By Carter B. Horsley
This December 3, 2008 auction
of American Paintings
at Sotheby's is highlighted by a large selection of fine works
from the collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz Jr.
Oneof the most striking and
beautiful of the
Ganz paintings is Lot 9, "Sunrise at Tappan Zee," an
oil on canvas by Francis A. Silva (1835-1886). It measures 20
by 36 inches and was painted in 1874. It has an estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,000,000. It sold for $2,658,500 including the buyer's
premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
Although the sale had
quite a high percentage
of buy-ins, many of the works that sold were auctioned at the
high end of their pre-auction estimates. The auction's total was
$25,509,375. Dara Mitchell, executive vice president and head
of Sotheby's American Paintings department, said after the sale
that less than 60 percent of the offered lots sold, adding that
the sale demonstrated that "the market is in a process of
price recalibration." "The sale certainly confirms that
we need to be nimble in adapting to a continuing changing economic
It was acquired by the Ganzs in
1975 from Hirschl
& Adler Galleries in New York and it and many of the other
Ganz works in this auction were included in a major traveling
art exhibition in 1981 and 1982 that was shown at the National
Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Amon Carter Museum in
Fort Worth, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It was also
illustrated in an article on Silva in Antiques
in 1980 by John I. H. Baur and was included in a major exhibition
on Silva in 2002 at the Berry-Hill Galleries in New York.
The catalogue provides the
about this lot:
"Before the onset of the Civil
Silva apprenticed under a local commercial painter in New York
City, where he spent his days decorating signs, fire wagons and
stage coaches. In 1861, Silva enlisted in a New York militia regiment,
rising to the rank of Captain in the 1st New York Volunteer Infantry.
Before the war's end in 1865 Silva's military service brought
him to Lynn, a town on the northeastern coast of Massachusetts,
where he served as steward of an Army hospital. In 1867, Silva
returned to New York and opened his first studio, launching his
professional painting career. Evidently inspired by his time in
Massachusetts, Silva traveled along the New England and mid-Atlantic
coastlines throughout the warm summer months executing sketches
that he would later develop into finished works in his studio.
Silva exhibited regularly at prestigious New York institutions
including the National Academy of Design and the Brooklyn Academy
of Art, garnering a reputation as one of the country's important
"The term 'luminism' was not
to the movement itself; it was coined by historian John I. H.
Baur in 1954 to describe the 'particularly American consciousness
of light and atmosphere in mid-nineteenth century landscape painting'
(John Wilmerding, American Light: The Luminist Movement, 1850-1875,
1989, p. 12). Among the movement's chief characteristics are an
insistence on an expansive, horizontal composition, cool, gleaming
light, and a smooth surface notable for its absence of brushstrokes,
all of which culminate in a hyper-real image that is neither
nor impressionistic. The meticulous realism of luminist canvases
creates a sense that time has stood still, bringing the viewer
into what Barbara Novak describes as 'a wordless dialogue with
nature' (Nature and Culture: American Landscape and Painting,
1825-1875, 1980, p. 29). Certain proto-luminist tendencies can
be found as far back as the radiant landscapes of Washington Allston
in the early nineteenth century, and ranging through some late
works by the Hudson River School artist Thomas Cole, in which
he focused on open compositions and the brilliant effects of light.
The gleaming, utterly luminist landscapes of artists such as Sanford
Robinson Gifford, Martin Johnson Heade, and Francis Silva would
come to define what has been deemed 'the central movement in American
art through the middle of the nineteenth century' Portfolio, vol.
1, no. 2, June-July 1979, p. 20).
"Between 1871 and 1876 Silva
the dramatic Hudson River vistas between Haverstraw and the Tappan
Zee, with varying points of view and under a variety of light
and weather conditions. Sunrise at Tappan Zee
eponymous location where the river swells to its widest breadth,
extending approximately three miles across and ten miles long,
flanked by the steep bluffs of Palisades Ridge and the Hudson
Valley. The area derives its name from the Tappan, a Native American
tribe, and the Dutch word zee meaning a sea or wide expanse of
water. Here, on calm days, the Hudson assumes a lake-like appearance
that permits the rugged contours of the land to be seen from a
"Silva favored the dramatic
floods the river scene at early morning and sunset. The diffuse
light in earlier works such as On the Hudson near
(1872, Terra Museum of American Art) eventually gave way to a
more crystalline, precise luminosity that can be seen in Sunrise
at Tappan Zee. The low, rising sun highlights the white sails
of several almost-becalmed vessels and tints the entire scene
with a subtle range of pastel shades. With delicate tonal modulations
of intense, yet cool hues of pink, yellow, and blue Silva creates
a pervasive illumination that unifies the entire surface of the
"Sunrise at Tappan Zee also
key feature of luminism - the imperceptible brushstroke. The scene
is so precisely rendered, particularly the minute ripples on the
river's surface and the intricate rigging on the ships, that it
is easy to overlook Silva's participation. As Barbara Novak has
explained: 'The more that the artist's self, embedded in the
of the stroke, occupies our attention, the less we are dealing
with the selfless image of luminism ...We can also say that stroke,
carrying action, implies sound. A key correlative of luminism
is silence ...luminist silence, in the repose of inaction, represents
not a void but a palpable space, in which everything happens while
nothing does' (American Light, p. 27-28)."
