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American Paintings

Christie’s

10 AM, November 30, 1999

"Buffalo Hunt" by Albert Bierstadt

Lot 84, "Buffalo Hunt" by Albert Bierstadt, oil on canvas,

33 3/4 by 44 inches (subsequently withdrawn because of dispute over attribution)

By Carter B. Horsley

For the first time in several years, there is a broad selection of 19th Century American art in the important fall auctions. In recent years, the auctions have had scant choices of Hudson River School landscapes and good Western landscapes.

This auction, for instance, has very good landscapes by Asher B. Durand, Sanford Gifford, John F. Kensett and George Inness, a very fine and impressive Western scene by Albert Bierstadt, and a great John Twachtman.

It also has rare works by Edward Steichen, Joseph Decker and John Haberle, and good works by Mary Cassatt, William Merritt Chase, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Childe Hassam, Ernest Lawson, Rembrandt Peale, and Frederick Remington.

The auction had rather mixed results reflecting this season's quite "selective" market. Only 76 percent of the lots sold, which is not terrible, but considering the generally quite high quality of the works being offered and the buoyant state of the economy was certainly a bit disappointing.

Lot 84, "Buffalo Hunt," by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), is a 33 ¾-by-44-inch oil on canvas, shown above. Painted between 1860 and 1865, the catalogue notes that this dramatic composition combines features of the Yosemite Valley in California and the Wind River Valley in Wyoming. This is a superb example of Bierstadt’s grandiloquence and his painting style here is at its best. The painting includes an Indian on horseback charging a buffalo herd by the river, whose reflected light is particularly effective. The painting, which is the back cover illustration of the catalogue, has a conservative high estimate of $1.5 million. Unfortunately, it was withdrawn over some allegations that the attribution was wrong and that the painting might be a work by Herman Herzog. As a result of the allegations, the owner, David Rockefeller, was refunded his purchase money by the dealers who had sold it to him. While Herzog was a prolific and good artist, this work is much better than most of his and looks much more like a good Bierstadt.

Another Bierstadt in the auction is Lot 87, "Liberty Cap, Yosemite," a 30-by-22-inch oil on paper laid down on board. It is a very dramatic and unusual composition for Bierstadt and depicts a furious waterfall that runs almost the full length of the painting. The quite sketchy work has a high estimate of $600,000 but is far sketchier than Lot 84. It sold for $420.500 including the buyer's premium as do all sales prices in this article. Yet another Bierstadt, Lot 90, "Western Landscape," is a 17 ½-by-24-inch oil on canvas that is a evening scene with some prowling animals in the dark foreground and snow-capped peaks in the background illuminated by the last rays of the day. The work is a bit lackluster and has a high estimate of $180,000. It sold for $288,500.

"The Pond" by George Inness

Lot 49, "The Pond," by George Inness, oil on canvas,

37 1/2 by 29 inches, 1889

The auction includes two superb works by Georges Inness (1825-1894), the great American Tonalist. Lot 49. "The Pond," is a 37 ½-by-29-inch oil on canvas, dated 1886. It is a fine example of one of his favorite themes of tree-trunks in late autumn afternoon.

Although Inness’s early work was a crisp Hudson River School style, but he evolved his own brand of Impressionism that borrowed a bit of Barbizon school poetic landscape style but used more dramatic compositions.

"Beginning in 1884," the catalogue noted, "Inness was able to achieve a complete synthesis of his innovative formal means and his goal of poetic expression. The central component of this synthesis was color, which he described as ‘the soul of a painting.’ Forms, on the other hand, though still based in the observation of nature, were softened by atmosphere and dissolved by light. Inness also began to emphasize the flatness of the painting surface; it became a geometric field across which the artist would arrange passages of contrast, accent and repose….The painting is thus a sum of opposites – sunlight and shade, blossom and decay, even moistness and dryness, just as is the time of year – autumn – that it represents. All of these qualities, however, are merely suggested, evoked by a subtle variation of texture, brushstroke and value. The Pond reveals a landscape that evokes the patina of use and age, while conveying an aura of irreducible mystery."

