Mauresque - W. Somerset Maugham's Impressionist and Modern Paintings Collection


This project, which, in my ignorance, was intended to be finished something between a week or two, is going to be another ongoing one. I am not an art historian, and in my naïveté and undying faith in our almighty Google, I thought it would be a few clicks away to find the present location of (relatively) well-known paintings. The reality turns out to be a research challenge, which I have picked up and will not easily give way, only that it is going to take a while.

Catalogue of Somerset Maugham Collection - Sotheby
Catalogue of the Collection of Impressionist and Modern Pictures

The idea occurred to me when I got Catalogue of the Collection of Impressionist and Modern Pictures (London: Sotheby & Co., 1962). This is the actual catalogue of the sale of W. Somerset Maugham's collections of impressionist and modern paintings, on 10 April 1962 at Sotheby's.

It is of historical curiosity. The day before, Heinemann published Purely for My Pleasure, with a text of Maugham guiding his readers through his collection which took him fifty years to accumulate. It is definitely a nice book to have, the last published by Maugham, beautifully bound and with high quality coloured illustrations of the paintings.

As for the Sotheby's catalogue, Maugham prefaced it with a facsimile signature, giving the reasons of the sale, although he did not attend the auction himself. The text is collected in A Traveller in Romance.

The Sotheby's catalogue contains a mixture of coloured and black and white plates, and only part of the lots have corresponding illustrations. Some of Heinemann's colour blocks were lent to Sotheby's for the printing of the catalogues; however, not all the lot numbers and the plate numbers in the two publications correspond. It could be because Maugham included several paintings that he was not going to sell, it could be because he changed his arrangement after negotiation with Sotheby's, or it could be because it was the other way around, that Sotheby's changed their order.

It is unfortunate that the auction was surrounded by highly embarrassing and terribly unhappy events. Maugham told us the reason why he decided to sell his collection, which was due to the threat of theft in his neighbourhood. He was tired of having to secure his paintings whenever he was not around and at the end made up his mind to sell them. However, this led to a court case between his daughter Liza and him, since included in the auction were nine paintings which were bought under her name, the money from the sale of which, as understood, would go to her. It did not happen, whether it was Maugham's decision or as has been claimed, Alan Searle's (Maugham's secretary) meddling, one can only conjecture.

This started the quarrel, which was further complicated by Maugham's adoption of Searle and disinheriting Liza. The case was settled out of court, with Liza getting half of the money from her nine pictures and the ownership of Villa Mauresque, and the adoption was invalidated.*

As one's collection tells you quite a bit about the person, and since Maugham is my subject, it would be interesting to get to know him by what he collects.

There are all together thirty-seven paintings in Purely for My Pleasure and I am going to list them in groups of ten. At the moment I am going to talk about the first ten. I will follow the order in Purely for My Pleasure, and record their corresponding number in both.



Abbreviations:
SLot: Sotheby's catalogue Lot number
SA: Sotheby's auction on 10 April 1962
PMP: Purely for My Pleasure


Plate I: "Femme assise dans un fauteuil jaune" by Henri Matisse (1869–1954)


P1 femme assise dans un fauteuil jaune - Matisse
"The Yellow Chair" by Henri Matisse
  • SLot 24
  • 53.5 cm by 64 cm
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed and dated at lower right, 1940; painted in Nice, March 1940
  • Sold to Col. Paul for £38,000
  • Presently at the National Gallery of Art at Washington as "Woman Seated in an Armchair," donated by Rita Schreiber on 31 January 1989 in loving memory of her husband, Taft Schreiber; at the moment this is not on exhibition
Maugham actually knew Matisse. For this particular painting, Matisse, as he told Maugham, had scraped his canvas three times before rendering the final result that is before us the posterity.

This painting has an interesting history. It took me quite some time to locate it and I am sorry to say that I didn't get much help from experts. I bet it was because of the fact that stranger's questions are of low priority in their already very busy schedule rather than because of their lack of interest in this famous painting or unwillingness to answer reference questions.

The catalogue on the National Gallery of Art website gives an excellent overview of its provenance, certainly full of adventures before it went to Maugham's collection. I wonder if Maugham knew that.