Another fine Silva painting,
through one not
quite so stunnning, is Lot 146, "October on the Hudson,"
an oil on canvas that measures 20 by 36 inches. It was painted
in 1875. It has a modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000.
It failed to sell.
The catalogue entry for this
lot provides the
"In October on the
has captured a fleeting moment when the sun has just dipped below
the western Catskills but still is reflected in the atmosphere.
Sailboats glide across cool autumnal waters approaching the eastern
shore. Mark D. Mitchell writes, 'By far the most famous of Silva's
themes from this early period was not formal, but geographic:
the Hudson River...his Hudson River scenes are his most charming
and effective early works...The correspondence between the Hudson
River and the quality of these paintings is virtually inexplicable,
as they stand apart aesthetically from his other work of the early
1870's. Perhaps the phenomenon is best explained simply as a
consequence of time and geography of Silva's concurrent artistic
maturation as awareness of his Hudson River School predecessors
on their turf" (Francis A. Silva: In his Own Light, New York,
2002, pp.33-34). John I.H. Baur first coined the term 'Luminism'
in 1954 to distinguish a group of Hudson River School artists,
including Francis Silva, Martin Johnson Heade, Fitz Henry Lane,
among others, for their particularly American consciousness of
the effects of light and atmosphere. Barbara Novak, whose seminal
publication American Painting of the 19th Century, broke ground
in the discussion of luminism, stated that the movement fostered
'some of the nineteenth century's most profound thoughts on nature,'
offering the spectator 'an irresistible invitation in terms of
empathy' which 'brought the nineteenth century as close as it
could come to silence and void.' She continued, 'Luminist light
tends to be cool, not hot, hard not soft, palpable rather than
fluid, planar rather than atmospherically diffuse. Luminist light
radiates, gleams, and suffuses on a different frequency than
light...Air cannot circulate between the particles of matter that
comprise luminist light" (Nature and Culture, London, 1980,
pp. 18, 29)."
Another major work from the
is Lot 13, "Riva - Lago di Garda," by Sanford Robinson
Gifford (1823-1880). An oil on canvas, it measures 10 3/4 by 17
inches and is dated 1863. The Ganzs acquired it in 1976 from the
Vose Galleries of Boston. It has a modest estimate of $200,000
to $300,000. It sold for $242,500. It has been
including the 2003-4 traveling exhibition on Gifford that was
shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Amon Carter Museum
and that National Gallery of Art.
In "Hudson River School
(2004), the catalogue notes that Franklin Kelly wrote that "Gifford's
meticulous recording of the buildings makes a number of them easily
identifiable, including the tall structure at the left, Torre
di Apponale, which was built in 1220 for defense of the town and
later raised in height and extensively modified [into a clocktower].
At the far right is the multi-towered castle known as the Rocca,
first constructed in the twelfth century and renovated and enlarged
several times since. Seen between these two, but slightly further
inland, is the south flank of the church of Santa Maria Assunta,
begun in the early twelfth century but completely redecorated
Another Ganz Gifford is Lot 5,
Beach," an oil on canvas that measures 9 by 19 1/2 inches.
It is dated 1867 and has an estimate of $750,000 to $1,000,000.
It sold for $602,500. It
from Hirschl & Adler Galleries in 1998.
"Of all the Hudson River School
Sanford Gifford was one of the few who was actually native to
the Hudson River Valley. Born in Greenfield, Saratoga County,
New York, Gifford's family was fairly well off, unlike most of
his peers; his father was a joint owner of a highly successful
iron foundry. Gifford attended Brown University for two years
before deciding to become an artist. Unlike Church, Gifford never
studied with Thomas Cole, and unlike Albert Bierstadt, he never
attended one of the great art academies of Europe. Rather, he
studied in New York with drawing master John Rubens Smith, and
attended drawing classes at the National Academy of Design, where
he worked from plaster casts.
"Gifford's earliest efforts
portraiture, but by the mid 1840s, his attention turned to landscapes.
Reflecting on this time he wrote in a letter to O.B. Frothingham
on November 6, 1874: 'During the summer of 1846 I made several
pedestrian tours in the Catskill Mts., and the Berkshire Hills,
and made a good many sketches from nature. These studies, together
with the great admiration I felt for the works of Cole, developed
a strong interest in landscape art, and opened my eyes to a keener
perception and more intelligent enjoyment of nature. Having once
enjoyed the absolute freedom of the landscape artist's life, I
was unable to return to portrait painting. From this time my direction
in art was determined.'
