By Carter B.
While it is a bit weak in
Hudson River School
and Western Paintings, this auction of more than 160 lots has
several important works and material that should interest a variety
The cover illustration of the
example, is an atmospheric painting by James McNeil Whistler
Lot 10, shown above, entitled "Harmony in Gray: Chelsea in
Ice" that at once shows the artist's great mix of poetry
and abstraction that makes him one of the artistic giants of the
19th Century. The oil on canvas, 17 3/4 by 24 inches, was once
in the collection of Denys Sutton in London and has an estimate
of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000, which reflects its moderate size
and rather somber palette. It sold for $2,866,600 including
the buyer's premium as do all sales results in this article. The
painted was probably executed circa 1864 and the catalogue remarks
that it is "a tour de force of modern painting," adding
that "the subtle diagonals of the composition suggest Whistler's
interest in the aesthetics of Japonisme and Japanese prints, which
were becoming popular among avant-garde artists in London and
"The rarefied color scheme,
and wispy tree branches combine to underscore the flatness of
the canvas - an aesthetic device extremely modern for its time.
The sense of flatness in the composition calls attention to the
paint surface and to the act of painting itself - aspects of Whistler's
art that critics would come to vilify." It continued.
The monochromatic work is
A far more colorful work is
"Girl Reading Under an Oak Tree," Lot 19, a 15 1/2 by
22 1/2 inch oil on canvas, that is signed and dated 1879 and is
representative of Homer's impressionism at its best. It is very
conservatively estimate at $2,000,000 to $3,000,000 and has been
in the collection of the William MacBeth and the Vose galleries.
It sold for $1,876,000, which is quite disappointing for
of this quality are very rare and it is a lovely work.
The catalogue notes that the
work, shown above,
was painted while the artist was staying in Mountainville, New
York, at Houghton Farm, the summer home of Lawson Valentine, the
business partner of Homer's favorite brother, Charles. "Winslow
Homer concentrated mostly on watercolor panting during the summers
of 1978 and 1879, and his achievements in painting light and color
in that medium would enhance and inform his technique in his oil
paintings depicting figures in the outdoors. Girl Reading Under
an Oak Tree reflects these qualities with its bright sense of
light and color…[It] depicts a fashionably dressed woman
seated at the base of a tree in s sun-dappled woodland setting,"
the catalogue maintained.
Lloyd Goodrich, the late Homer
quoted from his 1944 book on the artist as follows about his genre
paintings of young women in the 1860s and 1870s:
"His work of these years, as
was much preoccupied with women. But his attitude was less remote,
more intimate. The athletic miss was less in evidence and the
young ladies now are seen idling in hammocks, reading novels,
embroidering, picking flowers, catching butterflies and engaged
in other gentle feminine occupations. Often they were shown singly,
as individuals rather than merely parts of a scene. Still not
idealized, they were pictured with a delicate precision, a
to individual character, that would have made him one of our finest
portraitists. The note of sentiment was stronger, but still reserved,
implicit rather than openly expressed. The artist's attitude,
though warmer and more intimate than before, was far from the
sensuousness of Manet and Renoir or the mordant realism of Degas.
He was still typically American in his air of detachment, his
refinement, his lack of frank sensuousness. In heavier hands,
these pictures might have turned into sentimentality, but Homer's
utter honesty and freshness of vision kept them genuine and delightful.
Among all his works they have a special and unexpected charm."
Of course, for those familiar
with his early
Harper's Weekly work, the charm is no surprise. With the exception
of his later fisherwomen pictures, most of his young women, from
shepherdesses to haughty ladies, share a great beauty that is
fresh, lyric, romantic and proud and fairly independent. They
are unquestionably sentimental and clearly the artist had strong
feelings for his model who is the personification of the American
Woman. A decade or two later, "Ladies in White" would
become the fashionable wage of many American painters as the American
Renaissance and the City Beautiful movements took hold, but Homer
was far ahead of them, and far greater.
This painting, whose
composition and painterliness
are magnificent, ranks among the greatest Impressionist paintings!
