25 September 2013

Legendary Journey's End is up for sale in London


One of Tretchikoff's legendary canvases will be offered by Bonhams, London, on 2 October.

Here's the story behind the painting.

Patrick McCay, the original owner of Journey's End, was an avid art collector, even when he was a struggling sheep  farmer in the Karoo, near the town of Hanover. 'I can  remember  as a child, our farm house was full of paintings', says his daughter. 'There wasn't a single space on any wall. A sheep farmer gets one cheque and stretches it for the year. For all that, he managed to purchase canvases by Frans Oerder, Tinus de Jongh, Vernon Ward, Terence Cuneo and Sir Russell Flint.'   

McCay bought Journey's End after Tretchikoff's second exhibition in Cape Town (1949). He had intended to acquire the Lost Orchid but lost out John Schlesinger, the heir to South Africa's business empire. After he returned to the Karoo, he couldn't sleep for three nights. He wanted the orchid painting so much. On the fourth day, he phoned Tretchikoff's agent. It turned out that she had something similar to offer him. 


So off he went, driving 800 km back to Cape Town to see the new painting. The picture - Journey's End - had an orchid all right. What was missing was a drop of water that McCay admired in the Lost Orchid.  


'He  then  offered  Tretchikoff £100 just  to add it in this picture', remembers McCay's daughter. 'He maintained that no artist could paint a drop of water  like  Tretchi! But the offer was declined. Absolutely not! "It would look of place in this composition", Tretchi said. My father was furious but bought the painting in the end!'


Though the artist was so steadfast about the drop issue, he wasn't finished with the painting yet. In 1954, when McCay lent the picture to him, he painted an empty bottle next to the dustbin - for free, and without asking the owner. McCay didn't like it at all but Tretchikoff refused to remove it. He thought the dark space to the left of the bin had looked too empty. (You can see the 'unedited' version, without the bottle, in the 1950 album of Tretchikoff reproductions.) 


It was one of the many fierce arguments the artist and the buyer had but despite this they remained friends for many years.


In the mid-1950s, the McCays sold their sheep farm and moved to Howick in Natal. They bought a large house in the Cape Dutch style, with plenty of wall space for their art collection. 'But  there  were  still too  many  pictures to accommodate', recounts their daughter. 'Some pictures were even hanging in the bathrooms or on the front  stoep (veranda), open to all weathers or wily art thieves, who could walk off with it at any time.'


Journey's End was  hung in the kitchen and remained there for thirty years. It even survived a burglary.   


'In 1982, when my  parents were away, on a trip to Europe, two young men broke through the kitchen door', says the daughter. 'Luckily, they couldn't get into the rest of the house because the inside door had been safely locked. They stole cups, saucers, crockery, pots and pans. They also raided the deep freeze and grabbed as much food as they could carry. Then they took off with their loot, ignoring the big prize - Tretchikoff's Journey's End on the wall!'

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