sale of "Important" American paintings, drawings and
sculpture at Christie's May 18, 2004 is highlighted by a fine
portrait of George Washington by Charles Wilson Peale , a superb
watercolor by Maurice Prendergast, two good oil studies by Winslow
Homer, two good landscapes by John F. Kensett and a rare small
landscape by Albert Pinkham Ryder.
Lot 22, "Farmer with a Pitchfork," is a very strong
but simple small oil on board by Winslow Homer (1836-1910), America's
greatest artist. Executed circa 1874, it measures 9 ½ by
13 ½ inches and has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000.
It sold for $2,359,000 including the buyer's premium as do all
results in this article.
The catalogue notes that in this work "the farmer and agricultural
metaphor of order and regeneration after a time of great civil
strife is telling of our young nation's efforts at Reconstruction,
contemplating its recent past and the hope of cultivating a promising
The young man in the painting, the entry continued, "is also
a central motif included in a series of four works on the subject
of courtship, all executed by Homer in 1974. He appears in a more
compositionally complex watercolor titled Rustic Courtship
(Collection of Mrs. Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia) which,
in turn, served as the source for a much larger oil titled The
Rustics (Private collection). The remaining two works are
A Temperance Meeting (Noon Time)(Philadelphia
Art, John McFadden Jr. Fund) and the Course of True Love
(unlocated). Homer's use of contrasting colors in Farmer with
a Pitchfork is masterful not only in demarcating the
planes of the picture, but also emphasizing Homer's new type of
a solitary, mature figure."
Although sketchy, this is a powerful composition.
Homer oil study is Lot 41, "Young Man Reading," a 14-by-16-inch
oil on canvas that was painted in 1873. It, too, is a fine composition
but unfortunately it is quite dark and not as dramatic as the
other Homer. This one was at one time in the collection of the
Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh and later at The Downtown Gallery
and the Babcock Galleries, both in New York. It has an estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $511,500.
single figure in Young Man Reading extends the
themes of youth at play replacing them with an older, more mature
young man who is comfortable, both physically and psychologically,
in his solitary setting. Young Man Reading appears
not only a nostaglic recollection of past times, but also a positive
nod towards the future and maturity of our young nation within
the social and cultural changes brought about by the Civil War,"
the catalogue entry maintained.
Another dark but important work is Lot 63, "At the Ford,"
by Albert Pinkham Ryder (1847-1917). An oil on panel that measures
12 by 11 ½ inches, it has a modest estimate of $40,000
to $60,000 given the artist's rarity and importance. It sold
for $113,525. Albert Pinkham Ryder was the most important
"poetic" painter at the turn-of-the century in America
and his doggedly reworked pictures were precursors of abstract
painting decades later. Unfortunately, Ryder was copied widely
and many "fakes" were made. This work is unsigned although
its dark palette and painting style is consistent with those of
the artist. It was exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in
Washington in 1961 and at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute
Museum of Art in Utica in the 1963 show "Armory Show 50th
Willson Peale (1741-1827), who was encouraged to paint portraits
by John Singleton Copley, was born in Chestertown, Maryland and
apprenticed as a saddler and in 1760, according to the catalogue,
"traded a saddle with the artist John Hesselius (1728-1788)
in exchange for painting lessons. A few years later he met John
Singleton Copley who encouraged him to paint portrait minatures
which he did with considerable success. In 1768 he went to London
to study with Benjamin West, the American painter who was then
president of the Royal Academy. Peale would return to Annapolis
and concentrate on portraits rather than West's "history"
paintings. In 1772, "he painted Washington for the first
time, producing a portrait that is treasured today as the first
authentic likeness of the man who would soon emerge as American's
greatest revolutionary leader. In 1776, Peale moved to Philadelphia
and enlisted in the Continental Army and eventually joined Washington
near Trenton to participate in the first westward crossing of
the Delaware. Peale created an impressive legacy in his time,
dedicated to the preservation of art, history, and the heroic
ideals of an emerging nation. He inspired a generation of new
artists, including his sons Rembradt, Raphaelle and Titian Ramsey.
By 1786, he had turned his collection of paintings, including
over 250 portraits of distinguished Americans and objects of natural
history into America's first established museum in Philadelphia.
Among his many further credits, Peale began an art academy, maintained
a position as a curator at the American Philosophical Society
and in 1805 was a founder of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine
Arts. In 1779, with the disposition of the Revolutionary War still
uncertain, the Supreme Executive Council of Pennsylvania commissioned
Peale to paint from life a portrait of George Washington, then
the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army." That full-length
portrait is now at the Pennsvylania Academy of the Fine Arts in
Philadelphia. And surviving examples of other copies and versions
of it are in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, Yale University Art Gallery,
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Princeton University Art Museum,
and the United States Senate.
