this American Paintings auction at Christie's May 22, 2003 is
relatively small in size, it has some excellent pictures, most
notably "Cowboys in the Badlands," by Thomas Eakins,
that was once in the collections of Stephen C. Clark and Mrs.
Francis P. Garvan.
Lot 32, it is an oil on canvas that measures 32 1/4 by 45 inches.
Executed in 1888, it has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000
and has been widely exhibited and was included in the recent Eakins
retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see The
It sold for $5,383,500 including the buyer's premium as do
all the results mentioned in this article.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"The last great landscape created by Thomas Eakins, Cowboys
in the Badlands is a magnificent summation from a career of one
of America's premier realist artists. Eakins demonstrated a new
modern approach to the depiction of landscape, portraiture, and
genre paintings that have become important representations in
American art. The focused detail of the figures in the foreground,
contrasted to the slightly out-of-focus distant landscape invokes
a very modern approach to painting with the use of photographic
effects to establish a blurred distance to reinforce an overwhelming
sense of space. Cowboys in the Badlands is
by the monumentality of the scene and its distinct sense of space.
Intellectuals of the day were often preaching for the need to
differentiate American art and culture from that of Europe. Western
themed paintings effectively fit this attitude of American artists'
seeking to depict a native, divergent landscape. In the present
work, by choosing a raised vantage point, Eakins elevates the
landscape to grandeur in part with the overwhelming scale of the
canvas itself. The unique physical structures of the Badlands
landscape seem to dissolve into each other as amorphous forms
and diagonals lead the viewer deep into space. The overwhelming
visual portrayal of this unique Western landscape is integral
to the overall success of Cowboys in the Badlands."
The auction is also highlighted by two superb works by Sanford
Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) and an excellent painting by John
in New Hampshire was one of the most popular sites for landscape
paintings in the mid-19th Century and Lot 54 is a fine, large
rendering of this landscape by Sanford Robinson Gifford. An oil
on canvas that measures 18 by 30 inches, it was executed in 1863
and has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It failed to
sell and was passed at $700,000.
"The artist," the catalogue entry noted, "has combined
realist-style detail in the landscape with romantic fantasy, as
the mountain is dreamily unfocused in the background. Gifford
creates a powerful scene transforming a landscape into a dramatic
rendition of nature and through his rich depiction of Luminist
light, he suggests a transcendental notion of the passage from
God to Nature to Man.Gifford's compositions, complemented by the
artist's ingenious use of light to convey emotion, are among the
boldest conceived in the nineteenth century."
"Mount Chocorua" is a classic Gifford, Lot 4, "The
Mouth of the Shrewsbury River" is more unusual and its somber
skies recall similar scenes by Martin Johnson Heade. An oil on
canvas that measures 11 1/4 by 19 inches, this lot was painted
in 1867 and has a conservative estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.
It sold for $545,100. The painting shows
receding into the distance on the right and numerous sailboats
on the left beneath foreboding skies. It is a marvelous work.
A work similar
to the Luminist "Mount Chocorua" is Lot 7, "Mountain
Lake," by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872). An oil on canvas
that measures 24 by 36 inches, it is dated 1866 and has a modest
estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $231,500. The
catalogue entry notes that Kensett was rarely drawn to dramatic
subjects in his "search for quietude" and "hushed
Hart (1828-1901) and his brother, William Hart, were active members
of the Hudson River School of Painting. Lot 9, "Loon Lake,
Adirondacks," is a handsome large oil on canvas by James
Macdougal Hart that has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It
measures 46 by 78 inches. It sold for $119,500.
George Inness (1825-1894) is best known as America's greatest
Tonalist. In the early part of his career, however, he was a Hudson
River School painter and like many of his artistic colleagues
of the time he traveled abroad. Lot 36 is a large and very impressive
work from his travels in Italy. Entitled "Perugia,"
the oil on canvas measures 72 by 54 inches. Dated 1872, it has
an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It failed to sell and
was passed at $500,000.