"Cole's death in 1848 was
a large retrospective exhibition of his work at the American Art-Union.
Though it is not known if Gifford attended the exhibition, it
is likely that he did; indeed many of his early paintings recall
Cole's work, particularly his choice of the Catskill Mountains
as a subject. Gifford's work, however, was more fundamentally
rooted in and inspired by his direct observations from nature
than Cole's often literary or historical scenes. Gifford generally
made small, quick pencil sketches to record his immediate impressions
and these, along with his small oil studies, served as a point
of departure for his larger studio compositions.
"Long Branch Beach
fresh eloquence of a sketch from nature with the evocative subtlety
and technical assurance of the finest studio painting. Executed
in 1867, when he spent the summer on the New Jersey coast, Gifford
completed the work during a period in which he had begun to move
away from the prototypical landscapes of the Hudson River School,
and focus his efforts on the tranquil and luminous views of river
and coastal scenery.
"In the exhibition catalogue, Hudson
River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford,
Franklin Kelly writes: 'It is not known why Gifford chose to visit
Long Branch and to depict it in several works. The younger Winslow
Homer went there two years later, perhaps on the suggestion of
his employer, Harper's Weekly, which published two wood engravings
by him of Long Branch subjects. In Homer's prints, as in the one
oil known to have resulted from the experience (Long Branch, New
Jersey, 1869, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), figures are featured
prominently. Homer seems to have been emphasizing one of the most
remarked-upon aspects of Long Branch's social makeup - namely
its democratic character...If Gifford was similarly interested
in the details of American modern life, his painting hardly suggests
it. Instead of the elegantly dressed men and women who promenade
so prominently in Homer's images, the figures in Gifford's painting
are far off in the middle distance, making it difficult to distinguish
them as anything more than individuals, let alone to determine
their social class.'
"Unlike Homer's figures,
to be fishermen working on their nets, the angular huts which
recall Homer's bathhouses may be icehouses - places for the fishermen
to temporarily store their catch. Gifford's extremely technical
composition makes it clear, however, that the men and their occupation
are secondary to his interest in the shoreline. He creates a deep
sense of receding space under a vast expanse of sky, using every
detail and component of the scene to create perfect linear perspective
and recession toward a single vanishing point.
"Gifford painted several views
New Jersey coast that summer, including two similar canvasses,
a larger version of this work (Long Branch Beach,
Museum of Art, Pennsylvania State University), and Sunrise
on the Sea-Shore (unlocated), which is listed as one of
'chief pictures.' The latter is described in Henry Tuckerman's
1867 Book of the Artists as 'masterly, depicting
and sky as they appear at sunrise from the low shores of New Jersey
at Long Branch, with no accessories - bare, solitary, base, elemental
nature – with such truth in wave and air, in strand and horizon,
in light and perspective as to captivate the eye, as the long
sea-shore itself does in its sublime reality.'"
Another landscape from the Ganz
is Lot 6, "On the Meadows of Old Newburyport," a watercolor
and gouache on paper that measures 13 by 36 inches and was painted
in 1873. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It failed
to sell. It was acquired from Hirschl & Adler
in 1969. The catalogue notes that A similar version of this work
in oil entitled Hunter in the Meadows of Old Newburyport,
Massachusetts is in the Thyssen-Bornemisza
The Ganz selection also
includes some still
life and genre paintings. Lot 11, for example, is a superb still
life by John F. Francis (1808-1886) that is entitled "StillLife:
Yellow Apples and Chestnuts Spilling From a Basket." An oil
on canvas, it measures 25 by 30 inches and is dated 1856. It has
an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $374,500.
Lot 1 is one of Albert
Bierstadt's small butterfly
paintings. also from the Ganz collection. An oil and pencil on
paper, it measures 6 by 8 inches and is dated 1890. It has an
estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $50,000.
In his 1974 book, "Albert
of the Ameican West," Gordon Hendricks provided the following
commentary about Bierstadt's butterflies:
"Bierstadt's guests were often
with delightful souvenirs from his hand. In Nassau these were
little seashells with a few strokes of paint inside; in New York
they were the famous 'Bierstadt butterflies.' His technique in
charming the ladies with little Bierstadts of their own was described
in 1892 by the lady reporter who had been titillated by the artist's
New York 'afternoon':
'We women were so glad we were
women that afternoon,
for Mr. Bierstadt presented each lady with a souvenir. This is
how he made them. We all clustered about the table and he took
out a palette, a knife and some large slips of cartridge paper.
