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Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

Christie's

May 21, 2008

Sale 2003

"Green River of Wyoming" by Moran

Lot 26, "Green River of Wyoming," by Thomas Moran, oil on canvas, 25 by 48 inches, 1878

By Carter B. Horsley

The American Paintings auction at Christie's May 21, 2008 is highlighted by several magnificent paintings by Thomas Moran and several excellent works by Thomas Wilmer Dewing and an important Marsden Hartley as well as good works by George Inness, William B. Chase, Childe Hassam, and Robert Frederick Blum, Thomas Hill and Albert Bierstadt.

The cover illustration of the catalogue is Lot 26, "Green River of Wyoming," a 25-by-48-inch oil on canvas by Thomas Moran (1827-1926), a spectacular and iconic work by one of the titans of landscape painting of Western America.

Moran first traveled west in 1871 to join Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden, the directof of the United States Geological Survey on an expedition to Yellowstone, which would become one of Moran's favoratie subjects. En route, his train stopped at Green River City. In his essay, "The Kiss of Enterprise: The Western Landscape as Symbol and Resource," in "The West as American: Reinterpreting Images of the Frontier," by W. H. Truettner, 1991, N. K. Anderson observed that the panorama that confronted Moran in Gren River was "a landscape unlike any other. The striated sandstone cliffs with their yellow, organge, red, and lavender bands were ideally suited to a painter who found his inspiration in the color of J. M. W. Turner." Mr. Anderson notes that Moran made a few sketches of Green River on his 1871 trip that he would later develop into large paintings back in his studio. "Unlike Yellowstone, the landscape of Green River had not been 'previewed' for easern viewers through illustration published in Scribner's. The multicolored, castellated buttes were an entirely fresh subject for paintings, Moran made ethe most of this opportunity, claiming the landscapes as his own through a series of paintings completed over a period of forty years."

The scene Moran depicted is more idealistic than realistic as its landscape was already "scarred" by train tracks, buildings and bridges in 1871,

The lot has a conservative estimate of $3,500,000 to $5,000,000. It sold to Avery Galleries of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, for $17,740,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. The previous record for a 19th Century American paniting was the $8,800,000 fetched in 2004 for "Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife" by John Singer Sargent.

While only 79 percent of the 140 offered lots sold for a total of $72,598,750, Eric Widing, head of American Paintings at Christie's said that it was the highest total ever for an American Art sale at Christie's.

"A passing shower in the Yellowstone Canyon" by Moran

Lot 113, "A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Canyon," by Thomas Moran, oil on canvas, 16 by 20 inches, 1903

An equally powerful but much smaller work by Moran is Lot 113, "A Passing Shower in the Yellowstone Canyon." An oil on canvas, it measures only 16 by 20 inches but is so luminous and strongly painted that it stands out across a large room and is very bit as glorious as "Green River of Wyoming." Painted in 1903, it has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It sold for $2,505,000.

Moran's first gained fame for his paintings of Yellowstone with the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in 1872 that was purchased that year by the United States Government and is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. Lot 113 was formerly in the collection of Frank and Merle Buttram of Oklahoma.

A similar composition by Moran of "A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon, Arizona," also from the Buttram collection, is Lot 25. An oil on board, it measures 14 by 20 inches and is dated 1905. A darker and less exciting than Lot 113, Lot 25 is a nice painting and has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $541,000.

"A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon of Arizona" by Moran

Lot 27, "A Side Canyon, Grand Canyon of Arizona," by Thomas Moran, 12 1/4 by 10 inches, 1915

Lot 27 is a Moran painting with the same title as Lot 25 but it is a far more exciting and painterly work albeit smaller. An oil on canvas, it measures 12 1/4 by 10 inches and is dated 1915. It has a modest estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $277,000.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Unlike many of his Western pictures, which depict expansive landscapes, in the present work Moran chooses to render the scene for the low vantage point of the canyon floor to enhance the sheer, upward trajectory of the immense gorge walls. The small sliver of crystalline sky furthers the sense of enclosure while alluding the expanse beyond. This distinct perspective conveys a sense of familiarity that is absent in many of the artist's large-scale works."

"Indians Spear Fishing" by Bierstadt

Lot 93, "Indians Spear Fishing," by Albert Bierstadt, oil on canvas, 19 1/4 by 29 1/4 inches, 1862

The other great painter of the American West was Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Bierstadt started a bit earlier than Moran and they both produced large and small grandiloquent landscape paintings that inspired the country with the notion of "manifest destiny" because of the glorious and incredible scenery.

Moran's work is a bit more consistent as some of Bierstadt's small sketches are not up to his highest standards. Lot 93, however, is a very fine and dramatic example of his artistry. Entitled "Indians Spear Fishing," it is an oil on canvas that measures 19 1/4 by 29 1/4 inches and was painted in 1862. It has an estimate $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. This work was based on sketches the artist made in 1859 on an expedition with Colonel Frederick Lander to the Platte River and the Wind River Mountains. It sold to an American museum for $7,321,000, setting a new auction record for Bierstadt.

"View in the Sierra Nevadas" by Hill

Lot 114, "View in the Sierra Nevadas," by Thomas Hill, oil on canvas, 18 by 34 inches, 1869

The auction has two other fine early depictions of the West. Lot 114, "View in the Sierra Nevadas," is a very lovely panoramic vista of snow capped mountains beyond a lake by Thomas Hill (1829-1908). An oil on canvas, it measures 18 by 34 inches and has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $79,000. Lot 115 is an oil study for "Spanish Peaks, Southern Colorado," by Samuel Colman (1832-1920) that has a lovely, warm abstract quality. The work on canvas measures 16 1/4 by 36 inches and has an estimate of $30,000 to $60,000. It sold for $43,000.

