La Fayette, we are here!

Thursday, April 27th 2023

by Daniel-Putnam Brinley

Daniel-Putnam Brinley (Américain, 1879-1963)

La guerre d'Indépendance, Lafayette au combat, 1932

Canvas, signed and dated.

400 x 600 cm.

Provenance: collection privée new-yorkaise puis parisienne.

A 1932 painting by Daniel-Putnam Brinley depicting Lafayette fighting during the American Revolutionary War.

Bibliographie: Vogue Décoration, édition internationale, october 1988, n°16.


A large spectacular polychrome canvas – 4 meters high, 6 meters in length – will be auctioned by Maitre Philippe Rouillac on June 4 at the Château d'Artigny (Montbazon). It represents the Marquis de La Fayette routing the English forces and their mercenaries. It took years to identify the artist, Daniel Putnam Brinley (1879 – 1963), who painted the scene in 1932. Its provenance remains unknown. The painting was discovered in Brooklyn by a hawk-eyed French journalist, known in the business for her ability to spot items missed by others.

When she moved to New York at the invitation of Alex Liberman, head of Condé Nast, Marie-Paule Pellé, who would become Creative Director of Condé Nast’s House and Garden and then Traveler magazines, would learn a new way of life, but would not forget her one true love: antiquing.

In Manhattan, Marie-Paule would spend her Sunday mornings at the flea market on 6th Avenue and 26th Street, "an inexhaustible source of treasures", she says. "I unearthed marvels there: an 18th-century spun glass darning ball from Nevers, sold as a paperweight, two drawings by Constantin Guys, an 18th century church-offerand tray, sold as a coffee tray, etc. …but also objects that reminded me of my childhood in Orléans (an “American” city until 1962). I bought an abundance of “Streamline” (dear Raymond Loewy…) and especially kitchen utensils that no one was looking at!”

Following some serious antiquing, she went to Jerry’s Place, a popular café, to meet with her friend Roger Prigent, a great antique dealer whose immense "Malmaison" store was in itself a veritable encyclopedia of the Empire Style, a Mecca of mahogany... We did not escape the influence of Napoleon at Malmaison where the entrance was blocked by an enormous bust of the emperor by Canova. Many fans of the "little corporal" regularly passed through this palace: Yoko Ono, the decorator Pierre Scapula and his friend Gabrielle de Savoie, actors, politicians... and the then little known Pierre-Jean Chalençon. Lunches following the hunt for hidden treasures of the antique world were epic…

One Sunday afternoon Marie-Paule, who friends called “M.P.P.”, decided to explore Brooklyn. Entering a small run-down thrift store, “a shambles”, she spotted a brooch by Miriam Haskell, who had been a well-known designer of haute couture costume jewelery in the '50s and '60s. At the counter waiting to pay, “I bumped my foot against a very long metal tube with a roll of canvas protruding. Lifting a corner, I discovered the American flag with only thirteen stars, a view of early colonial-style houses, and the top of a tricorn cocked hat. The canvas was worn but the colors splendid. I asked the shopkeeper what this roll was: “No idea, it was here when I moved into the place” …. “Are you selling it”? … "Yes!". Deal done.
The next morning, I rented a fairly large truck. Impossible to fold (total heresy). The metal tube with its protruding treasure was too long to get into the elevator where I lived 25 flights up on Park South. I gave the task to Hartman, the handy-man, who, together with a friend, brought it up by the stairs.
The canvas remained partly unrolled in my low-ceilinged New York apartment and I did not learn the name of the painter until I returned to France eight years later…. As it turned out, I knew this painter quite well. In the manner of classical painting, he placed an individual near the center of his scene, looking out at the spectators. The battle is imposing but the scene is not disturbing, no doubt due to the profusion of colors used.

“It was only when I installed the painting in my winter garden in Berry that I discovered the name of the painter and the date of the work: “Daniel Putnam Brinley 1932”. “Put”, for his close friends, is exhibited in many American museums including the Metropolitan and the Smithsonian. In Europe, one of his works is on permanent display in Helsinki …

Brinley lived at 9 Impasse du Maine and loved Montparnasse. In Paris he perfected his fresco technique and exhibited at the Salon of 1905. Back in America he decorated many large walls. His work can still be viewed in several notable buildings: the Brooklyn Savings Bank, the Daily News Building in New York, and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Building, also in New York, among them.

An enigma remains: where does the canvas come from? Was it intended for a private home? Was it commissioned like his "The Land is Bought from the Indians" (1929) that still adorns the Blakely post office building in Georgia?

Marie-Paule Pellé considers this work to be the property of both worlds but above all, as of American heritage, and she would like to see it go back to a museum, to the city of Lafayette, perhaps, or to the hall of a manor in the Hudson River Valley...

Auction on June 4 from 2 p.m. Chateau d'Artigny, 92 rue de Monts, Montbazon (37250).

Marie-Paule Pellé
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