The painting, which is a particularly bold composition in this series with quite a sketchy sky, has a high estimate of $250,000. It sold for $189,500.

Lot 99, "Apple Orchard, Spring Showers," a 22-by-36-inch oil on canvas, dated 1883, is an even greater example of the artistry of Inness. A sublime work, it is being sold by the Warner Collection of the Gulf States Paper Corporation, which had amassed one of the country’s best collections in the 1970’s and 1980’s and has a conservative high estimate of $500,000. It failed to sell, perhaps reflecting its somewhat dark palette. Nevertheless, this is a sensational Inness.

At his best, as he is here, Inness puts just about all American Impressionists to shame. The white blossoms of a large apple tree spread across the misty deep blue background in an early evening reverie with a solitary figure.

Lot 70 by Edward Steichen

Lot 70 by Edward Steichen, oil on canvas, 21 1/4 by 25 inches

Lot 70 is a good and rare Tonalist painting, oil on canvas 21 ¼ by 25 inches, by famed photographer Edward Steichen (1879-1973). The painting is dated "MDCCCCVII" and shows several figures beside a large tree with a setting sun in the distance. It has a conservative high estimate of $60,000. It sold for $189,500, perhaps indicating a belated awakening to the genius of this great master whose paintings are exceeding rare.

A painting that would make a very nice companion to Inness’s "Apple Orchard, Spring Showers," is Lot 103, "The Pigeon Coop," by Ernest Lawson (1873-1939). This 30 by 25 ¼ inch oil on canvas is aflutter with white birds against a luminous landscape that includes the coop and the Harlem River. A member of The Eight, the group of artists also known as The Ashcan Group, Lawson’s oeuvre was under-appreciated for several decades in large part because most examples that came on the market were not his best and were often rather muddy and very busy. In recent years, however, some of his better paintings, such as this, have begun to surface and clearly he is due for good retrospective.

"The Pigeon Coop" by Ernest Lawson

Lot 103, "The Pigeon Coop," by Ernest Lawson, oil on canvas, 30 by 25 1/4 inches

This work was greatly appreciated by Duncan Phillips, the founder of The Phillips Collection in Washington, who observed that in it "The sun is romancing through the sky, and the young earth is in love with it," adding that "A lazy luxury of spring permeates the senses." Frederic Fairchild Sherman, a prominent critic, once wrote that "certainly The Pigeon Coup is a poem."

"Underscoring the visual impact of The Pigeon Coup is Lawson’s unique handling of pigment, color and light that have become hallmarks of his finest works," the catalogue noted. "Incorporating suffused light with jewel-like blues, greens, lavenders and whites coupled with a deliberate and heavy handed application of paint, Lawson in The Pigeon Coop creates an atmosphere that is at once tranquil and agitated. His canvas poignantly reflects the rapid transformation of a landscape at the crossroads of urban development," it continued.

The work has a conservative high estimate of $350,000. It sold for $266,500.

The cover illustration of the catalogue is Lot 11, a pleasant but unexciting Shinnecock Hills, Long Island scene by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), an oil on canvas, 28 3/4 by 31 1/2 inches, that has an ambitious high estimate of $1,500,000. It sold for $1,652,000.

Far more thrilling is Lot 80, "Canyon in the Yellowstone," a 30-by-25-inch oil on canvas by John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902). At his best, as demonstrated here, Twachtman is America’s best Impressionist and this bold and free composition well illustrates his ability to abstract a scene that is decades ahead of his peers. This masterpiece has a conservative high estimate of $450,000. It sold for $497,500.

Another excellent, though less awesome Twachtman is Lot 10, a very pleasant "Summer Landscape," 14 ¼ by 22 1/8 inches, that has a high estimate of $80,000. It sold for $68,500.

