Genre painting at Godel & Co: an insight into America’s history and culture
AMERICAN GENRE PAINTING OF THE 19th CENTURY NOT ONLY DELIGHTS THE EYE BUT PROVIDES A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF OUR CULTURAL HISTORY. THESE PORTRAITS AND DOMESTIC SCENES OFFER A WEALTH OF INFORMATION ON THE DAILY LIVES OF AMERICANS FROM THE EARLY FEDERALIST TO THE POST CIVIL WAR PERIODS. IN THIS WAY, ART AND HISTORY GO HAND IN HAND AND FORM A SYNERGY THAT INFORMS BOTH AREAS OF SCHOLARSHIP. MANY DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES SUCH AS YALE AND WESLEYAN OFFER COURSES ON LANDSCAPE AND GENRE PAINTING WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AMERICAN CULTURE SINCE THESE WORKS SERVE AS A VISUAL METAPHOR FOR THE RISE OF INDUSTRIALIZATION AND GROWTH OF AMERICA’S CITIES AND PROVIDE A VALUABLE RESOURCE FOR HISTORIANS ON OUR IDEAS OF RACE, GENDER AND CLASS DURING AMERICA’S FORMATIVE YEARS.
FOR HOWARD GODEL, FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL OF GODEL AND CO., A GALLERY DEDICATED TO AMERICAN ART SINCE ITS OPENING OVER THREE DECADES AGO, 19th CENTURY IN AMERICAN ART IS BOTH HIS PASSION AND PROFESSION.
TODAY’S LRFA BLOG IS VERY PLEASED TO HAVE CONTRIBUTIONS BY BOTH HOWARD GODEL AND GALLERY DIRECTOR, KATHERINE BAUMGARTNER ON THE HISTORY OF THE GALLERY.
WELCOME! WHAT ARE SOME OF THE CRITERIA THAT THE GALLERY CONSIDERS IN ACQUIRING WORKS TO ADD TO INVENTORY?
HOWARD: Quality, condition, provenance, price, subject matter, composition, dating. We strive to own works that are truly museum quality and to help our clients avoid mediocrity. We know what an artist’s best period is, and what is desirable, and we never stop studying and visiting museums and special exhibitions. It is our job to know what constitutes great quality.
IS THERE A PARTICULAR AREA OF SPECIALIZATION IN TERMS OF THE GALLERY INVENTORY? IS THERE A FOCUS ON A PARTICULAR MEDIUM, SUCH AS PAINTING OR SCULPTURE OR WORKS ON PAPER OR A SPECIFIC PERIOD?
While we handle all styles and movements of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, we are probably best known for our expertise in the Hudson River School, and in still-life and genre painting.
THE GALLERY HAS A VERY EXTENSIVE INVENTORY AND HOWARD IS A VERY ACTIVE BUYER OF WORKS AT AUCTION AND PRIVATELY. WHAT IS THE DECISION MAKING PROCESS IN ACQUIRING A WORK RATHER THAN TAKING ONE ON CONSIGNMENT?
HOWARD: While we prefer to own most works, sometimes sellers want very full prices for what they own, which makes it difficult to buy. If we buy at auction, we only do so if we feel there is value left. We’re also not afraid to wait and live with great art for many years. We prefer to buy privately, but quality is what drives all of our buying efforts.
IN TERMS OF 19th CENTURY WORKS, WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS IN YOUR CURRENT INVENTORY?
KATHERINE: We have a number of important, museum-quality works by 19th century artists right now: an early (1845) landscape by the Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham, a luminous marsh scene by Martin Johnson Heade, a coastal sunrise by Francis Silva, and an early wilderness picture by Sanford R. Gifford. One of the rarest works we have right now is a small genre picture by Richard Caton Woodville, which was the first painting the artist exhibited at the National Academy of Design. There are fewer than 20 known oil paintings by Woodville, and ours is the only one on the market.
WHAT ARE SOME OF AREAS OF FOCUS OF VERY EXHIBITIONS THAT THE GALLERY HAS ORGANIZED OVER THE YEARS?
KATHERINE: Over the years, we’ve had exhibitions focused on marine subjects, genre and narrative painting, still-life, winter scenes, and urban and rural life. In 2011 we co-curated a traveling exhibition of the work of A. F. Tait organized by the Adirondack Museum.
DO YOU NOTICE A SHIFT ON THE PART OF COLLECTORS TO MODERNISM AND THE 20th CENTURY, AND IF SO, HOW DID THE GALLERY GROW AND EVOLVE TO ACCOMMODATE THE CURRENT COLLECTING FOCUS?
HOWARD: We certainly have noticed a shift to modernism for some, but most of our recent sales, including those we made at The American Art Fair in November, were nineteenth-century landscape, genre, and still-life paintings. We are actively trying to buy modern works, but find that most of those artists are bringing very high prices. We would love to own works by O’Keeffe, Hopper, Sheeler, and Dove, but finding major oils at fair prices is an uphill battle.
THE GALLERY HAS PUBLISHED AN EXTENSIVE RANGE OF CATALOGUES EITHER TO ACCOMPANY EXHIBITIONS OR TO HIGHLIGHT WORKS IN INVENTORY. THEY CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY TO SCHOLARLY RESEARCH IN THE FIELD.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVORITE PUBLICATIONS THAT ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE?
KATHERINE: Our catalogues are a real joint effort, and I am very proud of all them. We generally publish one large catalogue a year, usually in October, which includes about 50 highlights from our inventory, each accompanied by a well-researched essay. One of my favorites is An Alluring Path IV, published in 2006. It included major works by Francis A. Silva, Henry Roderick Newman, John Haberle, Childe Hassam, and Edward Hopper, as well as a special section on a discovery we made of eight paintings of American subjects by the British-born landscape painter and inventor Joshua Shaw (1776-1860). These works had never been published before, and our researcher at the time, Thomas Quick, did an excellent job of sorting them out and clarifying Shaw’s role in the development of American landscape painting. It was a thrill to work with such fresh and undocumented material.
Catalogue Order Form http://www.godelfineart.com/orderform
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, KATHERINE AND HOWARD WILL PROVIDE THEIR EXPERTISE ON THE ART MARKET AND ITS FUTURE DIRECTION. WE WELCOME ALL QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS.