By Carter B. Horsley
This American Art auction at
follows the morning auction of the Collection of Rita and Daniel
Fraad (see The City Review article).
Although the two auctions have separate catalogues, they share
the same sale number.
While the earlier Fraad auction
was full of
many important paintings, particularly realist works from around
the turn of the 20th Century, this auction has a larger selection
of earlier landscape works as well as more modern paintings.
This auction is highlighted by
and historically important, small Western landscape by Albert
Bierstadt (1830-1902), a large, early landscape by Thomas Cole
(1801-1848), a fine winter scene by George Henry Durrie (1820-1863),
a rare "squirrel" painting by Joseph Decker (1853-1924),
a good urban pond painting by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916),
an important work by George deForest Brush (1855-1941) and a fine
Indian scene by George Catlin (1796-1872).
The Bierstadt landscape, Lot
in California (California Scenery, Sunset View)," is small
but everything you could want in a great Bierstadt: a sumptuous
sunset, a glorious scene with a waterfall and cliffs in the distance
and foreground details, all bathed in exquisite light. An oil
on board, it measures only 12 by 18 inches and is dated 1864,
the artist's prime period. It was painted during the artist's
first trip to Yosemite Valley and the catalogue notes that it
"is a luminous example of the atmospheric landscapes that
earned Bierstadt the reputation as one of America's most distinguished
19th Century artists."
Louis Prang (1824-1909)
published a chromolithograph
of this painting in 1868. The artist, according to the catalogue,
was abroad when his only known American chromolithograph appeared.
In the 1991 catalogue accompanying the "Albert Bierstadt:
Art & Enterprise" exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of
Art, the following commentary about this painting and its
"The chromo's very success
downfall, however. By so deliberately imitating painting, chromos
sometimes fooled the eye. When Prang's chromo was exhibited alongside
Bierstadt's painting of Sunset in California,
sometimes could not distinguish between the two. This confusion,
along with the proliferation of poorer-quality examples, led to
a rather rapid disillusionment with the process. Increasingly,
critics called chromas cheap, superficial copies that detracted
from all the good that art was said to effect. Ironically, almost
as soon as technical achievements permitted the lithograph to
replicate oil paintings successfully, critics rejected the process.
The fine-art chromolithograph, reproducing the work of critically
received artists, died out almost at birth. Although Louis Prang
continued to publish his excellent series of reproductions after
some American artists into the 1890s, by the early 1870s Bierstadt
and others had backed away from the process because of its increasingly
This lot has a very
conservative estimate of
$250,000 to $300,000. The catalogue notes that "there was
a 1 3/4-by-8-inch area of loss in the foreground that was repainted
by a conservator replicated the chromolithograph in the Library
of Congress. It sold for $1,072,000 including the buyer's
as do all the results mentioned in this article.
George Henry Durrie is famous
for his bucolic
scenes of Connecticut farms and villages, usually in winter. Lot
79 is a prime example of his charming compositions and delightful
palette that would become famous through Currier and Ives
Entitled "Seven Miles to Farmington," this work is an
oil on canvas that measures 26 by 36 inches and is dated 1855.
It has been consigned as property of the Collection of Mr. and
Mrs. Walter M. Jeffords. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.
It sold for $1,128,000.
Thomas Cole is America's most
painter not only because he "founded" the Hudson River
School of landscape painting but also because he had spectacular
visions that led him to create at least two very memorable, imaginative
and original series of paintings, one famously known as "The
Voyage of Life" and another as "The Course of Empire."
His first painting foray into the Catskills resulted in a marvelous
group of very dramatic mountain landscapes executed in the late
1820s, unpopulated scenes usually in the aftermath of turbulent
weather and usually with a prominent foreground broken tree trunk.
