- Albert Edelfelt
- Au jardin
- signed A. EDELFELT, inscribed Paris and dated 1882 (lower right)
- oil on canvas
Knoedler & Co., New York, no. 4132 (acquired from the above, September 1882, as Fleur des Champs)
Timothy C. Eastman, New York (acquired from the above)
Joseph Eastman, New York (by descent from the above, his father, and sold, his estate, American Art Association, New York, January 16, 1923, lot 67, illustrated, as In the Garden)
Edward Franklin Albee II, New York (acquired at the above sale)
Palace Theatre, Columbus, Ohio (given from the above, later the RKO Collection)
William A. Rudd, Cincinnati, Ohio (and sold in part for the benefit of Xavier University, Chicago Art Galleries, March 10-13, 1964, lot 1089, illustrated)
Private Collection (acquired at the above sale)
Thence by descent
Revue Illustrée, Paris, 1884, illustrated
Bertel Hintze, Albert Edelfelt, Helsinki, 1942-44, vol. III: catalogue raisonné, p. 50, no. 208 (as Den lilla modellflickan) and no. 211 (as Min farmor år 1800)
After leaving his hometown of Porvoo, Finland and honing his skills with history painting at the Art Society in Helsinki and later at the Antwerp Academy of Art, Edelfelt was drawn to the progressive Parisian lifestyle and its endless cultural and professional opportunities. He began study at the École des Beaux-Arts with Jean-Léon Gérôme and formed friendships with fellow artists— most importantly Bastien-Lepage, who lived near Edelfelt's own studio at 147 avenue de Villiers. While the first significant work Edelfelt produced was a portrait of a woman in Rococo costume and interior, the artist quickly fell under the spell of the “New Painting,” most notably the plein air naturalism of Bastien-Lepage as well as the Impressionists, who held their first group show the year of his arrival. Through the following decade, Edelfelt developed his aesthetic, drawing on everyday subjects painted in luminous palettes. By the time of Au jardin’s execution, Edelfelt was an established presence at the Salon, where he was the first Finnish artist to win a medal for his 1882 submission Divine Service in the Uusimma Archipelago which was purchased by the French State. Later that year, his Under the Birches (sold, Sotheby's London, March 25, 1987, lot 48, as cover), with its sylvan setting and use of light evocative of Au jardin, would receive acclaim when exhibited at the Galerie Georges Petit among other works by “les jeunes,” a group of young and well-regarded artists including Bastien-Lepage, Jean Béraud, Giovanni Boldini, and John Singer Sargent.
Paris and its extensive network of museums, galleries, and dealers fueled constant stimulus for Edelfelt, and wealthy and sophisticated Parisians and international visitors provided a ready clientele. Around the time the artist would have begun Au jardin, letters he wrote to his mother note he was hard at work on a commission from America, and that his model was a young girl (fig. 2). Indeed, the painting’s first owner was Timothy C. Eastman (1821-1893) the “cattle-king” of New York. Growing up poor along the busy Hudson, he became so familiar with cattle transportation that he earned employment with The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad. He eventually built a $25,000,000 estate by revolutionizing a method of sending refrigerated cargo by steamship; by 1876, three million pounds of beef per month were shipped safely across the Atlantic to England (Henry Hall, America’s Successful Men of Affairs, vol. 1, New York, 1895, p. 212; John P. Ritter, “The Richest Colony in the World,” The Peterson Magazine, vol 7, 1897, p. 564). Upon Timothy Eastman's death, his son Joseph took on the business, inheriting a portion of the estate and his father’s art collection, including Au jardin, which hung in his townhouse at 4 East 70th Street. When Eastman’s collection was auctioned in 1923, the present work was acquired by Edward Franklin Albee II (1857-1930), the vaudevillian (and grandfather of playwright Edward Franklin Albee III) who, together with his partner Benjamin Franklin Keith, built the Keith-Albee theater circuit which dominated the American entertainment industry of the early twentieth century. Much of Albee’s collection of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (see lots 57-59, 63-65), William Bouguereau (including Return from the Harvest once in the collection of Mrs. A. T. Stewart, see lot 25 and 35), Léon-Augustin Lhermitte (see lot 21) and others was intended for the decoration of his theaters in Boston and New York, with Au jardin reserved for the Palace Theater, built in 1926 in Columbus, Ohio. Located at the base of the city’s American Insurance Union Citadel (now LeVeque Tower), the Palace Theater was designed by Thomas W. Lamb in his signature style, influenced by eighteenth century neoclassical architecture. As local newspapers reported, the aptly named Palace’s design was “regal in its sweep from the lower foyer to its promenade” with decorated plasterwork, extensive gold leaf, a handmade fountain imported from Rome, elaborate candelabra, and sumptuously thick carpet (Michael A. Perkins, Leveque, The First Complete Story of Columbus’ Greatest Skyscraper, Bloomington, 2005, p. 66). No matter the entertainment on stage or screen (usually vaudeville shows and silent films), theater-goers were entranced from the moment they entered, as a New York Herald Tribune journalist explained: “Patrons of Albee-run theaters got double their money’s worth of enjoyment. For the cost of a single ticket to the ‘acts’ on the stage they received also a show in the lobby” (Carlyle Burrows, “Paintings Collected by Theater Man Show Popular Turn-of-Century Style," New York Herald Tribune, June 21, 1959). The Palace soon fully transformed into a movie theater (the RKO Palace), and the art collection dispersed; Au jardin went largely untraced for over half a century as it hung in a Midwestern collection. The work’s emergence today adds an important new element to the artist’s oeuvre and is a testament to the long-lasting international appeal of one of Finland’s greatest artists.