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An illustration of de Kooning's remarkable Woman, 1949, in Harold Rosenberg's monograph of the artist brought me to the steps of Boris and Sophie Leavitt's beautiful farm in Hanover, Pennsylvania almost twenty years ago. At that time Woman, 1949 was acknowledged as one of two or possibly three great de Kooning Women still owned privately, and, although it was extensively illustrated in exhibition catalogues, I never had seen the painting. In answer to a request, Boris Leavitt graciously invited me to visit to give me that opportunity.
No illustration can reproduce the intensity of the painting, its bright colors, its overall impact and beauty. Seeing Woman, 1949 confirmed its reputation as one of de Kooning's finest paintings from this rare and famous series. Subsequent viewings of the painting, either at the Leavitt farm or at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. where it has been on loan for several years, proved not only that it was a de Kooning masterpiece but a 20th century masterpiece.
Equally thrilling on that first visit was to see the other paintings the Leavitts had collected, especially the other Abstract Expressionist masterpieces. As rare as the de Kooning was Philip Guston's Beggar's Joys, representing the artist's abstract period at its finest, Motherwell's masterful Two Figures with Cerulean Blue Stripe, accompanied by three drawings from his Beside the Sea series, the delicate Baziotes and densely colored Gottlieb. Like other dedicated collectors, Mr. Leavitt talked about the one painting he always regretted letting go, Pollock's 1953 Four Opposites, which Christie's sold in 1980, around the time of my visit.
The Leavitt collection was a lesson in post-war art history. An avid collector, Leavitt first began collecting on a trip to Paris in the early 1950s where he met Pierre and Edouard Loeb, dealers in earlier 20th century art. He bought from them works by Picasso, Miró, Ernst, Arp and other European masters. Unhappily, a significant group from this period was stolen from his farm and never retrieved. Luckily, the American masterpieces were either too large or already on loan in Washington, D.C., escaping the theft.
In a recent conversation, Albert Loeb, Pierre Loeb's son, recalled that his father Pierre recommended that Mr. Leavitt meet Sidney Janis, who was the representing the emerging American artists of the day. He visited the Janis Gallery in the early 1950s and at that time acquired the masterpieces for which the collection is now renowned.
Boris Leavitt's appetite for contemporary art was amazing. Spurred on by the enthusiasm of Jack Cowart, then curator of 20th Century Art at the National Gallery, he purchased some works by Rothenberg, Salle and Fischl: young artists who were establishing their reputations in the 1970s and early 1980s. In spite of failing eyesight, he enjoyed his new purchases by hearing detailed descriptions and touching their surfaces on his rare visits to Washington, D.C. to "see" the works.
As a Russian emigré, successful businessman, generous donor to various charitable organizations, for which he was given an honorable law degree by New York University just one week before his death, an art and music connoisseur, Boris Leavitt was a true American success story, appreciating what was the best in our culture by surrounding himself with some of the finest art executed by American artists.
Post Lot Text
CAPTION TO BE INSERTED BELOW FIGURE 1, IN BETWEEN LOTS 1 AND 2:
View from Motherwell's Provincetown, M.A. studio at low tide
CAPTION TO BE INSERTED BELOW FIGURE 2, IN BETWEEN LOTS 1 AND 2:
View from Motherwell's Provincetown, M.A. studio at high tide