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Peter’s Auction Pick of the Day: Philip Evergood

May 20, 2016

Sometimes a work of art has so much going on that it demands to be talked about. That’s certainly the case with Lot 166 in LAMA’s May 22, 2016 auction of Modern Art & Design. M.T. Florinsky, D.S. Mirsky and the Pidget, a 1928 oil painting by the American artist Philip Evergood, is an intriguing work by an equally intriguing painter.

Lot 166, Philip Evergood, M.T. Florinsky, D.S. Mirsky and the Pidget, 1928
Lot 166, Philip Evergood, M.T. Florinsky, D.S. Mirsky and the Pidget (1928)
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

To begin with, it is a double portrait of two immigrant Russian intellectuals who came to the United States after the Bolshevik revolution: Florinsky, who became an eminent economist and political historian, and Mirsky, a literary historian who later returned to the Soviet Union, where he perished in a Stalinist gulag in 1939. These men are depicted as if in a dream, riding a magic carpet above a strange cityscape. A double-headed eagle, symbol of the czarist Romanov dynasty, perches on their chairs. The men discuss the Pidget—the five-legged, half-pigeon, half-rabbit that appeared to Florinsky in a dream.

The painting is fascinating and perplexing, just like the artist himself, who has been described variously as a Surrealist, a Social Realist, and a Magical Realist. Evergood was born in New York, but his English mother sent him to be educated in Britain. There he studied at Eton, Cambridge, and the Slade School of Fine Art in London. The subjects of his work could be bawdy and humorous, yet Evergood would also paint scathing social and economic critiques of Depression-era America, as well as apocalyptic scenes of war. Despite his orthodox training, he painted fantastical imagery in a deliberately naïve style. M.T. Florinsky, D.S. Mirsky and the Pidget was the first Evergood painting to manifest those keynotes, and when the Whitney Museum of American Art mounted a survey of his work in 1960, it was the first picture in the exhibition catalogue. Given its depth and iconographic complexity, it’s easy to see why.

Lot Information:

Lot 166
Philip Evergood
M.T. Florinsky, D.S. Mirsky and the Pidget
1928
Oil on canvas laid down on panel
Signed and dated lower right; retains Wadsworth Atheneum label verso with printed text “Owner: Whitney Museum of American Art/24 West 54th St., New York 19/Return to: Des Moines Art Center…”
Together with signed gouache and ink on paper
Panel: 42.25″ x 52.25″
Frame: 49″ x 59.25″
“In the summer of 1928, Evergood visited Woodstock, and returned with a substantial body of work, including a double portrait of M.T. Florinsky and D.S. Mirsky, two Russian emigres…This painting is among the very first by Philip to exhibit the naive and direct characterization that would soon become Evergood’s trademark.” (excerpt from Philip Evergood: Never Separate from the Heart)

Provenance: The Estate of Michael T. Florinsky; The Estate of Robert Anthoine (acquired directly from the above)

Exhibited: “Philip Evergood,” traveling exhibition, The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford; Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines; San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco; Colorado Springs Fine Art Center, Colorado Springs; Munson-Williams Proctor Institute, Utica, April 5, 1960-April 30, 1961

Illustrated: Philip Evergood. The Whitney Museum of Art exh. cat. 1960. Fig. 1.

Literature: Philip Evergood: Never Separate from the Heart. K. Taylor.1987. 72.

Estimate: $8,000–$12,000
May 22, 2016 Modern Art & Design Auction

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