Two or three daubs of pigment on the paper, a quick fold, and
holding it still folded against a pane of glass, he made two or
three strokes of that wizard-like palette knife on the outside,
and hey, presto! a wonderful Brazilian butterfly or moth, even
the veining on the wings complete! A pencil touch added the antennae,
that artist's autograph was added to the corner, and now we each
of us own a painting by Bierstadt'"
One of the better genre
paintings in the Ganz
group is Lot 24, "Girl with a Lute," by Elihu Vedder,
(1836-1923). An oil on paper, it measures 16 by 9 1/4 inches and
is dated 1866. It has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It
sold for $31,250. It was acquired from Berry-Hill Galleries
in 1974 and previously had been in the collections of Mr. and
Mrs. Jacob M. Kaplan of New York and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A.
Fleischman of Detroit.
Lot 4, another Ganz property,
is a wistful
girl resting by a tree by John George Brown (1831-1913), an oil
on canvas that measures 18 by 12 1/4 inches. Painted in 1866,
it has an estimate of $100,00 to $150,000. It sold for
It was once in the colllection of Lee B. Anderson of New York.
Another fine Ganz genre picture
is Lot 14,
"Making Believe," by Seymour Joseph Guy (1824-1910).
An oil on canvas, it measures 15 by 12 inches and is dated 1870.
This work is a later version of the artist's Making a Train
(1867, Philadelphia Museum of Art) and probably includes the same
model, the artist's daughter Anna, who would have been twelve
at the time Guy finished this painting. It sold for $92,500.
The auction includes many fine
works not from
the Ganz collection.
Lot 142 is a fine and typical
painting of the
Labrador coast by William Bradford (1823-1892). An oil on canvas
that measures 18 by 30 inches, the catalogue states that it is
possibly dated 1871. It has an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000.
It failed to sell.
The catalogue entry provides
commentary by Richard Kugler and Frederick P. Walkey from a 1969
"As an artist, the most
of Bradford's career lies in his long pursuit of the peculiar
qualities that light and color assume in the atmosphere of the
high northern latitudes. In this vast frozen world, with its
sunsets, its play of light on pack ice and berg, its bleak colors,
Bradford found substance for the paintings that gained him fame
in his own lifetime. Not by accident, his single-minded quest
'to study Nature under the terrible aspects of the frigid zone'
matched a 'polar passion' that had seized the imagination of the
Anglo-American world in the decade of the 1850s. Out of this Victorian
fascination with a succession of expeditions - some in search
of the lost fleet of Sir John Franklin, others seeking passage
through an open polar sea - Bradford emerges as the Arctic's most
creative and enduring chronicler"
is a very fine autumn
lake scene by Jervis McEntee (1828-1891). An oil on canvas, it
measures 12 by 24 inches and was executed in 1864. It has a modest
estimate of $25,000 to $25,000. It sold for $83,500.
Lot 28 is a 1811 oil on canvas
by Thomas Birch
(1779-1851) of "The Battery and Harbor, New York." It
measures 28 3/4 by 40 3/4 inches and is property from the Glen
S. Foster Trust. It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It
sold for $482,500. It was once in the collection of The
Gallery in New York.
"Thomas Birch, one of the early
leading artists, began his career as a portraitist, producing
both full-size paintings and miniatures, but by 1806 had shifted
his focus to maritime subjects. By the end of the eighteenth century,
seascapes had become increasingly popular with citizens of a young
country whose lifeblood was maritime commerce. Birch specialized
in both marine portraiture and topographic scenes of the bustling
commercial cities along the mid-Atlantic coast, particularly New
York and his hometown Philadelphia....Birch's canvas is a brilliant
depiction of Battery Park (also known as Battery Walk), named
for the gun batteries that had once been located there. The park
had been developed in 1805 as 'a crescent shaped piece of ground
of about ten acres' that offered New Yorkers a place to stroll
along the busy waterfront. Birch's
includes portents that the city was bracing itself for the looming
war with Great Britain. In addition to a naval officer, Birch
also depicts Castle Williams, one of four forts completed in 1811
to protect New York's harbor against a naval attack. Castle Williams,
dubbed by locals as the 'Cheese Box' because of its circular shape,
was located just off the Battery on Governor's Island, and was
a state-of-the-art structure. Its red sandstone walls were forty
feet high and eight feet thick; three tiers of guns were positioned
to fire on enemy ships. In preparation for war, New Yorkers tore
down the three-railed wooden fence near the small beach at the
water's edge and replaced it with a stone posted iron railing
along with substantial earthworks. The presence of the wooden
fence in Birch's scene helps to date the scene, as it was replaced
sometime after October of 1811."
Lot 29 is a charming and very
fine genre painting
by Thomas Waterman Wood (1823-1913) that is entitled "When
We Were Boys Together." An oil on canvas, it measures 28
by 22 inches and is dated 1881. It was formerly in the collection
of the Union League of Philadelphia and the Berry Hill Galleries
of New York. It has an estimate of $125,000 to $175,000. It
sold for $122,500.
