William Russell Flint [1880-1969]
Three damsels, ca.1915
Watercolor on board
21-1/8 x 30 inches
Signed at lower left : ‘W. Russell Flint’.
Numbered, titled and signed on verso in pencil written ca.1916 : ‘JF-1 / Three damsels [underline] / By W. Russell Flint, RSPWC, RA’.
Frame from 1948.
Marking type: Printed gallery label with date stamp below.
Location: Upper middle frame verso.
Text: ‘[within a scroll design] Jean Bohne Inc. / Art Dealers / 17 E. 48 ST. / NEW YORK’ and ‘APR 21 1948’.
About the painting:
William Russell Flint (1880-1969) painted the watercolor Three damsels in circa 1915. The work’s theme derives from a series of King Arthur legends told from Early Medieval times which regained popularity during the Victorian Era, especially among Pre-Raphaelite painters (1848-ca.1915). The Pre-Raphaelites in reaction to the Industrial Revolution and seeking a national identity adopted the mostly English, Celt and French tales of knights to represent their proud heritage.
The story that the painting represents is from the King Arthur Excalibur series called the “Three damsels and the fountain” written sometime around 1300 AD. The tale features three knights who meet, and then accompany, three magical damsels on adventures. The three damsels, one 60 years old, one 30 years old and one 15 years old symbolize levels of maturity. Gawain, one of the three knights, selects the youngest and fairest of the maidens to have his adventure. They meet two people in battle, but Gawain cowardly stands on the sidelines and does not intervene in their fight after being asked by the young damsel.
The painting is significant and was highly politically charged because England, at the time, was similarly accused of standing on the sidelines at the very beginning of WWI (1914). The painting is a direct protest by a Celtic-born (he was Scottish) painter, who, like the young damsel, pleads with his country, England, to get into the fight between Germany and Russia. The painting depicts the moment where the knights meet the damsels and must chose maturity and their adventure as well as what is right. That a Celtic painter used a Celtic tale, the Arthurian stories is also personal and significant.
In a possible foreshadowing, the painting could not be shown in London due to the wartime bombings and was forced to be held in America at the American Art Association auction house and galleries in New York, NY, during the winter of 1915-1916. The painting, which was for sale for $115 US [$2,696.15 in today’s money] sold to Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876-1952) an art dealer and owner of The Rosenbach Company, Philadelphia, PA. The Rosenbach Company sold the painting to famous portrait artist & engraver George Henry Yewell, N.A. (1830-1923) in New York. It came down through the family to the artists great half-granddaughter. A dealer in Hudson, NY made it available through auction and was resold to dealer David Smernoff in 2019.
William Russell Flint (1880-1969) painted several variations of this theme, later of which most auction houses would improperly identify as “bathers” neutering the power of the work. This painting, based on historic references might be the first of the series of similar paintings.
2019 ( David Smernoff (1979-today), New Haven, CT ) ;
ca.2000s Private collection of [unknown dealer], Hudson, NY ;
ca.1966 Private collection of [unknown], Hudson, NY, great half-granddaughter of the artist by descent ;
ca.1916 Private collection of Louise Annie (Const) Yewell (1885-1966) & George Henry Yewell, N.A. (1830-1923), artist & etcher, New York, NY ;
1916 ( The Rosenbach Company, Dr. A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876-1952), owner, Philadelphia, PA ) ;
1916 ( American Art Association (1883-1964), New York, NY ) ;
ca.1915 William Russell Flint [1880-1969], the artist .
1916 American Art Association, New York, NY, “231 water color paintings contributed by members of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours of London, England”, November 9-10.
1915-1916 Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, London, England, “Winter exhibition”, December, 1915 – January 15, 1916.
– American Art Directory, R. R. Bowker, New York, NY, “Paintings sold at auction 1916-1917”, part 1, volume 14, 1917, page 357.
– American Art Association, New York, NY auction catalog, “231 water color paintings contributed by members of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours of London, England”, November 9-10, 1916, lot #230.
– The Studio / Studio International magazine, London, “Studio-talk : London”, volume 67-69, 1916-1917, page 248, illustrated on page 249 : color.
– The Connoisseur : an illustrated magazine for collectors edited by C. R. Grundy, “Current art notes : The International Society”, volume XLIII , September-December, 1915, page 249, not illustrated.
1915 Royal Society of Painters in Water-Colours, London, England, “Winter exhibition”, December 1915 – January 15, 1916, #1?
1948 Reframed by Jean Bohne Inc. Art Dealers & Framers (1887-ca.1960s), New York, NY ;