On the evening of the Jonathan Art Foundation’s highly successful gala on March 24, 2018, Richard Reitzell gave a docent tour of the collections for about two dozen attendees. He is the grandson of Jean Mannheim, whose painting Arch Beach, Laguna is on the Jonathan Club's second floor outside the Library. He started by explaining the development of Impressionism and the role it plays in the JAF collection. Not surprisingly, he then moved onto a discussion of Guy Rose’s painting. It is undoubtedly one of the collections' finest and most valuable pieces. Hence, the subject of this article. What is the basis for the quality and value of a work of art?
What makes the value of art so complex is the shear enormity of what art is. Art is created by humans in order to describe and make sense of the world around them. Good art has always been widely appreciated and accumulated for posterity. So, the arc of art history now goes back over 40,000 years. Despite the tumult of war and the rise and fall of civilizations, cave paintings, art objects and artifacts have survived from most discrete periods of this history. Many are displayed for all to enjoy in world heritage sites, museums, private collections and in analogue or digital records.
As the arc of art history expands, contemporary art stays current with its time and evolves constantly. For instance, the Impressionist movement (1860-1890) was made possible by the invention of small tubes of oil paint (1841) that young upstart artists carried into the outdoors to record light in a revolutionary new way “en plein air.” Art lovers, art critics and societies at large, eventually decided that Impressionist painting was more relevant than earlier “Academic” studio art and the prices for their work soared. For example, Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) a Post-Impressionist, died penniless without ever selling a painting, but is now arguably the most famous artist worldwide. Does this diminish the place in art history of earlier more traditional work? No, but it almost certainly lowered where a willing buyer and willing seller would settle on a work by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904) a leading Academic French artist.
Returning to the docent tour, Guy Rose (1867-1925), American from Rosemead, California showed artistic talent while recovering from a shooting accident in 1876. He and his wife eventually bought a cottage in Giverny, outside of PAris, France, where they lived from 1904-1912. His neighbor, Claude Monet (1840-1926), whose painting “Impression, soleil levant” inspired the title of the movement, became his teacher and mentor. Before the outbreak of WWI, Guy and his wife moved back to California to spread the fame of Impressionism in the state of his birth. Thanks to good judgement by the JAF Collections Committee at the time, we are lucky to enjoy this work today. This “back” story hits all the right valuation buttons. This sumptuous show of painterly virtuosity by a native son trained by the founder of a globally recognized art movement, set in a cherished local spot, is truly rare and valuable!