Most of these works, all very consistent in style and execution,
were about 29 by 36 inches. This painting, which is unsigned which
is unusual for Cole, is an oil on canvas that measures 38 by 48
The catalogue provides the
"At the time Autumn
rediscovered in the mid-1970s, Ellwood C. Parry III wrote, 'In
my opinion, [it] is one of the most impressive American landscapes
from Thomas Cole's early period (1825-1829) to have come onto
the market in a long time. Moreover, besides the fact that it
shows a most impressive New England landscape composition in full
Fall coloring, it is also one of the largest American views Cole
produced in his early style...a magnificent clear sky is one of
the painting's major charms, along with its stillness and tranquility.
That tranquility, on the other hand, has a special emotional edge
to it. No doubt, it is evening sunset which floods across the
picture space at an angle from the left distance to the right
foreground. But as it does so, it silhouettes the pyramidal peak,
it dramatizes the stark and dominating tree trunk, leaning away
from the source of the light, and it forces the viewer's eye to
encounter the solitary figure whose pose is obviously modeled
on Durer's Melancholia. Like a number of other
figures in British and American paintings of this period, this
young man seems world-weary as well as physically tired. Yet the
warm sunlight and the suggested refreshment of the waterfall suggest
regeneration, even as the vegetation turns from green to autumnal
splendor just before the onslaught of winter. Neverthless, the
spot chosen seems deliberately remote from any human settlement
or sign of civilization with all its corruptions. The underlying
mood is melancholy, while praising the sublime beauty of the wilderness
Well, Cole's focus is almost
always on "the
sublime beauty of the wilderness," and his mountain landscapes
almost invariably employed very strong diagonal motifs. His tree
trunks, however, almost always are broken and bent, not erect,
at least in works of his maturity. The painting style in this
work is goopy like a few other supposedly very early works attributed
to him, all of which seem highly inconsistent with his "mature"
style that is dramatically finer. Artists, of course, change styles
and their styles evolve but the literature does not seem to comment
on so drastic a change as these "early" works indicate.
Furthermore, if the work is correctly dated 1827-8, it is in distinct
contrast with the style manifested in his masterpieces from the
same years. It may be a considerably earlier work by Cole, or
it may be a work by a different artist who was familiar with his
This lot has an estimate of
$700,000 to $900,000.
It sold for $652,000.
Several good works in this
auction have been
consigned by the CIGNA Museum and Art Collection. One of them
is Lot 87, "Mounts Adam and Eve," by Jasper Francis
Cropsey (1823-1900). An oil on canvas, it measures 18 1/4 by 36
1/4 inches and is dated 1884. It has a modest estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. It sold for $276,800. While it is not
spectacular as some of Cropsey's autumnal scenes, it is a very
satisfying composition and a classic Hudson River School work.
A very fine "Autumn
by Jervis McEntee (1828-1891), Lot 108, sold for $288,000, more
than four times its high pre-sale estimate. The oil on canvas
measures 29 3/4 by 54 1/4 inches and is dated 1867. It was also
consigned by CIGNA.
Lot 106 is a very fresh and
on paper by Winslow Homer (1836-1910). Entitled "Boys in
a Boat," it measures 9 3/4 by 13 1/4 inches and is dated
1880. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for
$736,000. "Boys in a Boat," the catalogue
correctly observes, "reflects Homer's increased preoccupation
with technical concerns and experimental methods than perhaps
the narrative potential of his chosen subject matter."
Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) is
one of the great
19th Century American masters whose genre paintings are not as
impressionistic and romantic as Homer's nor as proficient and
beguiling as William Sidney Mount's, but have an indelibility
that reflects the artist's earnest and long preoccupations with
his subject matters. Some of his most famous series are maple-syrup
gathering, picking cranberries and corn-husking. This oil on board
is entitled "At The Camp - Spinning Yarns and Whittling"
and measures 19 by 23 inches. It was executed circa 1864-6 and
was once in the well-known collection of J. William Middendorf
II. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for
This auction includes numerous
from the collection of Pierre Bergé.