Plate II: "Songs from Italy" by G. H. Barrable (†1887)


Songs from Italy by G.H. Barrable
"Songs from Italy" by G. H. Barrable
This is one of the odd numbers in Maugham's collection. You probably have trouble finding this picture outside of PMP. And it is indeed not in SA for the simple reason that this is not an original (and thus not sold in the auction), but a reproduction from Maugham's day as a student at St. Thomas's Hospital at the end of the nineteenth century. As he told us, he got this, a large coloured reproduction from an illustrated weekly and had it pinned on his wall for decoration.

George Hamilton Barrable has but almost disappeared from our collective memory. Only one or two paintings of his have survived our Internet age, with the originals mostly in private collections. I hope this painting that caught Maugham's fancy is safely hung somewhere in someone's sitting room. Barrable's works were listed in catalogues, illustrated news, and even in Punch, a familiar name presumably in his day.

I do wonder though where Maugham's reproduction has landed.


Plate III: "Still Life with Vegetables" by Roderic O'Conor (1860–1940)


P3 Still life with Vegetables by Roderic O'Conor
"Still Life with Vegetables" by Roderic O'Conor
  • SLot 1
  • 53 cm by 72 cm
  • Signed at top right corner
  • Sold to Mrs. P. Hill at £420
Roderic, or Roderick (as is written in PMP and SA), O'Conor was an acquaintance of Maugham, back in the Parisian days when O'Conor was a struggling artist. Not a man of easy temper, it would seem, the Irish man had taken instant dislike to Maugham, who must have been fascinated by him in some way, since he based more than one of his characters on O'Conor: Mr. O'Brien and Clutton in The Magician and Of Human Bondage respectively.

Most likely O'Conor added a colourful background to the descriptions of artists in Paris in the early twentieth century, in a similar way as Le Chien Noir (i.e. Le Chat Blanc).

According to Maugham, he bought this and the following painting together when he was staying with Gerald Kelly in Paris, sharing an apartment near "Lion de Belfort," which would situate the years as 1904, 1905. This painting is not dated, but the following painting (Plate IV) is signed and dated in 1923, which made it impossible for him to have bought it during the days that he was reminiscing.

It would be interesting to know if Plate III belongs to an earlier period than the other two. Considering the dates of the paintings, it is possible that Maugham bought one painting from O'Conor directly, and then "a good many years later," after 1925, he got the other two.

I don't have much luck locating these O'Conor paintings on the Internet, not even the reproductions, which makes PMP valuable as records of paintings that have remained in private collections or other non-accessible venues.


Plate IV: "Still Life with a Bowl of Apples" by Roderic O'Conor (1860–1940)


P4 Still Life with a Bowl of Apples by Roderic O'Conor
"Still Life with a Bowl of Apples" by Roderic O'Conor
  • SLot 4
  • 60 cm by 48.5 cm
  • Signed and dated '23 at lower left corner
  • Sold to Falanga for £260
Please see Plate III for more information.

Plate V: "Flowers in a Green Jug" by Roderic O'Conor (1860–1940)


P5 Flowers in a Green Jug by Roderic O'Conor
"Flowers in a Green Jug" by Roderic O'Conor
  • SLot 3
  • 44.5 cm by 53.5 cm
  • Signed and dated '25 at lower right corner
  • Sold to Roland Browse & Delbanco for £550

See Plates III and IV for more information.

Plate VI: "A Bend of the Severn, Littledean" by Philip Wilson Steer (1860–1942)


"A Bend of the Severn, Littledean" by Philip Wilson Steer
  • SLot 4
  • 51 cm by 76 cm
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed and dated 1909 at lower left corner
  • Sold to Fine Art Society, London for £1,100
Maugham, after his theatrical success in 1907 with Lady Frederick, joined the fashionable society and came to know Steer, from whom he bought two landscapes.
At Maugham's time, Steer was famous but was later forgotten, according to our writer. This particular painting certainly fetched quite a nice price, considering. Later, it was to change hands, and landed in a private collection in Adelaide in the same year, in 1962. A few years ago, in 2008, it was again auctioned at Sotheby's estimated at £23,807 - £33,330, but failed to sell. Probably it is still in Australia.


