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John Quidor (1801 - 1881)

Lot 46: John Quidor* (1801-1881)

Christie's

June 5, 1997
New York, NY, US

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Wolfert Webber at the Inn (Wolfert Webber's Golden Dream) signed and dated 'J. Quidor N. York 1857' lower center--inscribed with description on the reverse oil on canvas 27 x 34in. (68.5 x 86.3cm.) PROVENANCE Joseph Harrison, Jr., Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (possibly) Mr. and Mrs. Murray Braunfeld, Los Angeles, California LITERATURE D.M. Sokol, John Quidor: Painter of American Legend, Wichita, Kansas, 1973, pp. 27-8, 33, p. 79, illus. EXHIBITION Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Harrison Collection, 1870, (possibly no. 57, 63 or 64) Utica, New York, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute, John Quidor, November 1965-April 1966, no. 16, illus. (This exhibition also travelled to New York, Whitney Museum of American Art; Rochester, New York, The Rochester Memorial Art Gallery; Albany, New York, Albany Institute of History and Art.) NOTES RELATED LITERATURE: D.M. Sokol, John Quidor: His Life and Work, Ph. D. diss., New York University, 1971, pp. 96-7, 128, 151 C.K. Wilson, The Life and Work of John Quidor, Ph. D. diss, Yale University, 1983, p. 291 John Quidor was the leading literary genre painter of nineteenth-century America. His highly imaginative compositions and unique painting style rank him among the most original artists working in the United States prior to the Civil War. Wolfert Webber at the Inn (Wolfert Webber's Golden Dream) is a rare example of a major composition by the artist that remains in private hands, as most paintings have been passed to public collections. As in the majority of Quidor's compositions, the subject of Wolfert Webber at the Inn (Wolfert Webber's Golden Dream) is borrowed from popular American literature--in this case Washington Irvings's Tales of a Traveller . Irving first published the volume in 1824 when he was at the height of his popularity as a leading writer of Knickerbocker New York. Much of Irving's literature drew attention to the rapid changes in the city, as the last vestiges of old Dutch New York disappeared and were replaced by a new urban world that would become the hub of industrialization and commerce in the North America. Quidor too was sensitive to these changes, and Wolfert Webber at the Inn (Wolfert Webber's Golden Dream) depicts an amusing tale about real estate values in Manhattan and at the same time evokes a sense of nostalgia for the old order of the pre-industrial era. In his satirical tale of Wolfert Webber, Irving recounts the experience of a cabbage farmer, Webber, whose inherited land on the northern end of Manhattan has proven insufficient to sustain his lifestyle. From the burghers who spend their time at the nearby inn at Corlear's Hook Webber learns of the "money diggers," who became rich by finding buried treasure. Webber subsequently dreams of finding such wealth hidden in his own cabbage fields and ascending to the armchair at the inn--the position of highest status. However Webber does not find buried treasure in his fields, instead, the fields themselves become the source of wealth when the city lays a thoroughfare through his property and his land values soar, providing him with ample income from rents. Irving writes, "Before many months had elapsed a great bustling street passed through the very centre of the Webber garden, just where Wolfert had dreamed of finding a treasure. His golden dream was accomplished; he did indeed find an unlooked source of wealth; for, when his paternal lands were distributed into building lots, and rented out to safe tenants, instead of producing a paltry crop of cabbages, they returned him an abundant crop of rents; insomuch that on a quarter day, it was a goodly sight to see his tenants knocking at his door, from morning to night, each with a little round bellied bag of money, the golden produce of his soil." (Washington Irving, Tales of a Traveller ) Quidor has chosen to depict Webber at the inn on Corlear's Hook, sitting masterfully in the armchair, smoking a pipe and enjoying the pleasures of his newfound wealth. As his attractive young daughter and her husband cavort behind him, local Manhattanites listen intently to Webber's tale. Inscribed by Quidor on the back of the canvas are Irving's final lines to the story, "Wolfert Webber succeeded to the leathern bottomed arm chair in the inn parlour at Corlear's Hook, where he long reigned greatly honoured and respected, insomuch that he was never known to tell a story without its being believed, nor to utter a joke without its being laughed at." Quidor's affinity for the writings of Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper is perhaps best documented by the sheer number of his canvases that draw on these two authors' writings. As David Martin Sokol has written, Irving and Cooper were "major figures in early nineteenth century American literature and...helped provide the American people with an equivalent of European mythology." ( John Quidor: Painter of American Legend, Wichita, Kansas, 1973, p. 26) The son of a New York teacher, Quidor was probably exposed to Irving's writings while quite young. In Wolfert Webber at the Inn (Wolfert Webber's Golden Dream ) Quidor has captured in visual form the lyrical and charming quality of Irving's writing style. Irving describes the inn at Corlear's Hook: "it was a Dutch built house, that had probably been a country seat of some opulent burgher in the early time of settlement. It stood near a point of land, called Corlear's Hook, which stretches out into the Sound, and against which the tide, at its flux and reflux sets with extraordinary rapidity. The venerable and somewhat crazy mansion was distinguished from afar, by a grove of elms and sycamores that seemed to wave a hospitable invitation, while a few weeping willows with their dank, dropping foliage, resembling falling waters, gave an idea of coolness, that rendered it an attractive spot during the heats of summer." Irving continues, "Here, therefore, as I said, resorted many of the old inhabitants of the Manhattoes, where, while some played at shuffle board and quoits and ninepins, others smoked a deliberate pipe, and talked over public affairs." John Quidor's romantic style was unique among his contemporaries in American art. Although many artists, including Asher Brown Durand and William Sidney Mount, depicted subjects from Irving's stories, none successfully incorporated into their paintings the dramatic tensions which pervade Irving's literature and for which Quidor is so celebrated. Quidor's innovative style owes little to any particular source; however the artist was clearly familiar with Dutch genre painting of the seventeenth century. He may have examined first-hand such paintings that belonged to the pioneer collector of European art Thomas Jefferson Bryan, many of which remain in the New-York Historical Society. Quidor clearly appreciated the golden-toned compositions of old master paintings and transformed these models to suit his own needs.

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