T his fall, Sotheby’s is honored to present two magnificent paintings from the collection of Ralph and Mary Booth in our Impressionist & Modern Art Evening sale: Paul Gauguin’s enticing Pivoines II from 1884 and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s timeless Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer of circa 1895.
An exquisite example of Renoir’s fascination with the subject of the female nude, Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer comes to the market for the first time in nearly a century, having been acquired in 1927 by Ralph Harman Booth from Bernheim-Jeune, one of the longest-standing and most renowned dealers to first champion Impressionist and Modern masters including Renoir, van Gogh, Bonnard and Vuillard. The recent exhibition at The Clark Art Institute, Renoir: The Body, The Senses, which will travel to the Kimbell Art Museum later this month, surveyed the evolution of the artist's renderings of the human figure, a constant source of inspiration for the artist throughout his career. This groundbreaking exhibition features earlier paintings which match the quality and vibrancy of Femme se coiffant au bord de la mer and establishes the subject of the female form as a defining theme within the artist’s oeuvre.
Painted in 1884, Les Pivoines II has been held in the Booth family collection since it was acquired in 1926. A bold and enigmatic still life by one of history’s greatest Modern masters, Les Pivoines II presents a work rich in color and pattern and daring in its execution.
Born in Toronto in 1873, Ralph Harman Booth moved as a child to the diverse and rapidly growing industrial city of Detroit. It was in this adopted hometown where Booth would build a legacy as one of the foremost publishers and patron of the arts. An ambitious young man with an entrepreneurial spirit, Booth began his career in the newspaper business as a cashier for The Detroit Tribune in 1892 and quickly ascended the ranks of the organization. With encouragement from publishing magnate James E. Scripps, Booth would soon lead the Chicago Journal, later returning to Detroit to oversee a vast network of regional newspapers. His business acumen and astute leadership qualities would culminate in 1914 in the creation of Booth Publishing, a joint venture with Ralph’s older brother George. The bourgeoning family enterprise raised the standard of publications across Michigan and advocated for the now-established principles of a free and fair press. While building his company, Ralph Booth also began collecting art—a passion which he demonstrated from the young age of fourteen, when he first bought an etching by Whistler as a birthday gift for his mother. His love of the arts was only encouraged by civic affiliations like his membership at the Union League Club of Chicago, whose collection boasts a substantial American paintings collection in addition to an Impressionist landscape by Monet. In the same year that Booth Publishing was founded, Ralph also became the vice president of the Detroit Museum of Arts, gifting his initial donation to the institution including key additions to the museum’s first collection of Rembrandt etchings, as well as his entire personal collection of American bronzes.
Booth was instrumental in the founding of the Detroit Institute of Art, which was created to improve the holdings and funding of the privately-held Detroit Museum of Art. As President of The Detroit Arts Commission that oversaw this transformation, Booth orchestrated the vision of the museum, spearheading efforts to raise money for the building’s construction as well as sourcing and acquiring significant works for the new Institute. By the early 1920s Booth had redoubled his collecting efforts. Booth, working with art historians and art dealers—principally Professor Wilhelm von Bode, René Gimpel and Howard Young— purchased a number of Impressionist and Modern works by Degas, Renoir, Monet and van Gogh, as well as a variety of Renaissance and Old Master works intended for the DIA. His enduring devotion to the new museum was such that in 1922 Booth declined an appointment to the United States Senate by Governor Groesbeck in order to see the project through to fruition.
By 1925, the established businessman and patron of the arts had also amassed an impressive personal collection of Classical sculpture, Northern European paintings, and Post-Impressionist works, many of which would eventually be gifted to the museum he helped create as well as to the National Gallery in Washington. Having concluded his work with the DIA after the museum’s opening in 1927, Booth turned his attention to family life. After nearly 25 years of marriage, Ralph and his wife Mary Batterman Booth moved to Copenhagen in 1930, fulfilling Mary’s dream of living in Europe while Ralph served as U.S. Minister to Denmark. After her husband’s passing the following year, Mary carried on his legacy with donations and bequests of numerous works to the National Gallery and DIA. Today, the Booth heirs continue to live out the great American spirit of patronage and philanthropy first set forth by Ralph Harman Booth.