By Carter B. Horsley
The gem of the American Paintings Auction at
Sotheby's December 3, 2009 is Lot 59, "Winter on the Hudson
River near Catskill, New York," by Frederic Edwin Church
(1826-1900), depicting a scene near his famous home, Olana. An
oil on paper, it measures 8 by 10 inches and was painted about
It was last presented at auction at Sotheby's
November 29, 2006 when it had a very conservative estimate of
$60,000 to $80,000. It then sold for $660,000 including the buyer's
premium. This time it has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.
The $660,000 price was pretty much at the height of the art market
for American paintings. While the very attractive sketch has an
unusually abstract quality for Church, it is still quite small
compared to most of his grandiloquent masterpieces and quite spartan
in its details in comparison with his binoculars-required minutia
and quite cool in comparison with his sunsets that sear the memory.
Still it is a lovely work of great appeal to connoisseurs. The
question is are there any connoisseurs left with money. Several
hundred thousand dollars is still a great deal of money for a
small lovely, spartan sketch by anybody! The lot failed to
The auction has other items of interest for
attending high-rollers willing to flaunt their stuff in these
still somewhat uncertain times. Recent auctions this season have
indicated that the art market has not collapsed completely, but
neither has it soared to new heights.
The pickings remain slim as discretionary consignments
remain on the sidelines pretty much leaving the collecting pickings
to estate offerings and fiscal disasters. Nineteenth Century landscape
paintings continue to appear in limited numbers desite the ever-expanding
inventory of auctionable artists and the ever-expanding inventories
of their oeuvres, perhaps indicating that some dealers are holding
back offering in hopes of much better times ahead at least in
terms of what their acquisitions costs were.
Among Sotheby's other Hudson River School works
is Lot 77, a very nice "Bend in the River' watercolor on
paper by Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900). A good composition
with a very pleasant light palette it depicts a lot of sheep in
the foreground grazing near a bend in the river with a church
steeple in the background. What makes this work especially appealing
is a note that the artist wrote to L. Cass Miller when he purchased
the work in March of 1892 stating "Have you ever reclined
upon some gentel slope - some Hillside in a beautiful country
- with your eyes half closed and your mind away from care - dreamy,
dreaming of soft and gentle love, and the lovely and beautiful
in nature and art, with 'a far way and o'er the Hill' feeling
- of the cerulean sky, the flowing sunshine, and smoothing shadows
- the distant smoky Town - the rich autumnal foliage - the bits
of green pasturage, and nibbling sheep - and stately trees - a
stream of water winding and out, around some wooded Headland -and
you have the 'Bend of the River' something as I have tried to
The lot has a modest estimate of $15,000 to
$25,000. It failed to sell.
The dazzling jewel of the auction
is Lot 9, "Sunset over New York Bay," an oil on canvas
by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880). It was executed circa
1878 and measures 8 1/4 by 13 inches. It is property from the
collection of Jo Ann and Julian Ganz Jr. and was included in a
major traveling exhibition of their collection in 1981 and 1982.
It has a conservative estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It
sold for $752,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results
mentioned in this article.
Of the 101 offered lots, 76 sold for $25,086,250.
The most charming work in the
auction is Lot 7, "A Misunderstanding," by John Haberle
(1856-1933). It is an oil on canvas that measures 10 1/4 by 16
inches and is dated 1892. It was offered at Christie's November
1999 with a high estimate of $80,000 but it failed to sell. Its
conservative estimate in this auction is $40,000 to $60,000. It
has been widely exhibited and published. It sold for $50,000.
Lot 17 is a very beautiful
small oil on panel by James Carroll Beckwith (1852-1917) that
was painted in 1908. It measures 10 1/4 by 13 3/4 inches and is
entitled "Phoebe at Onteora." It has a modest estimate
of $50,000 to $70,000. It had sold for $68,500 May 27, 1999 at
Sotheby's when it had an estimate of $20,000 to$30,000 and had
been titled "Lost in Thought." It subsequently was shown
in a retrospective exhibition on the artist at the Berry-Hill
Galleries from December 1999 to January 2000. It sold for $86,500.
The cover illustration of this
auction's catalogue is Lot 18, "The White Dory, Gloucester,"
a very lovely oil on canvas by Childe Hassam (1859-1935). It measures
26 by 21 inches and was painted in 1895. The catalogue notes that
"In a powerful assertion of Impressionist bravado, Hassam
fills nearly the entire lower register of the composition with
a panoply of modulated whites, creams, and yellows, which flow
in a sinuous wave to the pinched waist of the elegantly sensual
figure." The catalogue entry suggests that the women in the
red-and-white blouse may have been the artist's wife, Maud. The
painting has a modest estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It
sold for $3,666,500.
The auction has two great mixed
media works by Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Lot 2, "Fifth Avenue,"
and Lot 3, "Cooper Square." The former is 20 by 16 inches
and was created circa 1899. The latter measures 15 by 19 inches
and was created circa 1900-1908. Both were exhibited at Berry
Hill Galleries November 2000 to January 2001. Each has an estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. Lot 2 sold for $170,500. Lot 3 sold
Lot 16 is a superb portrait
of "Mary Agnes" by Robert Henri (1865-1929). An oil
on canvas, it measures 24 by 20 inches and was painted in 1924.
It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $1,538,500.
Lot 14 is a great conte crayon
on paper by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) entitled "Skylights."
It measures 12 by 19 inches and was painted in 1926,. It has a
modest estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $80,500.
Lot 23 is a great pastel by
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) entitled "Blue Mountain (Garmisch-Partenkirchen)."
It was executed in 1933 and measures 8 3/4 by 11 3/4 inches. It
has a very great sense of monumentality. It is property from the
collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers. It has a
modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $34,375.
Another mountainscape by Hartley
is the large and impressive oil on canvas, Lot 21, "Mountains
No. 22." It measures 30 by 36 inches and was painted in 1930
and it also comes from the Myers collection. It has an estimate
of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $2,098,500.
Lot 30 is an excellent painting
of The Battery in New York by Howard Norton Cook (1901-1980).
An oil on canvas, it measures 16 by 24 1/4 inches. It has an estimate
of $35,000 to $45,000. It sold for $50,000.
Lot 32 is a masterwork by Charles
Demuth (1883-1935) that is entitled "Squashes #2." A
watercolor on paper, it measures 12 by 18 inches and is dated
1929. It was included in the 1987-8 retrospective on the artist
at the Whitney Museum of American Art. It has an estimate of $200,000
to $300,000. It sold for $218,500.
Lot 13 is a good drybrush on
paper by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) that is entitled "Bikini."
It was executed in 1968 and measures 20 by 12 inches. It has an
estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $506,500.