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American Paintings

Christie's

Wednesday, 10AM, May 23, 2001

Sale 9654

"The Stony Beach" by Maurice Brazil Prendergast


Lot 11, "The Stony Beach," by Maurice Brazil Prendergast, watercolor, 20 7/8 by 14 inches, circa 1897

By Carter B. Horsley

This auction is highlighted by a great watercolor and a greater oil by Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924), a couple of superb works by Childe Hassam (1859-1935), and excellent works by Georgia O'Keefe and Thomas Dewing.

The Prendergast watercolor, Lot 11, "The Stony Beach," shown above, is the cover illustration of the catalogue and is the property of the very important collection of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Altschul of New York. It measures 20 7/8 by 14 inches and has an slightly ambitious estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It sold for $3,526,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. Although for many years identified as a scene of Ogunguit, Maine, the catalogue suggests it may be Nahant, Massachusetts. It quotes Richard Wattenmaker that in this work, which dates circa 1897, "Prendergast took a step in a new direction, to a large-scale color ensemble of both delicacy and power, in which the irregular patterns of rocks, figures, umbrellas, water, and sky are interspersed and titled like a page from a Persian miniature."

Lot 56 is one of Prendergast's finest oils. Measuring 26 by 32 inches, it was painted between 1910 and 1913 and is the property of the estate of Edith K. Ehrman. Entitled "The Bathers," it has a very conservative estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It failed to sell and was "bought in" at $650,000!

Prendergast was familiar with the work of CÚzanne, who was famous for his series on bathers, and Matisse, who was famous for his series on dancers, and in this work Prendergast, the catalogue, notes, "manipulates a bold, highly saturated fauvist palette of rich blues, greens, pinks, yellows and reds" and the "figures and the landscape are described in a variety of jewel-like colors." "The brilliant color scheme is applied in a variety of brushstrokes, a departure from his earlier preference for the same brushwork within a single picture.The artist's interest in the tactile properties of oil is evident in the heavily encrusted surfaces of works such as The Bathers, in which thickly applied layers of contrasting pigments create a brightly hued, tapestried effect, and serve to further emphasize the flatness of the canvas. Here, the interwoven patterns of brilliant color mold the figures that populate the banks of Prendergast's familiar cove." The catalogue also comments at length on the work's unusual "trellis" composition. This is a magnificent painting and while the "influence" of both CÚzanne and Matisse is evident, both artists, and Derain, surely would have not considered this work derivative but quite wonderful in its own right because of its extraordinarily rich colors and very strong composition and its overall sense of joy in both the subject matter and the painted object itself.

Prendergast's watercolor and oil styles are quite different, the one light and the other heavy.

"Moonrise at Sunset, Cape Ann" by Childe Hassam

Lot 13, "Moonrise at Sunset, Cape Ann," by Childe Hassam, oil on canvas, 18 by 22 inches, 1892

More than any other famous American painter, Childe Hassam experimented with many different style. While there are occasional formulaic lapses in quality in his oeuvre, at his best Hassam produced some truly stunning pictures and Lot 13 is one of those. Entitled "Moonrise at Sunset, Cape Ann," it is dated 1892 and the oil and canvas measures 18 by 22 inches. It was once in the collection of Mrs. Stanford White and has a very conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $369,000.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"This particular work is one of the first paintings in oil in which the artist seeks to capture the elusive effects of light on the Atlantic coast in a boldly structured, even abstract composition. Most of these works were painted during the summer he spent in New England on the Island of Appledore, off the New Hampshire coast just north of Cape Ann. This workwas likely completed at the home of Celia Thaxter, a poet whose home at Appledore became a salon for many artist and writers. Thaxter and Hassam often collaborated together, most famously on Thaxter's book, An Island Garden, illustrated by the artist. Thaxter also wrote a poem in 1891 entitled "Moonlight, which was based on another picture by Hassam which was published with her poem in The Century Magazine."

"Houses of Parliament, Early Evening" by Childe Hassam

Lot 35, "Houses of Parliament, Early Evening," oil on canvas, 13 by 16 3/8 inches, 1898

Another Hassam is Lot 35, "Houses of Parliament, Early Evening," a 13-by-16 3/8-inch oil on canvas, dated 1898. The lot has a conservative estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $314,000.

"Houses of Parliament, Early Evening is a quintessential example of Hassam's translation of the urban landscape into a poetic arrangement of color and light. He was keenly interested in weather and atmosphere. In this work, the artist exploits his skill in rendering the effects of the fading evening light on water's surface to convey the specific mood of evening.