"View in the Catskills" by Asher B. Durand

Lot 96, "View in the Catskills," by Asher B. Durand,

38 1/8 by 54 1/4 inches

Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) is one of the founders of Hudson River School and Lot 96, "View in the Catskills," a 38 1/8 by 54 ¼ inch oil on canvas is a classic example of his serene, bucolic spirit. Finely painted, it is a bit unusual in its composition with a large, multi-truck tree dominating the center of the picture. Two figures on horses are in the background.

"View in the Catskills exemplifies Durand’s approach to creating a national school of landscape painting. The composition is filled with a warm, rich light that envelops he cultivated countryside. Cattle graze peacefully in an open field as a gentle stream meanders through the composition. Dark clouds recede beyond the edges of the composition into the upper right sky and are replaced in the upper left by a reassuring glow of warm sunlight. Nestled at the foot of the Catskills in the far distance is a small town, its white church steeple suggesting the harmonious equilibrium between civilized man and the wilds of nature, and the peace and plenty that comes from a fee and democratic nation," the catalogue observed.

The painting has an appropriate high estimate of $250,000. It sold for $167,500.

The auction includes three very good examples of horizontal coastal scenes by Hudson River School artists. Lot 30, "Thatcher’s Island, is a 9 ¼-by-21 ¾-inch oil on canvas by Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910) with three figures that is very charming and has a conservative high estimate of $50,000. It failed to sell. Lot 29 is a 10 ½ by 19 ½ scene of Newport Harbor and the Home of Ida Lewis by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872) that has a high estimate of $300,000. It failed to sell. Lot 8 is a 9 ¼ by 19 ¼ oil on canvas scene of Manchester (Mass.) Beach, dated 68, by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) that has an ambitious high estimate of $600,000. It sold for $684,500, an auction record for the artist, a very impressive price inasmuch as this was only a nice Gifford and not one of his many great paintings.

A very heated Luminist work is Lot 2, "Evening in Gloucester Harbor," a 1871 oil on canvas, 20 by 40 inches, by Frances Augustus Silva (1835-1886). The lovely painting has a high estimate of $150,000. It sold for an astounding $992,500, a world record for the artist and an impressive amount considering that the painting was slightly damaged in the left sky. Lot 3, "Barnegat Bay, New Jersey," is a smaller oil by Silva that has a very nice quality to its handling of bright light on two beached sailboats and a house at the right and a very soft mist with a boat in the bay on the left. It has a conservative high estimate of $70,000. It sold for $68,500 and is a perfect illustration of the disparity in market prices for works by the same artist as this is a very good painting but did not fall into the typical Luminist formula.

Lot 17 is a very impressive and pleasant gouache and watercolor, 13 by 29 inches, by Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908) entitled "A Pensive Moment" that depicts a woman sitting on the side of a beached sailboat. The catalogue describes this as a "masterwork of American watercolor painting," and even quotes Theodore E. Stebbins Jr. that it is "worthy of Winslow Homer," but its high estimate of $250,000 is ambitious. It sold for $189,500.

Lot 9, "A View from the Bacino," a pencil and watercolor on paper, 9 ¾ by 14 inches, by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), is actually more "worthy of Winslow Homer," and more reasonably priced with an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell.

Indeed, Bricher is better represented by Lot 92, "Looking Out to Sea," a 22 by 32 inch oil on canvas with a figure of a girl standing by a large rock along the beach. It is estimated at only $70,000 to $100,000. It sold for $62,000. Lot 114, "Sailing off the Coast," is a nice, formulaic Bricher, a 24 by 48 inch oil on canvas, that has a high estimate of $90,000. It sold for $169,700.

Lot 85 is a very pleasant and bright watercolor, gouache and pencil, entitled "Along the Hudson," by Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900), a far more important artist than Bricher. It has a high estimate of $30,000. It sold for $40,250, an impressive price since some of his oils sell in that range.

Two other good Hudson River School works at Lot 51, "View of Lake George," by Kensett, a 6 ½-by-12-inch oil on board, that has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000 and sold for $46,000; and Lot 89, "Landscape in the Adirondacks," by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), an 8 by 13 inch oil on canvas, that has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000 and sold for $134,500.

