Coolidge, Elizabeth Sprague. (1864–1953) [Speyer, Louis-Marius. (1890 - 1980)]

Portrait of a boy - Signed Watercolor to Camille and Louis Speyer

Original painted portrait of a young African American boy seated in a chair, singed by the important music patron who has inscribed the artwork in ink "Merry Christmas to Camille and Louis 1949/ E. S. Coolidge." Fine, 8.25 x 7 inches (21 x 17.8 cm.). 
We have found no record of any painting by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge having appeared on the market and indeed have found no mention of Coolidge herself being a watercolorist or other visual artist for that matter. The assured hand and style of the present work raise the possibility that the artwork itself may be in the hand of someone other than Coolidge herself, though if this were the case, we find it more than a little bit unusual that such a patron of the arts would have written across it in this manner. There are no other identifying marks or signatures on the recto or verso, however, and so we offer this as attributed to Coolidge. 

Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was a trained pianist and important patron of music, emphasizing chamber music, and she is largely credited with its 20th Century resurgence as an esteemed area of composition.  Over the years Coolidge commissioned works for the Library of Congress concerts and festivals from such notable composers as Igor Stravinsky, Sergey Prokofiev, Béla Bartók, Benjamin Britten, Maurice Ravel, Aaron Copland, Paul Hindemith, and Darius Milhaud. In 1932 she established the Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Medal for “eminent services to chamber music.”

The French-born American oboist Louis Speyer is best known for playing solo English horn in the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1918 to 1964. Prior to joining the BSO he performed in the Orchestre Colonne and the Orchestre du Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, conducted by Pierre Monteux, both of which accompanied the Ballets Russes in France, and in that way participated in several premieres of works by Ravel and Stravinsky, including the raucous premiere of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.  Speyer became a US citizen in October 1923 and was married to Camille Torno, whose French parents had immigrated to the US from Algeria. Inspired by Speyer's playing, the art patron Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge convinced Arthur Honegger in 1947 to write a concerto for English horn. Though Honegger ended up writing a double concerto premiered in 1949 in Europe without Speyer, the Concerto da camera for flute, English horn and orchestra is dedicated to him. Numerous other English horn works have been dedicated to Speyer. Among the better known is Paul Hindemith's English horn sonata completed in 1941 at the end of a summer at Tanglewood.

In the ample correspondence between Coolidge and the Speyers held by the Library of Congress, there is evidence that they regularly exchanged Christmas gifts, though the present work is not specifically mentioned in their extant letters from this period. 

We are grateful to Raymond White at the Library of Congress for his assistance in the cataloging of this item.  (18845)

Classical Music
Signed Document/Item
Art & Design