William Wendt (1865-1946) Patriarchs of the Grove 40 x 50in overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in (Painted in 1920)

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Lot 42
William Wendt
Patriarchs of the Grove 40 x 50in overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in
Sold for US$ 300,000 inc. premium

Lot Details
William Wendt (1865-1946) Patriarchs of the Grove 40 x 50in overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in (Painted in 1920) William Wendt (1865-1946) Patriarchs of the Grove 40 x 50in overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in (Painted in 1920) William Wendt (1865-1946) Patriarchs of the Grove 40 x 50in overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in (Painted in 1920) William Wendt (1865-1946) Patriarchs of the Grove 40 x 50in overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in (Painted in 1920)
William Wendt (1865-1946)
Patriarchs of the Grove
signed and dated '·WILLIAM WENDT· 1920·' (lower left), titled (on the stretcher bar), inscribed '347' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
40 x 50in
overall: 51 1/4 x 61 1/4in
Painted in 1920


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    with Stendahl Art Galleries, Los Angeles, California, 1926.
    Alvah Griffin Strong (1900-1966), Tuckaway Farm, Rochester, New York, and Nassau, Bahamas, acquired from the above, circa 1929 (Alvah Griffin Strong was the grandson of Henry Alvah Strong, co-founder and President of Eastman Kodak, 1880-1919).
    Thence by descent in the Strong family until 2013.
    Private collection, Washington, 2013 to the present.

    Chicago, The Art Institute of Chicago, Exhibition of Paintings by William Wendt and Sculpture by Julia Bracken Wendt, September 22 - October 23, 1921, no. 7.
    Los Angeles, Exposition Park, Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art, Thirteenth Annual Exhibition California Art Club, October 19 - November 19, 1922, no. 77 (awarded the Mrs. Henry E. Huntington Prize).
    Oakland Art Gallery, Fourth Annual Exhibition of Paintings, February 1926.
    Los Angeles, Stendahl Art Galleries, William Wendt and His Work, April 15 - May 15, 1926, no. 72.
    Spokane, Washington, Jundt Art Museum, Images about the American West, January 9 - May 13, 2017.

    Letter to Earl Stendahl, May 15, 1922.
    Exhibition of Paintings by William Wendt and Sculpture by Julia Bracken Wendt, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1921 [exh. checklist], no. 7, n.p.
    "Prize Winners Named," Los Angeles Times, November 5, 1922, p. I15, illustrated.
    Quarterly bulletin of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, Vol. IV, No. 2, January 1923, cover illustration.
    Letter to Earl Stendahl, November 14, 1923.
    Letter to William Wheeler, December 4, 1923.
    California Life, January 19, 1924, p. 10, illustrated.
    Letter from Earl Stendahl, January 22, 1924.
    California Graphic, June 28, 1924, p. 11, illustrated.
    Letter to Earl Stendahl, November 2, 1925.
    Letter to Earl Stendahl, January 20, 1926.
    Antony Anderson, Fred Hogue, Alma May Cook, and Arthur Millier, William Wendt and His Work, Los Angeles, Stendahl Art Galleries, 1926, p. 86, no. 72, color illustration on dust jacket and black and white full page illustration.
    Oxnard Courier, April 17, 1926, n.p.
    California Graphic, April 17, 1926, cover illustration.
    Arthur Millier, "Of Art and Artists: Wendt's California in Largest Showing" Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1926, p. C30.
    "Book Tells Life Story and Work of William Wendt," Laguna Life, May 14, 1926.
    California Graphic, March 30, 1929, cover illustration.
    Letter from Julia Bracken Wendt to Earl Stendahl, July 23, 1926.
    Progressive Arizona, Vol. 3, No. 5, May 1927.
    Letter to Earl Stendahl, July 29, 1927.
    Letter to Earl Stendahl, January 18, 1928.
    Marshall Breeden, The Romantic Southland of California, Los Angeles, The Kenmore Publishing Co., 1928, frontispiece.
    California Graphic, March 30, 1929, cover illustration.
    Unidentified clipping, circa late 1920s, with caption comparing Patriarchs of the Grove to Joyce Kilmer's poem, Trees: 'I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree...'
    Constance W. Glenn and Sue Taylor-Winter, eds., In Praise of Nature: The Landscapes of William Wendt [exh. cat.], Long Beach, California State University, University Art Museum, 1989, p. 19.
    John Alan Walker, Documents on the Life and Art of William Wendt, California's Painter Laureate of the Paysage moralise, Big Pine, 1992, p. 53, 54, 94, 99, 113, 176, no. 513.
    Will South, Jean Stern, Janet Blake, In Nature's Temple, The Life and Art of William Wendt, Irvine, 2008, p. 249, black and white archival image.
    Melville Holmes and Kathryn Brogdon, "Images about the American West," American Art Review, Vol. XXIV, No. 2, March/April 2017, p. 94, color illustration.