Hassam's predominant use of blues, grays and pale purples in the atmosphere recalls his earlier Tonalist works from the mid-1880s. In Houses of Parliament, Early Evening he punctuates the cool evening tones with hints of reds and yellows, enlivening the surface and hinting at the teeming life that inhabits the urban landscape beneath the veil of evening light."

Monet used the same subject, albeit from a different vantage point, for a famous series of Impressionist paintings (see an illustration of one in The City Review article on the Spring 2001 Impressionist Art evening auction at Sotheby's). Hassam's treatment of the water here is classic impressionism, but his delicate traces of cloud's around the tower are both subtle and startling and the idyllic seen is brought back a bit to reality with the smoke pouring out of two ships in the center foreground and the small, bright, yellow and red clockface, which is a jarring reminder of modernity. Monet, on the other hand, is much wilder and freer in his treatment of the same subject, which leads one to reflect on the fact that Hassam's oeuvre is, generally, not expansive but contained, almost frozen. Hassam is rarely concerned with atmosphere and more preoccupied with pattern and texture. One could argue that this composition might have been lovely if the lower portion of the picture were just the river without the foreground embankment and ships in the lower-right corner. On the other hand, those element do provide a greater sense of spatial depth and balance to a degree the asymmetrical composition.

Lot 31 is another, larger Hassam that is bold and painterly but not as charming as "Houses of Parliament, Early Evening." Entitled "The East Headland, Appledore - Isle of Shoals," the 30-by-25-inch oil on canvas is dated 1908 and has an ambitious estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $591,000. This is a more typical Hassam and the brushwork in the lower left corner is very good and the horizontal treatment of the water in the right central portion of the picture and the unusually bold treatment of the clouds across the top of the picture are also notable. Nonetheless, this is a rather unresolved work that is not one of the artist's masterpieces. It has been in the collection of five leading American art dealers.

Lot 29, "The Quarry Pool, Folly Cove, Cape Ann," is a more appealing Hassam. The 10 1/8-by-13 3/4-inch oil on canvas is dated 1918 and has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $43,475. A nude woman looks at herself in a mirror while sitting on a rock beside a pool. The brushwork here is vigorous and consists mostly of short straight strokes. The woman is painted with a nice, statuesque simplicity and the trees, especially those in the background, are wonderfully handled.

A lovely companion piece for Hassam's "Houses of Parliament, Early Evening," would be Lot 50, "The East River at Night," an excellent pastel on paper, 13 1/8 by 21 inches by Everett Shinn (1876-1953), which was recently shown in the fine exhibition on Shinn at the Berry-Hill Gallery from November, 2000 to January, 2001. This work, dated 1906, has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $149,000. The upper right-hand corner of the work is a marvelous abstraction of city lights and the composition has an interesting, impressionistic sense of motion.

At his best, John Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) is the best American "Impressionist" painter, although stylistically perhaps too many American artists are described as Impressionists and better descriptions are needed. Lot 1, "Niagara Falls," is a very good Twachtman work, an oil on canvas that measures 17 3/8 by 14 3/8 inches. Apart from a few rocks in the foreground, the painting shows only a touch of sky in the upper left corner and is almost entirely centered on the cascading rush of water and Twachtman has used an extremely limited palette of whites, blues and greens. This is a vigorous and wonderful "action" painting. One easily envisions the artist energetically applying the almost vertical brushstrokes in a flurry. Interestingly, he has signed the work with his signature at an angle that slopes downward from left to right, counter to the angle of the cascading torrents. Twachtman was way ahead of his times and this is very conservatively estimated at $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $58,750.

A nice companion piece of the Twachtman is Lot 8, "Landscape in Moonlight," by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937). The 10 1/8-by-13 7/8-inch oil on canvas is dated 1913 and has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $70,500. This is a quite pleasant, bluish scene.

