“Portrait of Yarrow Mamout” is one of the earliest known works of art to depict an African American who had been freed from slavery and is the earliest known painting of a Muslim in America.
NEW YORK – A group of paintings formerly in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be sold in the Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture auction at Christie’s New York saleroom on Nov. 30. The five works—by Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, George Inness and Severin Roesen—are expected to realize upwards of $500,000, collectively.
The museum will use these funds to strengthen its collection through the acquisition of a uniquely significant painting by Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), “Portrait of Yarrow Mamout” (painted 1819), purchased in a private sale that was brokered by Christie’s.
“Portrait of a Lady” by William Merritt Chase (presale estimate of $250,000-$350,000) depicts Mrs. Elsie Reeves Fenimore Johnson, wife of the successful Philadelphia-area inventor and founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company, Eldridge Reeves Johnson.
The Nov. 30 sale features a total of 136 lots, including outstanding works from diverse movements across the 19th and 20th centuries, including Hudson River School, American Impressionism, Modernism, and Western Art.
“The sale of Portrait of Yarrow Mamout furthers the vital programs of its recent owner, the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent, while adding a work of great rarity and deep meaning to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, whose collection is unquestionably the work’s most appropriate home.” said Marc Porter, Chairman of Christie’s Americas.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds some 150 objects by Charles Willson Peale and his family, the nation’s first artistic dynasty. To add the historic “Portrait of Yarrow Mamout” to its collection, the museum deaccessioned a total of nine works. Five of them are included in this auction. The highlight is “Portrait of a Lady” by William Merritt Chase (presale estimate of $250,000-$350,000), which depicts Mrs. Elsie Reeves Fenimore Johnson, wife of the successful Philadelphia-area inventor and founder of the Victor Talking Machine Company, Eldridge Reeves Johnson. The small dog peeking around the corner of her chair is perhaps a sly reference to the company’s famous advertising mascot: a dog listening to a Victrola.
The other paintings are “Head of a Girl in a Hat with a Black Rosette” by Mary Stevenson Cassatt; “Italy” and “Evening Landscape,” both by George Inness; and “Still Life with Fruit” by Severin Roesen. Details follow:
GEORGE INNESS (1825-1894) “Italy,” oil on canvas 14½ x 20½ in. Painted circa 1872-74. Estimate: $70,000-$100,000
GEORGE INNESS (1825-1894) “Hastings (Evening Landscape),” oil on canvas 15 x 23½ in. Painted circa 1868. Estimate: $50,000-$70,000
SEVERIN ROESEN (1815-1872) “Still Life with Fruit,” oil on canvas 30 x 25 in. Painted circa 1850-70. Estimate: $60,000-$80,000
MARY STEVENSON CASSATT (1844-1926) “Sketch of Head of a Girl in a Hat with a Black Rosette,” oil on canvas laid down on board 9¾ x 12¾ in. Painted circa 1910. Estimate: $70,000-$100,000
“Portrait of Yarrow Mamout” is one of the earliest known works of art to depict an African American who had been freed from slavery and is the earliest known painting of a Muslim in America. Peale executed the work toward the end of his long career, when he went to Washington, D.C., to paint portraits of distinguished public figures, including John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay, for the portrait gallery at Peale’s Museum. Peale’s Museum was widely acknowledged as the first museum in the United States, located in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
While in Washington, Peale also sought out Yarrow Mamout (whose real name was more likely Mahmoud Yaro), a Muslim from Guinea who had been taken into slavery around 1752, was freed by his owner around 1797, and attained a measure of prosperity in Washington. The portrait, which is notable for its warmth and dignity, was installed in Peale’s Museum alongside portraits of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Lewis and Clark and other notable figures as portrayed by Peale and his son Rembrandt.
For more information about this auction, visit the Christie’s website.
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