The James Prendergast Library: 9 Must-See Works of European Art

Launch Slideshow

This autumn, Sotheby’s is pleased to offer nine works from the Collection of the James Prendergast Library. The Library opened 1 December 1891 with a generous gift of $25,000 (more than $600,000 today) from the estate of Mary Prendergast, enabling the purchase of “oil paintings which possess merit as works of art.” Over a century later the library remains a vital resource, honouring its mission statement of “responsibly empowering lifelong learning of the residents of the city of Jamestown” New York and the surrounding communities. Click ahead to view a selection of these wonderful works, sold to benefit the endowment fund of the James Prendergast Library, before they go under the hammer on 21 November. 

European Art
21 November | New York

The James Prendergast Library: 9 Must-See Works of European Art

  • The James Prendergast Library
    The breadth of the paintings in the collection of the James Prendergast Library honours the forward-thinking spirit of its founder and his family. In the 1870s, a free library was virtually unknown in the United States, and the open circulation of books was relatively limited in public institutions before 1900. When James Prendergast died at the age of 31 in 1879, his personal papers detailed his plan to donate property for the establishment of a free library for Jamestown, a wish that was granted by his parents Alexander (1809-1885) and Mary Norton Prendergast (1821-1889), who donated more funds for the purchase of additional land and the construction of the building.   

  • Alfred Stevens, La Neige. Estimate $70,000–100,000.
    In the decade before the Library acquired this work, Stevens Le salon du peintre sold to one of the Gilded Age’s most important collectors, William K. Vanderbilt, who had a voracious appetite for “modern” European paintings. Stevens’ works could be found in collections up and down Fifth Avenue, including those of Theodore Havemeyer, Alexander T. Stewart and Catherine Lorillard Wolfe.   

  • Jules Joseph Lefebvre, Fatima. Estimate $60,000–80,000.
    Fatima originally hung in the Brooklyn home of wealthy banker, philanthropist and art collector, George I. Seney, before being sold at auction in 1891 and quickly acquired for the Library’s collection. 

  • Giovanni Boldini, In the Garden. Estimate $400,000–600,000.
    This summery scene, which likely depicts his model Berthe, was painted by Boldini three years after he settled in Paris. The loosely suggested narrative easily connected with American collectors who valued Boldini's cosmopolitan sensibilities and luminous technique. 

  • Martin Rico y Ortega, Ponte dell’Angelo. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    The great homes of New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other burgeoning American cities all featured private picture galleries spotlighting contemporary masters; accordingly, a painting by Martin Rico y Ortega, whose stunning depictions of Venice and its surrounding lagoons were popular with connoisseurs and tourists alike, was an ideal selection for the James Prendergast Library's collection.   

  • Anton Mauve, The Log Cart. Estimate $10,000–15,000.
    This work was acquired through Pittsburgh’s J.J. Gillespie and Company, one of the most successful art galleries of the late nineteenth century. Gillespie was well-positioned to offer the Library a broad range of the period's best-of-the-best works: they hosted influential exhibitions from New York, London and Paris dealers, and sent representatives on buying trips to East Coast and European galleries and auction houses.   

  • Emilio Sánchez Perrier, Environs de Tanger. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    The Spaniard Sánchez Perrier was drawn to Northern Africa, like Delacroix and Gérôme before him, to explore the rugged terrain, ancient landscapes and glittering Mediterranean light. 

  • Charles Victor Thirion, Paysanne de la Creuse. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    Painted the same year as Boldini’s In the Garden , Thirion’s iconic French peasant is influenced by the style and subject matter of his teacher William Bouguereau, who taught at both the École des Beaux-Arts and the Académie Julian.

  • Johann Mari Henri ten Kate, Behind the Ramparts. Estimate $50,000–70,000.
    The present work epitomises the subject matter for which ten Kate acquired fame: children at play. He delights in the presentation of a snowball fight, riding a sleigh or playing a prank, usually involving a companion dog and always suffused with warm Romantic light. 

  • Jehan-Georges Vibert, Le Nouveau Commis. Estimate $30,000–40,000.
    This charming painting is based on Vibert’s larger work of the same name that was exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1877 and illustrated in the artist’s La Comédie en Peinture, printed in London in 1902. 

  • The Prendergast Library exterior
    As many of the great American collections of the nineteenth century have been dismantled, the James Prendergast Library’s diverse and dynamic paintings have preserved the grandeur of the period for generations of visitors. The sale today, benefiting the endowment fund, serves to continue the longstanding legacy of the Prendergasts and their commitment to the community.


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