"The Music Lesson" by Thomas Wilmer Dewing

Lot 59, "The Music Lesson," by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, oil on canvas,16 by 14 inches


Lot 59, "The Music Lesson," by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) is an exquisite oil on canvas, 16 by 14 inches, that shows a woman sitting at a piano looking at the viewer. A marvelous study in Dewing's most diaphonous style in yellows, greens and brown, this is an exquisite that has an unusual sense of spatial depth for the artist. It has an ambitious estimate, given its size, of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $721,000, setting a new world auction record for the artist. "The Music Lesson truly demonstrates Dewing's contention that the purpose of the artist is to 'see beautifully,'' the catalogue observes. "Dewing evokes a sense of melancholy through his skillful and deliberate use of a narrow tonal range. His sitters are presented as if in a dream world. In the present example, she is dignified and elegant rather than beautiful, seated on a low bench at the spinet. Devoid of anecdotal drama, Dewing imbues the scene with an aura of quietude and tension, recalling the works of Jan Vermeer, who was much admired at the time," the catalogue continued. Dewing's poetic works, especially his smaller ones, are very beautiful indeed but they do not convey melancholy but peacefulness and the sitter in this work is beautiful and all his subjects are dignified. Indeed, one can easily tire of the countless "white ladies" portrayed endlessly by New England Impressionists around the turn of the century, but never be exhausted by Dewing's heavenly works of which this is a fine example. Many of the "white ladies" come across as social butterflies concerned with their finery and their gardens and their worry-free lives, but Dewing's ladies are vestigial descendants of Classical and mythological goddesses whose longings are aesthetically eternal and inherently graceful. Indeed, grace is their virtue whereas other "white ladies" are simply well-attired and poised/posed.

"Margaret Under the Elms" by Edmund Charles Tarbell

Lot 14, "Margaret Under the Elms," by Edmund Charles Tarbell, oil on canvas, 66 1/4 by 36 1/4 inches

Lot 14, "Margaret Under the Elms," is a classic, pretty "white lady" picture by Edmund Charles Tarbell (1862-1938) and is quite good of its kind. The catalogue states it "is not only a masterpiece of Edmund Tarbell's oeuvre, but also typifies the finest works of the Boston School painters," a group that was referred to for a while as the "Tarbellites." "Margaret Under the Elms superbly demonstrates Tarbell's fresh and original approach to plein air painting. A rich mix of color, textures and light, the work demonstrates Tarbell's early mastery of Impressionist techniques, and is "the kind of picture that led to recognition of Tarbell's leadership in the School," the catalogue entry added, quoting Dr. William H. Gerdts.

This pleasant oil on canvas measures 66 1/4 by 36 1/4 inches and has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $534,000. Tarbell is a very good artist and one of his paintings that came up at auction more than a decade ago was a spectacular painting of a woman in a large black hat whose face was completely in shadow and it was the rival of good works by Rembrandt.

A different group of American Impressionists would adopt a much more colorful and painterly approach to society portraiture than the "Tarbellites." Lot 60, for example, is a good work by Richard E. Miller (1875-1943). Entitled "In the Shadow," the 32-by-25 5/8-inch oil on canvas has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It failed to sell and was "bought in" for $220,000. "In The Shadow has been critically acclaimed since it was first exhibited at New York's Madison Art Gallery as part of the 1910 Exhibition Paintings from Giverny: Exhibition of Paintings by Frieseke, Miller, Lawton Parker and Guy Rose," the catalogue noted, adding extensive contemporary comments on the quite lovely painting. Miller is one of the most painterly of all American artists and his best works are voluptuous and dazzling with a palette far more intense than most other American and French Impressionists. They are bravura works and this is a strong example.

Lot 62, "The Pink Kimono," is a 32-by-25 5/8-inch oil on canvas by Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939) that is very lovely and much more muted and less patterned than his typical works. It has a conservative estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $187,500.

"Black Cross with Stars and Blue" by George O'Keefe

Lot 67, "Black Cross with Stars and Blue," by Georgia O'Keefe, oil on canvas, 40 by 30 inches

In contrast with the pretty ladies, Georgia O'Keefe (1887-1986) is one of the great early American modern painters and Lot 67, "Black Cross with Stars and Blue," is one of her major works. The 40-by-30-inch oil on canvas has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $4,076,000.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"One of George O'Keefe's most sophisticated works, Black Cross with Stars and Blue is also among her most powerful and moving images. Painted in New Mexico in 1929, the work reflects the intense spirituality and wonder the artist associated with the Southwestern landscape."

While her magnified flower paintings were monumental, despite their often relatively small size, and wonderfully abstract, her later work in the Southwest was not as consistent and the subject matter often dictated relatively drab palettes. This work, however, is large, bold and strong and reminiscent of some of her great Manhattan skyline paintings.

Lot 105 is an O'Keefe flower painting executed one year earlier than "Black Cross with Stars and Blue." Entitled "Calla Lilies with Red Anemone," the oil on gessoed masonite measures 48 by 29 5/8 inches and has an ambitious estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It sold for $6,166,000, setting a new world auction record for the artist and for a woman artist! In this work, the composition is more distanced than some of her more abstract flower paintings that tend to be more sensual and striking.

