An extraordinary and virtually unknown collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterworks amassed by the former president and later chairman of the board of Eastman Kodak will be auctioned with no reserve on September 15, at the John W. Coker gallery in New Market, Tennessee.
The Dr. Albert K. Chapman (1890-1984) collection, which has been privately held in three subsequent generations of the Chapman family since the 1930s, includes artworks by Childe Hassam, Alfred Sisley, Pierre Bonnard and 30 other distinguished artists from the period 1870 to 1950.
None of the paintings were exhibited at any time while in the hands of either Dr. Chapman or his heirs. Additionally, the collection is graced by a superb pastel work by Mary Cassatt that has been exhibited only once since joining the Chapman collection - at the Smithsonian Institution in 1970.
The collection's 65 artworks, many accompanied by bills of sale or other written provenance, are described by auctioneer John Coker as "lost and forgotten treasures that are sure to excite the fine art community."
"Very few people even knew Dr. Chapman's collection existed," Coker said. "Most of his acquisitions were made prior to the 1960s, and once he purchased a painting, he did not want it out of his possession. With the exception of the Cassatt, the paintings were never exhibited or displayed outside the family home after he acquired them."
"This is a family of intensely private, highly refined people who would not have made a point of mentioning the art was original, as this might have been misconstrued as an ostentatious show of wealth," Coker said.
Dr. Chapman's greatest prize was Childe Hassam's (American, 1859-1935) oil on canvas titled Royal Palms, Cuba. Its bill of sale indicates that the 25- by 30-inch artwork depicting towering palm trees against a cloud-filled turquoise sky was purchased from the M. Knoedler & Co. gallery in 1948 for $1,500.
The 1895 painting was previously owned by Horatio S. Rubens, a Cuban-American tobacco industry lawyer who boasted that he had bankrolled the sinking of the U.S.S. Battleship Maine during the Spanish-American War. "We believe Rubens was quite likely the original owner," Coker said.
In 1980, art historian Kathleen Burnside contacted Dr. Chapman in hopes of photographing Royal Palms, Cuba for a Childe Hassam catalogue raisonne.
"Until that point, no one was really sure the artwork existed," Coker said. "Unfortunately, both Dr. and Mrs. Chapman were in failing health at the time of Burnside's request, and the painting was not photographed, but it is scheduled to be included in an upcoming catalogue raisonne."
Mary Cassatt's (American, 1844-1926) Simone Talking to Her Mother, a 25- by 30-inch pastel on paper, was another of Dr. Chapman's purchases from the M. Knoedler gallery. He acquired it in 1950 for around $5,000.
Making a rare exception, Dr. Chapman loaned the artwork to the Smithsonian in 1970 for Adelyn Dohme Breeskin's exhibit and accompanying catalogue raisonne. Ten years later, Dr. Chapman received a letter from a man hoping to buy the painting from him.
Paperwork discovered in the Chapman archive documents the doctor's sincere reply: "Thank you for your enquiry of December 5, but I have no intention of selling the Mary Cassatt. Living with it gives us entirely too much pleasure to have it depart."
Coker said the condition of the artworks in the Chapman collection is "as original as anyone could ever wish for. The paintings are untouched, with no visible signs of cleaning or repairs."
"This magnificent collection most certainly would have been welcomed by any of the major auction houses in New York, London or Paris, so it is a tremendous honor for us to have been chosen to sell the artworks for Dr. Chapman's heirs," Coker said.
The no-reserve auction of the Dr. Albert K. Chapman Fine Art Collection will commence at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. All forms of bidding will be available, including live in the gallery, absentee, phone and live via the internet.
According to Dr. Chapman's grandson and granddaughter, who are the collection's consignors, not even the few close friends their grandparents, and later their parents, chose to entertain in their homes had any idea the artworks were originals.
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