A lovely pendant for this is
Lot 36, a charcoal
and white gouache on paper by Homer, shown above, entitled "Lizzie
Grant." The unsigned, 10 5/8-by-8 1/8-inch work, shown above,
is fabulous and estimated at only $100,000 to $150,000. It
sold for $290,000. This was an extraordinary spring for the American
Paintings auctions as the market was relatively flooded with works
of varying quality by Homer, and perhaps it was a little overkill.
This, and the oil painting above, were certainly among the best
being offered and should have fared better, but their prices are
Some of the prices
achieved at this auction
were very, very strong, but there remains considerable inconsistency.
The sale total of $33,164,800 was the highest in Christie's history
for an American Painting sale and auction records were set for
James McNeill Whistler and Fitz Hugh Lane. Eighty percent of the
offered lots sold, a slightly higher percentage than this season's
sale at Sotheby's.
A good example of the "Lady in
later genre is Lot 64, "The Gray Room," by Frank Weston
Benson (1862-1951). Painted in 1913, the 25 1/4-by-30 3/4-inch
oil on canvas, shown above, it exemplifies the timeless beauty
that he and other members of the Boston School strove for and
often achieved. Their subjects, however, were more formal, more
refined and more restrained, however elegant. This is a subtle,
fine work reminiscent in tone and mood to some of the poetic work
of Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938). It has an estimate of $400,000
to $500,000. It sold for $1,821,000! This was an excellent
Benson, but the market is a bit confused to make it more valuable
than the Homer oil above. Of course, there are people who like
to buy "pretty," "decorator" pictures and
then there are connoisseurs.
Dewing is well represented by
Lot 33, entitled
"Woman In Black: Portrait of Maria Oakey Dewing," an
oil on panel, 19 by 12 1/2 inches, dated 1887. Dewing and George
Inness are the great American Tonalists and many of Dewing's finest
works are groups of women dancing in lush green fields or solitary,
interior pastel studies. Dewing's ethereal works owe much to Whistler,
but Dewing's serene poetic elegance is his own. The work is
estimated at $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $314,000.
The auction has several
important early landscape
paintings. Lot 49, "Mount Newport on Mount Desert Island,"
by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900)(See The
City Review article on a major travelling exhibition in 2000 on
Church), an oil on canvas, 17 1/4 by 25 inches, shown above,
is a fine example of his early Hudson River School work prior
to his pyrotechnical extravaganzas inspired in part by his world
travels. The catalogue maintains that it was painted circa 1851-3,
several years before he would paint his famous and large "Niagara
Falls" painted that would captivate a wide audience.
The catalogue, quoting from a
catalogue at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in
1989, maintains that this and other early Churches "present,
in essence, a melding of the strains of the real and ideal that
had in Cole's art, seemed irreconcilable." "More than
just faithful, natural pictures, they exemplify a new kind of
landscape of deeper association, it continued. Church was the
pupil of Thomas Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of
painting. (See The City Review
on a major traveling exhibition on Frederic Edwin Church.)
While Cole painted a few religious pictures and a few grandiose
series of paintings entitled "The Voyage of Life" and
"The Course of Empire," much of his art certainly melds
"the strains of the real and ideal," indeed the spirit
of the Hudson River School was the specific pristine beauty of
This lot, in fact, is a very
fine Hudson River
School painting, not as awesome and dramatic as some of Cole's
better landscapes, or as luminous as John F. Kensett's "Lake
George" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art," of course,
but a fine lovely work certainly worth the estimate of $1,500,000
to $2,500,000, but not a masterpiece in the overall oeuvre of
Church equal to the great "Cotopaxi" series, or "Rainy
Season in the Tropics." It sold for $4,186,000.
