C ommissioned by the legendary New York collector, William H. Vanderbilt, Ready for the Fancy Dress Ball is one of the great achievements of the Belgian artist Alfred Stevens's career. Set in the Chinese Boudoir of Stevens’s own home on the Rue des Martyrs, Paris, this work is a tour de force and a highlight of Sotheby's European Art sale on 22 November in New York.
ALFRED STEVENS, READY FOR THE FANCY DRESS BALL. ESTIMATE $500,000–700,000. TO BE OFFERED IN EUROPEAN ART ON 22 NOVEMBER IN NEW YORK.
By 1879, the year in which Ready for the Fancy Dress Ball was painted, Alfred Stevens was among the most successful artists of the era. Stevens’s success can be attributed to years of intense training under François-Joseph Navez and Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, as well as support from his family, who took an active interest in the arts (his brother Joseph was a fine animal painter and Arthur a prominent critic, curator and dealer). Stevens attracted a broad array of collectors, both in Europe as well as America, and at the Exposition Universelle in Paris of 1867, he triumphed with eighteen entries, a first-class medal, and promotion to officer of the Legion d’Honneur. His enormous commercial success enabled him to collect, and the beautiful period furnishings, pictures and objets that he amassed in his spectacular residence are often featured prominently in his paintings and provide a glimpse into the fashionable taste of the age. The present work is no exception.
WILLIAM H. VANDERBILT’S GALLERY, 640 FIFTH AVENUE, THE PRESENT WORK HUNG AT LOWER CENTER
The room and its contents are well documented, visually, but were also written about by many, including Robert de Montesquieu. One particular first-hand account by Max Sulzberger describes a room that is decorated with furnishings “from the Imperial Palace,” brought back by an officer on expedition to China, and it describes the painted gold paper walls and the doors and furniture of the most beautiful black Chinese lacquer. Stevens certainly perceived his Chinese Boudoir to be a powerful setting, painting it for the first time with Cache-Cache (University of Michigan Museum of Art), in Les Visiteuses, purchased by King Leopold for the massive sum of 60,000 francs.
LE SALON DU PEINTRE, 1880, PRIVATE COLLECTION
Ready for the Fancy Dress Ball was commissioned by the American industrialist and philanthropist William Henry Vanderbilt for 50,000 francs in 1880, and it hung prominently in the gallery of his home on Fifth Avenue, where, fittingly, he had an elaborate Japanese room. Through the open door on the right is the artist’s Salon, which Stevens painted in his complementary masterpiece, Le Salon du Peintre (Private Collection), which was also held in the storied Vanderbilt collection.