A Blog Post Helps Solve an Art Mystery

The March blog post “Sleuthing in Rare Books to Reveal and Art Lover’s Interest presented the collection of William Barnes Bement (1817–1897). Bement was a prominent Philadelphia industrialist and avid art collector. However, his descendants sold off his art collection shortly after his death. The only remaining record of his holdings is a leather-bound and illustrated publication in Winterthur’s collection, Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement.

Louis Claude Mouchot, Sortie of the Grand Council, 1872, reproduced in Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Louis Claude Mouchot, Sortie of the Grand Council, 1872, reproduced in Catalogue of Works of Art, with Illustrations and Descriptions; Also, Views of the Summer and Winter Homes, Etc. of William B. Bement (Philadelphia, 1884).

Looking at the images of works and interior views presented in the catalogue, the post discussed the relative importance of different artworks for Bement. Based on its location in his home, French artist Louis Claude Mouchot’s Sortie of the Grand Council (1872) seems to have been one of his favorites. The location of this painting was—at least according to some basic online searches—unknown.

As a result of the blog post, two separate people reached out to me about the provenance and location of the painting. One of these people was the current owner! The painting, thanks to the previous blog post, has been located and now has an almost-complete provenance.

Mary Anna Webb, a professional art researcher with Montchanin Art Research and a former business and marketing director for AskART.com, reached out to me to report that she was able to trace the Sortie of the Grand Council from the sale of Bement’s collection at the American Art Association in 1899 (the catalogue of the auction is available here). It was sold to “Edward Payson Bacon for $510—another wealthy industrialist,” wrote Webb via e-mail. Bacon was one of the wealthiest men in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His biography is given five pages in Memoirs of Milwaukee County: From the Earliest Historical Times Down to the Present (1908). Webb believes the painting stayed in the Bacon family until at least 1930, when his second wife Ella died.  After that, the trail went cold.

A month later, I received another e-mail about the blog post. This time, it was from Betsy Craig, sales director at Rosenbaum Contemporary gallery in south Florida. She is the current owner of Mouchot’s Sortie of the Grand Council. She purchased it at Spanierman Gallery in New York City. Renowned art dealer Ira Spanierman, who had the painting in his private collection, told Craig that he had purchased it at “a small auction somewhere many years ago.” It seems that auction may have taken place in Milwaukee.

Craig provided full-color photos of the painting in her home. Writing in an e-mail about Sortie of the Grand Council, Craig said: “It’s one of the most interesting paintings of the Doge’s Palace I have ever seen, the colors are still strong and true. I have never come upon a painting by Claude Mouchot with so many figures on such a wide scale, I think it is his best work.”

After being notified that the Mouchot painting had been located, Webb wrote, “[This] story is a wonderful example of the connections possible through the public sharing of information about a painting.”

The provenance and fate of William Bement’s favorite painting is known—and it has a happy ending.

Post by Diana Greenwald, Doctoral Candidate, University of Oxford

 

 

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