The suite of nine paintings of the following lot was commissioned by Mona Williams directly from José Maria Sert for the dining-room of her Fifth Avenue mansion in 1932 - 1934.
MONA WILLIAMS (later Mona von Bismarck)
Born in Louisville to a humble family in 1897, Mona (née Frances Strader) first married Henry Schlesinger, son of the richest man of Wisconsin, in 1917 and then James Irving Bush, 'handsomest man in America' in 1921. Upon her return from Paris where she filed the divorce from Bush in 1924, she met Harrison Williams, a utilities executive, and said to be the richest man in America (worth $ 680 million in 1929). They were married in 1926. Integral to the social scene, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison Williams became a barometer of fashion. Their first home together was at 36 E. 72nd Street and was characterized by its rich and yet elegant interiors. They also built a magnificent home on the Gold Coast of Long Island, the Oak Point, a 94 acre estate, that included a tennis court with paintings by José Maria Sert. In 1928 the New York Times announced that Mona and Harrison Williams acquired the 30-room 1130 Fifth Avenue mansion, originally designed by William Delano and Chester Aldrich. This mansion became widely admired as 'one of the most beautiful houses ever built in New York'. The house was impeccable at any time and it was rumoured that the bonbons on the dining table were thrown out after each meal and even Mona's diamonds were washed daily along with her dog.
Mona was regularly featured in style magazines Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Town and Country. In 1933 and 1934 she was proclaimed 'the best dressed woman in the world' by the major French couture houses, was on the list of 'best dressed women in the United States' nine times between 1940 and 1957, and ranked in the 'Social Register' for many years. Cecil Beaton, who photographed her at many occasions, described her as 'a rock-crystal goddess' and she was featured no less than fifty times in Vogue.
Mona was introduced to Count Edward von Bismarck in 1937, grandson of Germany's chancellor, and they were married in 1954, the year following Harrison's death. She died in her Paris home in 1986. The Sert paintings along with the majority of the furniture and objects from the Fifth Avenue house were sold just prior to Harrison Williams' death in a series of sales in New York.
(J. Birchfield, Exhibition catalogue, Kentucky Countess, Mona Bismarck in Art & Fashion, Lexington, 1997)
JOSÉ MARIA SERT
Known as 'Tiepolo of the Ritz', José Maria Sert (d. 1945) belonged to the circle of artist friends of Mona Williams. She repeatedly commissioned him to paint murals for her and so his works embellished her residences in Paris, Long Island and New York, the former of which were later transferred to her home in Capri, Il Fortino. José Maria Sert was born into a textile family near Barcelona in 1874 but soon began to focus on his passion for painting. By the turn of the century he began to receive important commissions for frescoes and subsequently moved to Paris. He very soon began to receive commissions from patrons throughout Europe and in particular England (1914 - 1915 for Lady Ripon at Coombe Court and Sir Philip Sassoon at Lympne, and 1918 - 1919 for Sir Saxton Noble at Wretham Hall). In 1924 he received his first commission in the United States from Mr. Joshua Cosden to decorate his music room in Palm Beach. Sert combined the occasion to stage an exhibition of his works at Wildenstein Galleries in New York, which was met with great excitement. As a consequence he received a number of important commissions including those of Harry Phips of Pittsburgh in 1925, Benjamin Moore of Long Island in 1926 and his first commission for Mrs. Harrison Williams, for three frescoes for the Tennis Court in her Long Island residence in 1927. In 1930 he was also asked to decorate an entire room at the Waldorf Astoria, and in 1933 to paint murals for much of the entrance hall of the main building at the newly built Rockefeller Center. It was in the same year that he was again commissioned by Mona Williams, this time to paint panels for her Fifth Avenue dining-room. The subject was to evoke Spain, which Sert represented as merry, almost theatrical and folkloric people on balconies. One does not escape noticing the influences of Goya, Manet and, of course, Tiepolo on these scenes.
(A. del Castillo, José Maria Sert su Vida y su Obra, Barcelona Buenos Aires, 1949)