One of the most beautiful works
in the auction
is a small watercolor and gouache on paper by Oscar Bluemner
entitled "Railroad Tracks (Cityscape with Sun)." It
measures 4 3/4 by 6 1/4 inches and was painted in 1927. It has
a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 137 is a very lovely
gouache and pencil
on paper of sailboats executed circa 1880 by Winslow Homer (1836-1910).
It measures 8 1/4 by 13 1/2 inches. It has a modest estimate of
$80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $242,500. It is
of St. John's College in Annapolis.
Another Homer is Lot 140,
an oil on canvas that measures 15 3/4 by 22 3/4 inches. It is
dated 1874 and has an ambitious estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.
It is property of the Plainfield (N.J.) Public Library. It
failed to sell.
The catalogue entry includes
"When Homer made his first trip
Neck, Maine to visit his newlywed younger brother Arthur Benson
Homer in 1875, he continued with boys and boats as subject matter,
but shifted to a more mature model. Although Winding Line is dated
1874, Abigail Gerdts notes it was more likely painted during the
1875 visit to Maine. His model, a young man, wears an oilskin
hat, fishing waders and boots, and appears to be the same figure
in other 1875 works such as A Fish Story (Private collection),
Sunset (National Gallery of Art), and Looking Out (Mr. and Mrs.
Paul Mellon Collection). Most convincing is a description of the
paintings in Homer's studio – the result of his 1875 summer's
work – reported in the Appletons' Journal of November 6,
1875: 'A visit to Mr. Winslow Homer's studio a few days ago showed
us about twenty important studies as the result of his summer
vacation. Of these, eight are large paintings in oils.... Looking
over the pictures, the visitor finds that Mr. Homer has made great
use of some half-dozen models which he has arranged and grouped
in a variety of ways .... Another subject is the very picturesque
figure of a young fisher-boy, who left his nets for a good
to devote his time to the business of posing for Mr. Homer. In
one of the pictures, in which this boy appears, he is sitting
upon the edge of a broad, round-keeled boat that has been drawn
upon a pebbly beach, beyond which the blue seawater is dancing
in a small cove. In another sketch, taken just after sunset, this
fisherboy again appears in his boat, which has floated up one
of the little channels so characteristic of salt marshes in the
neighborhood of the sea.'"
One of the auction's most
is Lot 160, "The Chrysanthemum Show," by Abbott Fuller
Graves (1859-1936). An oil on canvas, it measures 38 by 65 1/2
inches and was painted in 1886. It has a very modest estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $134,500. This
is simultaneously very grand and very intimate and is it also
very nicely painted. It has been widely published.
The catalogue provides this
to the work:
"Because it successfully
of both genre and still life, The Chrysanthemum Show
an innovative image for its time. The painting depicts the annual
exhibition of chrysanthemums that was held in November 1886 in
Boston's Horticutural Hall, which was then located on Tremont
Street. In January of 1887 Graves brought the painting to the
Boston Art Club for the organization's thirty-fifth annual exhibition.
During a preview of the show, Graves realized that his work had
been "skied" or placed in the inconsequential area at
the top of the wall. Furious, Graves procured a ladder and removed
his painting, leaving the empty frame hanging on the wall. He
resigned from the club before being expelled for violating the
rules about the removal of artwork. Afterward, Graves exhibited
his painting at the Cowles Art School where he taught classes.
Due to the controversy, the empty frame was one of the most popular
attractions at the Boston Art Club's exhibition. The painting
itself drew considerable interest and widespread critical praise."
Lot 162 is a very fine pastel
on paper portrait
of a woman by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938). It measures 14
1/2 by 11 inches. Itisproperty from the collection of Karin Dewing
Papp. It has an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It failed
Lot 163 is a sensational and
very unusual pastel
on paper by Maurice B. Prendergast (1858-1924) who is best known
for his very colorful watercolors and somewhat darker oil paintings.
Entitled "Sunset, Boston," it measures 20 by 11 inches
and was executed circa 1895-6. It rivals the finest work of Gustav
Klimt in its dazzling and very bright and very rich palette. It
has a modest estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It failed to
The catalogue provides the
"Maurice Prendergast completed
Boston shortly after the artist returned from a four year sojourn
in Paris, where he had gone in 1891 to acquire his first formal
training in art. His experience there transformed him from a gifted
amateur into a polished professional who had absorbed multiple
influences, especially the bright hues and quick brushwork of
the Impressionists. Upon his return, Prendergast painted views
that featured the city at play, and he was one of the first artists
to portray contemporary Bostonians taking advantage of the city's
new parks and pleasure grounds. One popular destination was the
new Marine Park located at the far eastern edge of South Boston.
