News-Antique.com - Nov 07,2011 - A pair of monumental historic paintings, The Virgin and St. John the Evangelist at the Foot of the Cross, by the famous 19th century American artist John La Farge, will be exhibited for the first time in seventy-five years by the Newport gallery William Vareika Fine Arts at the Boston International Fine Art Show, November 17-20, 2011, at the Cyclorama, Boston Center for the Arts.
Among the largest and most important paintings ever created by La Farge, these works were lost until recently and were last publicly shown in 1936 when they were loaned by the Whitney Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for An Exhibition of the Work of John La Farge. The only time that they were seen in Boston was exactly 133 years ago, on November 19 and 20, 1878, at a sale at the Pierce and Company Auction House at 5 Park Street. The names of La Farge patrons at that 1878 sale include many of the cultural elite of Boston: Bartol, Cabot, Gardner, Higginson, Hooper, Lothrop, Lowell, Paine. Several paintings offered in the Pierce sale are today in the collections of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the National Gallery of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Part of a large triptych Crucifixion ensemble commissioned in 1862 for Saint Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City, only the two side panels, representing Saint John the Evangelist on the right and the Virgin Mary on the left, were completed by La Farge, and the altar piece was never installed in the historic church. The paintings are on thick mahogany panels each measuring 95 ½ by 29 ½ inches, with arched tops and frames adorned with gilded putti.
In designing these masterworks, perhaps the first decorative creations by the “Father” of the American mural movement, the artist drew upon 14th century Italian altarpieces. La Farge expert Professor James L. Yarnall observes that “the poses and attenuated silhouettes of the figures are especially reminiscent of work from the Byzantine and Sienese schools of the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries.” Departing from his precedents, however, La Farge “gave the narrative a modern feeling through the introduction of an atmospheric landscape and breath-taking perspective.”
The view looks east across a coastal Rhode Island landscape near Newport, where La Farge was living at the time the panels were painted. Yarnall notes that the features of Saint John are those of the artist’s close friend and Harvard psychologist and philosopher, William James, and the features of the Virgin Mary are those of the artist’s wife, Margaret Mason Perry La Farge.
In 1884, the paintings were purchased at Ortgies and Company in New York by William Collins Whitney for his residence in Old Westbury, Long Island, New York, at the insistence of famed architect Stanford White, and they remained in the Whitney family for many years. Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney gifted them to the Whitney Museum at its opening in 1931. In 1934 artist and La Farge student Leon Dabo