Lot 34
  • 34

John La Farge

200,000 - 300,000 USD
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  • John La Farge
  • Magnolia
  • signed La Farge and dated 1859 (lower left); also signed again La Farge, dated 1860 and indistinctly inscribed (lower right)
  • oil on panel
  • 16 by 11 1/2 inches
  • (40.6 by 29.2 cm)


Mr. and Mrs. George W. Long, Boston, Massachusetts, 1870s
Mr. and Mrs. Harry V. Long (their son), Boston, Massachusetts, circa 1910
Mrs. Ruth I. Derby, Mrs. William B. Long and Mrs. S. Higginson Nash (their daughters and daughter-in-law), circa 1935
Gift to the present owner from the above, 1956


Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, John La Farge Memorial Exhibition, 1910-11
New York, The Jordan-Volpe Gallery, Nature Vivante: The Still Lifes of John La Farge, April-June 1995, no. 18, pp. 18, 120, illustrated pl. 16, p. 81


"The Fine Arts: La Farge's Work," Boston Evening Transcript, December 28, 1910, p. 19
Alexandra Bonfante-Warren, Celebrations in Art: A Passion for Flowers, New York, 1996, n.p., illustrated


The following condition report has been provided by Jim Wright, Jim Wright Painting Conservation, Somerville, MA jjwri@tiac.net, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. The painting is in very good/excellent condition overall. The 2- piece panel is mounted to a cradle (probably before La Farge began painting). Although stable and in plane, the vertical joint of the two parts of the panel is visible. There is one vertical crack running with the grain on the lower edge and two on the top edge. The bottom one has been filled and retouched. In some of the darker shadows, there are several minor drying cracks that have been retouched. There is an artist's change in the upper portion of the vertical magnolia leaf that has been retouched.
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

Best known for his major projects in mural painting and stained glass, notably the interior design of Boston’s Trinity Church, John La Farge also rendered an important series of still lifes in oil and watercolor. Painted in 1859-60, Magnolia is one of the artist’s earliest still lifes, a genre he first experimented with at the beginning of his career and returned to again in the 1880s. Magnolia demonstrates La Farge’s ability to seamlessly blend botanical realism with an ethereal aesthetic, creating a composition that is both poetic and expressive. He submitted a smaller variation of this picture as one of his diploma pieces for admission to the National Academy of Design in 1869. As with many of his works in the still life genre, Magnolia is primarily a study of color and light that utilizes subtle variations of tone to convey the scene and evoke emotion. A reporter from the Boston Evening Transcript discussed the work in a review of the 1910-11 La Farge Memorial Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, “The flower pieces in oil which date from a comparatively early period are marvelously beautiful and delicate. Take for instance the large white magnolia blossom with its green leaves, a truly superb bit of painting…” (“The Fine Arts: La Farge’s Work,” Boston Evening Transcript, December 28, 1910, p. 19). Magnolia exemplifies La Farge’s meticulous skill in painting as he beautifully renders the effects of sunlight on the white tablecloth and the translucency of the amethyst glass vase by utilizing a combination of brushwork and color.

La Farge once explained the intention of his still life paintings, “My painting of flowers was in great part a study; that is, a means of teaching myself many of the difficulties of painting, some of which are contradictory, as, for example, the necessity of extreme rapidity of workmanship and very high finish. Many times in painting flowers I painted right on without stopping, painting somethings far into the night or towards morning while the flower still retained the same shade, which it was sure to lose soon. This obliged me to also know the use of my colors and the principles of the use of the same, for the difference between daylight and lamplight is very great, and the colors as one sees them in one light and not the colors of another. That we all know, as even the ladies do who wear different colors for night from what they do for the day” (as quoted in James L. Yarnall, Nature Vivante: The Still Lifes of John La Farge, 1995, New York, p. 16).