Published: June 1, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy James Cox Gallery At Woodstock
WILLOW, N.Y. – The James Cox Gallery at Woodstock conducted its fourth online-only fine art auction on May 23, offering 267 pieces from eight private collections and seven artists’ estates. The no-reserves sale included significant works of Nineteenth and Twentieth Century American and European art across a wide swath of genres.
Gallery owner Jim Cox said he was unfazed about conducting an online-only fine art sale. The gallery has always offered internet, phone and left bids, and online sales account for a growing percentage of total auction proceeds, said Cox. “Our last auction attracted 950 bidders from 11 countries,” Cox observed, adding that 96 percent of items offered were sold [See Antiques and The Arts Weekly, December 22, 2020]. “This is an industry-wide trend,” he added. “International auction houses as well as sellers of classic cars, collectibles, rare books and manuscripts are all relying on the internet as a major marketing venue.”
This sale, totaling $249,000, attracted more than 11,000 bidders from 20 countries with successful buyers from the United States and seven other countries. Out of 267 lots, only nine pieces were left unsold. “For us, it was a landmark sale. We’ve only had one other sale that came to this total; it was when we auctioned a great portion of the Doris Lee estate, maybe 15 years ago. The combination of Covid and the online technology has just converged in a very positive way for us.”
As the formula of featuring work from artist estates and private collections in virtual sales has worked out well, Cox said that consignors responded robustly when a call went out for consignments to this event titled “7 Estates & 8 Collections.” Older collectors, seeing high demand for real estate in upstate New York as the Covid-19 pandemic drew city-dwellers out of Manhattan, sold their homes and Cox’s auction provided a quick, reliable way to sell their valuable artwork. One family estate included several important pieces by Robert De Niro Sr, father of the actor. A group of pastels, oils and charcoal drawings included in the auction were part of a collection owned by De Niro Sr’s dentist, who traded dental work for De Niro’s art. “One of these pieces may have paid for Vito Corleone’s braces!” Cox quipped.
A painting by Jimmy Ernst (1920-1984) was the top lot in the sale. The 1947 oil on canvas painting titled “Civil War Documentary,” 36 by 32 inches, was signed lower right and had been professionally conserved by “Daniel Goldreyer Ltd. – Long Island City, N.Y.” It pulled in nearly five-and-one-half times its high estimate to finish at $81,600. An American painter born in Cologne, Germany, Ernst was the son of Surrealist painter Max Ernst and Luise Straus, a well-known art historian and journalist. He was also a member of the Irascible Eighteen, a group of abstract painters who protested against the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s policy towards American painting of the 1940s. “I knew it was a fabulous piece,” said James Cox, who noted that it is going to the West Coast.
Woodstock, of course, is famous as an art colony for well-known artists like John Bentley, Konrad Cramer, John Fenton, Charles Rosen, Louis Wolchonok and Allen Cochran. A Bentley (1880-1951) oil on board landscape, circa 1940, 12 by 16 inches, had a note inscribed on verso, “Dear Elsie, Hoping this little creation of mine thrills you as much as your brown eyes thrill me. Yours affectionately, John W. Bentley.” Signed lower left and framed, it sold for $11,400. “No way for me to prove it, but I suspect that was Elsie Speicher, Eugene Speicher’s wife. Bentley and Speicher were contemporaries,” Cox said.
Two of the Robert De Niro Sr (1922-1993) pieces were notable in the sale. “Portrait of a Seated Woman,” circa 1960, an oil on canvas, 36 by 26 inches, signed lower right and framed, was bid to $8,400, while a more abstract number, titled “Seated Man,” 1957, charcoal on paper, brought $2,160. The 24-by-19-inch work was signed lower right, framed and bore a “Zabriskie Gallery, NYC” label on verso.
Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) was a French-Hungarian artist credited as the grandfather and leader of the Op Art movement. Utilizing geometric shapes and colorful graphics, Vasarely created compelling illusions of spatial depth, as seen in his work “Tsillag,” 1990, a hand-painted acrylic on wood three-dimensional image that realized $7,800. Edition 13/175, the 2¾-by-24-by-3¼-inch work, signed lower right, is going to Poland, said Cox. Vasarely’s works are held in the collections of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., the Art Institute of Chicago, the Tate Gallery in London and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice, Italy.
