By Carter B.
The American Painting auction
market has not
yet recovered to the high volume of the late 1980ís but its
price levels have.
In the constant jockeying
and Sothebyís, Sotheby's has the most lots to offer this
go-round, about 190, not counting a fine collection of Taos Group
paintings in a separate catalogue, while Christieís, which
is offering about 165 lots, appears to be the winner this spring
in overall quality. These numbers are less than half what used
to be offered at the "important" sales.
Given the strong general
economy and the robust
health of the art market, it is surprising that more paintings
have not come on the market, a reflection perhaps of the lingering
concern about the high number of buy-ins, or works that did not
sell, at auctions in the early and mid-90ís.
While the proliferation of
museums has taken
part of the available inventory of works out of circulation, the
practice of deaccessioning, selling off works from their collections,
by museums actually seems to be increasing. The Amon Carter Museum
in Fort Worth, for example, has included numerous excellent Western
paintings in this auction.
The Western painting market
has, in fact, recovered
nicely from a rather long lull in the marketplace while American
Impressionist works continue to be quite popular and earlier Hudson
River School paintings have become rather scarce in the auction
In the Christieís sale, there
many early landscapes apart from a very nice early Vermont scene
by Frederic Church (1826-1900) and a dramatic Luminist beach scene
near Newport, R. I., by John F. Kensett (1816-1872).
The former is 16-by-24-inch oil
Lot 39, that depicts Otter Creek in Middlebury, Vt., and was painted
in 1854. Church, who would become the nationís foremost interpreter
of grandiloquent landscape helped Americans visualize their "manifest
destiny" along with his teacher, Thomas Cole, and Albert
Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. Despite its modest size, this is an
excellent work that should easily exceed its estimate of $250,000
to $350,000. It sold for $266,500 (including the buyer's
as do all sales results in this article). (The auction also
includes a small sketch by Church, Lot 28, that was formerly in
the collection of Richard and Gloria Manney and was auctioned
at Sothebyís Dec. 4, 1996. The pleasant 5 1/2-by-7-inch painting,
which was executed in 1849, has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000.
It sold for $46,000.)
The latter, Lot 20, is an 1851
oil on canvas,
10 1/8 by 24 inches, that is an unusually broad composition by
this important Hudson River School artist whose best and mature
works, such as this, have an abstract serenity. It is estimated
$250,000 to $350,000, which might be considered a bit ambitious
since it does not contain any figures yet its quality is justifiably
very high. It sold for $464,500! (Lot 6 is another
a more meticulous but unfinished landscape study, oil on canvas,
19 by 16 inches, of two trees. The sketch is quite lovely although
the bottom foreground is unfinished, which may affect its price.
It is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000. It sold fo $36,800.)
Another leading Hudson River
is Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) and Lot 29 is a good, typical example
of his work that is appropriately estimated at $25,000 to $35,000
given its relatively small size, 10 1/2 by 16 1/2 inches, and
the quality of its composition. It sold for $48,300.
(1820-1910) was another
important member of the Hudson River School and Lot 7, "ĎSpringí
on the River," is a very pretty oil on canvas, 21 3/4 by
14 1/2 inches, that is reminiscent of his early fine woody glade
scenes but is done in an Impressionist manner with a lighter palette
reflecting its 1903 date. It has a conservative estimate of $20,000
to $30,000. It sold for $32,200.
A coastal scene of a fisherman
on the rocks
at Nahant, Me., Lot 10, is a fine example of the work of William
Stanley Haseltine (1835-1900). While it is not as detailed as
some of his larger works, this 12-by-22-inch oil on canvas is
quite effective and reasonably estimated at $100,000 to $150,000.
It passed at $60,000!
A more famous marine artist, of
Winslow Homer, and Christieís has two of his watercolors,
Lots 11 and 21. The former, "Sailing a Dory," 9 1/4
by 13 1/4 inches, is estimated at $500,000 to $700,000, and according
to the catalogue was painted in Gloucester, Mass., in 1880, when
he lived in a lighthouse in the center of that townís harbor.
