Cezanne and Corot and Manet, Oh My!

One of my favorite things about Salisbury House is that our museum’s collection, which was originally acquired by Carl and Edith Weeks in the first half of the twentieth century, has remained largely intact. Still, it’s also true that various pieces left the collection over the years. Furnishings and other household items were disposed of in the years immediately following the Weeks family’s departure from Salisbury House in the 1950s. A gorgeous Joseph Stella painting originally acquired by the Weekses brought a record price at auction in 1986.

Indeed, until quite recently, your correspondent believed that the Stella painting ranked as the most significant work to leave the Salisbury House collection.

This certainty has been called into question.

Over the summer, I’d returned my attention to an old inventory of Salisbury House completed in November 1953 as ownership of the property and collection transitioned to the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA). This inventory was a rough draft, completed by Carl Weeks, Ina Carlin (his secretary), and ISEA president Charles Martin. The many emendations, check-marks, and marginalia suggested that the group moved from room to room as they finalized which pieces in the collection would be included in the sale contract. If a work was crossed out in the inventory, it remained with the Weeks family. If not, it would become property of the ISEA.

An entry for George Frederick Watts’ Iphigenia caught my eye. It had a line drawn through it, as if it were not to be included in the sale.  “That’s funny,” I thought, “the Iphigenia is on view in the Common Room today.” Then I looked closer. Someone had written “OK” next to Iphigenia. An adjacent parenthetical read (To replace Corot).

Inventory_Corot

Corot? As in Jean Baptiste Camille CorotThat Corot?

I read on.

A few pages later, I noticed that a work by Narcisse-Virgilio Diaz de la Peña, which currently hangs in the Common Room, was also crossed out, marked “OK,” and “substituted for….”

Inventory_Manet

Édouard Manet? Oh boy…

It was, then, with a now-familiar feeling of excitement that I came upon a crossed-out entry, replaced by a J.B. Manson still life (which currently hangs in Edith’s Dressing Room):

Inventory_Cezanne

Cezanne. Paul Cezanne, about whom Picasso and Matisse are believed to have said, “He is the father of us all,” was originally part of the Salisbury House collection.

I needed a minute.

…………

Revived, I immediately began to wonder: when were they sold and where did they go? Who sold them?  A search through the Salisbury House archives yielded some promising results.

A clipped newspaper article from the Des Moines Register, dated October 1967, partially answered these questions.

Corot_1967 sale_DSM Register

The article yielded a few key pieces of information.

  • Carl, who passed away in 1962, didn’t sell the paintings himself (nor did Edith, who predeceased Carl in 1955)
  • Since the article indicated that the Corot “belonged to the estate of the late Carl Weeks,” his heirs (sons Charles, William, Evert, and Lafayette), must have sold the works – which of course made sense because these three paintings were specifically exempted from the sale of Salisbury House to ISEA
  • The Corot, the Manet, and the Cezanne were all sold in in this 1967 auction held by Parke-Bernet Galleries (later acquired by Sotheby’s).

The Salisbury House archives also provided tantalizing images of the Manet in-situ.

Manet in Edith's Room

Edith’s Dressing Room at Salisbury House, c. 1928.

Carl and Manet

Carl at the Weeks’ post-Salisbury House residence on Lincoln Place in Des Moines, c. 1961.

 

This was getting good. It seemed time to find the Parke-Bernet auction catalog from October 1967.*

For this, we turned to back issues of The Burlington Magazine, digitally available on that boon companion of all academic researchers, JSTOR. The Burlington, founded in 1903, aimed “to cover all aspects of the fine and decorative arts, to combine rigorous scholarship with critical insight, and to treat the art of the present with the same seriousness as the art of the past.” The periodical has appeared every month since its inception.

Happily, The Burlington also includes gallery and auction catalogs, including that for our 1967 Parke-Bernet sale.
Burlington Cover

The first reference to the Weekses’ paintings appeared below, in a notice for an auction on Thursday, October 26th at 8:00 PM. The notice also referenced the Cezanne, Corot, and Manet:

Weeks brothers_painting descriptions

 

The Parke-Bernet auction notices included images of particularly fine works that would be offered for sale:

Manet in Burlington

 

Corot in Burlington

When the hammer fell for the final time on the evening of October 26th, 1967, all three works from the “Weeks Bros. Collection” belonged to new owners.

So: how much did they sell for?

The Corot sold for $310,000 in 1967 or around $2.2 million in today’s dollars.

The Manet sold for $75,000 or around $550,000 in 2017.

The Cezanne sold for $40,000 or around $293,000 today.

And: where are they now? 

The Corot was purchased by entrepreneur and art collector Norton Simon and his wife, Lucille. Mrs. Norton retained ownership of the work during the couple’s divorce, and it ultimately landed at the Norton Simon Foundation in California. It remains there to this day.

Corot image

Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, La Cigale (1865-1875). Norton Simon Art Foundation

Wonderfully, its provenance includes Carl Weeks. Visit the painting here.

Norton Simon entry_Corot

The Cezanne also turned up online.

Cezanne image

Paul Cezanne, Cinq pommes (1877-1878). Private Collection of Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Thaw, New York

This handy Cezanne catalogue raisonné indicates that the painting has remained in private hands since its sale in 1967. Here again, the work’s provenance includes the Weeks family. Visit the painting here.

Cezanne catalog entry

Interestingly, the provenance for both of these works indicate that Carl purchased them in the 1920s from the Galerie Durand-Ruel in Paris, founded by the famed champion of Impressionism, Paul Durand-Ruel.

The Manet, however, has proved a little trickier to track down.

Édouard_Manet_-_Young_Woman_in_a_Broad_Hat

Édouard Manet, Jeune Femme au Chapeau (1881).

A digital search party turned up little online in terms of concrete information about the Manet’s post-Weeks ownership. Finally, we reached out to Sotheby’s Museum Services Department for assistance. Our contact there indicated that the piece was most likely in private ownership and that her department would conduct further research. As of this writing, we have not received additional information from Sotheby’s regarding the Manet’s current whereabouts.

The (re)discoveries of artworks previously in the Weeks collection confirm yet again the keenness of Carl’s and Edith’s art collecting and the remarkable quality of the works that they acquired. It is, of course, entirely understandable that Carl decided to reserve the Corot, the Cezanne, and the Manet for his sons during the sale of the property. Still, this curator can’t help a twinge of regret these artworks no longer hang in the halls of Salisbury House.

*For this research, I brought in a ringer. I am indebted to Martha Sibbel, J.D., for putting her prodigious skills to work on behalf of this post.