On Sunday's in particular, the park, which featured a grand serpentine
pier that extended out into the bay, attracted thousands of Bostonians
who sought the fresh air, sunshine, and the opportunity to stroll
in public dressed in their finest attire. In the mid-1890s Prendergast
painted a series of works featuring the pier and the waterside
promenade in Marine Park....In Sunset, Boston the
afternoon sun has begun to dip below Boston's city skyline, which
is silhouetted in a deep blue shade. The setting sun, depicted
as an orange disk, is reflected on the surface of the bay. Prendergast
incorporates the same reflected sun motif in several of his related
works such as the watercolor South Boston Pier, Sunset
(ca. 1895-1897, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston). The day's crowds
have dissipated, and aside from a lingering couple in the background,
Prendergast features an elegantly dressed, woman. Prendergast
often depicted well-dressed women in his depictions of urban leisure
and he had an acute sense of observation with regard to fashion
and comportment. In Sunset, Boston Prendergast
the hourglass shape of the woman's corseted physique, her high
neckline, and the demure gesture of her right hand in which she
gathers up her long skirt to keep it from touching the ground."
This ain't just any old lady.
This is overpowering,
glorious, intoxicated amour.
Lot 36 is a good watercolor on
paper by John
Singer Sargent (1856-1925) entitled "Summer on the Guidecca."
It is one of the artist's better Venetian schenes. It measures
13 3/4 by 19 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to
It failed to sell.
"Sargent's earliest Venetian
work is devoid
of the archetypal scenes of gay crowds and bright, picturesque
city vistas that many artists such as Maurice Brazil Prendergast
chose. In contrast, Sargent's views of the city largely comprise
genre scenes of modern life, populated by working class men and
women walking along the narrow streets or laboring quietly inside
poorly-lit interiors. As with his Venetian Bead Stringers
(ca. 1880-1882, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York),
which shows three women working in a dim palazzo, Sargent's images
from this period are often rendered in a dark, tonalist palette.
At a slightly later date, Sargent embraced aspects of Monet's
Impressionist style, which in turn affected the character of his
Venetian subjects. Sargent most often abandoned the moody darkness
of his earlier Venetian genre scenes to create dazzling architectural
views filled with water and light. Sargent's watercolors are frequently
distinguished by cropped compositions, vivid hues, and confident,
vigorous brushwork and are considered among his finest works.
The juncture of the Giudecca and Grand Canals provides the setting
for Summer on the Giudecca. The Dogana or Customs
sits off in the distance to the left; its famous sculpture Fortuna
presides atop a great golden sphere above the building. The Dogana
is framed within the brisk, sweeping lines of color that form
the web of masts and rigging of the ships moored in the Giudecca.
The vibrant turquoise hull of the ship in the middle-ground and
the edges of the gondola appear to mingle with the ripples in
the water, blurring their boundaries while the tip of the boat's
prow pierces the sun-washed buildings of the distant coastline.
In the exaggerated foreground, a gondolier idles while he waits
for the artist to finish his work. Though many artists painted
from gondolas, Sargent was the only artist to do so consistently
and to employ a low vantage point in the manner of a wide angle
lens. As a consequence the viewer, like the artist, has the immediate
experience, much as a tourist would, of floating along the Venetian
canals. Sargent's distinctive artistic vision in Summer on
the Giudecca has a rare literary counterpart in the writing
of his friend and ardent supporter Henry James, who had his own
enduring affair with Venice. In his book, Italian Hours,
James describes the precise location depicted in Sargent's watercolor:
"The whole thing composes as if composition were the chief
end of human institutions. The charming architectural promontory
of the Dogana stretches out the most graceful of arms, balancing
in its hand the gilded globe on which revolves the delightful
satirical figure of a little weathercock of a woman ... On the
other side of the canal twinkles and glitters the long row of
the happy palaces which are mainly expensive hotels ...They are
almost as charming from other places as they are from their own
balconies, and share fully in that universal privilege of Venetian
objects which consists of being both the picture and the point
of view" (1909, pp.46-47)."
Lot 87 is a fabulously abstract
John H. Twachtman (1853-1902) entitled "L'Etang." An
oil on canvas, it measures 19 1/2 by 24 inches and was executed
circa 1994. It has a modest estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It
sold for $116,500.
Lot 50 is a fine work by
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)
that is entitled "The Silence of High Noon." An oil
on canvas, it measures 30 1/4 by 30 1/2 inches and was executed
circa 1907-8. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000.
It sold for $1,538,500.