The catalogue quotes Helen Cooper from her 1986 book, "Winslow
Homer Watercolors," as noting that that year "Homerís
use of color took a great leap forward, and whole sheets became
embodiments of a new found coloristic energy...Simplifying his
palette to Prussian blue, cobalt, vermilion, yellow ocher, and
black and selecting a heavily grained wove watercolor paper, Homer
began each watercolor study over the barest graphite sketch, relying
on color alone, blocking the principal masses and tones, and
the overall structure of the composition in color rather than
in line." The composition in this unsigned work is very strong,
although the sky lacks subtlety. Lot 11 passed at $430,000!
The latter lot, which is larger
is estimated at $700,000 to $1,000,000 and was probably painted
a year or two later during the artistís stay in Cullercoats,
England. The 11 1/2-by-19 3/4-inch watercolor, "Looking Out
to Sea," depicts some fisherwomen standing by a boat on the
beach on a hazy day with another figural group in the left distance
and a man walking in the right distance with another boat in the
background. The artistís watercolors of the English fisherwomen
were quite different from his American watercolors. They were
more somber, perhaps in deference to popular contemporary European
preoccupations with the dignity of working people. They tend to
be of more uneven quality than much of his American work, but
this is one of the better ones with a fine atmospheric feel and
sense of movement whereas some others are rather static and beneath
Homerís very high standards. Homer (1836-1910), of course,
is Americaís greatest artist. This lot sold for $772,500.
Another artist associated with
is Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908). His formulaic coastal
scenes with rocks at one side, cumulus clouds and a sailboat or
two on the horizon are very popular and abundant, but his smaller
landscapes are often lovelier especially when they have figures.
Lot 3 is a very lovely, almost Luminist work, oil on paper laid
down on canvas, 7 1/2 by 15 1/4 inches, that is representative
of his best work. It is estimated not unreasonably at $30,000
to $50,000 in contrast to Lots 47 and 49, other more formulaic
works by the artist, that are estimated at $120,000 to $180,000
and $70,000 to $100,000, respectively. Lot 3 sold for
Lots 47 and 49 sold for $211,500 and $101,500, respectively.
Martin Johnson Heade
(1819-1904) is one of
the few American artists known for several different themes.
"Martin Johnson Headeís body of
is characterized by exceptionally unique artistic achievements
from Victorian floral still lifes to tropical salt marshes and
intoxicating examinations of orchids and hummingbirds. Above these
accomplishments, his series of magnolia flowers stands out as
the culminating triumph of his career. These works count among
some of the most original and beguiling achievements of American
still life," the catalogue noted about Lot 5, "Two Magnolias
on Blue Plush," a 15 1/4 by 24 inch oil on canvas by the
Some might quibble that the
accomplishments are his dark coastal pictures seen to be best
advantage at the Metropolitan Museum and the Dallas Museum of
Art and note that the salt marshes were in untropical New England,
but "intoxicating" certainly is an apt adjective for
the always exotic Heade. The catalogue entry for his lot makes
much of the fact that "for Heade, the flower always represented
woman" and these magnolias are certainly sensuous. The painting
is estimated aggressively at $300,000 to $500,000. It sold
Central Park in New York is the
two major paintings in the auction. Lot 61, "Model Sailboat
Pond, Central Park, New York," shown above, is a 20 by 24
inch oil on canvas by Ernest Lawson (1873-1939) that is a very
bright, fine and rather loose painting by this usually dense artist
who was one of "The Eight," the group of artists that
formed the basis of what became known as the Ashcan School. This
work was executed between 1904 and 1907 and shows the gilded dome
of Temple Beth-El on Fifth Avenue and 75th Street in the background
that was erected in 1891 and demolished in 1927. The painting
has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000 reflecting its documentation
of a changing city and the high quality of the work. This
passed at $470,000! Another excellent Lawson is Lot 69,
Duyvil Creek," in which the artist employs much stronger
color than usual. It is conservatively estimated at $200,000 to
$300,000. It sold for $200,500. An even more
is Lot 73, "Summer Clouds, Halifax," which has an estimated
of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $43,500. All
are evidence that the conventional notion of Lawson as a artist
with a quite drab palette of grays and browns is due for an overhaul
The other Central Park painting
is by Childe
Hassam (1859-1935). Lot 13, "Across the Park," is a
27 3/4 by 24 3/4 inch oil on canvas that is an elevated view from
West Side of Central Park showing the sheep buildings that are
now part of Tavern-on-the-Green. The light-colored, dappled
painting, done in 1904, has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,000,000.
