Notable Object — A Different C.P. Ream

William Gerdts, in his book For Beauty and For Truth, told the story of how he amassed his extraordinary collection of American still life paintings. One of his sub-specialization is to collect still lifes by artists who normally did not paint them. In the 1960’s, he was offered two still life paintings by David Johnson for one hundred dollars. Instead, he chose just one as fifty dollars was the maximum he could pay. A similar still life painting by Johnson was sold last year at Doyle New Year at the hammer price of more than $27,000.

CP Ream

If this story tells something, maybe the opposite situation should also get some attention. Carducius Plantagenet Ream was a prolific still life painter active in the later 19th century. Thanks for the lithographs reproduced by Louis Prang and company, many of his still life paintings (fruits instead of flowers) became well known. While his early fruit paintings had a Pre-Raphaelite aesthetics, his later ones often depict the wealth and grandiosity of the gilded age in a tabletop setting.

In the auction catalog of Jan 14, 2014 sale from the Auction Gallery of Palm Beaches, lot 346 offers a unique genre painting by the artist.

Interior Scene with Seated Black Sharecropper does not have the dynamics of a typical genre painting. Instead, the black sharecropper looks tired and may have fallen into deep thoughts. The soft light brightens surrounding objects while casting tender shadows. It is a moment of stillness. The deteriorating setting is not that convincing (for example the exposed wall surface looked quite clean and controlled), yet it carries that same mannerism from many of his still lifes. Did he really encounter such a scene?

However the figure is interesting to look at. The wooden pose has a striking amiability. The best part is the curling drawing that barely hangs on the wall. The slightly tilted angle makes its association with the man. It also forms a triangular shape that would almost perfectly fit to cover his chest.

The size of the painting is 15 by 12 inches. The estimated price is $4000 to $6000.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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