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,
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Lot 73 is a strong and handsome
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
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.
Lot 74, "Spring in
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.