This Peale portrait shows Washington after his victory at Yorktown,
which was a testament to the success of the Franco-American alliance.
It was originally owned by the Chevalier de Chastellux, a general
in the French army who had a close relationship with Washington
and participated in the Yorktown campaign.
It has an
estimate of $2,500,000 to $4,000,000 and it sold for
There are two good works by John F. Kensett (1816-1872)in the
auction, Lots 14 and 17.
"View of Mount Washington," is a large and impressive
landscape that is dated 1852. An oil on canvas, it measures 30
by 45 inches. It has an estimate of $800,000 to $1,200,000. It
sold for $847,500. It was painted two years after Kensett
visited the White Mountains with fellow artists John Casilear
and Benjamin Champney and undertook the most ambitious painting
he had yet undertaken, a 40-by-60-inch "The White Mountains
From North Conway" that is now in the collection of the Wellesley
College Museum. "Among Kensett's largest landscapes, View
of Mount Washington is one of the few in which the wilderness
is pristine," the catalogue entry noted, adding that "The
work is also representative of Kensett's increasing interests
in the effects of brilliant light, which impart a sense of serenity
to his best work. In the wildness of its landscape, Kensett's
View of Mount Washington can be seen as a pendant
to The White Mountains From North Convway. Painting
same mountain range, the artist has chosen a similarly elevated
vantage-point. The landscape is untouched and its primitive beauty
is reinforced by a subtle narrative in the middle ground where
Kensett has placed a small gathering of Indians, hinting that
the scene before us dates to a much earlier time, before the onset
of settlement....In View of Mount Washington
to recapture was lost and to create an iconic landscape image
emblematic of America."
Kensett is one of his classic depictions of Bash Bish Falls. Lot
17 is an oil on canvas that measures 22 by 18 inches and was executed
circa 1855-60. It has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000.
It sold for $186,700.
The catalogue observes that this work "demonstrates the fundamental
contemplative relationship with nature that was central to Kensett's
artistic triumphs," adding that "Located in the Berkshires
in Massachusetts, Bash Bish Falls were a popular destination for
many artists during the middle of the nineteenth century."
Kensett, the entry continued, "was known to have painted
Bash Fish Balls at least five times during the first half of the
1850s, including paintings that are presently in the collection
of the National Academy of Design, New York, and the Butler Institute
of American Art, Youngstown, Ohio. In both examples, Kensett has
depicted a small foot bridge spanning the large boulders that
distinguish this specific location, over a small cascading pool
set amongst trees and rocks. In the present work, Kensett takes
a more direct and closely inspected vantage point of the falls,
forcing the viewer to closely regard the delicate details embedded
in the scene., At the same time, and comparable to other works
from this series, Kensett establishes a composition consisting
of a series of horizontal bands that successfully lead the viewer
deeper into space and nature's sublimity." Although Kensett
is most famous for his late "luminist" coastal scenes,
this scene and some of Worthington Whittredge's forest glade paintings
are Hudson River School landscapes of great and delicate intimacy.
While the "school" is perhaps best known for its bucolic
and panoramic landscapes, most of its artists also focused intensely
on closer scenes and detailing.
36, "The Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills,"
by Francis Augustus Silva, oil on canvas, 20 by 40 inches, 1871
Augustus Silva (1835-1896) is a later painter who produced many
beautiful "luminist" works of which Lot 36, "The
Hudson River Looking Toward the Catskills," is a fine example.
An oil on canvas that measures 20 by 40 inches, it is dated 1871.
It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 and was illustrated
in the catalogue of the 2002 restrospective on the artist. It
sold for $545,100.
better Luminist work is Lot 21, "Sunset Calm in the Bay of
Fundy," by William Bradford (1823-1892). An oil on board
that measures 13 by 19 inches, it was painted circa 1860. It has
an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $321,100.
It sold for $277,500 at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg May
21, 2002 when it had an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000.
is best known for his pictures of the Arctic . Lot 37, "Artic
Intruders," is a good example. An oil on canvas tacked over
panel that measures 18 by 30 inches, it has icebergs, a sailing
ship, people and a polar bear. What more could you ask? A sunset,
perhaps It has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It
sold for $71,700.
a sunset? O.K. Lot 38 is a "Coastal Sunset" by William
Bradford that has a sailing ship delightfully listing in pack
ice near a hilly coastline beneath a hot setting sun. An oil on
paper mounted on board, it measures 13 ¾ by 20 ¾
inches. It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000 and is
quite lovely and almost abstract. It sold for $62,140.
