Published: August 7, 2017
Review by Laura Beach, Catalog Photos Courtesy Coeur d’Alene Art Auction
RENO, NEV. – If there is one thing that unites buyers of Western art, it is a penchant for works with vivid stories to tell and dramatic vistas to conjure. Nothing conveyed this better than “A Close Call,” the adrenalin-charged painting of a rider on horseback, pistol in hand, leaping over a desiccated chasm. The large, high-action oil on canvas by William R. Leigh (1866-1955) sold to a Texas collector for $1,155,000, including buyer’s premium, topping Coeur d’Alene Art Auction’s 32nd annual sale of Western and American art in Reno. In all, the July 29 auction realized more than $16 million.
“The total was on par with last year and the sell-through rate was a little over 95 percent, which is really good,” said Coeur d’Alene partner Mike Overby. “Our buyers are from all over the country. Plenty of them are from Montana, Texas, California and New York City. The common bond is their love for the West. Many of them spend time here.”
Overby said Coeur d’Alene Art Auction saw new buyers and “a tremendous amount of online bidding, up about 25 percent from last year. That’s nice, because the online demographics tend to skew younger.”
As every auctioneer knows, getting fresh property of high quality is key. “We had some tremendous paintings that had not recently been on the market, including works by Charles M. Russell,” Overby said. The surprise of the group was “Montana Winter,” a 12-by-19-inch gouache on paper of 1905. It sailed past its $110/150,000 estimate to bring $565,250.
“It came down to two people who were determined to take it home. I had the underbidder on the telephone and was sure I would get ‘Montana Winter,’ but we finally ran out of ammunition. The underbidder did pick up a very nice Russell bronze,” said Overby. Among the 15 Russells offered was the watercolor on paper “Wild Horses” of 1905. It went for $416,500 ($400/600,000).
Though increasingly scarce, historical paintings and works on paper make up an important component of sales at Coeur d’Alene, which this year featured a 1917 view of Utah’s Rio Virgin by Thomas Moran (1837-1926). Bearing the J.N. Bartfield gallery label, the russet view of a canyon gorge and riverbed left the room at $651,000 ($600/900,000). An 1896 ink wash and gouache on paper by Frederic Remington, “We Have Got the Men and the Corn and the Money and the Mules,” achieved $154,700 ($100/150,000).
Early Modernist paintings by members of the Taos Society of Artists and their circle made a comeback, spurred by unexpectedly strong offerings. E.I. Couse’s (1866-1936) striking oil on canvas portrait “Tu-e-Na, Chieftain” of 1911 left the room at $190,400 ($80/120,000). “Chief Bull Child – Blackfeet” by Joseph H. Sharp (1859-1953), an oil on canvas of 1905, went for $101,150 ($80/120,000) and “First Snow on Taos Mountain” by Oscar Berninghaus (1874-1952) was a hit at $113,050 ($60/90,000).
A later member of the Taos group, E. Martin Hennings (1886-1956) was represented by the meditative oil on canvas “Riders in the Sage,” which brought $267,750 ($100/150,000). Coeur d’Alene knocked down a second painting by Hennings, circa 1930, titled “Twining Canyon” for $154,700. By Leon Gaspard (1882-1964), a distinctively exotic voice in the American Impressionist tradition, the 1914 “On the Russian Front” made $130,900 ($30/50,000).
“Many of the great practitioners of the golden age of illustration became easel painters. As a group, these artists are very popular with our clients,” said Overby. Painters who come to mind are Philip R. Goodwin (1881-1935), here represented by “In A Tight Corner,” $119,000, and “Moose Hunters,” $107,100, and John Ford Clymer (1907-1989), a student of Howard Pyle, whose oil on board “Practice Makes Perfect” fetched $119,000 ($20/30,000).
Born in 1874, Frank Tenney Johnson made his name as an illustrator for Field and Stream. His 1934 oil on canvas “Return from the Hunt” sold for $327,250 ($250/350,000). Johnson’s moodily atmospheric “Moonlight on the Ranch” of 1925 achieved $142,800 ($125/225,000).
William R. Leigh illustrated for Scribner’s and Collier’s Weekly while also traveling extensively in the West and completing murals for Eastman Kodak and the American Museum of Natural History. Besides “A Close Call,” $1,155,000, Leigh’s oil on canvas “Tid Bits” was a success at $267,750 ($250/350,000).
Even Howard Terpning (b 1972), the acknowledged master of contemporary Western painting, spent his early years creating work for Time, Newsweek, Reader’s Digest and Field and Stream.
“We had six Terpnings. Five sold over high estimate,” marveled Overby, directing attention to Terpning’s “Whiskey Smugglers,” a 1998 gouache on paper, $819,000 ($400/600,000); the 1975 oil on board “The Pipe Holder,” $327,250 ($150/250,000); the 1985 oil on board “Posing for Posterity,” $226,100 ($60/90,000) and the 1977 oil on canvas “Along the Old North Trail,” $154,700 ($100/150,000).
Carl Rungius (1869-1959) and Bob Kuhn (1920-2007) led the wildlife art category. Rungius, a Coeur d’Alene mainstay with a string of auction records to his name, was represented by “Out of the Canyon,” $476,000 ($300/500,000) and the 1907 “High Country Monarch,” $386,750 ($200/300,000), among others. Top selling among the Kuhns was the 1997 acrylic on board “The Predator,” $119,000 ($60/90,000).
Auction house spokesperson Michael Scott noted record auction prices this round for Dale and Brian Ford, Robert Pummill, Ed Kucera, Don Oelze, Owen Gromme and Michael Cassidy. Scott maintains Coeur d’Alene’s user-friendly website, where records for a host of Western artists are compiled.
Disappointments in this sale were few and far between. “Any time a painting fails to sell, we feel bad for the consignor, but we passed fewer than 20 lots out of a total of 325 offered. Of those 20 lots, five or six have since sold,” Overby said.
The 2018 Coeur d’Alene Art Auction is planned for July 28.
Coeur d’Alene Art Auction is at 8836 North Hess Street in Hayden, Idaho. For further information, 208-772-9009 or www.cdaartauction.com.
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