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PAFA Exhibiting Artist William Sartain Featured in Bunch Auctions September Catalog

William Sartain | American Painter | Philadelphia, PA

William Sartain (1843 – 1924) was a painter and engraver born of a prominent artist family of Philadelphia. The Sartain family patriarch, John Sartain, began apprenticing painting at the age of twelve in London and then engraving at the age of fourteen. Once immigrated stateside to Philadelphia, the elder Sartain made a name for himself as an accomplished engraver, and served as president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for more than two decades. [1]

Though William Sartain studied at PAFA and apprenticed with his brother, he did not wish to follow family footsteps and rejected many of the traditions his father worked within. When in 1877 the Society of American Artists was formed in New York City with the intention of breaking away from such conservative institutions as the National Academy, the younger Sartain was quick to become a member. Fellow members included such memorable names as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, John La Farge, and Louis Comfort Tiffany. Like many American artists of his privileged station, Sartain took his “Grand Tour” of Europe and studied in Paris, taking excursions to Italy, Spain, and other locales of classical inspiration. A contemporaneously published periodical “The Art World,” surveys Sartain’s work in 1917, noting, “there is a spring, a youthfulness in his landscapes, a feeling for and a mastery of light.” [2]

William Sartain | Sunset | PAFA Collection

In “Sunset,” the oil on canvas that will hit our auction block on September 20th, just such a mastery of light is visible in the glowing yellowy-green of the sunlight breaking over the swathe of blue-gray cloud. There is something very modern about his use of color and the abstract nature of the barren landscape. One could draw a comparison with our first artist feature, Jane Wilson, who had a similar skill with light and atmosphere. For locals looking for a piece of Philadelphia history, Sartain’s piece is a great example of original work that has roots in this area. Works by William and others of the Sartain family can be found in the PAFA collection. His name has been mentioned as an included artist in their current exhibition Happiness, Liberty, Life? American Art and Politics, on show now until September 18th, 2016.

“Sunset” (Lot #8683) will go for auction on September 20th, 2016 at our location in Chadds Ford, PA. The oil on canvas is estimated between $1,000 – 1,600. The stretcher measures 12” x 16 ¼” and overall meaures 18” x 22”. It has been relined. Online, absentee, and phone bidding options are available.


Photographic print of William Sartain, circa 1920, by an unidentified photographer. Found in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution Image and Media Gallery available online, part of the Macbeth Gallery records, 1838-1968.

[1] Gerald M. Ackerman, American Orientalists, vol. 10 of Orientalism, (Paris: Art Creation Realisation, 1994), 184.

[2] "William Sartain, Painter and Engraver," The Art World 2, no. 2 (1917): 109-10.

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