Fitz Hugh Lane (1804-1865) is
regarded as perhaps
the nation's finest Luminist painter for some of his depictions
of large sailing ships at twilight in harbors have a magical stillness
and fresh illuminated air about them that are marvelous. The auction
has two Lanes and one, in fact, Lot 52, shown above, is also a
Mount Desert scene. Entitled "Sunrise on the Maine Coast
- Mount Desert Island," it is an oil on canvas, 17 by 27
1/4 inches and dated 1856, shown above. It is an interesting work
for it is a bit more horizontal than most of his and reads almost
like a Sung scrool as the bright early sun light lights up the
clouds above a sailing ship out in the bay at the right while
a man reads on a rock behind a fallen tree, a symbol employed
by several artists including Thomas Cole of the passage of time
and wilderness. The left half of the painting remains much in
darkness with another ship at the far left while the breaking
light is highlighted on a mountain in the distance and a large
rock in the middle of the bay. This is a very fine painting and
has a conservative estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold
for $567,000, a rather low price considering the fact that there
were buyers at this auction with a fair bit of money, as can be
seen from the price achieved on the other work in the auction
by Lane. While not as technical as fine as Church, Lane's
lack of precision is offset by his ability to create marvelous
A more typical Lane is Lot 46,
Golden Rule," an oil on canvas, 24 1/4 by 36 1/4 inches,
that has a slightly ambitious estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
It sold for $3,966,000! Also painted in the
catalogue sates that his seascapes of this period are "among
his most enduring images" and that "among them is his
masterwork, The Golden Rule, celebrating the great age of sail
at the mid-point of the nineteenth century." This is a good
example of his luminist style, but not his masterwork, that honor
going to another similar work whose water is not so choppy, whose
sky is darker to better highlight in terrific abstract fashion
the bright white sails of the ships.
The catalogue quotes J. Carter
Brown, the former
director of the National Gallery of Art, as writing that "Lane's
best works, with their calm order, serene light, and almost magical
balance of elements, achieve a quiet, elegiac effect that can
only described as movingly poetic." True.
This fine work was painted,
according to the
catalogue, sometime after 1857.
While the auction does not have
pictures, it has one very poignant gem, Lot 59, "The Truant,"
by Thomas Le Clear (1818-1882), an oil on canvas, 16 by 12 inches,
that is marvelous and memorable although it has a fairly ambitious
estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 68 is a superb example of
the quite original
style and palette of Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924). Entitled
"Park, Naples," it is an oil on canvas, 19 1/4 by 24
1/4 inches, and has a conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $270,000. Prendergast is well known
delightful and colorful urban park scenes.
Another lover of the city is
(1898-1954) and the auction has several fine examples. Lot 74,
"Grand Finale," is an watercolor and pencil on paper,
22 1/4 by 30 1/2 inches that enables the artist to group several
of his scantily-clad ladies of burlesque in a composition that
is rather formal and of a dark palette than his usual works but
which is a quintessential Marshian celebration of women. The work
comes from the Louise Benton Wagner Trust and has a conservative
estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $94,000.
Lot 112, "Evening Central Park (Marines in Central Park,"
is a tempera on board, 30 by 39 3/4 inches, that is surprisingly
unraucous and more like a Jerome Myers, or even a Raphael Soyer.
It is a very good work, however, for it is centered about the
upright few Marines in bright blue and gray and red uniforms surrounded
by a gaggle of woman and the suggestion of a multitude of activity
in the buses and trees in the background. This work comes from
the same consignor and has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.
It sold for $193,000. "Cocktails, Five to Seven,"
Lot 25, is a watercolor and pencil on paperboard by Marsh, 27
1/4 by 40 inches, that has the traditional Marsh animation but
is also interesting for its almost George Groszian intensity and
its Picassoesque background, certainly an unusual work in Marsh's
oeuvre. It has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 and also comes
from the same consignor. It sold for $292,000!
March, of course, is best known
for his many
small pictures of blousy women walking along the streets and for
his more fleshy depictions of the heroines of burlesque. The latter
is well represented in Lot 27, from a different consignor. Entitled
simply, "Burlesque," it is an oil on masonite, 28 3/4
by 39 3/4 inches and was once in the collection of Mr. and Mrs.
Garson Kanin. It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.
Paul Manship (1885-1966) has
several lots in
the auction, but the highlight is Lot 65, "Celestial Sphere,"
a bronze, parcel gilt sculpture, 27 inches high, that is a masterpiece
and has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000 and would make Riccio
and other Renaissance sculptors smile. It sold for $941,000.
Connoisseurs generally delight
in the atypical
examples of an artist's oeuvre while new collectors focus on the
typical "signature" styles.