It sold for only $1,102,500, probably reflecting the fact
it was a good but not a sensational painting.
A more appealing and delightful
Hassam is Lot
31, "The Cathedral and Fifth Avenue in June," a 20 1/4
by 14 inch oil on canvas painted in 1893, the year of the famous
exposition in Chicago that inspired the City Beautiful movement.
In this work, St. Patrickís Cathedral is brilliantly white
and overlooks a lively and detailed boulevard scene with horse-drawn
coaches and carriages. Although the cathedral was designed in
1850 but did not open until 1879 and its spires were not completed
until 1888. It is estimated at $700,000 to $1 million. It was
passed at $540,000!
A still more beautiful and
poetic Hassam, however,
is Lot 32, which is highly reminiscent of the nocturnes of James
McNeil Whistler and Albert Pinkham Ryder. The large, bluish-gray
and white painting, "Moonlight Off the Isles of Shoals,"
oil on canvas, 18 by 16 inches, has a very modest estimate of
$150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $244,500.
Another major American
Impressionist is John
Henry Twachtman (1853-1902) and Lot 60, "The Artistís
House Through the Trees," is very similar, indeed better,
in style, to Hassamís Lot 13, the Central Park scene, although
it is smaller. A very good Twachtman, it is conservatively estimated
at $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $475,500!
The best American Impressionist
work in the
auction is Lot 59, "Lily Garden," by Louis Ritman (1889-1963).
This 32-inch-square oil on canvas depicting a woman tending her
garden. The artist spent time in Giverny, France, and the catalogue
notes that his pictures there "combine an Impressionist style
and palette with the American notion of intimism, with tremendous
success." The work is estimated at $250,000 to $350,000.
It was passed at $220,000!
Whistler (1834-1903) is very
in the auction with a very fine and colorful chalk and pastel,
12 by 6 inches, of a Venetian street scene, Lot 17, "Corte
del Paradiso," shown at the left. This was a popular subject
for Whistler and this is an excellent and lovely example that
is conservatively estimated at $180,000 to $240,000. It sold
"For his subject matter," the
notes, "Whistler all but ignored the famous canal views and
attractions of Venice, preferring instead to depict lesser-known
corners of the city, as he does here with Corte del Paradiso,
which is highly representative of Whistlerís best Venice
pastels. It exemplifies his signature style, using a dark paper
to provide a foil for his deft color notes of blues, whites, oranges
Bravura brushwork is evident in
Lot 62, a 20
1/4-by-16 1/2-inch pastel by Everett Shinn (1876-1953). Although
he was a member of the Ashcan School, Shinn had a penchant for
the elegant, the stylish and especially the theatrical and this
smashing depiction of a "Vaudeville Dancer" captures
his enthusiasms well. It is estimated, perhaps a bit ambitiously,
at $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $321,500.
One of the highlights of the
auction is Lot
63, a great oil by Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924), entitled
"Beach Scene No. 1." This work, which is the back cover
illustration of the catalogue, is one of the artistís finest
works, a rich tapestry-like composition of strong forms that is
a very painterly blend of the best of Cezanne and Matisse. It
is appropriately estimated at $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It
sold for only $772,500. (Another very good Prendergast, Lot 97,
"Park, Naples," had an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000
and was passed at $360,000.)
Another excellent work is Lot
66, a fine composition
by Theodore Robinson (1852-1896) that is estimated at $600,000
to $900,000. It sold for $552,500.
A great small oil by George
of "Spring Morning, Houston and Division Streets, New York,"
Lot 70, has an unusually bright palette for this undervalued and
uneven star of the Ashcan School. The 16 by 20 inch oil, shown
below, is dated 1922 and is estimated conservatively at $80,000
to $120,000. It sold for $107,000, perhaps because the
was a bit too blue.
A slightly larger work by
George Bellows is
another gem. Lot 72, "Cattle and Pig Pen," this 20 1/4
by 24 1/4 oil on canvas manifests all of the artistís painterliness
and saturated palette and is estimated at only $40,000 to $60,000.
It sold for $79,500.