Dr. Gail Levin, author of the
raisonné on Marsden Hartley, writes: "Marsden Hartley
painted Silence of High Noon after he returned to
Maine in mid-May 1908, and the catalogue includes her following
commentary relating to this work"
"Born in 1877 in Lewiston,
a deep affection for the state to which he continually returned
after ventures away. On this occasion, he stayed in North Lovell
in the Stoneham valley near Kezar Lake, an area that had attracted
him since 1902, and where he remained through the winter painting
mountain landscapes. In a letter to Shaemus O'Sheel, the Irish
poet and a friend, Hartley referred to these canvases as 'Romances
sans Paroles' and 'Autumn Impersonals.'
"Since the 1880s, the
of Kezar Lake had appealed to those summering away from New York
City. A number of these visitors were active in the New York Society
for Ethical Culture, a nontheistic humanist movement that was
founded by intellectuals in the late nineteenth century. The group's
belief that God acts through human beings and that all their actions
have moral dimensions may have attracted Hartley as much as the
unique visual appeal of the area. Hartley worked during the summer
and fall of 1907 at Green Acre, a utopian religious community
in Eliot, Maine, where he joined Horace Traubel, his friend who
had been Walt Whitman's confidant and champion. Also an admirer
of Whitman, Hartley's interest in the spiritual remained strong.
"Ever since his days at the
School of Art (1898-99), Hartley had been an avid reader of Ralph
Waldo Emerson's Essays; he went on to other literature in search
of spiritual guidance....In Emerson's essay on 'The Over-Soul,'
we find words that would have resonated with Hartley: 'Let man,
then, learn the revelation of all nature and all thought to his
heart; this, namely; that the Highest dwells with him; that the
sources of nature are in his own mind, if the sentiment of duty
"During this time, when Hartley
some of the greatest mountain compositions of his early career,
he lived simply and willingly coped with the harsh elements of
Maine; a small price, perhaps, to enjoy its magnificent scenery.
Hartley stayed not on the picturesque lake front, but in an abandoned
shack in a more desolate area of Stoneham Valley near North Lovell,
where there had once been a mill that manufactured spools and
"Lovell is in the southern part
County, north of Fryeburg, near the New Hampshire line. On the
north-west and north-east it is bounded by Stoneham, east by Waterford,
and south-east by Sweden. Looking west to New Hampshire and due
north toward Speckled Mountain in Maine are some of the dramatic
vistas that appealed to Hartley. To get to North Lovell, Hartley
took the train from New York to Fryeburg, where he changed to
the same crowded horse-drawn stagecoach that delivered the Lovell
community's mail and provisions.
"For inspiration in how to
Hartley in this formative period studied reproductions of paintings
by the Italian pointillist, Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899), which
he found in the German art nouveau magazine, Judgend. He dubbed
Segantini 'the master of the mountain,' later writing: 'I personally
am indebted to Segantini the impressionist, not Segantini the
symbolist, for what I have learned in times past of the mountain
and a given way to express it - just as it was [Albert Pinkham]
Ryder who accentuated my already tormented imagination.' In this
period, Hartley, like Segantini, utilized neo-impressionist stitch
brushstokes applied with thick, textured paint. These broken,
energetic dabs of color applied with exceptional ferocity animate
the overall composition.
"Despite Hartley's glance at
of his precursors, the signature style that he developed is very
much his own. Although the palette of Silence of High Noon
suggests that the season is pre-autumnal, the trees already have
touches of what will become bright autumn colors. Thus the warmth
of red tones enlivens this composition, dappling the trees and
the fields beneath them. It is a beautiful day with blue sky against
which large white puffy clouds float above the mountain. Color
had been prominent in Hartley's thoughts for several months when
he painted this canvas. In May 1908, Hartley wrote to Traubel
that he was longing 'to go to California next fall perhaps for
a year to paint in that vividly glowing country and to attune
my senses to livelier color.'
"By July 1910, Hartley
explained to his
niece that he was working from his imagination, "using the
mountains only as backgrounds for ideas....I do not allow myself
to work from nature much but from my memory of it. This is difficult
art-- almost anybody can paint from nature.' The work of the previous
year had been closer to observation, but had long since evolved
into Hartley's very personal interpretation of nature.
"Silence of High Noon
related in size, subject, style, and brushstroke to several other
canvases Hartley painted at this time, especially Carnival
of Autumn (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), Cosmos
Museum of Art, Ohio), and The Summer Camp, Blue
(The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Golden Gate Park). All
of these major canvases were most likely painted during the summer
and autumn of 1908 while Hartley was living in North Lovell.
"Hartley's first solo
exhibition in New
York opened in May 1909 at Alfred Stieglitz's Little Galleries
of the Photo-Secession, popularly known as 291 from its address
on Fifth Avenue, between 30th and 31st streets. This show, called
Exhibition of Paintings in Oil by Mr. Marsden Hartley, of Maine
contained thirty-three landscapes, most of which were painted
in 1908, when Hartley finished Silence of High Noon.
canvas appears to have been included in this show as 'Silence
of High Noon--Midsummer.' Cosmos and The
Camp were also in this show. Because nothing sold from this
debut show, Hartley would exhibit these paintings again soon.
