Saturday, October 5, 2019

Gretchen by Peter Arno?

On October 13 John Moran Auctioneers of Monrovia, CA will be offering a painting in mixed media of a bar room scene with the title Gretchen signed Peter Arno and dated 1939:

Before we rush to place any bids on this previously unknown item, it might be helpful to ask ourselves a few basic questions. What might our first impression be if we were to came upon this painting without any label whatsoever? To me, personally, it looks like a work from the 1960s or '70s possibly influenced by the style of LeRoy Neiman. I don't see anything here that suggests 1939.

The name Gretchen is written on the backing. Is that really the title? Is Gretchen the figure with her back to us? Is it the setting?

Peter Arno
John Moran Auctioneers
October 13, 2019

Perhaps the auctioneers have never seen any of Arno's work from this period. What exactly might we expect a color work by Arno from 1939 to look like? As a cartoonist he generally worked on paper or illustration board, not on canvas. He didn't publish any New Yorker covers during that year, but he was on the cover of the magazine first thing in 1940, so the artwork must have been created in 1939.

Peter Arno
The New Yorker, January 6, 1940

Now let's compare these two works. Does this New Yorker cover appear to be by the same artist as Gretchen? Do the two works seem roughly contemporaneous?

To start with, the magazine cover is certainly funnier than Gretchen. The line work is a lot sharper, more expressive, and of course more cartoony. Let's compare the handling of round heads:

Is there any similarity in the grasping hands?

Is there an artistic kinship in the profiles of the men on the extreme right?

Finally, let's compare signatures. Are they by the same hand?

Does the painted signature seem heavier and less spontaneous? Is that r in Arno too wide? How likely was Arno to have dated a painting in this manner?

October 13, 2019 Update:  Sold!

Note:  Comments and opinions are welcome.

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