NEW YORK.- Sotheby’s today announced that it will offer the Collection of Meyer and Vivian Potamkin during May of 2003. Highlighting the series of sales are works from the Potamkins’ renowned American Art Collection, one of the finest collections of American Art in private hands, which will be sold on the morning of May 21, 2003. Formed over a period of 50 years by the Philadelphia couple who were pioneers in the field of American Art, the core of the sale comprises a rich offering of American 19th and 20th century works on paper, and a group of oils representing the broad scope of the Potamkins’ sophisticated collecting taste. The furniture and decorations which the couple chose to complement the collection of American Art reflects their remarkable aesthetic self-assurance, ranging from classical American furniture and Pennsylvania German folk art through Danish modern furniture. The furniture and decorations will be sold in a single-owner session the morning of May 22. Prints from the Collection will be offered in sequence during the May 2 sale. Except for the prints, the entire Potamkin collection will be exhibited on Sotheby’s 10th floor galleries at 1334 York Avenue prior to the May 21-22 sales. Altogether, the Collection consists of 462 lots estimated to sell for in excess of $10 million.
In the early years of their marriage, Meyer and Vivian Potamkin made their first foray into art collecting, which developed into a passionate pursuit resulting in one of the country’s great private collections of American Art. Last year Mrs. Potamkin recalled that one of the highlights of their long and successful marriage was the couple’s weekly Saturday trips to New York City to shop for art. This process involved wide-ranging study and thoughtful connoisseurship, not only by spending hours training their eye in galleries and museums, but more importantly by the relationships they formed with key dealers such as Harold Milch and Antoinette Kraushaar, among others. While the Potamkins collected widely, including a small group of modern European sculptures, they collected the works of certain American artists in depth, primarily Maurice Prendergast, Robert Henri, Arthur B. Carles, Gaston Lachaise, Charles Burchfield, Marsden Hartley, Joseph Stella, and Maguerite Zorach.
As pioneering collectors, the Potamkins had no pre-ordained list of desirable artists or hoped-for acquisitions. Collecting for them was an ongoing process and their earliest acquisitions were proudly displayed next to their most recent finds. The broad panorama of art was mirrored in the furnishings and decorative objects that they pursued with equal passion, assembling small but choice groups in disparate areas such as folk art, fine American furniture, American Indian art and modern design. Aided by an appetite for travel, they bought widely and well.
Over the years this Philadelphia couple was remarkably generous in making their collection accessible to scholars and institutions and in regular loans to major exhibitions. They were dedicated supporters of the arts and especially of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania institutions: Mr. Potamkin was a long-time trustee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Mrs. Potamkin of The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She was also the founder of the Academy’s Collectors’ Circle and a trustee of the Archives of American Art, among other activities. They gave generously of their time and matched that generosity over the years with important donations of art to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, which received a significant bequest from Mrs. Potamkin, and Dickinson College and the National Gallery of Art.
The Potamkin Collection of American Art
The core of the Potamkin Collection being sold at Sotheby’s includes a rich body of works on paper, as well as a number of oils representing the broad scope of the Potamkins’ sophisticated collecting taste. Furthermore, they were drawn to subject matter that reflected their upbringing in the social landscape of early 20th century. The works range from 19th century landscapes and American Impressionists from the turn of the century, to the American Modernists.
Highlights of the sale include Maurice Prendergast’s Handkerchief Point (Nantasket Beach No. 2), watercolor on paper, (est. $1/1.5 million); Theodore Robinson, Boats at a Landing, oil on canvas (est. $400/600,000); Marsden Hartley, Sail Movement, oil on canvas (est. $300/500,000); Joseph Stella, The Telegraph Pole, gouache on paper (est. $150/200,000); Edward Hopper, House on the Dune, South Truro, watercolor on paper (est. $500/700,000); George Inness, Niagara Falls, oil on canvas (est. $200/300,000); and John LaFarge, Roses in a Shallow Bowl, oil on canvas (est. $300/500,000). The sale will also feature bronze sculpture by Gaston Lachaise, including Equestrienne (est. $150/200,000), and Peacocks (est. $250/350,000).
An offering of 26 prints from the Potamkin Collection, by artists such as Prendergast, Bellows, Whistler, Sloan and Chagall will highlight Sotheby’s May 2nd sale of Modern Prints.
The Potamkins began their collecting endeavors in 1940 with the purchase of a lithograph, the beginning of a passion for works on paper that would continue throughout their lives. Prints were an important supplement to their growing collection of American art, and were displayed as such, hung alongside their paintings and drawings by the same artists.
Chief among the prints that will be offered in May are two monotypes by Maurice Prendergast, Park Promenade, estimated at $60/80,000, and Feeding the Pigeons estimated at $25/35,000. Prendergast favored the monotype as a printing technique for the painterly qualities and textural freedom it allowed him. In the process, the artist paints directly on the plate, with the freedom to scratch in highlights and details, and then prints the image only once, creating a unique image. Also included is George Bellows’ well known fight scene, Demsey and Firpo, which is estimated to sell for $40/60,000 and a lovely work by James Abbott McNeill Whistler, The Doorway, estimated at $14/18,000, in addition to 20 works by John Sloan ranging in estimate from $800/5,000.
Furniture and Decorations
In a single-owner session during the morning of May 22nd, Sotheby’s will offer the classical Americana and wide-ranging decorative arts with which the couple furnished their Philadelphia home. Included are a Chippendale Carved Cherry Blocked Reverse Serpentine-front Chest of Drawers made in Connecticut River Valley, circa 1760 (est. $30/50,000); a Very Rare Federal Satinwood Winged Bureau, after a design by Thomas Shearer, Philadelphia, circa 1800 (est. $60/80,000); oriental rugs; several Philadelphia Queen Anne and Chippendale candle stands and tea tables; and a collection of Delft Blue and White Flower Bricks.