Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936) Flag Day,signed and dated 'T.E. Butler/Oct 1918' (lower left), oil on canvas, painted in 1918.

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Lot 18
Theodore Earl Butler
Flag Day 39 1/2 x 31 1/2in

Sold for US$ 552,500 inc. premium

American Art

19 Nov 2018, 16:00 EST

New York

Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936)
Flag Day
signed and dated 'T.E. Butler / Oct. 1918' (lower left) and signed again (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
39 1/2 x 31 1/2in
Painted in 1918.


  • Provenance
    The artist.
    (probably) Schwartz Gallery, New York, 1921.
    Tom Snyder Collection, New York.
    R.H. Love Galleries, Inc., Chicago, Illinois.
    Private collection, acquired from the above.
    Sale, Sotheby's, New York, May 19, 2011, lot 30.
    Acquired by the present owner from the above.

    (probably) New York, Schwartz Gallery, Exhibition of Paintings by Theodore E. Butler, February 28-March 19, 1921, no. 1 (as The Avenue of the Allies).
    Chicago, Illinois, R.H. Love Galleries, and elsewhere, Theodore Earl Butler: Emergence from Monet's Shadow, January 14, 1984-February 2, 1986, pp. 389-90, pl. 87-88, illustrated on cover.
    New York, Grand Central Art Galleries, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism: Transformations in the Modern American Mode 1885-1945, March 29-May 14, 1988, pp. 33, 102, no. 36, illustrated.

    (probably) "The World of Art: The Society of Independent Artists," New York Times, March 6, 1921, p. 51 (as The Avenue of the Allies).
    I.S. Fort, The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam, Los Angeles, California, 1988, pp. 24-25, fig. 25, illustrated.

    This painting will be included in Patrick Bertrand's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the work of Theodore Earl Butler. We wish to thank him for his assistance cataloguing this lot.

    This work has been requested for inclusion in an exhibition of Theodore Earl Butler's work at the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, scheduled for September 2021.

    Theodore Earl Butler's Flag Day is an emblematic representation of the patriotic atmosphere in New York that coincided with the Allies' push towards the end of World War I. Painted in October 1918, weeks before the Armistice, Flag Day depicts a spirited Fourth Liberty Loan drive parade along Fifth Avenue in New York, which in the autumn of 1918 was coined the "Avenue of the Allies" due to the spectacular international displays of flags. The large-scale composition in the present work focuses on the strikingly colorful flags of the Allies, which were interspersed with dazzling red Liberty Loan banners, soaring down the Avenue. The parades inspired American artists—including famously Childe Hassam (1859-1935), George Luks (1867-1933), and Gifford Beal (1879-1956)—to record the historic moment and Butler's portrayal in Flag Day is among his strongest works.

    Butler was born in Columbus, Ohio and began his artistic training under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League in New York. He set off for Paris in 1886 where he studied at the Académie Julian. He moved to Giverny in 1888 and became closely associated with the group of Americans who worked in the artists' colony there. Giverny was famously home to Claude Monet, who was the expatriates' greatest influence. Butler formed a close personal relationship with Monet, who became his father-in-law after Butler married Suzanne Hodseché in 1892. Following Suzanne's death, in 1900, Butler married her sister, Marthe Hoschedé. Butler travelled back to New York in 1913 for a mural commission and participated in the landmark Armory show of that year. World War I prevented his return to France for eight years and it was during this period in New York that Butler witnessed the spirited parades that inspired Flag Day.

    According to Patrick Bertrand, author of the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist, "Flag Day, an iconic painting, heralds the one hundredth anniversary of the armistice of World War I. Butler herein depicts a scene from the fourth Liberty Loan parade led by President Woodrow Wilson in October 1918. Like a photograph, Butler captures the moment in real time. The flags of the twenty-two allies festoon New York City's Fifth Avenue. The tumultuous crowd, the careening vehicles, the energy of the Allies, is almost palpable. The American flag is actively commandeering the canvas as its centerpiece, with fluttering red flags framing it from above. The vivid primary colors of the flags juxtapose those of somber New York City, symbolizing the hope and promise of the people as the end of the war approaches. The flags, like sails, are unfurled above the crowds, guiding them all to victory. Despite the wind and chaos of the street, most of the flags are seen in their entirety, illustrating the individual strength and resilience of the allies in the face of war. Compared to the flag scenes of those like Manet or Van Gogh, Butler's is full of heartfelt enthusiasm."

    In 1918, New York was a bustling industrial city. The spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral are seen in the background of Flag Day, placing the viewpoint at 53rd street and 5th Avenue looking South. In addition to the patriotic themes evident in the present work, Butler also focuses on capturing a moment in modern city life. The rise of the automobile's popularity had a profound impact on modernizing New York structurally and societally with a newfound ease of mobility. In Flag Day several cars are the focal point of the lower register. While dwarfed compositionally by the largescale flags, the emphasis given to the automobiles sets this flag depiction apart from the artist's contemporaries, including Hassam's as well as Butler's own Flags, 1918, in the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, Birmingham, Alabama, includes less clearly defined cars.

    While other noteworthy American artists also captured the patriotic heraldry of the parades along the Avenue of Allies, there are only two works of this magnitude that Butler painted on the flag subject. The other previously mentioned example entitled Flags of 1918 features a similar composition and is in the collection of the Birmingham Art Museum, Birmingham, Alabama. The present work was likely exhibited under an earlier title, The Avenue of the Allies, in New York in 1921, when a reviewer for The New York Times wrote, "'The Avenue of the Allies' is a flag picture, interesting to compare with those of Mr. Hassam. Mr. Butler flings his scarfs to a more jocund breeze, and uses a free and large design." ("The World of Art: The Society of Independent Artists," The New York Times, March 6, 1921, p. 21) Childe Hassam's famous series of flag paintings including some 30 oil paintings were exhibited together days after the Armistice at Durand-Ruell Galleries in New York. The present work depicts the view as seen from the opposite direction as Hassam's Avenue of the Allies: Brazil, Belgium, 1918 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, California). Hassam's scene, donated to the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art, in 1929, became one of the first flag paintings from this period to enter a public institution. Now most of these works, including flag scenes by Butler himself, Hassam, Luks, and Beal, are held in museum collections.

    Flag Day is an important work of art from an internationally historic period and is part of a tradition of urban flag paintings by both European and American masters. American Art curator and scholar Ilene S. Fort wrote on New York's Fourth Liberty Loan parade that, "Although other American cities were decorated during this drive, none of them attained the lavishness of New York. The city's decorations of Allied flags came to represent the entire national war effort." (The Flag Paintings of Childe Hassam, Los Angeles, California, 1988, p. 24). Butler's superb handling of energetic brushwork and movement in the composition conveys the liveliness of this parade. The artist's unique Impressionistic style was perfectly fitting to capture the momentous, spirited nationalism in Flag Day.

Saleroom notices

  • Please note that this work has been requested for inclusion in an exhibition of Theodore Earl Butler's work at the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, Ohio, scheduled for September 2021.
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