Many artists have more than one
their careers. Thomas Moran and Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904)
are two famous examples. Moran started with a fairly crisp and
tight Hudson River School style of landscape, but moved on to
Turnesque variations on Venetian scenes and his Western panoramas
assumed the grandiloquence of Manifest Destiny and the brilliance
of Bierstadt's almost heavenly visions of the wonders of the West.
Moran and Bierstadt are, of course, the great painters of the
West and their lush, detailed depictions awed viewers along with
the great landscapes being produced by Frederick Church on his
international travels. One could fairly argue that, at their best,
Moran, Bierstadt and Church brought landscape painting to its
zenith, at least in terms of portraying the majesty of nature
on a grand scale. Moran, however, did not focus completely on
pure landscape. One of his famous early works is a scene of slaves
running in a forest. Lot 23, "View of Venice," oil on
panel, 16 3/8 by 24 3/8 inches, is a relatively small version
of his typical Venetian scenes that is "quieter" than
most. The 1892 work has an slightly ambitious estimate of $60,000
to $80,000. It sold for $70,500. Far more
however, is Lot 32, "Fantastic Landscape, " an oil on
canvas, 20 1/4 by 18 1/4 inches, that has an estimate of only
$30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $41,125. It portrays
huge, luminous castle on the other side of a river with an impressive
arched bridge across it and several figures in the foreground
and swans in the river, all beneath a bright twilight sky with
a full moon. The "castle" is quite an architectural
concoction and reminiscent of the great "castle" in
Thomas Cole's famous "The Voyage of Life" series about
half a century earlier.
Heade concentrated most of his
work on just
a few subjects all treated with slightly different styles. His
early horizontal landscapes of marshes and haystacks in New England
at sunset are among the most poetic 19th Century American landscapes.
His travels south produced exotic and lush depictions of humingbirds
and orchids in the jungle that are exquisite, magical and full
of dynamism. He also produced a number of marvelous waterfront
scenes, some that were ominously somber and spectacular. He also
indulged in still life paintings of flowers, the most famous of
which was his series on Magnolias. Lot 40, "Magnolias on
a Wooden Table," an oil on canvas, 14 1/4 by 22 inches, is
a very good example and has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $1,491,000! Several of his magnolia pictures
come to market recently and been popular even though they are
not as good as his other work in general. His best paintings are
probably two small, nearly identical canvases, of gremlins in
the studio holding up one of his marsh paintings with water dripping
out of the marshes in the painting onto the studio floor. Heade,
too, had fantasies.
Heade's marsh paintings rank
with some of the
great, subtle, luminous landscapes of Sanford Gifford and John
F. Kennedy in their fine sense of serenity and calm and warmth
and they stand out in contrast to the almost raucous explorations
of Moran, Bierstadt and Church and the awesome fury of Thomas
Cole in confronting the country's "new" wilderness earlier.
George Inness (1825-1894) is an
figure. Many of his early landscapes are pristine Hudson River
School style, which is a bit surprising since he studied with
Regis Gignoux whose palette was quite bold, almost like James
Francis Cropsey, the great painter of intensely colorful autumn
scenes. Inness's early work is beautiful but a bit placid. He
evolved rather quickly, however, into a new style that was wonderfully
impressionistic but influenced more by the earlier Barbizon school
of poetic landscapes rather than the bravura brushwork of the
famed Impressionists. Inness developed the Tonalist style, which
surprisingly is vastly undervalued as it is the perfect marriage
of realism and abstraction, precision and impression, poetry and
place. Lot 43, "Summer, Montclair," an oil on canvas,
38 by 28 3/4 inches, dated 1887, is a good example of Inness's
Tonalism, which is always deftly highlighted with important details,
here a white church steeple that can be seen through the trunks
of the three trees that fill most of the canvas on the right.
In his greatest late works, Inness usually cut off the tops of
the foreground trees to use their trunks as a strong composition
factor that was very bold and almost abstract since they were
usually dark and not detailed. This is a very painterly work with
many fine passages almost partions of the left center are a bit
unresolved, but the large size of the painting mitigates their
distraction. The painting has an ambitious estimate of $300,000
to $500,000 in light of recent sales and the fact that this is
not one of his masterpieces. It sold for $666,000!
