Tarbell's "An Opal" Shimmers at Auction

  • July 15, 2009 18:49

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Edmund Tarbell's "An Opal" sizzled up to six-figures at Copley auction
Copley Fine Art Auctions

Within the wide selection of Frank Benson bird etchings and Ogden Pleissner sporting scenes in Copley Fine Art Auctions' two-day Annual Sporting Sale, July 15-16, was a softly-rendered, warmly-lit portrait by Boston School artist Edmund Tarbell (1862-1938). Tarbell's "An Opal: Study of Yellow and White Light" pictured a confident Victorian lady.

At the Plymouth, Massachusetts, sale Copley hammered down this alluring image for a strong $120,750 (estimate: $100,000-$200,000), part of the auction house's $4.15 million total take, a 30% increase over last year's sales results.

The sitter's pose, with arms placed aloft her head, brings focus to her pink lips parted in a gentle smile and playful brown eyes hinting at intimacy, or at least familiarity.

This vibrant young woman was not Tarbell's mistress, nor was she his wife. The artist explained matter-of-factly, "...'[An Opal] was painted from my wife's sister Lydia Brooks Souther but the picture was painted for the study of different kinds of light and had that as it's prime purpose. The sitter just happenend to be my sister-in-law. She is now Mrs. Benjamin W. Hatch of Plymouth..."

Copley's auction catalog noted Tarbell's fine handling of the nuances of light in "An Opal":

Tarbell was interested in half-tones, in which shadows are made up of subtle color shifts instead of dull, uniform browns and beiges. There is a vibrant three-dimensionality to "An Opal," and from a distance, the woman appears to rise from the canvas. Her bright white dress is framed against the warm background and the pink of her skin and yellow light cast from an unseen fire reveals to the viewer this vibrant young woman.

The Tarbell portrait on the auction block in Plymouth, Mass.
Copley Fine Art Auctions

"An Opal" was exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; in Munich, Germany; and at the St. Botolph Club in Boston to much acclaim. Crtitics responded favorably to the work, according to Copley's catalog description, describing "An Opal" as “a remarkable potrait” and “a sensation.”

Bidders last month responded, too, with a paddle war bringing "An Opal" just past six-figures. A solid price for a gorgeous finished study. Overall, nearly 95% of Copley's offered paintings and works on paper found buyers.


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