. PEPER