Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Barnyard by Another Name

The detail above is captured from John Twachtman's painting Barnyard, on view in our current exhibition. In the painting, dozens of impressionistic roosters, chickens, and doves gather around a small child. Barnyard entered The Hartford Steam Boiler Collection in 1992, but lately I've been tracking it's history, or provenance, further back.

In his lifetime, Twachtman exhibited the painting in Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York. A critic from the New York Tribune, writing in 1901, had mixed feelings about Twachtman's paintings. "The bright, almost staccato note of "The Barnyard" is wholly captivating. But if the collection embraces these lucky hits it also contains things that are amorphous and uninteresting." (You can read the full review here by zooming in.)

The critic from the New York Times agreed, writing about the same exhibition: "The point to be made is whether Mr. Twachtman's quality does not sometimes lead him too far." (See the article titled "A Trio of Painters" here.)

The painting has also been exhibited under the title Feeding the Chickens, a helpful fact to know when looking for it in archives and other records. Searching by this alternate title, I learned much more about the Florence Griswold Museum's painting.

After Twachtman's unexpected death in 1902, nearly 100 of his works were auctioned at the American Art Galleries in New York, among them Feeding the Chickens, which sold for $170. According to the New York Times, the sale, which netted $16,610, attracted many vociferous art students. "Long-haired men and short-haired women uttered exclamations of surprise when a picture brought a good price."

Feeding the Chickens was purchased that night by George DuPont Pratt, whose family held the painting for over forty years. Only ten years after buying the Twachtman, Pratt built his home, Killenworth, on Long Island for a reported $500,000. In 1946, the home was sold to the Soviet Union for a song at $120,000 and remains the retreat of the Russian delegation to the United Nations. Lucky for us the financially-strapped Pratts sold their Twachtman at auction in 1942, where it was once again titled Barnyard.

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