Lot# 102 Arthur F. Mathews (1860-1945 San Francisco, CA)
Study for ''The Arts'', Palace of Fine Arts with Allegorical Figures, gouache and graphite on paper under Plexiglas, domed rectangle: 26.75'' H x 16.5'' W, est: $30,000/40,000
*Price Realized: $19800.00
signed and inscribed on an original paper label now mounted to a backing board: Study for Decoration / Arthur F. Mathews. Exhibited: Art Department, Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, CA, ''A Century of California Painting 1870 - 1970'', sponsored by Crocker-Citizens National Bank, December 1970 - January 1971, no. 51, traveling exhibition, illustrated on posters for the exhibition; Oakland Museum of Art, Oakland, CA, ''Mathews: Masterpieces of the California Style'', 1972, no. 65. Literature: H.J. Jones, ''The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews'', San Francisco, CA, 2006, pp. 69-71, ''The Arts'' mural in oil illustrated. Note: Although the present work is technically the preparatory study for Arthur F. Mathews' 1917 mural painted for the entrance hall of the Mechanics' Institute Library in San Francisco, the exquisite detail and near-finished composition reveal the artist's rigorous and thorough process of creation.
Mathews was originally commissioned by his private client Rudolph J. Taussig to create a public mural for the Mechanics? Institute Library on Post Street in San Francisco during a 1904 renovation. That original mural shared elements and symbolism with the later composition including an allegorical figural group of women and mechanics at work constructing an elaborate columned building, but was horizontal in composition and incorporated a eucalyptus landscape in the background. ''Deemed to be the finest of its kind in the city, [the 1904 mural] was expected to establish a precedent for the beautification of public buildings'' (H.L. Jones, ''The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews'', San Francisco, CA, p. 69).
Unfortunately, the library, along with its mural, was destroyed in the earthquake and fire of 1906.
In 1917, after more than a decade of reconstruction on the Institute, Mathews presented a replacement mural in a 14 feet by 8 feet format fitted for a narrower entrance hall of the rebuilt library. This second mural, as well as the present preparatory painting, adheres to the artist's original theme. ''Titled 'The Arts', the work confers special dignity in acknowledgement of the patron institution by integrating the mechanical arts and architecture with nature and a spiritual component, and incorporating the expected allusions to the fine arts'' (H.L. Jones, p. 69).
Harvey L. Jones writes of the monumental mural, ''According to one writer's contemporary account of Mathews' new version of the allegorical content of the mural, the artist introduced four symbolic figures 'signifying the spiritual light of knowledge, and the strength and power attained through knowledge'. In the left foreground, as the spiritual component, Mathews positioned a young Franciscan friar clutching a Bible to his chest and standing among three female figures wearing artfully decorated Grecian gowns. The leading figure of the group holds a small statue of the winged figure that signifies the ideal. Another carries a blossoming branch that alludes to nature, and the third, a blond woman on the far left wearing the most colorful attire, seems to represent beauty and the arts. It was suggested by another writer that the four allegorical figures symbolize such abstract concepts as music, thought, philosophy, and the ideal. The figural group's attention is directed toward the efforts of the laborers, stonecutters, and the carpenters seen in the background, where smoke rises from the chimney of an ironworker's forge as the toil on the unfinished structure'' (H.L. Jones, p. 71).
Much of Jones' description for the mural can also be applied to Mathews' preliminary painting with a few minor composition changes, most notably a white-bearded old man in the study becomes a much younger Bible-holding Franciscan friar. The freshness and immediacy of the present work gives it a lively, painterly quality that the artist subdued in the finished mural. The pastel-dominant palette of the sketch lightens the composition in contrast to the muted tones of the mural. The artist's carefully drafted graphite structure and decoration lines are visible, particularly in the architectural elements, and provide the viewer with a glimpse into the artist's careful and exacting method. Layered over these controlled arrangements is spontaneous and confident brushwork that fleshes out both the elaborately dressed symbolic figures and the vignettes of mechanics at work constructing the buildings.
An unfinished graphite sketch of hands holding an object verso.
Together with Harvey Jones' hardbound book ''The Art of Arthur & Lucia Mathews'' and a Crocker-Citizens National Bank-sponsored framed exhibition poster. Provenance: Mr. and Mrs. Anthony R. White, Hillsborough, CA; John H. Garzoli, San Francisco, CA, acquired from the above; Estate of Gordon and Joan Spencer, Nordland, WA. Condition: Visual: Generally good condition. The paper toned and with soiling, particularly in the margins. Burn along all four margin edges. Tiny nibbles in the lower center and lower right margin edges. Hinged with archival linen hinge tape in the upper corners and upper center to the back mat. Artist's pinholes in the upper corners and lower right corner.