Old Master Paintings, Drawings, and British Portraits


ANTON MAUVE (Zaandam 1838 – Arnhem 1888)

A Wood Gatherer in the Forest

signed A. Mauve in the lower left

brown ink and wash on buff paper

9 7/8 x 16 ½ inches          (25 x 41.8 cm.)


C. Straka, until 1966, when gifted to

Benjamin Sonnenberg, New York

The Benjamin Sonnenberg Collection, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, June 7, 1979, lot 641, where acquired by

Private Collection, New York, until 2015


No words could better express the view held in regard to Anton Mauve than those written by Mrs. Arthur Bell shortly after his untimely passing:

“Anton Mauve whose death a few years ago was mourned in Holland as a national calamity, takes the highest rank as a painter of landscape with sheep and cattle. His poetic compositions rival in truth of effect and refinement of sentiment those of Corot and Cazin, whilst in some of them there is a pathos as deep as that of Millet, for whom he had a most intense admiration. No modern artist had rendered more faithfully than Mauve the silvery haze veiling the low lying pastures and dunes of the Netherlands; no painter had entered more truly into the life of the sheep-fold and of the cattle paddock, or realized more forcibly the interdependence of men and animals with nature. ... His works are true lyrics of the earth.”[1]

Mauve began his studies in Haarlem with the animal painter Pieter Frederick van Os from 1854-1857 and in 1858 with Wouterus Verschuur, famous for his paintings of horses. The summer of 1858 was spent with the painter Paul Gabriël in Oosterbeek, and proved the first of many visits. In Oosterbeek, called the Dutch Barbizon, he received further instruction from Johannes Bilders who instilled in Mauve a deep appreciation of nature as he began to paint outdoors. Here was where he also formed a lasting bond with the artist Willem Maris, influenced by his brushwork, coloration and most importantly his love of cows.[2]

Beginning in 1865, Mauve moved constantly from Amsterdam, to Haarlem, The Hague, Scheveningen, Oosterbeek, Renkum, Wezep, Drenthe, Alkmaar and Dordrecht, until 1871 when he took a studio in The Hague. In 1874 he married Ariette Sophia Jeannette Carbentus, a cousin of Vincent van Gogh. Van Gogh spent three weeks in Mauve’s studio at the start of his career, and although this did not work out, always held the utmost esteem for the painter. In 1876 Mauve founded the Hollandsche Teeken-Maatschappij (Dutch Drawing Society) with Willem Maris and Hendrik Mesdag. The same year the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam purchased Mauve’s Cows in the Shade, marking his first sale to a Dutch museum.[3]

By the mid 1880s The Hague’s semi-rural environment surrounded by meadows, polders, waterways, dunes and woods had begun to give way to an increasing urbanization.[4] This forced Mauve to seek new grounds and ultimately by 1885 to settle in Laren. Here his subject matter expanded to include more depictions of laboring peasants. This had always been an interest, initially sparked by his French contemporaries of the Barbizon School, notably Jules Bastien-Lepage and Jean François Millet. Such subjects were now enhanced by his surroundings.[5] These works became so popular, particularly in the United States, that American artists flocked to Laren to paint “Mauves.” An international art colony took root and the area became a tourist destination, which initiated the railway coming to Laren.[6]

Sadly, in 1888, at the age of fifty, Mauve suffered a fatal heart attack. Although his fame was international and his art highly prized, his early demise served to further enhance the value put upon his works. An astonishing example occurred at the auction of the renowned modern Dutch art collection of Joseph Jefferson in New York where Mauve’s The Return of the Flock was purchased by American dealers Scott & Fowles for $42,250 on April 27, 1906![7] His remarkable influence and sustained legacy are borne out by the fact that his works can be found in umpteen museums throughout the world.

