Lot 27
  • 27

Alfred Stevens

500,000 - 700,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Alfred Stevens
  • Ready for the Fancy Dress Ball
  • signed Alfred Stevens. and dated 1879 (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 35 3/4 by 46 in.
  • 90.8 by 116.8 cm


William H. Vanderbilt (acquired from the artist through Galerie Georges Petit, 1879)
George Washington Vanderbilt II, New York (by descent from the above, his father)
Brigadier General Cornelius Vanderbilt, New York (by descent from the above, his uncle and sold, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, April 18-19, 1945, lot 67, illustrated)
Hulett Merrit, Pasadena, California (acquired at the above sale)
Dr. Benjamin Reich, Los Angeles, California
Gerald E. Landweer, Beverly Hills and Vancouver
Private Collector (acquired in 1975, and sold, Sotheby’s, New York, October 13, 1978, lot 96, illustrated)
Private Collector (acquired at the above sale)
Jordan-Volpe Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above, 1988


New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art (on loan from 1886-1903)
Ann Arbor, The University of Michigan Museum of Art; Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; Montréal, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Alfred Stevens, September 1977-March 1978, no. 31


Edward Strahan, ed., The Art Treasures of America, Philadelphia, 1879, vol. II, p. 114; in the 1977 facsimile edition, vol. III, p. 108
Collection of W.H. Vanderbilt, 640 Fifth Avenue, New York, 1882, p. 40, no. 74
Edward Strahan, Mr. Vanderbilt’s House and Collection, New York, circa 1883-84, vol. 4, p. 59 (a detail illustrated in black and white engraving)
William Coles, Alfred Stevens, exh. cat., The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor; The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore; Musée des Beaux-Arts, Montréal, 1977, p. 70, no. 31
Jerry E. Patterson, The Vanderbilts, New York, 1989, p. 109
Christiane Lefebvre, Alfred Stevens, Paris, 2006, p. 133-4, no. 154, illustrated p. 134 (as Mi-Carême)
Alfred Stevens 1823 Brussels – 1906 Paris, exh. cat., Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels; The Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, 2009, p. 36, illustrated fig. 12 (as mi-Carême)
Wayne Craven, Gilded Mansions: Grand Architecture and High Society, New York, 2009, p. 103
Manuela Moscatiello, Le japonisme de Giuseppe De Nittis, Bern, 2011, p. 126


The following condition report was kindly provided by Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc.: This work has an effective lining. The cracking is slightly raised in the upper left. A break in the canvas in the upper right is slightly visible. Hardly any retouches are visible under ultraviolet light. The horizontal break in the upper right is very thin and shows no real retouches, and there are a couple of other cracks or breaks in the upper left which also do not really show any retouches. There is one spot of retouching in the upper center of the wallpaper, a spot above the head of the woman in red and some retouching to some cracking in her coat. The other three figures are in beautiful state. The condition is very good for such a complex work.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

By 1879, the year in which Ready for the Fancy Dress Ball was painted, Alfred Stevens had reached the height of his career and was among the most successful artists of the era. Stevens’ 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 obviously attracted a broad array, both in Europe as well as America, as his pictures were acquired by great institutions and dignitaries, such as the Brussels Museum and the Belgian King Leopold. 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. While Stevens was respected within Imperial circles and invited to balls at the Tuileries, he felt equally at ease with avant-garde luminaries within Édouard Manet’s circle, where he was friends with Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot and Charles Baudelaire. Stevens’ 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.

Set in the Chinese Boudoir of Stevens’ home on the Rue des Martyrs, Ready for the Fancy Dress Ball, is a “tour de force of interior painting and one of the climactic pictures of his career” (Coles, p. 71). 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, offers a special insight as he writes: “Except for a view of an English park, with its green lawns, its lake, its shades (my luxury, says the artist, showing us with a smile of this true oasis in the middle of Paris), one would feel as if he were in the middle of the winter pavilion of the heavenly empire” (as quoted in Coles, p. 71). He describes a room that is decorated with furnishings “from the Imperial Palace,” brought back by an officer on expedition to China, and describes the painted gold paper walls and the doors and furniture of the most beautiful black Chinese lacquer (Coles, p. 71). Through the open door at right is the artist’s Salon, which Stevens painted the same year as the present work in his complimentary masterpiece, Le Salon du peintre (Private Collection, fig. 1).  

Stevens certainly perceived his Chinese Boudoir 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, and in the present work (fig. 2). It was bought by the American industrialist and philanthropist William Henry Vanderbilt for 50,000 francs in 1879, and it hung prominently in his home on Fifth Avenue, where, fittingly, he had an elaborate gallery decorated according to the trend for japonisme and chinoiserie (fig. 3).

In this composition, Stevens has arranged his figures against a long wall in a frieze-like fashion. The horizontality is emphasized by the furniture in the room, as well as his choice of textiles and his use of the floor and molding as a framing device and the long, pink fringed cloth draws attention to the center.  The figure seated at left on a yellow upholstered chair (next to a plush, fantastically decorated ottoman) wears an elaborate outfit of fur-trimmed velvet. She is very sensitively painted as she leans forward to greet the two young boys being presented to her. Stevens did not frequently paint children, but these two are particularly expressive examples as they appear “in character.” The model on the right wears a modified form of aesthetic dress, adopted in 1878-9, representing a historical allusion to a neck style common before 1600, though it is not considered a fancy dress costume. This aesthetic influence is in line with Stevens’ interests of the period and, as in Cache-Cache’s narrative of hide and seek, the use of costumes continues the artist’s investigation of what art hides and reveals (Coles, p. 73).