Friday, October 18, 2013
This is, yes, the same picture I used here yesterday. The difference is that yesterday I was looking at this late-16th century illusionistic painting as a work of art and relic of vanished lives. Today I want to look at Scipioine Pulzone's painting of Jacopo Boncompagni as an object – an object of value with a complex, unstable life of its own, independent of its subject. The provenance provided by Christie's silently glosses over a 300-year gap in knowledge, then concludes with a sinister story that sounds like an Edith Wharton novel –
"This portrait first came to light in 1899, when exhibited at the London gallery of Thos. Agnew & Sons, from whom it was acquired in that year by the financier William C. Whitney (1841-1904), founder of the New York branch of the prominent Whitney family. A major investor in thoroughbred horseracing, he was the breeder of twenty-six American stakes winners, and helped establish the 'Winter Colony', an exclusive equestrian community in Aiken, South Carolina. He was also an important American political leader, serving as Secretary of the Navy in the first Cleveland administration. In the mid-1890s, Whitney commissioned McKim, Mead and White to remodel his palatial mansion at 871 Fifth Avenue in the Italian Renaissance style, and from 1899, the Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni was displayed there with Whitney's extensive collection of early Italian pictures, portraits by Van Dyck, tapestries, and architectural carvings from European palaces and cathedrals. Upon Whitney's death in 1904, his mansion along with its furnishings and art, was purchased by James Henry Smith, one of the most colorful figures on the New York social scene at the turn of the 20th century. In 1899, Smith, a modest, obscure Wall Street bachelor, inherited from an eccentric uncle a fortune of $50,000,000. His rise within New York society was meteoric. With Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish as his social mentor, he held a constant series of grand dinners, concerts and balls at his Tuxedo Park mansion and his New York residence at 871 Fifth Avenue. In 1907, while honeymooning in Japan with his bride, the former Mrs. Rhinelander Stewart, Smith suddenly died. The New York mansion and its contents, including the Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni, were auctioned by the American Art Association three years later, after which the picture was lost to notice until the late 1980s, when it resurfaced in a private collection in Mexico. Shortly thereafter, it entered the private collection where it has remained until the present day."