A PAIR of elegant paintings on panels, oil and gold leaf on board with some possibly chalky gouache in the white horses, each 11 1/2" by 15 1/2", (framed however in different frames, one gold, 18" by 22", the other black, 19" by 23"), the subjects rather mural-like, one unsigned, the other signed at lower right, by the notable American intra-war artist and illustrator PORTER WOODRUFF (1894-1959). The pair is from the collection of deceased (2007) Princeton University Associate Professor of Art History and art historian Mary Vidal, who was a specialist in 18th century French painting, having written a 1992 book on Antoine Watteau, among other scholarly articles and speeches. The party from whom I acquired these works stated that Vidal spent a lot of time in Paris and San Francisco area. When she died near San Francisco, her Southern California relatives brought all the works she owned to Southern California, where they were dispersed. For quite some time, I thought these works possibly by African-American artist Hal Woodruff, who signed similarly. However recent research revealed that these are classic works by Porter Woodruff, who was very known between the wars, especially, as an illustrator artist and contributor to Vogue Magazine and Home & Garden (including covers for both). He was one of five artists stationed in Paris in 1923 for Vogue. Woodruff spent considerable time in Tunisia, in North Africa, with his lover, the Romanian socialite and dandy George Sebastian. At a lavish, design-savvy, coastal property in then-trendy Hammamet, near Tunis on the Mediterranean, he was no doubt present at winter season visits by the American and European intelligentsia and upper-crust who were attracted to the area between the wars. These visitors included Art Deco designer Jean-Michel Frank, Wallis Simpson, Jean Cocteau, Somerset Maugham, Greta Garbo, and Cecil Beaton, among others. The onset of war disrupted this scene and it never truly regained its former glory. Woodruff, according to scant internet information, had a residence at 230 E. 50th Street in Manhattan. He died of cancer in 1959 and his ashes were scattered at the villa in Tunisia. See the fascinating internet article describing the now long-lost days of luxury and debauchery on the North African coast in the 1930's. Woodruff painted coastal scenes, city views, and some works with horses and their handlers, similar to this pair.
The Art Deco-influenced paintings are highly decorative and appealing, the compositions complex and well-thought out. Note the stylized figures, and horses, which, though seemingly frozen in place, are in fact in motion. The gold leaf background is particularly decorative and elegant. One work retains a framer's label on the reverse from The Robin's Egg Gallery of Lambertville, NJ, not far from Princeton. The age of the wood panels themselves would suggest that these works date to the later part of Woodruff's life.
These are rare Modernist paintings by a now rather obscure artist who found himself at the very heart of design, fashion and celebrity life in the early part of the century. The pair deserve to be framed identically in order to achieve maximum decorative effect.
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