Written by David M. Brown
Nine D.H. Lawrence paintings seized by Scotland Yard almost a century ago from a London art gallery will be displayed at a ticketed event inside a luxury Paradise Valley home, beginning August 16. Considered obscene by a British law still apparently in effect, the oil paintings, in pastoral, mythological settings, celebrate nudity, physicality and raw sexuality and suggest references to the great English writer’s tempestuous private life.
Known to Lawrence enthusiasts worldwide, the works are the property of Bob Sahd, owner of the RC Gorman Navajo Gallery, 7116 E. Main Street, in Old Town Scottsdale. Sahd owns 15 galleries nationwide specializing in the work of the celebrated Native American artist, who was born in Chinle, Arizona, in 1931. He died in 2005.
The Sahd family have stewarded the Lawrence paintings for decades at their historic Hotel La Fonda in Taos, New Mexico. “The showing in this beautiful Paradise Valley home kicks off a world tour for the artworks,” he says. “We are looking at sharing them with the world.”
Author of novels such as Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1915) and the very controversial, and also once banned, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), as well as short stories, essays and travel books, the globetrotting Lawrence (1885–1930) and wife Frieda visited the thriving arts town 70 miles north of Santa Fe three times during the early 1920s, staying a total of 18 months.
“I would like the paintings to enjoy greater exposure so that more people can experience them,” Sahd says. “We have had people travel from all over the world to see them at La Fonda and have had some offers to purchase them over the years. I just feel that the artwork is so famous because of its illustrious author it would be good for more eyeballs to see them while we still own them.”
“Just as with the resort-style home where we are showing them, the D.H. Lawrence collection has not been seen by many, and we are looking forward to sharing both the paintings and the splendor of this Paradise Valley estate,” says Frank Aazami, RLSIR Brand Ambassador, principal of the Private Client Group, Russ Lyon Sotheby’s International Realty, Scottsdale. “Both are bold in style, rare like no other and so special in many ways. We call them Sotheby’s ‘Private Reserve.’”
Taos Tranquility and the Lash of London
Mabel Dodge Sterne Luhan, the Buffalo, New York, socialite and arts patron, welcomed Lawrence and his wife, Frieda, to her Taos home on September 11, 1922, the author’s 37th birthday. After moving to Taos in 1917, she attracted a group of artists to her circle, including Georgia O’Keeffe and Lady Dorothy Brett.
Lawrence later recalled the life-changing significance of the New Mexico visit: “In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico, one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly and the old world gave way to the new.”
New Mexico and the Southwest were revelations of light and color, a dramatic contrast to his bleak Nottinghamshire, England, mining youth, dark, cold, dreary and smudged with coal dust: “the vast amphitheatre of lofty, indomitable desert . . . What Splendour!”
The eccentric but generous Luhan gifted the Lawrences 176 acres of land 20 miles north of town, the Kiowa Ranch, named for the ancient Native American trail still used by the Taos Pueblo in the area. In return, Frieda gave Mabel the original manuscript of Sons and Lovers.
She later willed the ranch to the University of New Mexico (UNM) as a public memorial to Lawrence, and it has become one of the area’s major attractions, now known as the D.H Lawrence Ranch. Here his ashes, so goes one story, were mixed in with the concrete in an altar of a small chapel honoring the writer.
After leaving Taos, the Lawrences continued to travel extensively and returned to England, where he showed his paintings at the Dorothy Warren Gallery, including the nine being exhibited in Paradise Valley: A Holy Family, Dance Sketch, Fight with Amazon, Flight Back to Paradise, Nymphs and Fauns, Rape of the Sabine, Red Willow Trees, Summer Dawn and The Kiss.
The University of Texas has three others from this exhibition, including Boccaccio Story and Resurrection, at its Humanities Research Centre in Austin. Private collectors have others.
At the time of the show, Lawrence was being closely watched by government, press and public: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, published a year before, was considered obscene under British law because of its ripe vocabulary and frank references to sexual acts.