A solitary figure with an enormous bundle of wood strapped to his back trudges through a path in the forest. He is preceded by a trail of frozen footsteps. Wearing a cap and heavy coat, the weather is obviously frigid, underscored by the composition’s restrictive coloration. Dwarfed by the monumentality of the gnarled trees that surround him, they serve as a metaphor for the hardships endured to survive. Beginning with medieval illuminated Books of Hours, wood gatherers have been emblematic for winter in Netherlandish painting. Woodcutters, carts hauling lumber, and timber sales were an important theme in Mauve’s work, with a number of watercolors depicting these subjects regarded among his finest.[8]

This is a subject that would have strongly appealed to Benjamin Sonnenberg (1901-1978). In 1910, Sonnenberg arrived in New York, the son of poor Russian immigrants. His father had a clothing stand on the Lower East Side, while his mother washed the floors of a settlement house in order to make ends meet.[9] Through an astonishing combination of energy, timing, and insightfulness, Sonnenberg was able to parlay these talents into a career best summarized as “the era’s premiere publicist” and “an invaluable consultant to the elite of American business”.[10] He also became one of the period’s most important collectors of art, sculpture, and brass, which he housed in a 37-room mansion on Gramercy Park.[11]

In the 1979 estate sale catalog compiled by Sotheby Parke Bernet, the Mauve drawing is recorded as a 1966 gift from C. Straka. Apparently such a gift was not unusual for Sonnenberg, as a number of clients became very close friends, who in lieu of fees sent valuable works of art. In this instance the initial C. is probably a mistake as Jerome Straka, president and chief executive officer of Chesebrough-Pond’s is listed among Sonnenberg’s most famous clients.[12]

At the time, the Sonnenberg sale was the largest single owner collection of art and antiques that Sotheby’s had ever sold. The august Alistair Cooke, another dear friend of the departed, wrote the introduction to the catalog, titling it “The House of Sonnenberg”. Held over a period of four days, with about 30,000 attendees, the sale totaled almost $5,000,000.[13] It was also the first American auction that garnered national media coverage.[14] One can’t help but imagine that Sonnenberg would have been pleased.



[1] Mrs. Arthur Bell, “Anton Mauve” in Representative Painters of the XIXth Century,  Sampson Low, Marston & Company, London, 1899, p. 189.

[2] Biographical information taken from Dr. Jos. de Gruyter, “Anton Mauve” in De Haagse School, volume 2, Lemniscaat, Rotterdam, 1968-1969, p. 71; Ronald de Leeuw, “Anton Mauve” in The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London & traveling, 1983, p. 233; and Wiepke Loos, “Anton Mauve” in Breitner and his age, Paintings from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam 1880-1900, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1995, p. 64.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ronald de Leeuw, “Introduction” in The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, op.cit, p. 14.

[5] Dr. Jos. de Gruyter, op.cit., p. 72; and Wiepke Loos, op.cit, p. 66.

[6] Frank Rutter, “A Consideration of the Work of Anton Mauve” in The International Studio, volume 33, John Lane Company, November 1907, p. 10; and Nina Lübbren, Rural Artists’ Colonies in Europe 1870-1910, Manchester University Press, Manchester, 2001, pp. 170-171.

[7] Catalogue of the Valuable Paintings Collected by the Late Joseph Jefferson, American Art Galleries, New York, April 27, 1906, lot 67; and “Art an Investment, An Echo from the Joseph Jefferson Sale” in Academy Notes, Buffalo, New York, May 1906, p. 201.

[8] Ronald de Leeuw, “Anton Mauve, Wood Gatherers on the Heath” in The Hague School, Dutch Masters of the 19th Century, exhibition catalog, Royal Academy of Arts, London, & traveling, 1983, no. 95, pp. 239-240.

[9] Isadore Barmash, “Always Live Better than your Clients, The Fabulous Life and Times of Benjamin Sonnenberg, America’s Greatest Publicist, Dodd, Mead & Company, New York, 1983, p. 19; and Dan Carlinsky, “Famed Publicist” in The New York Times, November 14, 1983.

[10] Isadore Barmash, op. cit., p. 4.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid, pp. 50, 167, 192. Chesebrough-Ponds most importantly produced Vaseline Petroleum Jelly.

[13] Ibid, p. 188.

[14] Robert White, “Managing Indian Assets” in Princeton Alumni Weekly, volume 87, September 17, 1986, p. 24.

Lawrence Steigrad Fine Arts

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