    William Wendt, considered a giant among American Impressionists, is often referred to as "The Dean of Southern California". His adoption of an impressionistic style can be dated to 1896-97, when he and his close friend George Gardner Symons were painting together on the Malibu Rancho near Los Angeles. Both men were in the avant-garde of American painters at the time in that they were open to the Impressionist style that had begun in France in the mid-19th century. Southern California was a perfect location for translating the bright colors, atmospheric conditions, and shimmering light that were characteristic of the French Impressionist style to a quintessentially American location.

    Before 1915, Wendt worked with rather tentative, feathery brushstrokes, but thereafter he developed a bold, self-confident style which one critic termed "masculine impressionism". It melded impressionism with a distinctly modernist flair. He produced landscapes with a signature broad, bold brush work. Eugen Neuhaus wrote of Wendt, "He sings of spring in its rich greens and more often of the joyful quality of summer in typical tawny browns, in decorative broad terms."

    William Wendt's landscapes reveal as much about the grandeur of the West as the artist's own religious beliefs. Wendt believed in the theory of intelligent design and believed that God's creative purpose for the Earth is as evident in the natural world as in scripture. The tranquility, strength and sense of well-being of his work appealed to a wide audience. It had a sober sort of poetry about it, one critic wrote, "like a fine, familiar hymn". Wendt painted exactly what he saw in nature with warm colors and outstanding effects of light and shadow.

    Patriarchs of the Grove, with its bright, broad and lively brushwork, emphasizes the contrast between the immortality of the landscape and the mortality of its creator. The juxtaposition of these two truths, both of which Wendt deeply believed, appear frequently throughout his landscape compositions. Arthur Millier, an influential art critic at the Los Angeles Times, wrote of Wendt in 1926: "A man who can compose so surely and strongly has to know where he stands in relation to life, he must see the world as a moral creation, a thing of inevitable laws and definite structures."

    Patriarchs of the Grove exemplifies the artist's ability to capture the magnificence of the California landscape. The composition begins in shadows of deep reds and oranges and gradually leads one through the center of the painting, with its massive, mature sycamore trees. Gradually the eye leads to sun-dappled trees, a clearing and eventually the bright sunny sky above distant majestic mountains. Wendt is directing the viewer's gaze to ascend to the heavens, the very source of his inspiration. He seldom depicted figures in his landscapes, instead focusing on capturing the dignity and spirituality he saw as inherent to the landscape.

    It is believed that William Wendt painted Patriarchs of the Grove in 1920 on the grounds of the King Gillette Ranch in Malibu.

    Patriarchs of the Grove is among a coveted handful of his large scale prize-bestowed canvases. As in the present work, Wendt imparted thoughtful, anthropomorphic and poetic titles to many of his best canvases. He gave his works such titles as The Three Guardsmen, 1926, Guardians of the Road, 1938, A Woodland Trinity, 1929, An Autumnal Procession, 1923, Youth and Old Age, 1905, Young Sycamores Struggling for a Place in the Sun, 1929, Their Glorious Fling, 1931, The Willow Preening, 1938, The Interview, 1929, The Hills Proclaim Their Dryness, 1931, The Mourners, 1934, Naked Trees, 1932, The Scarlet Robe, 1899, Vandalism, 1916, Trees, They are My Friends, 1931, The Friendly Trees Hold Out Their Arms to Me, 1933. In all of these works, Wendt conveys his love of the California landscape and the trees that surround him.

    The significance of Patriarchs of the Grove within Wendt's body of work is elegantly testified by the painting's extensive publication history. Images of Patriarchs of the Grove dominated the art scene of Southern California from just after the Great War until the dawn of the Great Depression. It was included in the most respected art journals of the time, beginning with the cover illustration of the Bulletin of the Los Angeles Museum in 1923; California Life Magazine, 1924; California Graphic three times: once in 1924 and as the cover illustration in 1926 and again in 1929; the Oxnard Courier in 1926; the Los Angeles Times in 1926; Laguna Life in 1926; and Progressive Arizona in 1927. It was the frontispiece of Marshall Breeden's book, The Romantic Southland of California, 1928. In the 1920s it was also referenced in an article comparing the painting to Joyce Kilmer's famous poem, Trees. Its crowning glory was as the cover illustration of Wendt's 1926 Stendahl Galleries Exhibition Catalog.