Paintings by Woodstock masters, including Doris Lee (1908-1983), Neil Ives (1890-1946) and Julio De Diego (1900-1979), who was husband of Gypsy Rose Lee, were also included in the sale. Fetching $7,200 was Lee’s “Harvey Girls – Bar Room,” circa 1945, an oil on board depicting the young, single women whose sense of adventure propelled them to the US Western territory in the 1880s to work as waitresses. The 15½-by-9¾-inch painting was signed lower right and framed. There was an Associated American Artists label on verso and the lot included a December 3, 1945, Life magazine issue where it was featured.
Ives was represented by a portrait, “Eads Bridge – St Louis,” 1916, an oil on canvas depicting a road and railway bridge over the Mississippi River that connects St Louis, Mo., and East St Louis, Ill. The oil on canvas, 30 by 30 inches, signed lower right and framed, earned $3,600.
De Diego’s “Flamenco Dancer,” circa 1955, was bid to $2,040.
In 2020, a retrospective exhibition, “Zulma Steele: Artist/Craftswoman,” was conducted at the Kleinert/James Center for the Arts of the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. Steele (1881-1979) was one of the pioneering women of the Arts and Crafts movement and Modernism in New York. Following her husband’s death in 1928, Steele traveled extensively in Europe, Haiti and the Bahamas. She returned to upstate New York and died in New Jersey at 98 years of age. A snowy landscape by the artist, “Ohayo Mountain in Winter,” circa 1950, an oil on board, 8 by 10 inches, passed its $700/900 estimate on its way to bring $5,400. “At the preview, we had a lot of visitors from Woodstock,” recalled Cox, “and they were all really excited and focused on that piece. I knew it was going to do well but never dreamed it was going to go that high. And I’m really happy that it’s staying here in Woodstock.”
A 1930s period piece by John Carroll, “Village Center,” the large canvas depicting a Depression-era scene of a rural town, was an unusual subject for an artist more known for his figurative work. Said Cox, “This is the best painting by this artist I have come across.” The oil canvas, 24½ by 29½ inches, signed lower right and framed, outperformed its $2/3,000 estimate and commanded $5,100.
Two landscapes by Alfred Hutty (1877-1954), dated 1907, were rare examples of this Woodstock artist’s early work. One of these, “Summer Elms,” 1907, went out at $3,600. It was an oil on canvas, 20 by 14 inches, and was signed lower right. Considered one of the leading figures of the Charleston Renaissance, Hutty created everything from impressionist landscape paintings to detailed drawings and prints of life in the South Carolina Lowcountry.
American painter and muralist and proponent of the Regionalist art movement, Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was represented in the sale by a lot comprising two lithograph portraits, “Portrait of Sharon Joad” and “Portrait of Reverend Jim Casey” from the Grapes of Wrath, 1939. The 9¾-by-7½-inch lithos were accompanied by an autographed copy of Thomas Hart Benton: A Personal Commemorative inscribed by Benton “To Peter from Tom and Rita” and settled at $3,600.
A section of the sale was devoted to works by several prominent Black artists, including Romare Bearden (1911-1988), whose screenprint “Two Women – Edition 27/120,” 1981-82, sold for $2,640.
Bringing the same amount was a painting by the oft-described “father of Russian Futurism,” David Burliuk (1882-1967), whose oil on board “Winter Scene” of country folk in a horse-drawn sleigh amid a village background, circa 1960, measured 9½ by 13¼ inches.
Bucks County, Penn., Impressionist and founder of the Baum School Of Art, Walter Emerson Baum (1884-1956), was featured in the sale with a double-sided landscape painting – “Delaware River Bridge” and “Delaware River in Fall,” circa 1930. The 12-by-14-inch oil on Masonite duo were both signed lower right and finished at $2,040. Interesting to note that the buyer intends to have the Masonite carefully split so that the paintings can be displayed side by side.
The firm’s next sale will take place in the fall. The James Cox Gallery is at 4666 Route 212. For information, 845-679-7608 or www.jamescoxgallery.com.
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