The Western section of the
auction has a rare
major work by Carl Wimar (1828-1863) that is most impressive:
Lot 101, "Billy Bowlegs," shown below. This portrait
of an Indian described in the catalogue as "the leading figure
in the so-called Third Seminole War (1849-1858)" was probably
done from a photograph and may have been the central image of
a three-panel composition that was never completed. It is estimated
at $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $827,500, a world auction
record for the artist!
The Amon Carter Foundation is
important Western paintings to benefit the Amon Carter Museum
Acquisition Fund. These include Lot 128, "The Horse Thieves,"
by Charles Marion Russell (1864-1926), estimated at $1,800,000
to $2,400,000, which was passed at $950,000; Lot
The Badlands," a watercolor by Henry F. Farny (1847-1916),
estimated at $200,000 to $300,000, which sold for $310,500;
Lot 110, "The Wild Bunch," by Maynard Dixon (1875-1946),
estimated at $150,000 to $250,000, which sold for $332,500;
and Lot 111, "A Reconnaissance," by Frederic Remington
(1861-1909), estimated at $2.5 million to $3.5 million, which
sold for $5,172,500, a world auction record for the artist.
These are all supreme examples of the artistsí work and may
well be exceeded and set some records. Lot 114, "The Price
of His Hide," by Charles Marion Russell, sold within its
estimate to the Gerald Peters Gallery for $1,432,500, a world
auction record for the artist.
The foundation is also selling
work by Charles Sheeler (1883-1965), the modernist and Precisionist
painter, Lot 125, "Improvisation on a Mill Town," that
is a good example of his work and estimated at $500,000 to $700,000.
It was passed at $400,000.
The auction also has two very
large and interesting
paintings by Arthur B. Davies (1862-1928), Lots 137 and 143, which
are estimated at $40,000 to $60,000 and $30,000 to $50,000
The latter is a better painting, but both are impressive. Lot
137 sold for $63,000 and Lot 143 sold for $55,200. A very
colorful painting of a woman with large feathers of different
colors by Walt Kuhn, Lot 138, is also a very good example of his
work and is estimated at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for
Milton Avery (1885-1965) was
in his flat dimensionality by Matisse but has always had an unusual
palette and interesting compositions. Lot 139, "Anemones,"
shown above, is a surprisingly pretty work that is also very strong
and would probably have pleased Vincent Van Gogh. It is appropriately
estimated at $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $332,500.
George Tooker (b. 1920) is a
whose tempera works seldom appear at auction. There are three
in this sale, Lots 146, 147 and 149, estimated at $40,000 to $60,000,
$100,000 to $150,000 and $30,000 to $50,000. Lot 146 sold for
$90,500; Lot 147 sold for $222,500; and Lot 149 sold for $63,000.
Tookerís subjects are eerie, mysterious, troubled, fragile,
if not frightened, people and unfailingly sympathetic and therefore
interested. His work is considerably undervalued in large part
because it is out of the mainstream as was the primitive work
of Morris Hirschfield (1872-1946) who is represented by one of
his best works, Lot 164, "Girl With Dog," which is estimated
at only $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for a rather astounding
Paul Manship's "Indian
His Dog," a large bronze sculpture by Paul Manship (1885-1966),
Lot 100, soared past its high estimate of $600,000 to sell for
$992,500, a world record for the artist.
Several lots that
carried high estimates
of $30,000 were among the surprises: Lot 4, a small, rather dark
Baltimore scene by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880) sold for
$156,500; Lot 18, "The Visitation," by Henry Osawa Tanner
(1859-1937), for $211,500: and Lot 35, a "Tropical Landscape"
by Louis Remy Mignot (1831-1870) sold for $184,000.
Of 169 lots offered,
129 were sold, a respectable
but not terribly impressive 79 percent, although the sale total
of $28,547,800 was a healthier 85 percent of what had been the
pre-sale low estimate. Despite some puzzling disappointments,
like the Hassam "St. Patrick's," the Prendergast "Beach
Scene" and the Ritman "Lily Garden," and some weakness
in the still life field, the results were, in fact, impressive
and strong and perhaps more than other major sales so far this
season did demonstrate that the buyers were ready to spring
for quality and in the case of the Twachtman, Wimar, the Tookers
and Hirschfield show considerable sophistication.