    Patriarchs of the Grove is illustrated on the dust jacket for the 1926 Stendahl Galleries one-man exhibition of paintings by William Wendt. In describing the painting in his review of the show, chief art critic of the day Antony Anderson declared that it was "A canvas that is at once dignified and beautiful. One of the finest of this master's creations from the things God hath wrought." With a price of $2,500, it was the most expensive painting in the show. In 1922 it won the Mrs. Henry E. Huntington Prize at the Los Angeles Museum. Some years earlier, a similar monolithic work The Grove, won Wendt the Clarence A. Black Prize at the California Art Club.

    It bears noting the importance of Stendahl Galleries to the art scene in Los Angeles for over fifty years. Earl Stendahl began selling the works of local painters and opened his first gallery at the inauguration of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles in 1921. Stendahl Galleries emerged as one of the most innovative and influential art galleries in Southern California. By the 1930s, the gallery had established its reputation as the premier dealer in painters of the California Impressionist School. William Wendt, Guy Rose, Edgar Payne, Joseph Kleitsch and Nicolai Fechin were part of the early Stendahl stable of artists. Representation by Stendahl Galleries gave artists international fame and increased fortune. In the gallery's later years they sold works by modern artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Georges Braque, Marc Chagall and Paul Klee. Earl Stendahl was known to advise several major art collectors of the day including Nelson Rockefeller, William Randolph Hearst, Thomas Gilcrease and curators from many museums including the Louvre.

    Correspondence between William Wendt and Earl Stendahl over the years reveals a strong relationship. Before one exhibition for the artist in 1922, Stendahl wrote, "I will try and make this a corking good show and feel that a lot of things will be turned [sold]." The gallery had tremendous success in selling Wendt's paintings, which led to a second one-man show for the artist's work in the Spring of 1926. Ahead of the show Stendahl wrote the following press release: "It is with great pride that we offer this exhibition by William Wendt, A.N.A. For many years he has been working for just a showing. The number and quality of his many canvases show us a Wendt little known, even to his intimate friends. We think and firmly believe that no exhibition in the past, or even in the future, will leave as profound an impression on this community as the present one. Wendt has given us California as she really is, and his work will live to be the most enduring record of our beloved state."

    Mr. and Mrs. Alvah Griffin Strong were the original owners of the work, and the Strong family provenance is notable. The Strongs arrived in Massachusetts during the Colonial Period, but branched out to Rochester, New York in 1821 with Ezra Strong (1777-1846). He was a medical doctor by training, but became a merchant by 1809. Ezra Strong laid the groundwork for civic and business engagement of the Strong family in the Rochester area, where he raised six children, including Alvah Strong (1809-1885). Alvah Strong became very influential in town as the founder and associate publisher of the Rochester Democrat, a whig-party newspaper which he ran for 30 years. 1 He was effectively the patriarch of the Rochester clan, serving as a deacon for his local church and a namesake for two generations. Alvah's son, Henry Alvah Strong (1838-1919), became the best-known descendant as a partner and the first president of the Eastman Kodak Company from 1880 to 1919. He was by far the most commercially successful of the family, amassing considerable wealth but also establishing a legacy of philanthropy. Henry Alvah and his wife Hattie M. Strong were known collectors of paintings and Native American baskets, and likely set a precedent for the heirs. Alvah Griffin Strong (1900-1966) was a grandson of Henry Alvah Strong, and like his sibling, inherited shares of Kodak stock in Trust. By the age of 25, he had a considerable inheritance, allowing him to commission a 48-acre country estate and 20,000 square foot mansion called Tuckaway Farm, in addition to owning Alasa Farms on Sodus Bay.

    A copy of the hardcover Stendahl Art Galleries 1926 one-man exhibition catalogue titled William Wendt and His Work accompanies this lot. It is personally signed and dedicated to Mr. and Mrs. Alvah Griffin Strong and retains its original dust jacket.

    1 Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight, The History of the Descendants of Elder John Strong of Northampton, Mass., Vol. 2, Albany, Joel Munsell, 1871, p. 912.
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