(Richmond, Virginia 1852 – 1891 Springfield, Illinois)
Provisions from Nature
Signed, lower right, M. Hottes, and dated lower left, ’89
Oil on canvas
40 ½ x 72 inches (102.9 x 182.3 cm)
Butterfield’s, San Francisco, 19 November 1997, lot 4113, as M. Hottes (?) German (?), Nineteenth Century
with Beadleston Gallery, New York, 1998; where acquired by:
Casey Cowell, Palm Beach, Florida
with Peter Nahum at the Leicester Galleries, London
Christie’s, New York, 28 November 2007, lot 81, as M. Hottes, A Bountiful Harvest
with William Struve Arts, Chicago, 2007
Leslie Hindman Gallery, Chicago, 13 September 2009, lot 45, as M. Hottes, Provisions from Nature
Leslie Hindman Gallery, Chicago, 28 September 2014, lot 232, as M. Hottes, Provisions from Nature; where acquired by:
Private Collection, New York
This impressive still-life is the single surviving painting known by the nineteenth-century American painter Michael Hottes. His brief career—he died at the age of thirty-nine—has never been properly studied and this short biographical sketch, drawn from various documentary sources, can only give a vague indication of his life and career.
Hottes was born on 11 March 1852 in Richmond, Virginia. His full name, Michael Darmstadt Hottes, acknowledges the German ancestry of his parents Peter and Christina, both born in Darmstadt and immigrants to the United States. Michael’s education began at a college in Virginia and continued at the United States Military Academy at West Point, where he was said to have been the first cadet to be sent from Virginia after the Civil War. He then studied at the Royal Academy in Munich, together with William Merritt Chase, before returning to the United States around 1880 (Fig. 1). While in Munich he authored an article, “A Richmond Artist in Munich” for his hometown newspaper, the Daily Dispatch, in 1878.
Hottes lived briefly in Richmond before moving to Chicago, where he was to reside for several years. He later moved to Rochester, New York, where he painted the work for which he achieved his greatest celebrity—a huge depiction of Niagara Falls measuring ten feet high, more than eighteen feet wide, and utilizing 190 square feet of canvas. Completed in 1890, the year before the artist’s death, the painting was recorded and described in 1891 when in the collection of Daniel W. Powers in Rochester, NY, but it has since disappeared. Hottes also worked as an engraver. A folksy illustration of his appeared in Harper’s Weekly on 4 August 1883, and an independent print titled Nebraska was issued in 1877.
Other paintings recorded by Hottes include still-lifes. However, nothing cited is comparable in scale to the present painting. The scene is set within a domestic interior, with a plain wall, a rustic wood plank floor, and a table covered with a cloth, rumpled and hanging to the floor at the right. A bamboo fishing rod diagonally crosses the entire composition. It is leaning on the edge of the table, but neither end is visible, although the fishing line drops from the upper left and winds across and under the large head of cabbage, off the edge of the table, and then back up and around the silver bowl of apples before dropping through an ovoid fishing float to the floor below. Between the cabbage and the apples are two lemons, while to the right a tall glass sealed bottle is filled with preserved fruit. A rope falls from a nail-head on the wall and holds up a fish, one of five resting on the table. To the right a dead mallard hangs by its foot—the traditional mode of aging—while another lies on the floor beneath. Under the table at the left is a bushel of corn, while further to the left a candle-stick holder with the stub of a burned-out candle lies overturned on the floor. The matches scattered beside the candle have fallen in a pattern corresponding to the artist’s monogram. A tattered and torn landscape drawing is partially pinned to the wall above.
Provisions from Nature is the title most recently associated with the present painting, although it had been titled A Bountiful Harvest when it was sold in 2007. Whatever its original title might have been, the intent of the painting is manifest: to represent the wealth of the nature’s gifts—vegetables, fruits, fish and wildlife—as cultivated, harvested, caught, and preserved by man. The painting is to a certain extent an American reinterpretation of a classic Dutch still-life, showing a wealth of food and objects tempered by a reminder of the transience of life, as exemplified by the extinguished and overturned candle. It is in any case a remarkable work by an artist who fell into such obscurity that neither his name nor nationality were recognized when the painting first appeared more than twenty years ago.