The auction has an important and rare watercolor by John Ludwig Krimmel (1787-1821), Lot 26. This 17 3/8 by 25 3/5 inch work is a "View of the Parade of Victuallers from Fourth and Chestnut Streets" and is dated 1821. The catalogue correctly notes that this is one of the finest works of this artist who was the first genre painter in America. It is particularly lively because it depicts the livestock parade as it rounds a corner in the mercantile district of Philadelphia. The work has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $189,500.

Another important historical work is Lot 5, "Washington Before Yorktown," a 36 by 29 inch oil on canvas by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), that is dated 1823 and has a high estimate of $500,000. It sold for $1,047,500.

Among the Impressionist works in the auction are two important examples by Childe Hassam (1859-1935) and two nice works by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926).

Lot 18, "The Flower Seller," is a 16-by-26- inch watercolor by Hassam that depicts a Parisian street scene. The work has a strong composition and is quite charming, though a bit academic. It has a slightly ambitious high estimate of $500,000. It sold for $387,500.

Lot 74, the other major Hassam, has the same high estimate but is a very vibrant and strong oil on canvas, 39 ½ by 74 3/4 inches, that is dated 1941 and entitled "Autumn Landscape – East Hampton (Garden of Hassam’s Home)." The catalogue correctly notes that this work, "composed of varying swatches and strokes of brilliant oranges, reds and greens of the trees and surrounding vegetation set against an azure blue sky, changes from a formal recording of a backyard garden to an explosion of color, texture and light." This is one of Hassam’s best pictures and should exceed its high estimate. It failed to sell!

Lot 38, "Two Young Girls with a Child," is a very lovely Cassatt and one of her better compositions. The 21 ½ by 25 ¼ inch oil on canvas has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $992,500.

The other Cassatt is Lot 58, a nice but brooding "Sketch of Antoinette (No. 1)," that is a 19 ¾ by 16 ¼ inch oil on canvas that has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It failed to sell.

"A Nice Time" by Marsden Hartley

Lot 125, "A Nice Time" by Marsden Hartley, oil on canvas,

20 by 24 inches, 1916

The most important "modern" work in this auction is Lot 125, a marvelous 20-by-24-inch oil on canvas by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)(see The City Review article on Hartley). Entitled "A Nice Time," it was painted in 1916 and exhibited that same year in New York at the Forum Gallery along with his celebrated "German Soldier" paintings. This work is one three related paintings that combine still lifes with words or phrases and are considered to be abstract portrait homages to friends and stunning examples of Hartley’s own version of synthetic Cubism that, the catalogue notes, "differed from analytic cubism is its reliance on combinations of flat, colored geometric shapes, rather than on the prismatic fragmentation of three dimensional forms." The other two paintings in this "series" are in the collection of the Art Museum of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and the Brooklyn Museum of Art. This stunning work has a conservative high estimate of $1,500,000. It sold for $1,652,500, an auction record for the artist.

Another Hartley work is Lot 122, "New Hampshire Autumn Landscape – Hills and Trees," a strong, later landscape, oil on canvas, 33 by 27 inches, which has a high estimate of $250,000. It sold for $882,500!

George Bellows (1882-1925) is represented by a very fine landscape, Lot 118, "Blasted Tree and Deserted House," an 18 by 22 inch oil on board, that has a conservative high estimate of $60,000. It sold for $46,000.

Another very fine work being sold by the Warner Collection of the Gulf States Paper Corporation is Lot 137, "Running River," a 20 by 15 inch oil on tin by Arthur Dove (1880-1946). The painting was exhibited in 1927 by Alfred Stieglitz at the Intimate Gallery in New York and has a conservative high estimate of $600,000. It sold for $552,500.

