December 4, 2022 2:00 EST

American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists Featuring the Collection of Charles and Virginia Bowden

  Lot 84


Emma Fordyce MacRae (American, 1887–1974)

Signd 'EMMA FORDYCE MAC RAE' bottom left; also with The Estate of the Artist stamp verso and inscribed with artist on stretcher and frame verso, oil on canvas
36 x 32 in. (91.4 x 81.3cm)
Executed in 1929.
Housed in a Richard Kuehne frame (son of the artist).


The Artist.
The Estate of the Artist.
By descent in the family of the Artist.
Private Collection, United Kingdom.

$10,000 - $15,000
Current bid
(1 bid)

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Signd 'EMMA FORDYCE MAC RAE' bottom left; also with The Estate of the Artist stamp verso and inscribed with artist on stretcher and frame verso, oil on canvas
36 x 32 in. (91.4 x 81.3cm)
Executed in 1929.
Housed in a Richard Kuehne frame (son of the artist).


The Artist.
The Estate of the Artist.
By descent in the family of the Artist.
Private Collection, United Kingdom.


Grand Central Galleries, New York, New York, n.d.
"Exhibition of Portraits, Landscapes and Small Sculpture," The Union League Club of New York, New York, New York, January 10-14, 1929, no. 17
National Arts Club, New York, New York, 1930 (won Gold Medal).
"Emma Fordyce MacRae, N.A. 1887-1974," Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, March 1-July 20, 2008.


Town & Country, New York, April 15th, 1929 (illustrated on the cover).


Born in Vienna to American parents, Emma Fordyce MacRae pursued part of her artistic training at the New York School of Art, where she studied under Kenneth Hayes Miller, who encouraged her sense of design and use of simplified forms. She first exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1918, and officially joined the Philadelphia Ten in 1937, during the most productive period of her career. She later opened studios of her own in New York and Gloucester, Massachusetts and exhibited extensively on the East coast until her death in 1974.

Best known for her floral still lifes often paired with fragments of interiors or Japanesque tapestries (see Lot 87), MacRae also received critical praise for her figural portraits of cooly detached women (usually friends or models she hired) set against a decorative background, such as the present work, Stelka, which won the National Arts Club gold medal in 1930. One of MacRae's finest figure paintings, Stelka is more than just a portrait, but a formidable arrangement of shapes and patterns. Here we are confronted with the vision of a highly mysterious woman whose distinctive attire, combined with her titular name, suggest she is of Eastern European origin. Her white blouse offers a dashing contrast with the rest of the painting and allows the model to stand out. Yet, the colorful flower patterns that decorate her sleeves and torso echo the palette of the surrounding elements: orange, blue, purple and green, hereby creating a synergy between the figure and her environment. This symbiosis is further enhanced by the general treatment of the work, a rough, gritty surface which resembles that of a tapestry or a fresco. Applying her paint sparingly, MacRae allowed the texture of the canvas to show through, making it look (and feel) like a dry, plastery surface. Applied to portraiture, this technique produces a "cool, detached,... almost impersonal note," and grants her work the same timeless appeal as Renaissance chefs d'oeuvre or Japanese block prints - an influence suggested by the oriental motifs of the background tapestry. Unlike fellow members of the Philadelphia Ten who liked to paint their models in a loose, smooth and overall warm way, MacRae preferred to work in a flattened, linear style. Yet, the result is an elegantly simple, resolutely modern portrait that conveys the "appeal of quiet, dreamy and meditative existence and serenity" as Page Talbott explains. In contrast to Melina in Green, sold at Freeman's in Philadelphia on June 6, 2022, lot 88 (now a world-record for the artist's work) the portrait is vertically oriented, which is schematically enhanced by the figure itself, standing and not sitting, as well as by the vertical lines of the rectangular frame hanging in the background. This change of format adds to the solemnity of the model, and to the importance of the work, which suddenly becomes stately and can be analyzed as a modern version of a court portrait, that of an unknown beauty.

Please note proceeds of the painting's sale will go directly to Alzheimer's Research UK, Britain's leading dementia research charity, and will consequently help research Alzheimer’s disease and other causes of dementia.


The unlined canvas in excellent original condition, without any sign of restoration as seen under UV light. Some of the pigments (namely the light pinks) fluoresce under UV light: this is due to the paint, and not inpainting. Please note that the white losses throughout the work are due to the artist's working method. See Specialist's pictures for more details.

Frame: 43 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 2 in.

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Emma Fordyce MacRae