The James Byrnes Collection

We have the great honor to offer 50 lots from the James Byrnes collection in the March 6, 2011 Modern Art & Design Auction.

From 1946 – 1953 James Byrnes was the first curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science, and Art, which is now known as LACMA. In the thirties, Byrnes had studied art in New York at the National Academy of Design, the Art Students League, and the American Artists School, where he had met many artists before WWII. Byrnes, who served in the Navy during WWII, heard from an officer that a job was opening at the County Museum, so he left his home state of New York and moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career.

In 1946, W. R. Valentiner became the director of the art wing of the County Museum and encouraged Byrnes in his love for modern art.  While at the County Museum, Valentiner became Byrnes’ mentor and broadened his knowledge of art as a whole. As their friendship grew, Valentiner became the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art and decided to appoint Byrnes as his associate director. After Valentiner’s death in 1958, Byrnes subsequently became the director of the North Carolina Museum of Art. From 1962 – 1972, Byrnes would go on to direct the New Orleans Museum of Art, and finally from 1973 – 1975, he was the director of the Newport Harbor Art Museum where he would end his career of directing.

James and his wife Barbara were heavily involved in the Los Angeles art scene in the 40s and 50s. They became friends with many noted artists from Man Ray, William Copley, Claire Falkenstein, Roberto Matta, to Max Ernest, Dorthea Tanning, Inez Johnson, among others.  Byrnes loved all that was modern. His son Ron Byrnes notes that his father “thought contemporary art was the thing that was happening.” Even though Byrnes painted early in his life, he decided that he was better suited to be a docent, a curator, and ultimately a director.

Highlights from the James Byrnes collection include a Harry Bertoia brooch, an Alexander Calder work on paper, a Pablo Picasso lithograph from edition of 50, a Roberto Matta drawing, and an Elaine de Kooning painting from 1949.

Lot Information

Lot 25
Alexander Calder
Untitled
1953
Gouache on paper
Foundation #A25187
This work was examined and registered with the Calder Foundation, January 2011 and issued registration #A25187
22.375” x 17.375”
Provenance: From the Collection of James Byrnes, Los Angeles
Estimate: $15,000-20,000

Lot 326
Man Ray
In-Destructable
Mixed media
1923-1975
#33 of 200
“Retains label “Edition The New York Cultural Center/Objet In-Desctructable 1923-1975” and signed “MR” and numbered 33/200
9.25”h x 4.5” x 4.5”
Provenance:  From the Collection of James Byrnes, Los Angeles
Estimate $2,000-3,000

Lot 22
Elaine de Kooning
Untitled
1949
Gouache on paper
Signed and dated lower right “49 E. de K.”
Sheet 13.5″h x 17.75″w; frame 17.75″h x 21.75″w
Exhibited: Isaac Del Gado Museum of Art, 1971
Provenance: From the Collection of James Byrnes, Los Angeles
Estimate $2,000 – 3,000

Lot 398
Pablo Picasso
The Lobster
Lithograph
1949
#24 of 50
Signed lower right in red; edition lower left
Catalogue Raisonne Mourlot #143
Sheet 22” x 30; image 21.5” x 27.5”
Literature: Picasso Lithographs, Mourlot, Boston Book Publisher, 1970, pg 126
Provenance: From the collection of James Byrnes, Los Angeles
Estimate $6,000-8,000

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One response to “The James Byrnes Collection

  1. Pingback: Peter’s Auction Picks of the Day: February 28th | Los Angeles Modern Auctions Blog

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