Winter landscapes were the theme of the day, both inside and out, as more than 150 bidders braved the weather to attend Freeman’s recent sale of fine paintings and sculpture.
Many more bidders elected to stay in the comfort of home, with more than 625 phone bids executed over the course of the sale and another 280 bidders participating through eBay Live Auctions.
The sale as a whole was one of the most successful ever at Freeman’s, reaching a total of $3,168,680. A total of 221 of the day’s 229 lots (96.5 percent) sold successfully, with nearly 60 percent exceeding high estimate. The gallery’s senior vice president Alasdair Nichol, who put together the sale along with David Weiss, was spent but smiling at the close of the day.
Although the 230 lots took nearly four hours to sell, this was certainly the type of sale every auctioneer loves to take. There seemed to be a forest of hands shooting up for nearly every lot, said Nichol. “We’ve reinforced Freeman’s position as the country’s premier auction house for Pennsylvania Impressionists, and the sale received unprecedented levels of interest across the board,” he said.
The top lot of the day was a winter scene by Edward Willis Redfield, consigned to Freeman’s by a local private collector. Bidding began at just under the low estimate of $300,000, but competition in the room quickly surpassed the previous record ($519,500, set at Freeman’s in December 2001). Many phone bidders, primarily private Pennsylvania collectors, battled it out until one took the painting home for a new world record of $691,250.
Shortly after the Redfield, in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts section of the sale, was a run of five paintings by another of the leading lights from the Pennsylvania Impressionist movement, Walter Elmer Schofield. The consignor, Margaret Phillips of Langhorne, Penn., is the grandniece of the artist, and the paintings had descended to her through the family. The previous auction record for Schofield was $60,000, which was quickly eclipsed by the first of the Schofields in the sale. “Montmartre,” a 37- by 47-inch depiction of a corner café scene from his 1896 trip to Europe, sold to the trade for $80,750.
The record did not last for very long – perhaps four or five minutes – as the next lot sold for three times the previous record. “River in Winter,” a 40- by 48-inch landscape, sold to the Redfield underbidder at $201,750.
The list of Pennsylvania Impressionists for whom Freeman’s holds the world record already a considerably lengthier list than any other auction house grew considerably longer on Sunday.
Fern Coppedge, whose work has been a consistent top performer at Freeman’s, was represented by four paintings in the sale. The previous record, set at Freeman’s in 2002, was not exceeded, but “Houses along a Stream, Early Autumn” from a private collection in Washington, D.C., came within inches of the record at $124,750. Another academy artist who has been popular with Freeman’s buyers is the “Red Rose Girl” and illustration artist Jessie Willcox Smith, also represented by four pieces in the sale. Her oil, mixed media and oil illustration of “The Young Tennis Player” achieved the highest price of the four, selling for $69,750.
Another record-getter in the section was “Still Life” by Jane Piper. Estimated at $2/3,000, the colorful depiction of fruit and flowers on a tabletop attracted bids from overseas and across the country, but ultimately sold to a local private buyer at $22,325.
Other top performers from the academy section of the sale included Wilbur Dean Hamilton’s “Portrait of a Seated Lady” at $23,500 (world record), with records also set for Richard Gibson Wedderspoon, Julian E. Levi, John W. McCoy, Isabel Branson Cartwright, Ethel V. Ashton, Gertrude Lambert and Charles Rudy.
The two final lots in the academy section came to Freeman’s from the collection of the late Philadelphia art collector and philanthropist Benjamin Bernstein. Bernstein’s collection contained hundreds of works by the Philadelphia artists Seymour Remenick and Julius Bloch, the majority of which will be offered in a February 22 sale at Freeman’s devoted only to the two artists. Both works set records on December 7, with the $32,900 achieved for Bloch’s “The Box Party” being especially noteworthy.
The Samuel T. Freeman Memorial Scholarship, established in 1999 to fund the final year at the academy for an outstanding graduate student as chosen by the faculty, is funded each year from Freeman’s proceeds from the academy section of this sale. With two percent of the nearly $1.7 million section set aside for the donation, this year’s sale will fund the $10,000 scholarship with another $22,000 added to the Samuel T. Freeman endowment fund. The second recipient of the scholarship, Noah Shem Klein, was graduated from the academy in 2001 and will be given a solo exhibition at Freeman’s in June 2004.
With strong sections of European painting, modern painting and sculpture, and American painting, the day’s top results were not confined to artists from the academy. Highlights from the European section began with a “Portrait of a Lady, Half Length in a Decollette Dress” attributed to the Irish artist Nathaniel Hone selling to a phone bidder for $17,625, nearly triple the high estimate. Two works by the British watercolorist Myles Birket Foster also fared well, with “In the Garden” selling for just under $10,000 and “Children Feeding Ducks from a Punt” achieving a price of $14,100 against a $4/6,000 estimate.
The substantial Modern section of the sale was fed mainly by the Bernstein collection, beginning with a bronze bust of Bernstein by the British sculptor Dame Elizabeth Frink ($7,050 against a $2/3,000 estimate).
Other top lots in the section included “Standing Diamond,” a bronze sculpture by Lynn Chadwick ($34,075) and two sound sculptures by Harry Bertoia, the first with 36 22-inch rods ($16,450) and the second with 25 of similar height ($21,150). Both results were more than double the high estimates.
Bernstein was also a collector of works from the CoBrA Expressionist movement, and works by Jan Sierhuis, Eugene Brands, Henk Willemese (new world record) and Anton Rooskens were featured in the section. The top price was paid for “South Sea Motif” by Rooskens, which sold for $32,900 against a $20/30,000 estimate.
Among the most whimsical of Bernstein’s predilections was for the delicate carved linden sculptures of Japanese artist Fumio Yoshimura.
Estimated conservatively, all of the 11 Yoshimuras in the sale greatly exceeded high estimate. The final piece in the collection, a wonderfully detailed sculpture of an artichoke, achieved the top price of $7,050. Most of the Yoshimura pieces sold to a bidder on eBay Live Auctions, which was a more active factor in the sale than ever before. Internet participation in the sale exceeded $300,000, with top results to Internet buyers, including a Coppedge for $70,500, and two Schofields at $42,300 and $22,325.
Finally, the American section of the sale had a number of high points as well, beginning with the Nineteenth Century artist Hiram Dwight Torrey. Measuring 51 by 70 inches, “Indians in a Wooded Landscape” sold for $25,850, another world record. Other record and top prices from the section were paid for works by Lee Gatch and A.G. Burton. The two top lots of the section were “Figure on a Pier at the Edge of a Lake,” which sold for $47,000 against an estimate of $10/15,000; and a Charles Marion Russell watercolor of “Cowboy Riding his Horse Uphill,” which sold to a private collector in Montana for $64,250.
All told, the sale featured more than 20 world record prices and only eight unsold lots, a ratio that bodes well both for the continuing upward trends at Freeman’s and for the Pennsylvania Impressionist market as a whole.
Prices reported including buyer’s premium of 171/2 percent up to $50,000 and ten percent thereafter.