This auction has a nice selection of Western paintings, the best of which is Lot 80, "Sighting the Enemy," a 21-by-29 1/2-inch watercolor, gouache and pencil on paperboard by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926). It has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000 and depicts several Indians on horseback on the side of a bluff. It failed to sell and was "bought in" at $200,000!

Lot 75, "Attack on the Supply Train," is a good watercolor and gouache on paper laid down on stretched paper, 14 by 29 1/4 inches, by Frederic Remington (1861-1909). Remington is not as good an artist as Russell and much of oeuvre is merely illustrative. This work is illustrative but it is an unusually panoramic composition and good of its kind. It has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $180,000.

Henry F. Farny (1847-1916) is a better artist than both Remington and Russell and the auction has two good examples of his work, Lots 71 and 72. The former is entitled "Morning of a New Day," and is a 18 5/8-by-28 5/8-inch oil on canvas that is dated 1906 and has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000 and is clearly one of the artist's best paintings. It sold for $748,500. The latter, "Theodore Roosevelt 'Sage Grouse Shooting'," is a 14-by-23 1/2-inch watercolor and gouache on paper. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $314,000.

Lot 7, "The Hudson River Looking Toward The Catskills," is a major and fine work by Frances Augustus Silva (1835-1886). The 20-by-40 1/8-inch oil on canvas is dated 1871 and has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. Silva is an important Luminist painter and this is a good example at his skills in handling light. It sold for $611,000!

Another Luminist painter is Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) and Lot 21, "Marshes at Boston Harbor," is a very nice example of his style. The 10 1/8-by-22 1/8-inch oil on canvas has a lovely asymmetrical composition accented by a band of pink clouds in this golden twilight scene. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $171,000. Heade's oeuvre is divided into several major subjects: marsh scenes, such as this, which are very evocative; hummingbirds and orchids, which are very lush; magnolias, which are very sensual; and coastal and waterfront scenes that are often quite unusual in their dark palettes.

Lot 4 is one of his popular magnolia pictures, "Single Magnolia on Red Velvet," a 15-by-24 1/8-inch oil on canvas with an ambitious estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $831,000.

"Peonies in a Breeze" by John La Farge

Lot 28, "Peonies in a Breeze," by John La Farge, watercolor, 37 3/8 by 20 1/2 inches, 1890

A more colorful floral work is Lot 28, "Peonies in a Breeze," by John La Farge (1835-1910). This large watercolor measures 37 3/8 by 20 1/2 inches and is dated 1890. It has an ambitious estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000. It failed to sell and was "passed" at $900,000. "Peonies in the wind with Kakemo Border (National Museum of American Art, Washington, D.C.), the stained glass window that relates to Peonies in a Breeze, was designed for the Washington, DC residence of the distinguished statesman John Hay. Hay worked for the administration of President Lincoln during he American Civil War and later co-authored two authoritative books on the President. After holding various diplomatic posts abroad, he served until his death as Secretary of state to President McKinley and President Roosevelt. An unusually successful combination of decorative and fine arts, the watercolor is a rich combination of colors and textures. Having successfully captured the fluid movement of the delicate flowers and enthralled by the watercolor medium, La Farge explored the whole range of tones available to him - from the lightest washes to the oldest opaques."

Lot 53, "Charleston," a watercolor by Edward Hopper, sold for $1,876,000, setting a world auction record for a work on paper by the artist. The 16-by-24 3/4-inch watercolor had an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.

"Our stragegy of offering a leansale focussing on high-quality pictures was well received," declared Paul Provost, senior vice present and director of Christie's American Paintings Department, after the auction. "The extraordinary price of $6.1 million for "O'Keefe's beautiful Calla Lillies with Red Anemone is the highest ever realized at auction for a woman artist and sets a new standard for great Amerian Modern art in the Stieglitz circle," he said.

The sale total was $31,607,175 and 75 percent of the 118 offered lots sold.


See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 American Paintings auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Spring 2001 American Paintings auction at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg

See The City Review article on the Fall 2000 American Paintings auction at Christie's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2000 American Paintings auction at Sotheby's

See The City Review article on the Fall 2000 American Paintings auction at Phillips

See The City Review article on the Spring 2000 American Paintings auction at Christie's

See The City Review Article on the Spring 2000 American Paintings auction at Sotheby's

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

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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