(1837-1926) and Albert Bierstadt were the grandiloquent painters
of the American West and Moran is represented in this auction
by Lot 20, "Castle Rock, Green River, Wyoming," a 20-by-30-inch
oil on canvas. The 1907 work, which evidences some craquelure,
has a modest estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for
$433,100. Moran first painted the Green River in 1871.
Another fine Western scene is Lot 30, "Emerald Bay, Lake
Tahoe," by Thomas Hill (1829-1908). The 27 1/4-by-45 1/4-inch
oil on canvas is dated 1883 and has been consigned by the Los
Angeles County Museum of Art to benefit the California Art Association
Fund. It has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000 and is a major
work by Hill. It sold for $231,500.
Eastman Johnson (1824-1906) is one of America's finest 19th Century
genre paintings and Lot 31, "Ojibwe Encampment" is a
rather rare scene by him of Indians. An oil on canvas, it measures
10 by 22 3/4 inches and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
It sold for $589,900.
The auction has three watercolors by Winslow Homer (1836-1910):
Lots 13, 39 and 60.
Lot 13 is
"Little Shepherdess," a watercolor and pencil on paper
laid down on board that measures 11 3/4 by 8 3/4 inches. Dated
1878, it has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000 and depicts
a young girl sitting on a grassy slope. This lot illustrates the
back cover of the catalogue. It failed to sell and was passed
Lot 39 is
entitled, "The Breakwater." A watercolor and pencil
on paper, it measures 14 1/2 by 21 1/2 inches and is dated 1883.
It has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for
Lot 60 is entitled "Small Sloop." This Homer watercolor
on paper measures 9 1/2 by 13 1/2 inches. It has an estimate of
$400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $433,100.
Lot 17 is
a quite spectacular work by Jasper Francis Cropsey (1823-1900).
Entitled "Winter in Switzerland," it is an oil on canvas
that measures 15 by 24 inches and was probably executed between
1858 and 1861 as part of a series of the four seasons. According
to the catalogue, this scene represents the Simplon Pass at sunset.
It has a modest estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It failed
to sell and was passed at $80,000.
Lot 35 is
a very impressionistic "Gondola in Venice," a 8-by-11
1/2-inch oil on cradled panel by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916).
It has an estimat of only $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for
(1859-1935) is one of America's most famous Impressionists, but
his work is occasionally uneven and he employed many different
styles. Lot 48, "Rooftop Garden, Paris," is one of his
masterpieces, an exquisite small oil on panel that is a very fine
composition, extremely painterly, and very lovely. The
work is the cover illustration of the catalogue and has a modest
estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $623,500.
Lot 73 is a fine watercolor on
paper by John
Marin (1870-1953) entitled "Street Movement, New York City."
The 18 1/4-by-22 1/4-inch work was executed in 1934 and has an
estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $175,000.
"Antelope Head with Pedernal" is a strong work by Georgia
O'Keeffe (1887-1986). An oil on canvas, it measures 20 1/4 by
24 1/4 inches. It has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It
sold for $410,700.
Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is
best known for
his rather static/frozen studies of farmhouses or urban scenes,
many of which have become icons of 20th century American Art.
Lot 78, "Lime Rock Quarry II," a 14-by-20-inch watercolor
on paper laid down on paperboard, however, shows that he was capable
of more interesting and dynamic compositions. This work has been
consigned by the Delaware Art Museum to benefit its acquisition
fund, although it is hard to imagine it could get a better work
by Hopper than this. It has a very modest estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. This is one of Hopper's best works. It sold for
Lot 42 is
a masterpiece by Louis Ritman (1889-1963). Entitled "A Day
in July," it is a 36 1/4-inch-square oil on canvas that was
executed in 1918. It has a modest estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.
It sold for $365,900.
sold more than 77 percent of the offered lots, a considerably
lower percentage than achieved at the two American Paintings auction
this season at Sotheby's.