Lot 134 is a very dramatic
Western scene entitled
"The Indian's Last Gaze," by Jesse Talbot (1806-1879).
An oil on canvas that measures 22 by 27 inches, it was painted
in 1860. It was acquired by Pierre Bergé, the consignor
of the lot, in 1978 from Lee B. Anderson, who began collecting
American paintings in the early 1950s. Not much is known about
Talbot, but the sky here is as good as those by Church and Bierstadt.
This lot has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for
Lot 135 is a superb scene
Encampment" by George Catlin. An oil on canvas, it measures
19 by 26 1/2 inches. It was acquired directly from the artist
by Leopold I, House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, King of Belgium, in
1859. It was subsequently given to the Royal Ontario Museum in
Toronto by Sir Edmund Osler of Toronto. Eventually it was acquired
from M. Knoedler & Co., by Pierre Bergé of New York.
It has a very modest estimate of $50,000 to $80,000. Catlin, of
course, is best known for his early portraits of Indian leaders,
but his scenes of their lives and hunts and encampments are freer
in their composition and have a more informal and more engaging
painting style. This is one of the very best. It sold for
The cover illustration of the
Lot 136, "The Indian and the Lily," an oil on canvas
by George de Forest Brush. This painting is deceptive as it looks
monumental despite the fact that it only measures 21 by 20 inches.
Executed in 1887, it has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
It sold for $4,824,000.
The catalogue provides the
about this work:
"In 1881, a young George de
traveled west with his brother to the Crow reservation in Montana.
While there, Brush documented all aspects of Indian life and,
according to a first-hand account, immersed himself in Indian
culture, participating in and at times leading ritualistic ceremonies
and dances. Chief Plenty Coups allegedly said that Brush was the
'only white man who could walk and think like an Indian.' Based
on his four or five year sojourn out west, Brush painted a series
of works depicting life on the Crow and other reservations, some
of which were featured as illustrations in Harper's
The Century Magazine. Unlike chroniclers of the
West such as George Catlin and Karl Bodmer, Brush progressively
adopted a more idealistic approach. In 1885, the artist wrote,
'In choosing Indians as as subjects for art, I do not paint form
the historian's or the antiquary's point of view; I do not care
to present them in any curious habits which could not be comprehended
by us; I am interested in those habits and deeds in which we have
feelings in common. Therfore, I hesitate to add any interests
here to my pictures by supplying historical facts. If I were required
to resort to this in order to bring out the poetry, I would drop
the subjet at once.'"
This is another property from
who had acquired it from Hirschl & Adler in 1977.
two good Indian portraits by Charles Bird King (1785-1862). Lot
137 was of "Ottoe Half Chief, Husband of Eagle of Delight."
An oil on panel it measures 18 by 14 1/2 inches and was painted
circa 1821-2. It had an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 and sold
Joseph Decker is a still-life
favorite subject was Bonnie, his pet squirrel. Dr. William H.
Gerdts, the estimable art critic and expert, is quoted in the
catalogue as maintaining that Decker painted about six paintings
of his pet squirrel. In a letter to the consignor, Dr. Gerdts
noted that "your picture ranks up there with the best of
Decker's work," adding that "It suggests not only Decker's
knowledge and understanding of the animal, but his affection for
it, creating an environment congenial to the squirrel and one
with a plentiful bounty even within its humble realm.'" The
lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It failed to sell.
About a quarter of a century ago, Kennedy Galleries in New York
had a lovely squirrel painting that was more square in composition
and it was then priced at about $20,000.
Lot 164 is a very good scene of
a woman rowing
on a lake in Prospect Park, Brooklyn by William Merritt Chase.
An oil on panel that measures 8 1/2 by 13 inches, it was painted
circa 1886. It is quite lovely and these park scenes among Chase's
best work. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It
for $568,000. Another scene of a woman in a rowboat in
Park is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The total of the sale,
including the Fraad
properties, came to $107,855,400, a quite phenomenal figure.