Plate VII: "Effect of Rain, Corfe" by Philip Wilson Steer (1860–1942)


P7 Effect of Rain, Corfe by Philip Wilson Steer
"Effect of Rain, Corfe" by Philip Wilson Steer
  • SLot 5
  • 46 cm by 61.5 cm
  • Oil on canvas
  • Signed and dated 1908
  • Sold to Maggs Bros. for £550
So far I have found no information about this painting, not even its image on the Internet. For those who have ventured into book collecting Maggs Bros. is a well-known name. In fact its history dated back to 1853.

If we compare the sale of this painting to the one before, it is half the price, with only one year, perhaps less, in between their respective dates of creation.

Plate VIII: "David Garrick as Jaffier and Susannah Cibber as Belvidera in 'Venice Preserved' by Johan Zoffany (1733-1810)


David Garrick as Jaffier and Susannah Cibber as Belvidera in Venice Preserved by
Johan Zoffany
"David Garrick as Jaffier and Susannah Cibber as Belvidera in 'Venice Preserved'"by Johan Zoffany
This is not included in SA, because it belongs to Maugham's theatrical paintings collection, which I hope to talk about on another occasion. Maugham amassed an important collection of theatrical paintings and at the moment they are in Bath.

Plate IX: "John Bannister and Richard Suett in ‘Sylvester Daggerwood’" by Samuel de Wilde (1748–1832)


John Bannister and Richard Suett in ‘Sylvester Daggerwood’ by Samuel de Wilde
John Bannister and Richard Suett in "Sylvester Daggerwood" by Samuel de Wilde
Same as the last painting, Plate VIII, I will talk about it on another page about Maugham's collection of theatrical paintings.

Plate X: "Tahitienne debout" by Paul Gauguin (1848–1903)


Tahitienne debout by Paul Gauguin
"Tahitienne debout" by Paul Gauguin
  • SLot 10
  • 100 cm by 54 cm
  • Painting on glass-panelled door
  • Signed with initial "PGO"; circa 1898–1899
  • Sold to P. I. Berman for £13,000
The acquisition of this glass-panelled door has become some sort of a legend. Maugham has written about it more than once and the occasion has been recounted over and over again, by people who are interested in Maugham and Gauguin.

I am going to talk more about this door, which I think definitely deserves some space.

In 1916, Maugham went to the South Seas to research for The Moon and Sixpence, and noted how he came by this door, which eventually was published in A Writer's Notebook (1949):
She told me there were pictures by Gauguin in a house not far from hers, and when I said I would like to see them called for a boy to show me the way. We drove along the road for a couple of miles and then, turning
off it, went down a swampy grass path till we came to a very shabby frame house, grey and dilapidated. There was no furniture in it beyond a few mats, and the veranda was swarming with dirty children. A young man was lying on the veranda smoking cigarettes and a young woman was seated idly. The master of the house, a flat-nosed, smiling dark native came and talked to us. He asked us to go in, and the first thing I saw was the Gauguin painted on the door. It appears that Gauguin was ill for some time in that house and was looked after by the parents of the present owner, then a boy of ten. He was pleased with the way they treated him and when he grew better desired to leave some recollection of himself. In one of the two rooms of which the bungalow consisted there were three doors, the upper part of which was of glass divided into panels, and on each of them he painted a picture. The children had picked away two of them; on one hardly anything was left but a faint head in one corner, while on the other could still be seen the traces of a woman's torso thrown backwards in an attitude of passionate grace. The third was in tolerable preservation, but it was plain that in a very few years it would be in the same state as the other two. The man took no interest in the pictures as such, but merely as remembrances of the dead guest, and when I pointed out to him that he could still keep the other two he was not unwilling to sell the third. "But," he said, "I shall have to buy a new door." "How much will it cost?" I asked. "A hundred francs." "All right," I said, "I'll give you two hundred."

