Published: December 19, 2017
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – The selling season for American art stretched out a bit longer this fall, kicking off in late October with Shannon’s 20th anniversary event, which tallied $2.3 million and saw a record for a painting by Richard Hayley Lever, and winding down in early December with Freeman’s December 3 sale focused on Pennsylvania Impressionism, the highlight of which was Daniel Garber’s “A Jersey Road,” $334,000. Smack in the middle of it all was the American Art Fair and Just Off Madison, dealer-organized events timed to coincide with the big New York sales.
Sotheby’s deviated from tradition by aligning its sale of historic American art with its Impressionist, Modern and contemporary sessions, a calculated effort to reach a wider, more energized group of buyers. Dealers, too, are looking further afield. After the auctions, many headed south for Art Basel Miami and its satellite fairs. As they say, Muhammad must go to the mountain.
Heritage, which bills itself as the world’s largest seller of collectibles but has a sizable franchise in just about everything else, got $912,500 at its November 3 American art sale in Dallas for “Lazybones,” a Norman Rockwell canvas published as a Saturday Evening Post cover on September 6, 1919. The company’s November 18 sale of Texas art saw the 1926 Alexandre Hogue landscape “Glen Rose” go for $79,125.
Six hundred forty miles northwest of Dallas, New Mexico’s Santa Fe Art Auction hosted its annual sale of classic Western art. The meticulously curated event on November 11 led with blue-chip material. Albert Bierstadt’s view of the source of the Pacific Northwest’s Snake River, an oil on paper mounted on canvas, realized $351,000, the same sum paid for a 1920 watercolor on paper of a Nicotine flower by Georgia O’Keeffe. A Gerald Peters Gallery venture, Santa Fe Art Auction also saw action on paintings by Raymond Jonson, whose success here reflects the broader revival of interest in Santa Fe’s Transcendental Group of midcentury abstractionists. Illustrated on the cover of the November/December 2017 issue of American Fine Art, Jonson’s “The Night, Chicago” doubled low estimate to sell for $163,800.
Sotheby’s American art auction on November 13 generated $19,407,375 on 58 lots, with another 19 lots going unsold. Western themes predominated here, too. Off the market for 40 years, Albert Bierstadt’s “Indians Crossing the Columbia River” went to Seattle dealer A.J. Kollar for $2,175,000. New York dealer Debra Force was happy to get the 1937 oil on canvas “Shell” by Georgia O’Keeffe for $1,515,000, especially since the O’Keeffe pastel “Yellow Sweet Peas” made $4.4 million in Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art evening sale the next day. A third O’Keeffe, an oil on board titled “Blue and White Abstraction,” went to Schiff Fine Art Advisory for $615,000.
Owings Gallery of Santa Fe purchased “New Mexican Reflections” by Marsden Hartley – an artist much sought after these days, to judge by the many Hartley paintings prominently displayed at the American Art Fair – for $615,000. The York Avenue firm knocked down a South American landscape by Frederic Edwin Church for $519,000 and Ernest Blumenschein’s “Eagle Nest Lake” for $471,000.
Sotheby’s department head Kayla Carlsen observed strength across genres, from the Frederick Carl Frieseke “Gray Day on the River,” $1,695,000, and Mary Cassatt’s “Master Robert Kelso,” which went to dealer Nan Chisholm on behalf of a client for $1,455,000, to the Norman Rockwell oil “Two Old Men and Dog: Hunting,” $855,000.
A weekly later, Bonhams responded with a November 20 sale distinguished by the richness of its early Modernist offerings. Two Marsden Hartley works led the way, with “Dogtown,” a 1931 oil on board of a pivotal subject – the small Massachusetts town where the artist emerged as an important Modernist – winning $262,500 and the less significant still life “Green and Purple Grapes in a Basket” making $115,000. “First Spring Thaw, On the Delaware” by Pennsylvania Impressionist Edward Willis Redfield garnered $81,250, while a 1937 gouache on paper by Andrew Wyeth left the room at $62,500.
The biggest total belonged to Christie’s, whose haul amounted to $34,131,500 on November 21, with another $3,569,000 sold online the following day. As in past seasons at this and other venues, Norman Rockwell had top billing. The artist’s 1948 oil on canvas “What Makes It Tick? (The Watchmaker)” led at $7,287,500. “Girl Returning from Camp” followed at $2,292,500 and “The Christmas Coach” garnered $996,500.
Christie’s saw interest in Nineteenth Century landscapes, with “A New England Lake” by Frederic Edwin Church selling for $1,812,500. An almost unheard of number of Thomas Moran vistas, six in all, drew bids ranging from $2,412,500 for “Canyon of the Virgin River” to $60,000 for a view of the Venetian lagoon. All came from an Oklahoma private collection.
Childe Hassam’s irresistible view of Old Lyme in spring, apple trees in full bloom, was a nice buy at $672,500. The Thomas Hart Benton oil and tempera on board “Night Firing of Tobacco” made $2,652,500, the third highest price at auction for the Missouri Realist.
Two painters with regional followings did well. The 1881 “Big B Cotton Plantation” by Southern artist William Aiken Walker appears to have set an auction record at $648,500. It had, notably, been commissioned from the artist by Stephen Minot Weld of Massachusetts and descended in Weld’s family until the mid-1960s. “Indian Boy with Fan” by Nicolai Fechin, the New Mexican artist of Russian descent, made a respectable $588,500.
Prices include buyer’s premium.
Photos courtesy Bonhams, Christie’s, Heritage, Santa Fe Art Auction and Sotheby’s.
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