In fact, it was not until 1960 that the Penguin Books unexpurgated edition appeared in England, and the publisher had to defend it against the standards of the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, which required a demonstration of “literary merit.” Fortunately, distinguished English cultural historians and critics defended the book, including E.M. Forster, Helen Gardner, Raymond Williams and Norman St. John-Stevas. On November 2, Penguin was ruled “not guilty,” widening opportunities for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom.
Soon after the Warren Gallery in London’s upscale Mayfair community opened the exhibition, Scotland Yard seized thirteen of the twenty-five paintings following a complaint filed by one of the approximately 13,000 viewers who came out to see them. Although prominent citizens defended the works, they were returned to Lawrence with a warning to remove them from England or risk their destruction.
Hearing of this, Mabel Luhan brought nine of them to Taos for safekeeping.
Although Lawrence is not remembered for his painting, it provided great pleasure, beginning in 1926. Apparently, Maria Huxley, wife of author Aldous Huxley (Brave New World, 1931) gave him four canvases, and Lawrence continued to paint until he died of tuberculosis in Vence, France, on March 1, 1930.
After his death, Frieda returned to Taos with her lover Angelo Ravagli, with whom she had been having an affair since the middle 1920s. They married in 1950. When Frieda died six years later, in August of 1956, her estate, including the Lawrence paintings to be displayed in Paradise Valley, passed to Ravagli.
He, in turn, sold them to Taos art lover Saki Karavas, the owner of Hotel La Fonda. A fan of D. H. Lawrence who owned several first editions of his works, Karavas had shaped the property into an arts center where people such as Ernest Blumenshein, Bert Phillips and other members of Taos Society of Artists met regularly and displayed their works. Karavas, the “Don Juan of Taos,” also knew Frieda, Mabel Dodge Luhan and other women in the arts circle.
When the Sahds acquired the hotel in 1996, the paintings passed with the property.
Art in Residential Artistry
Ten years in design and building guided by master architect Juan Sandoval, the five-bedroom, seven-bedroom Italian Villa, 8100 North 68th Street, is influenced by the Getty Villa outside Rome and combines 17th- and 18th-century Palladian styles with modern touches. Located at the Camelback Golf Club, the home features a layout based on a two-acre octagon wrapping expansive courtyardlike space.
Some of the many hand-crafted spaces and details include a grand loggia surrounding two courtyards; a 60-foot-by-60-foot hand-tiled mosaic heated salt water pool with a capacity of 150,000 gallons; Venetian-plastered walls; and book-matched marble floors. More than 300 rosebushes have been integrated into the landscaping.
“Unlike any other property on the Valley market, this home was designed as a personal resort and lives indoor/outdoor, in step with the Arizona lifestyle,” Aazami says. “All of it is built around ‘mass,’ ‘quality’ and ‘longevity.’ This timeless home will outlive multiple generations.”
Aazami and his Russ Lyon Sotheby’s team will be placing the nine paintings throughout the estate next to a story describing each piece. The ticket price for this showing is $500 a person with a group discount available.
“In this way, our guests can enjoy both the works and the exquisite architecture, craftsmanship and finishes of this outstanding home,” he says. “Like a silent auction, we’ll welcome undisclosed offers for the forbidden collection.” Any proceeds of art sales are the owner’s, not Russ Lyon Sotheby’s, Aazami notes.
Sahd has always enjoyed the paintings with their distraught actions and scenes and emotional intensity. “They seem to reveal self-portraits of Lawrence,” he says, “and we are hoping that showing them may encourage a revival of interest in one of the great writers of the 20th-century, who helped change our way of looking at human relationships.”
This superlative Paradise Valley home is offered at $18,000,000. A video is at pcgagents.com/8100N68thSt. To schedule a visit, please call or text Frank Aazami, 480.266.0240, or email, frank@pcgAgents.com.