I am after painting reality impressed on the mind so hard that it returns as a dream, but I am not after painting dreams as such, or fantasy.

George Tooker

Musical Ear, Artistic Eye

Works from the Collection of Seymour Stein

Seymour Stein is co-founder and Chairman of Sire Records, one of the world’s most influential record labels and home to some of the most iconic artists in modern music. He has been Sire’s driving visionary and creative force since its origins in the 1960s as an independent label and its four-decade tenure as part of Warner Music Group. His unique ability to anticipate musical trends, and to discover and sign the greatest artists within those movements, has left an indelible mark on contemporary culture. 

It was in 1955, when he was just 13 years old, that Stein was granted access to the Billboard archives, where he painstakingly transcribed two decades of charts, developing his encyclopedic memory of songs. After high school, he joined the Billboard staff, then worked for King Records and Red Bird Records. He and producer Richard Gottehrer launched Sire Records in 1967. 

Stein and Madonna at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, 1996

Stein first saw the Ramones in 1975 and, as he said, “It was like sticking my hand in a live electric light socket.” The band’s first album was released by Sire in 1976. It remains one of the seminal recordings in rock and roll history. Stein put New Wave music – a term he coined – on the mainstream map with the likes of Talking Heads and the Pretenders. And in a moment that has become a permanent part of music industry lore, Stein signed a young artist named Madonna while he was in the hospital recuperating from a heart infection. Over the years, Sire’s roster has included other cutting-edge artists such as Tom Tom Club, Depeche Mode, The Smiths, The Cure, Ice-T, k.d. lang, Seal, Everything But The Girl, Aztec Camera, Dinosaur Jr., Wilco, My Bloody Valentine, Primal Scream, Aphex Twin, Spacehog, Regina Spektor, Tegan & Sara, and many more. Stein was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005.

In addition to his myriad musical pursuits, Stein developed an impeccable eye for fine and decorative art. His particular love for Art Deco and Art Nouveau design began during his many trips to London and Paris while on the hunt for new bands to sign. With the guidance of his long-time curator and adviser Rodney Richardson, Stein procured only the best examples of ceramics, paintings, drawings, and furniture he could find. We are thrilled to present works from his extraordinary collection and are grateful to him and Rodney for their help, warmth, and good humor.

George Tooker 1920–2011

Born in Brooklyn and raised on Long Island, George Tooker began taking painting lessons at the tender age of seven. He went on to major in English literature at Harvard University as a young man and did not take any fine art courses, though he did study late medieval and early Renaissance painting at the Fogg Art Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. After graduating from Harvard in 1942 he entered Officer Candidate School for a short time prior to moving back to New York, where he enrolled at the prestigious Art Students League and studied with Reginald Marsh, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Harry Sternberg.

Tooker flourished at the Art Students League, meeting fellow student Paul Cadmus and, in turn, artists Jared and Margaret French. It was with Cadmus and French’s encouragement that Tooker adopted egg tempera as his primary medium. They also introduced him to a wide circle of accomplished artists, writers, dancers, and composers, including Lincoln Kirstein, W.H. Auden, and George Platt Lynes. Kirstein’s friendship in particular would have a major impact on Tooker’s career; it was upon Kirstein’s suggestion that Dorothy Miller included Tooker’s work in her Fourteen Americans exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Just a few years later, in 1950, the Whitney Museum of Art acquired one of Tooker’s paintings for their permanent collection. Tooker then held his first solo exhibition in 1951 at the Edwin Hewitt Gallery.

Tooker’s haunting, dreamlike paintings are often compared with Edward Hopper and Andrew Wyeth. He was initially classified as a Magic Realist, a term which he never felt actually applied to him or his art. Rather, he sought to depict everyday scenes of American life in an iconic and unique way. His deep exploration of design and symmetry in his works, combined with the technically difficult medium of egg tempera, led him to produce as little as two paintings each year. In his own words, he saw painting as “an attempt to come to terms with life.”

Tooker continued working for decades, including a solo exhibition at the DC Moore Gallery in 1998 and a traveling retrospective exhibition in 2008-2009. He taught at the Art Students League from 1965 to 1968 and was also involved in the Civil Rights Movement, even taking part in a 1954 march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After the death of his partner, Christopher, in 1973, Tooker converted to Catholicism and became more focused on a life of art and spirituality in the solitude of his Vermont home.

Tooker was the subject of several major exhibitions during his lifetime, including two retrospectives, and he received the National Medal of Arts in 2007 just a few years before his death. His work can be found in many important museum collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Columbus Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Auction Results George Tooker