There is something I want to tell you. It’s about Gabriel Spat, artist who painted “Portrait une famille” that I’ve repurposed for the “Landscapes & Livestock” portion of the next Agincourt exhibit. But this is also about scholarship and my heathen commitment to it.
When we acquired the Spat painting several years ago from a seller on eBay, there was a brief biography for Spat, no more than a paragraph of two or three short sentences. Though I didn’t save a copy “for the record”, it probably came from AskArt.com, an on-line fee-based source used by galleries to track the retail and especially auction values of art. Its database is huge and (lucky me) a friend has lent me his password. This is what they have to say about Spat:
Gabriel (Gabrille) Spat was born in New York City in 1890. He lived and worked both in the U.S. and France, creating market, park, and horse racing scenes, still-lives, and portraying dancers in an impressionist style.
This for an artist with ninety-five auction citations; his record price came from a Christie’s auction in 1988. Various commercial galleries (i.e., not museums) repeat this bio word-for-word. One of them lists him as “Gabriele” and uses feminine pronouns.
Another gallery offering his work adds a bit more:
Gabriel Spat was an American artist who spent most of his artistic career painting in France. His finished paintings were shipped back to dealers in the United States where they were sold to many collectors. Spat’s work is impressionist, distinguished, and sensitive and in the classical French tradition.
In 1944, Spat came to America and had many successful exhibits in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, Montreal, San Antonio and the east end of Long Island, NY in the Hamptons. He was known for his charming genre paintings which included horse races, boulevard and promenade scenes, as well as ballerinas, garden scenes and people strolling along the beach.
The Terra Foundation for American Art is the most credible, though, like all the others, it is un-footnoted:
Gabriel Spat spent most of his career in France painting small oil and watercolor figural works and scenes of leisure life at such locales as racetracks, parks, and beaches. Little is known of the artist’s life, but he probably was a native of France. Spat was painting by the age of eighteen, but as an art student in Paris he was so impoverished that he was forced to paint on scraps of canvas given to him by other artists. As a result, he learned to paint in miniature, and he continued to work on a small scale throughout his career. Spat’s intimate views of Paris undoubtedly were aimed at the tourist market. They present the city in its most famous and agreeable aspects in such themes as strollers along the banks of the Seine River and blossoming chestnut trees along streets and in parks.
Spat fled to the south of France in 1940, during the German army occupation of Paris, but returned two years later. His wartime watercolors reflect the more somber mood of the times, showing German soldiers on parade, rounding up suspected terrorists, and seated in the sidewalk cafés formerly so representative of the leisurely tenor of life in the French capital. In 1943 Spat was able to escape occupied France, and in 1945 he arrived in the United States, where he took up residence in New York City and married. The following year, the Carroll Carstairs Gallery in New York held an exhibition of Spat’s watercolors of Paris; several other gallery shows followed in both the United States and Paris. The artist continued to paint Parisian scenes after he left France, using the loose brushwork and bright colors critics described as “impressionist.” Spat’s paintings occasionally come to light in the American market; thus further information about this shadowy artistic figure eventually may surface.
Terra suggests that Spat may have been born in France. What remains consistent among them is the 1890 birth date and his death in 1967. I should be content with an amalgam of the lot and call the job done.
Gabriel Spat (a.k.a. Salomon Patlajan)
It would have been far to easy to have cribbed these into a cut-and-paste entry for the exhibit catalogue. This is, after all, the Age of Information Commodification. Instead, I accepted the challenge of spotty and inconsistent data to do my one-stop-shopping at ancestry.com. Here’s a chronology of the documents found there:
- NY Passenger Arrival List (30 June 1942): From Casablanca, Morocco, Salomon Patlajan, age 51, painter/sculptor, Georgian nationality, Hebrew race, born Kichenew, Rumania [now Chișinău, Moldova], last permanent residence Antibes, France
- WWII Draft Registration (28 July 1942): Salomon Patlajan, born 13 July 1890 at Kichinew, Russia, living at 69 West 90th Street, NYC, unemployed
- NY Passenger Arrival List (11 December 1946): From Cherbourg, France, Salomon Patlajan, age 56, artist, “stateless”, Hebrew race, Vichinev, Russland [i.e., Russia], last permanent residence New York City
- New York City Directories (1944/46/48/53/57): Gabriel Spat, living at 69 West 90th Street, NYC
- Index to Petitions for Naturalization (12 January 1948): Salomon Patlajan/Gabriel Spat, born 3 July 1890, living at 53 West 90th Street, NYC; “Name changed by decree of Court from Salomon Patlajan to Gabriel Spat, as part of the Naturalization”
- NY Passenger Arrival List (10 December 1951): From Cherbourg, France, Gabriel Spat, age 61, living at 69 West 90th Street, NYC
- Social Security Death Index: Gabriel Spat, born 13 July 1890, died during May 1967
I, for one, believe this brief chronology of genealogical documents presents a far more nuanced and interesting sketch of artist Spat. And it took slightly more time to type it here than it did to find and preview the documents themselves. My obligation to Mr Patlajan/Spat is on its way to conclusion. But the question tonight is simpler: Is it personal vanity that causes me to share it with you?
I love this shit.