You want a dawn? Lot 48, "The coming of the White Man,"
is a great oil on canvas by Joshua Shaw (1776-1860). Executed
in 1850, it measures 25 by 36 inches and shows Indians on a rock
along a coast seeing a sailing ship for the first time in the
distance beneath a rising sun and a pink and yellow sky. It has
a modest estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It failed to sell.
fine river scene is Lot 5, "Landscape," by Robert Scott
Duncanson (1821-1872). A 29 ¾-by-50-inch oil on canvas,
it is dated 1870 and has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.
It sold for $309,900.
provides the following quotation by Joseph D. Ketner:
"The serene, wilderness Landscape is one in a
of ambitious works that Robert Duncanson created in his Cincinnati
studio in the late phase of his storied career. The painting
the artist's vision of the picturesque beauty of the North American
landscape. He created the work following his successful tour of
Europe where the London Art Journal pronounced the
a `master' landscape artist.The soft light from the calm sky and
the serene, shimmering surface of the river cast a beatific glow
across the landscape that precariously opens in the foreground
and spills into the lap of the viewer. The majestically rugged
crown of the mountainous middle ground is safely nestled in a
color of fully foliated trees and green grass. Duncanson broadly
brushes the foreground tree in a fee and poetic manner, while
the middle distance is rendered in the refined Hudson River School
style that Duncanson learned from Thomas Cole. The encamped men
around the gently smoking fire serve Duncanson as a metaphor for
nature as a pastoral, picturesque environment receptive to the
presence of people."
Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) is an important Hudson River
School painter but also a great Luminist. Lot 12, "A Sketch
Near Mancester, Massachusetts," is an unusual composition
for him and has a wonderful quality of light. The work is almost
abstract. An oil on canvas that measures 10 ¾ by 18 ½
inches, it was executed in 1865 and has a modest estimate of $150,000
to $250,000. It sold for $47,800.
Heade is best known for his salt-marsh sunset scenes and his
and orchid South American jungle scenes and for his floral still
lifes. Lot 29, "Single Magnolia on Red Velvet," by Martin
J. Heade (1819-1904) is a fine example of one of the floral still
life series. An oil on canvas, it measures 15 by 24 ¼ inches.
It has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for
One of the
finest works in the auction is Lot 75, "Courtyard, West End
Library, Boston," a wonderful watercolor, pencil and gouache
on paper by Maurice Prendergast (1859-1924). Executed circa 1900-1,
it measures 14 by 20 inches and has an estimate of $1,200,000
to $1,800,000. The work is a fabulously complex composition that
celebrates the joys of urban life. It sold for $2,135,500.
Lot 80 is
a great oil on canvas by George Wesley Bellows (1882-1925) entitled
"Wet Night." It has been consigned by the Museum of
Fine Arts in Boston to "benefit the acquisition funds."
It was once in the collection of Duncan Phillips of Washington.
It measures 22 ¼ by 28 ¼ inches and was executed
in 1916. It has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.
It sold for $612,300.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"No extant sketches for the present work are known and the
style in which the paint has been applied indicates that Bellows
was working quickly and directly on the canvas in order to achieve
an overall atmospheric quality. With the use of a brush and a
palette knife, Bellows ahas aggressively painted and scratched
away at the canvas, disrupting the surface to create varied and
textured passages that echo the slickness of the rain falling
on the street and whipping through the trees. The dynamism of
the work is a carefully balanced interplay of composition and
application of paint. The dark and blustery evening is underscored
by Bellows' distinct use of line and color. He has exploited the
visceral qualities of his paint surface to create a sensual and
complex work that successfully captures the physical and emotional
spirit of the scene."
deaccessioned work is Lot 81, "The Swing," by William
Glackens (1870-1938), that has been consigned by the Walker Art
Center to benefit its acquisition fund. An oil on canvas that
measures 26 by 32 inches, it was executed in 1913 and has a modest
estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It is a very good Glackens:
very colorful with loose brushwork. It sold for $365,900.
Lot 83 is
a fine impressionist work by Childe Hassam (1859-1935) entitled
"Rainy Day." An oil on canvas, it measures 24 by 18
¼ inches and was executed in 1890. It has an estimate of
$300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $701,900.
Merritt Chase (1849-1916) is one of the finest American Impressionists
and Lot 82, "Shinnecock landscape," is one of his typical
small Long Island scenes that is more impressionist than most.
An oil on panel that measures 10 ¼ by 16 inches, it has
an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It failed to sell.