"In fact, Silence of
was featured in Hartley's show from January-February 9, 1915 at
the Daniel Gallery at 2 West 47th Street in New York City. This
was one of seventeen works exhibited there in a show called Paintings
by Marsden Hartley 'The Mountain Series,' all of which Hartley
had produced in Maine on his multiple trips to his native state.
In Silence of High Noon and in his series of
paintings, he rendered the clouds as the pleasing forms described
by Emerson in an essay, Spiritual Laws, that Hartley frequently
read: 'When the act of reflection takes place in the mind, when
we look at ourselves in the light of thought, we discover that
our life is embosomed in beauty. Behind us, as we go, all things
assume pleasing forms, as clouds do far off. Not only things familiar
and stale, but even the tragic and terrible, are comely, as they
take their place in the pictures of memory.' "
Lot 41 is a nice abstraction by
(1892-1964) entitled "Still Life with Map, New Mexico."
An oil on canvas, it measures 31 by 39 inches and was painted
in 1923. It was formerly in the collections of Joseph Hirshhorn
of New York, The Downtown Gallery in New York, and David and Peggy
Rockefeller of New York. It has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000.
It sold for $1,538,500 to an American museum.
"Of the approximately fifteen
Davis completed in New Mexico, most were done in his Santa Fe
basement studio at the Palace of the Governors and his initial
efforts were heavily influenced by the Cubist works and theories
he had studied in the 'teens. Davis had participated in the Armory
Show of 1913, and while his artistic beginnings were rooted in
the Ashcan style, he spent the remainder of the decade exploring
the daring modern styles of Post-Impressionism and Fauvism, before
eventually settling on Synthetic Cubism. By 1920 he started to
write his own artistic manifesto, finishing it in the fall of
1922. His journal focused not just on basic artistic principles,
such as line and form, but also his own American version of Cubism
which blended both high and low art. He sought an expression of
everyday American life and popular culture, citing Babe Ruth and
'sporty automobiles' as examples. He stated "Simply take
some things you like and make something out of them. 'Copy Nature'
only copy the nature of the present days – photographs and
advertisements. Tobacco cans and bags and tomato can labels..."
(The Modern West, p. 154). Works such as Lucky Strike
Museum of Modern Art, New York) exemplified this new credo, displaying
Davis' Cubist technique of flattening the picture plane through
the use of text, while raising a decidedly low brow object of
a cigarette box to the realm of fine art. This use of everyday
objects in his pictures was inspired in part by Dadaists Marcel
Duchamp and Francis Picabia. Davis had begun to paint everyday
objects like the handsaw in the early twenties, and it was in
New Mexico that the eggbeater first made its appearance. Davis
would continually refer back to both of these objects throughout
the course of his career. In Still Life with Map, New Mexico
a pale magenta saw and a blue map are juxtaposed within an interior
green and red border in a noticeably two-dimensional picture plane.
Though New Mexico is the source for this image, Davis has reduced
the landscape to a mere suggestion of a mountain along the bottom
edge. Instead of a vista, the flat map functions as the memento
of his travels; the map has also been reduced, indicating only
the cities of Santa Fe and Gallup, as well as the Zuni Pueblo,
three places he visited while traveling throughout New Mexico.
"In her exhibition catalogue, The
West: American Landscapes 1890-1950, Emily Neff describes
the painting as: "Witty colorful, engaging, and muscular.
The painting moves back and forth between flatness and allusions
to three-dimensionality, embodied strategically in the map's form.
Like a conventional painting of a landscape, a map by its nature
reduces three dimensions to a flat surface. The can appears as
a 'regular' object but also assumes the form of a roadrunner or
some sort of figure dashing across the landscape. This jolly tension
gives the painting a startling presence that Davis's bold colors
of green, pink, red, and blue make even more vivid, especially
as the artist uses them to create a frame, a device that first
appears during his New Mexico period and will become a leitmotif
in his work. Just as the painted frame of the map within the painting
objectifies the landscape, the painted 'frame' literally turns
the artist's experience of the landscape and also his experience
of painting it into a picture" (The Modern West, p. 156).
"With its sun-drenched plains
sculptural forms, New Mexico turned out to be an ideal place for
Davis's pursuit of abstraction. Ultimately, however, the desert's
distance from the energy of quickly modernizing cities ran counter
to Davis's interest in an artform that engaged contemporary life.
In October 1923 he suddenly indicated a desire to go home. He
reflected in 1945 that New Mexico was "a place for an ethnologist
not an artist. Not sufficient intellectual stimulus." Davis
would go on to emerge as one of the most important pioneers of
American modernism, but would never return to New Mexico to paint