June and Perry Ottenberg were Philadelphians who supported some of the city’s most important cultural institutions and artists. Together, they built an exceptional art collection, which mainly focused on the artists and craftsmen of their native Philadelphia, including Jane Piper, Elizabeth Osborne and Doris Staffel.
However, it is the work of the noted American Modernist Arthur B. Carles, that seems to have captivated them most of all.
Born in 1882 in Philadelphia, Carles enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1900, studying for a total of six-and-a-half years under the tutelage of Thomas Anshutz, William Merritt Chase, and Cecilia Beaux. While at the Academy, Carles received two Cresson Travel Scholarships, which allowed him travel to Europe. In October of 1908, Carles was included in the Salon d’Automne in Paris and exhibited alongside Matisse, Vlaminck, and Kandinsky. Five years later, the artist featured his work in the vanguard Armory Show in New York, and slowly introduced Modern Art to the American public. By 1917, Carles had joined the faculty at his alma mater in Philadelphia, and would teach at the Academy for close to a decade. Though his style developed and progressed from late Impressionism to Cubism to eventual abstract expressionism, Carles frequently returned to the same three subjects: still lifes, portraits, and the female nude.
More than a dozen works by Carles were offered in the June 3 sale of American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists. They achieved a 100% sell-through rate, with Lot 95, “Autumn Bouquet,” still in its original Harer frame, selling for more than four times its high estimate: $137,500; and Lot 91, “Portrait of Caroline Robinson Carles,” the first portrait of the artist’s second wife, sold for $68,750 against an estimate of $20,000-30,000.
Freeman’s will again revisit the Collection of June and Perry Ottenberg in the July 12 Collector’s Sale Part III: Furniture & Fine Art, this time with several original etchings and works on paper by Carles. Lot 877, “Cleopatra” (estimate $200-300) depicts the artist’s first wife, Mercedes de Cordoba. Executed after the artist’s famous painting "An Actress as Cleopatra" (1914, now at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts), the etching depicts the artist’s first wife, Mercedes de Cordoba, dressed as the Egyptian queen. Lot 871, “Self-Portrait in Studio” (estimate $500-800) shows the artist at work. Visible in the background is “White Nude with Apple,” a composition directly inspired from Manet's “Olympia” and Matisse's striking palette, which had a special significance for the artist. There are more than a dozen nudes by Carles included in the Collector’s Sale. Lot 879, “Reclining Nude” (estimate $500-800) is a crayon and pastel on blue paper, a medium the artist enjoyed exploring (see Lot 97 in the June 3 sale), and Lot 873 is a group of five nude studies (estimate $800-1,200). Lot 880, “Notes on Color and Music” (estimate $300-500) is a pair of drawings that exemplifies just how diverse Carles’ interests and style were.
In 2002, the Ottenberg’s gifted a major collection of Carles’ paper and archives to PAFA. Their children gave more than 300 works on paper—including etchings drawings, and figure studies—to the Woodmere Art Museum, near the artist’s studio in Chestnut Hill, prior to the auction. The Woodmere’s museum’s director said the acquisition was incredibly important, and makes the institution “a center of gravity for [Carles’] work.”
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