William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941) The Yellow Jacket 27 1/4 x 22 1/4in

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Lot 37
William McGregor Paxton
The Yellow Jacket 27 1/4 x 22 1/4in

Sold for US$ 413,000 inc. premium

American Art

18 May 2016, 14:00 EDT

New York

William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)
The Yellow Jacket
signed and dated 'Paxton / 1907' (upper left)
oil on canvas
27 1/4 x 22 1/4in


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    Mr. Bela Lyon Pratt.
    Mrs. Sargent Kennedy, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by descent.
    Cynthia K. Sam, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by descent.
    Vose Galleries, Boston, Massachusetts.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1978.

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, 103rd Annual Exhibition, January 20-February 29, 1908, no. 226.
    Boston, Massachusetts, Rowland's Gallery, April 1908.
    Worcester, Massachusetts, Worcester Art Museum, 11th Annual Exhibition of Paintings, May 29-September 20, 1908, no. 91.
    Boston, Massachusetts, St. Botolph Club, Paintings by William M. Paxton, March 1-13, 1909, no. 8.
    Providence, Rhode Island, Rhode Island School of Design, Paintings by William McGregor Paxton, March 24-April 16, 1909.
    Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, William M. Paxton, N.A., November 19-December 14, 1941, no. 65.
    Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art, and elsewhere, William McGregor Paxton, 1869-1941, August 16, 1978-May 6, 1979, n.p., no. 14, illustrated.
    Seattle, Washington, Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, and elsewhere, American Impressionism, November 15, 1979-August 31, 1980, p. 95-96, 134, illustrated.

    L.J. Docherty, Women as Readers: Visual Interpretations, Worcester, Massachusetts, 1998, p. 374, fig. 19, illustrated.

    Best known for his idealized portraits of women in romantic interiors, the American artist William McGregor Paxton was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1869. His family relocated outside of Boston to open a business when Paxton was a child and it was there he would receive his first formal artistic education, attending the Cowles Art School on scholarship when he was eighteen. From there he traveled to Paris to further his studies, first at the prestigious Ecole de Beaux Arts, under the tutelage of Jean-Léon Gérôme, one of the most prominent salon painters of his time, and then later at the Academie Julien. Paxton would eventually return stateside to Cowles where he studied with Joseph De Camp, a noted proponent of Tonalism, founder of Ten American Painters and a member of the Boston School, headed by the artists Edmund Charles Tarbell and Emil Otto Grundmann. Despite his Continental pedigree, Paxton would be inevitably linked to the Boston School throughout his career.

    After his marriage to fellow De Camp student, Elizabeth Vaughan Okie, who would later manage Paxton's career and model for countless compositions, Paxton went on to teach at the Museum of Fine Arts School in Boston from 1906 to 1913. During this time, Paxton was beginning to solidify his reputation as a sensitive academic painter – redering beautiful genre scenes where high society ladies attended to leisurely activities bathed in golden light – the present work, The Yellow Jacket, is a prime example of this genre. Undoubtably influenced by his French education, and the oeuvre of Johannes Vermeer, whose compositional ambiguity Paxton would later admit to admiring, Paxton created aesthetic narratives open to interpretation and considerate of the times he lived in. Painted in 1907, The Yellow Jacket, is a purely pleasurable interior scene with Paxton's hallmark touches; an elegant women in a refined Chinese jacket – Chinoiserie was still the rage at the turn of the century as decorative Asian elements made their way onto many an American painter's canvas – appears to study an impressive tome on a table beside a small window. The subtle rim of a porcelain vase can be seen in the forefront while a guitar rests against the wall behind the figure. The cool tones of grey offset the golden fabric of the highly stylized jacket and the figure is bathed in a subtle glow from the window she stands in front of, this positioning can similarly be seen in many of Vermeer's own compositions, such as The Milkmaid, executed circa 1660, in the collection of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

    In Vermeer's painting, a white capped milkmaid stands beside a window, clad in her own yellow jacket. She pours milk from a clay jug into a bowl on a table set with bread and other sundries. At first a simple frame, the work resists abstraction and instead entices the viewer with countless, unanswered questions. Like Vermeer's milkmaid, Paxton's reader is nameless, in a softer focus yet distinctly rendered, as if observed through a veil during this solitary act. Though composed of intentional props, which add depth and texture, Paxton's semi-portrait invites the viewer to interpret his sitter as they will: a member of the leisure class confounded by her husband or father's literature; a scholar in her own right, concerned with the culture of the Far East; or merely a guest in the tasteful home she visits, haphazardly encountering an open volume on the parlor table. Paxton's career was greatly celebrated for the realistic intimacy portrayed in his work, a style that hallmarked turn of the century America.
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