This set of two oil paintings is unusual within Wenzell’s oeuvre, both for its classical mythological subject and explicit eroticism. These two paintings were clearly conceived as a matched set; they present a “before” and “after” narrative. The first panel was published as a vignette in the March 26th, 1910 issue of Collier’s magazine but we don’t believe that the second work was created for publication. This pair was displayed in Wenzell’s 1967 Maxwell Gallery (San Francisco) exhibition, “The Age of Elegance.” An illustrated program is included with sale.
Although the two-picture narrative form was used by British satirists like Thomas Rowlandson and the American political cartoonist Thomas Nast, Wenzell’s intent here seems closest in spirit to the Clothed and Naked “Maja” pictures of Francisco Goya, where the first panel is intended for public viewing (in Collier’s no less) and the second for private consumption only. The second panel reveals that an erotic encounter has indeed taken place between the tree Nymph and the half-beast god; and it is unclear whether she is just still asleep as he steals away, or dead. For in classical mythology, intimacy with a god usually proved fatal; and although a tree nymph lived a long time (as long as her tree did) she was in fact still mortal.
Works are nicely framed and the sale includes the Collier’s magazine tear sheet and the exhibit catalog with both works shown as exhibited.
Albert Beck Wenzell is best known for his depictions of the fashionable society of the Gilded Age, and as creator of the “Wenzell Girl,” a turn of the century icon of the American woman along the lines of similar images by Gibson and Christy. He also illustrated many books including “House Of Mirth” by Edith Wharton and “The Passing Show” and contributed drawings for the popular magazines of the day such as The Ladies’ Home Journal, Harper’s Monthly, The Century, Cosmopolitan, and The Saturday Evening Post. His works are currently represented in the collections of major museums, notably the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco which together own sixty of his paintings and drawings. The large cycle of murals he executed for the New Amsterdam Theater in New York has recently been restored.