Seymour Stein and ‘Portrait of a Boy’

Acquired an original copy of the Sotheby’s ‘Portrait of a Boy surrounded by gold‘ catalogue – The Collecting Eye of Seymour Stein sale held in New York, 11 Dec 2003.

Seymour Stein founded Sire Records in 1966, at the age of 23, and writes in the catalogue introduction how he “came up with the idea of licensing great music from England and the Continent that went overlooked in the States … new artists who were almost always in left field and ahead of the trends.” This brought the world Renaissance, Fleetwood Mac, The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Pretenders, Madonna, Madness, KD Lang, and many, many other progressive rock, punk, post-punk, new wave and other bands.

Madonna and Chrissie Hynde comment in the catalogue on his passion for collecting, the former saying “his apartments … were more like warehouses stacked with paintings and porcelain like something out of ‘Citizen Kane,” and the latter, “Seymore was picking Clarice Cliff and Susie Cooper out of barrels in the East End … when most people were throwing it out.”

Amongst works by less familiar artists are the following two pieces which happened to catch my eye …

A sofa covering designed c. 1925 by Marie Laurencin (1883-1956), a gifted artist once at the centre of the French art world who fell out of favour after marrying a German shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914. Returning to France in 1921 after a period of self-exile, she reinvented herself as an illustrator and lithographer.

A self-portrait by legendary actress Sarah Bernhardt (1844-1923), who was also an accomplished sculptor, painter and author.

Stein adds in the catalogue introduction that most of the things he bought over a thirty-five-year period “lay in storage … still in their original crates,” because he was so busy with his work that he didn’t have time to give them the attention they deserved. He had thought of starting his own gallery at one time. In 2002 he decided to sell off the majority of the collection so the pieces could be enjoyed by others. The Sotheby’s sale was just one of several held at different auction houses.

Every lot is illustrated in colour, often full-page, including works by Burne-Jones, Gauguin, Leighton, Millais, Redon, Rosetti, Waterhouse and Watts.

Lot 216 is “Anna [spelling as in catalogue] Louisa Swynnerton … Portrait of a Boy / oil on panel,” but is unfortunately it is one of the smaller illustrations and includes no information on provenance, which probably means Sotheby’s were not aware of any. The mystery remains.

IF THE OWNER of this work happens to read this page, I’d be delighted if they contacted me with any information they have. Even details of the framing, labels or marks on the back could give clues to it’s history. All communications are kept in strictest confidence and no personal information about the ownership or location of works in private collections is ever displayed on this web site. Jonathan Russell

One thought on “Seymour Stein and ‘Portrait of a Boy’

  1. Vicky Brazier

    It’s so exciting to read this, Jonathan! I’m still hoping to do more work on the play although it is, like the rest of theatre, on hold for now.


    Note: Vicky has been working on a play about life in a public art gallery, although the covid-19 crisis means everything has had to go on hold.

    Do consider a donation to the Theatre Support Fund (, or buy one of the products from their online shop. They have a fab, limited ‘The Show Must Go On’ T-shirt just now (June 2020).

    Liked by 1 person

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