Inness's late work and Albert
mystically abstract seascapes are very important precursors of
modernism and the break from realism. The Ash-Can School lead
by Robert Henri would emphasis the importance of dashing brushwork
while staying in the realist realm. A record for an American painting
was set last year with the $27 million sale of a polo scene by
George Bellows, whose work feature the loose brushwork and vitality
of the Ash-Can School but was not focused on the urchins of urbanity
but more on the high life. Lot 104, "Summer Fantasy,"
is a masterpiece by Bellows, far better than the polo scene, and
has an incredibly modest estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It
sold for only $292,000! The 36-by-48 inch oil on canvas
from the Louis Benton Wagner Trust and it celebrates the glories
of Riverside Park, the Hudson River and the view of the Palisades.
The work was executed in 1924. "The figures in Summer Fantasy
are graceful, simplified almost to the point of abstraction. The
groups of stationary foreground figures are set I a dream-like
landscape dominated by rolling hills and looming horizons. These
later works represent a shift in Bellow's late landscapes toward
a highly subjective, almost preternatural vision of the world,
in which nature is changed with the same sort of energy and drama
found earlier in Bellow's sporting and urban subjects," the
catalogue noted. Of particular note in this superb work is the
Ryderesque and Hartleyesque clumply treatment of clouds and the
dramatic shadowing and wonderful simplicity of the figures.
Lot 91, "The Four Seasons," is
superb group of four terra-cotta allegorical figures, about 30
inches tall, by Elie Nadelman (1885-1946). The figures are very
good and the lot, which was formerly in the collection of Helena
Rubenstein and the Colgate-Palmolive Company, has an estimate
of $200,000 to $300,000. It failed to sell!
Andrew Wyeth is represented
with several fine
works, especially Lot 101, "Hay Lodge," a tempera on
panel, 21 1/2 by 45 1/4 inches, painted in 1957. Formerly in the
collection of Mr. and Mrs. Robert F. Woolworth and Mr. and Mrs.
Joseph E. Levine, this is one of Wyeth's masterpieces, a very
strong, detailed abstraction. It has an estimate of $2,500,000
to $3,000,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 148, "The Finn," a 29
1/2-inch watercolor on paper, is one of the artist's stunning
portraits and has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.
Lot 160, "Rum Runner," a 25-by-48-inch tempera on panel,
is a striking, but rather studied composition that is impressive
and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for
(1853-1932) was a very important
teacher in San Francisco and a very fine painter. Lot 8, "Moonlight,"
a 40-by-45-inch oil on canvas, dated 1913, sold for $64,625, more
than double its high estimate.
Guy Carleton Wiggins
(1883-1962) is a minor
artist who continually painted winter scenes of Fifth Avenue in
New York City in snowfalls and despite their general lack of artistry
they have been quite popularly, especially recently. Lot 8, a
16-by-12-inch example of such a scene, sold for $76,375 and had
a high estimate of $30,000. This particular Wiggins is perhaps
the best to have been auctioned in recent decades as the snow
fall is much better and scratchier than his normal blobs.
Lot 16, "An Idle
William Merritt Chase (1849-1916), a 21 3/4-by-26-inch oil on
panel, sold for $864,000, well above its high estimate of $600,000
and quite an impressive price considering that it was an unfinished
work with most of its bottom half not painted in. It shows a girl
lounging on a hammock with a beautiful park in the background.
The mostly finished top half of the painting indicates that this
was a great composition that would have been one of his major
paintings. While some of his sketches are fantastic and deliberately
left unfinished with great effect the unfinished area here is
very large and unfortunately a bit unsettling.
Lot 51, "On the
Wawayanda, Orange County,
New York," a 14-by-22-inch oil on canvas by David Johnson
(1827-1908), one of the better Hudson River School landscape artists,
failed to sell and had been estimated at $30,000 to $50,000, which
was not unreasonable given the recent escalation in values for
good Hudson River School paintings and the fact that this was
a very fine Johnson with quite an unusual and interesting composition.