"Sunset on the River" by Inness

Lot 112, "Sunset on the River," by George Inness, oil on canvas, 30 1/2 b y 45 1/2 inches, 1867

Lot 112 is a large landscape by George Inness (1825-1894) entitled "Sunset on the River." An oil on canvas, it measures 30 1/2 by 45 1/2 inches and is dated 1867. It has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It sold for $1,945,000, a new auction record for Inness. A fine bucolic and large scene, it has a fine sense of light although it cannot compare with his late and very poetic Tonalist works.

"Lady in a Purple Dress" by Dewing

Lot 70, "Lady in a Purple Dress," by Thomas Wilmer Dewing, oil on panel, 19 1/4 by 15 3/4 inches

There are three superb works by Thomas Wilmer Dewing (1851-1938) in the auction, all from the Elizabeth Ring and William Quinn Mather Fund of Cleveland, Ohio. Dewing is the most lyrically poetic of all American paintings and is best known for his ethereal studies of lovely ladies, usually seated. Lot 70, "Lady in a Purple Dress," is a very beautiful oil on panel that measures 19 1/4 by 15 3/4 inches. It has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. It failed to sell. Lots 68 and 69 are 14 1/2-by-11 1/2-inch pastels by Dewing from the same collection. Lot 68, which shows a woman standing holding a cello, has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $289,000. Lot 69, which shows a woman sitting on a chair, has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $157,000. William Quinn Mather was a descendant of Cotton Mather and was president of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company. In 1907, he commssioned Charles Platt to design a manor house, called Gwind, in Cleveland.

"Lighthouse" by Hartley

Lot 16, "Lighthouse," by Marsden Hartley, oil on canvas, 40 by 32 inches, 1915

Lot 16 is a very fine abstraction by Martley Hartley (1877-1943) that is entitled "Lighthouse." An oil on canvas, it measures 40 by 32 inches and was executed in 1915. "Representatative of Hartley's greatest works form the 1910s, Lighthouse is one of the artisst's final and most accomplished paintings from this European sojour. Painted in Berlin in April, 1915, months before Hartley was forced to return to America due to the duress of the war, Lighthouse is a culmination of Hartley's European experience and one of the earliest and most compelling examples of American modernism." It has an estimate of $5,000,000 to $7,000,000. It sold for $6,310,000, breaking the previous world auction record for American Modernist painting that had been $6,170,000 for Georgia O'Keeffe's "Calla Lilies with Red Anemone" sold at Christie's in 2001.

"Deserted Light" by Wyeth

Lot 6, "Deserted Light," by Andrew Wyeth, watercolor and pencil on paper, 30 1/2 by 22 inches, 1977

A more straight-forward lighthouse is Lot 6, "Deserted Light," a beautiful watercolor and pencil on paper by Andrew Wyeth (b. 1917). It measures 30 1/2 by 22 inches and was created in 1977. The lighthouse is on Southern Island in Tenants Harbor, Maine. The lot has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $337,000.

"Dancing to the Flute" by Blum

Lot 63, "Dancing to the Flute," by Robert Frederick Blum, oil on canvas, 10 1/4 by 24 inches, 1881

Lot 63 is a very lovely oil on canvas by Robert Frederick Blum (1857-1903) that is entitled "Dancing to the Flute." It measures 10 1/4 by 24 inches and was painted in 1881. It has a modest estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It failed to sell.

"Sketch for 'Portrait of Mother and Child'" by Chase

Lot 73, "Sketch for 'Portrait of Mother and Child,'" by William Merritt Chase, oil on canvas, 22 by 15 inches, circa 1915

Lot 73 is a strong and handsome oil sketch on canvas by William Merritt Chase (1849-1916). It measures 22 by 15 inches and was painted circa 1915. It is a sketch for a work known as "Portrait of Mother and Child. The lot has an estimate of $350,000 to $550,000. The woman in the painting is the artist's daughter, Alice Dieudonné. It failed to sell.

"Madame H. de Fleury and Her Child" by Cassatt

Lot 61, "Madame H. de Fleury and Her Child," by Mary Cassatt, oil on canvas, 28 3/4 by 23 1/2 inches, circa 1890-1

Another strong and excellent portrait of a mother and child, Lot 61, also failed to sell. Entitled "Madame H. de Fleury and Her Child," it is an oil on canvas that measiures 28 3/4 by 23 1/2 inches and was painted by Mary Cassatt (1844-1936) circa 1890-1. It was once owned by Mr. and Mrs. Ogden Phipps of Roslyn, New York and has an estimate of $3,000,000 to $5,000,000. It was illustrated in a Cassatt exhibition catalogue in 1970 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

"Spring in Central Park" by Hassam

Lot 74, "Spring in Central Park," by Childe Hassam, oil on canvas, 29 1/4 by 37 1/4 inches, 1908

Lot 74, "Spring in Central Park," is an oil on canvas by Childe Hassam (1859-1935) that measures 29 1/4 by 37 1/4 inches. Painted in 1908, it has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,500,000. A muted work, it is very painterly and the woman's pose has a regalness not often found in Hassam's work. Hassam is not the greatest American Impressionist but probably had more diverse styles than any other American artist and while this is not as bold as his famous and wonderful "Flag" paintings, it is impressive. It sold for $5,641,000.

A collection of works by artists in Taos assembled by Arthur J. Stegall Jr., did very well with most works exceeding their high estimates for a total of $11,220,000.

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See The City Review article on the Fall 2003 American Paintings auction at Christie's

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