I thought I had better take the picture before he changed his mind, so we got the tools from the car in which I had come, unscrewed the hinges and carried the door away. When we arrived back at the chiefess's we sawed off the lower part of it in order to make it more portable, and so took it back to Papeete.P10a
Forty-six years later, the incident looked a little different, in PMP:
I had long had it in mind to write a novel founded on the life of Paul Gauguin and I went to Tahiti in the hope of finding people who had known him and whom I could induce to give me some useful information. I discovered presently that somewhere in the bush there was a hut where Gauguin, being ill, had spent some time, and during his convalescence had painted. I hired a car, and with a companion drove about till my driver sighted the hut. I got out and walked along a narrow path till I came to it. Half a dozen children were playing on the stoop. A man, presumably their father, strolled out and when I told him what I wanted to see asked me to come in. There were three doors; the lower part of each was of wooden panels and the upper of panes of glass held together by strips of wood. The man told me that Gauguin had painted three pictures on the glass panes. The children had scratched away the painting on two of the doors and were just starting on the third. It represented Eve, nude, with the apple in her hand. I asked the man if he would sell it. "I should have to buy a new door," he said. "How much would that cost?" I asked him. "Two hundred francs," he answered. I said I would give him that and he took it with pleasure. We unscrewed the door and with my companion carried it to the car and drove back to Papeete. In the evening another man came to see me and said the door was half his. He asked me for two hundred francs more which I gladly gave him. I had the wooden panel sawn off the frame, and, taking all possible precautions, brought the panelled glass panes to New York and finally to France. It is very slightly painted, only a sketch, but enchanting. I have it in my writing-room. (10–1)
Maugham mentions that there were more than one door. And indeed, it would appear that Maugham was not the first seeker across half the world to find and carry off traces of the famous artist. Let's look at the Museum of Modern Art's exhibition catalogue in 1929:
Oil on glass 24 x 14 inches
Painted in Tahiti in 1893
Signed on label: Rupe Tahiti 1893 (Hurrah for Tahiti)
Collection: Stephen Haweis, Greenwich, Connecticut

Note: The lower right hand panel of a pair of glass doors purchased by Mr. Haweis at Papeete, Tahiti in 1913, from a Madame Charbonnier in whose house Gauguin had lived for a time during his first Tahitian sojourn, 1891–93. Madame Charbonnier had succeeded in scarping away some of the paint.P10b
This panel is an earlier work than the one that Maugham purchased and is in smaller size too. Stephen H. W. Haweis (1818–circa 1946) was a painter himself, and a muralist. The one in MOMA's catalogue was smaller because it was only a single panel. Now the whole doors have been put back together, with the four upper panels that belonged to the art dealer Knoedler and Company. By the way, Maugham in the 1910s used to know the London representative of the company, Charles Carstairs, whose wife was instrumental in bringing him and the then Syrie Wellcome, later Maugham's wife, together ("Looking Back," Show, Jul. 1962, 41). These doors are now in New Orleans Museum of Art, forming part of its permanent exhibition, but at the moment is not on show.

When Maugham was in Tahiti, he was confused by the locals as someone else who had bought another door a few years before, most certainly Haweis.
Gauguin's painted glass panel in NOMA
Gauguin's Painted Glass Panel at NOMA
A question may form at the back of your mind when you read to here, if you are not familiar with Gauguin: why did he paint on the doors?

Gauguin was destitute and severely depressed. He attempted to commit suicide by taking arsenic, but he didn't die. He crawled over and was taken in by a native. When he was recovering he painted The White Horse on his last canvas; finding himself without means to get another one, he painted on the glass panes of the doors to relieve his undying urge of creation.P10c

Hold your horses! Definitely a very romantic story, and unfortunately inaccurate, by Menard. I particularly love the part about having no more canvases, but it is so doubtful because of the sheer fact that the painting concerned is another one, and it is nothing less than "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" You may say that this is poetic licence, which is certainly a legitimate answer.

As for Maugham's door that was sold to P. I. Berman, presently they are in Jeu de Paume, Paris. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be an image of it available on the Internet.


Next [coming soon]
                                                                                                 
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✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢✢


Notes

* Hastings, Selina. The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham. London: John Murray, 2010. 525–9.
P10a Maugham, W. Somerset. A Writer's Notebook. London: Heinemann, 1949. 130–1.
P10b The Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art First Loan Exhibition New York November 1929. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1929. 42.
P10c Menard, Wilmon. The Two Worlds of Somerset Maugham. Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1965. 185.

2 comments :

  1. This is a fantastic blog.

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    1. Thanks very much, E! Very glad to know you enjoy it!

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