Another highlight of the modern group is Lot 131, "At the Golden Swan: Sometimes called ‘Hell Hole," a 8 by 10 ½ inch watercolor, dated 1919, by Charles Demuth (1883-1935) that depicts the famous literary saloon at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fourth Street. The artist has shown himself with Edward Fiske and Marcel Duchamp in the bar that would later become a haunt for Eugene O’Neil who fashioned some of the characters in his play, "The Iceman Cometh," on its patrons. This important work has a conservative high estimate of $300,000. It failed to sell.

Lot 128, "Acrobats," is another fine Demuth watercolor, 13 by 8 inches and dated 1917. Described in the catalogue as "wonderfully explosive," this fine work has a conservative high estimate of $180,000. It sold for $123,500. Another beautiful Demuth watercolor, Lot 134, "Three Pears," 9 by 13 inches, has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $90,500.

Another good watercolors in the auction include Lot 55, "The Green Dress," by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), 17 1/8 by 13 inches, which has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000 and sold for $420,500; Lot 81, "A Quiet Day in Chinook," an amusing 1897 work, 18 by 28 inches by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926), which has a high estimate of $240,000 and failed to sell, and Lot 83, another Russell, "Mourning Her Warrior Dead," that is very poetic and beautiful, 10 ¾ by 13 ¾ inches, which has a high estimate of only $50,000 and sold for $79,500.

In the Western category, the auction has two good works by Frederick Remington (1861-1909): Lot 46, "Pretty Mother of the Night," a 27-by-40- inch oil on canvas that depicts two Indians on horses at night and was formerly in the collection of William Randolph Hearst and has an estimate of $2- to $3-million, and failed to sell; and Lot 47, a similar size work, also formerly in the Hearst collection, entitled "The Wolves Sniffed Along on the Trail, But Came No Nearer," and has a high estimate of $1,800,000, and failed to sell, an indication perhaps of sanity in the Remington market as these were good works for this very over-appreciated illustrator.

In the "pretty lady" category are two good works: Lot 109, "The Bouvier Twins," a 40-by-48-inch oil on canvas by Albert Herter (1871-1950) that is quite lovely and has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, and failed to sell; and Lot 100, "An Idle Moment," a 26-by-34-inch oil on canvas by John White Alexander (1856-1915) that depicts a beautiful woman gazing at goldfish in a bowl and has a high estimate of $250,000, and failed to sell; and Lot 71, a very good painting, "Ladies on a Hill," a 22-by-18-inch oil on canvas, by Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942) that has a high estimate of $240,000, and sold for $222,500.

A wonderful and exquisite bas-relief in white marble, Lot 54, 11 ½ inches square, by Elihu Vedder (1836-1923), depicts the artist’s favorite and very beautiful model. It has a very conservative high estimate of $30,000. It sold for $46,000.

Lot 52, "The Old Chest Room – Rack, Horseshoe and Dutch Jar," is a good still life, 40 by 30 inches, by John Frederick Peto (1854-1907), that has an ambitious high estimate of $600,000, although not as fine as his "Violin," Lot 32, a 16 by 12 oil on canvas that has a high estimate of $250,000. Lot 52 sold for $387,500 and Lot 32 sold for $288,500. Peto and William Harnett are two of the nation’s best 19th Century trompe-l’oeil artists. The other is John Haberle (1856-1933), whose works are consistently more painterly, humorous and interesting and Lot 21, "A Misunderstanding," a 10 ½ by 16 inch oil on canvas, is a good example, especially since it is in its original frame, and has a conservative high estimate of $80,000. It failed to sell.

It would make a fine match for Lot 93, "Bonnie," a masterpiece by Joseph Decker (1853-1924) of his pet squirrel, a 16 ¼ by 20 ½ inch oil on canvas that has a high estimate of $350,000. It failed to sell.

 

See The City Review on the Fall 1999 American Paintings auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review Article on the Spring 1999 American Paintings auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the May 27, 1999 auction of American Paintings at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 1998 Important American Paintings Auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

See The City Review article on the Spring 1998 Important American Paintings Auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

See The City Review article on the Fall 1997 Important American Paintings auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's

See The City Review article on the Spring 1997 Important American Paintings auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's

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