The first American Art Fair was launched with 11 exhibitors on Sunday, November 30, at the National Academy on Fifth Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets, part of “Museum Mile” in Manhattan. The fair lasted until 6 pm on December 4. Nearly all the dealers hailed from New York City. As a first impression, the exhibition could be likened to a “Winter Antiques Show” of American art, only on a smaller scale. Not surprisingly, Catherine Sweeny Singer, executive director of the Winter Antiques Show, is the director.
Because the fair opened on a Sunday evening after the Thanksgiving holiday, and because there was a wintry mix of weather, some of the participating dealers had modest expectations for attendance at the gala. One dealer confided that he had thought he might see 60 to 80 people. Surprise, surprise. The gala count totaled 415 well-informed, enthusiastic guests. From 5 pm to well after 7 pm, the display rooms were packed with people in town for the American art sales at the auction houses. This year, there was no charge to attend the gala or the fair itself, but you would not have guessed that from the freely flowing wine and exquisite hors d’oeuvres at the gala. A string quartet greeted collectors as they approached the impressive, graceful bronze of “Diana” by Anna Hyatt Huntington, NA, a focal point at the base of the elegant wrought iron spiral staircase that led up to the exhibition spaces.
The museum, at 1085 Fifth Avenue, was formerly a private mansion owned by railroad heir Archer Huntington and his wife, sculptor Anna Hyatt Huntington. The grand interior in the French Renaissance Revival and neo-Greco styles was inviting and expansive †that is, expansive until it was jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with collectors, scholars, museum curators and dealers. With high ceilings, good lighting and linen wall fabric in different hues, the space was perfect for displaying the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century art that dealers featured.
Alexander Acevedo of Alexander Gallery, New York City, featured a whole wall of portraits, genre paintings and other figurative works, including a William Babcock painting of several rosy-cheeked children from 1858 titled “The Morning of Life, the Burdett Family” and the large study, “Head of a Roman,” by Thomas Cole. An elaborate and large William West painting was another major focal point.
Avery Galleries, Bryn Mawr, Penn., had a lovely painting of asters in a field by John Leslie Breck; a magnificent Daniel Garber, “Delaware Hillside”; a loose, painterly seascape with moody grays and blues by Irving Ramsey Wiles titled “Peconic Bay”; and a masterful Thomas Moran of the “Monterey Coast.”
Thomas Colville Fine Art, Guilford, Conn., and New York City, had a dreamy, timeless oil on canvas of a girl and a boy fishing by Francis Coulter Jones titled “The Trout Pool” from 1913. Ensconced on a grassy bank, the children look toward the pool in peaceful anticipation. Thomas Pritchard Rossiter’s “America Triumphant” or “Nourishing the Emigrant and Freeing the Slave,” circa 1863 (during the Civil War), was a moderately sized painting that, inch for inch, was one of the most powerful statements in the exhibition. “America” is portrayed as a red-, white- and blue- clothed woman with a billowing American flag behind her. She holds a cruise of wine in one hand †outstretched to an immigrant family, and shackles in the other, raised in triumph over a freed slave. Also at the Colville booth was a beautiful George Inness painting titled “Sunshine and Clouds,” 1883. Of the 26 pictures in his booth, Colville estimates that 25 had been exhibited at the National Academy in their day.
Debra Force Fine Art, New York City, featured a spectacular Thomas Moran, “Rainbow over the City, New York Harbor from Hoboken,” 1893, that measured 27½ by 40½ inches. Helena Grubesic of the gallery said, “We sort of brought out the big guns for the show.” Early in the gala preview, she had already spotted clients from Alabama, Michigan and Washington state. Robert Gwaltney’s “The Flower Vendor,” a soft impressionistic landscape by Robert Vonnoh and Mary Cassatt’s “Francoise Wearing a Big White Hat” were just a few of the paintings at Debra Force’s exhibition. “Portrait of Mrs Raphael” by John Singer Sargent was a full-sized oil on canvas priced at $1.5 million.
Crossing the centuries in a harmonious way was Bernard Goldberg Fine Art, New York City. The dealer had a William Merritt Chase from 1880, a Raphael Soyer from 1935 and a work by Thomas Wilmer Dewing from 1923′5. A Guy Pene du Bois painting of a crowd in a circus tent showed the expressive nature of his loose paint strokes to convey fear and awe. A bronze sculpture by Gaston La Chaise portrayed a group of leaping dolphins and dated from 1922. A lively Stuart Davis painting (how could he be anything but lively) was quite large at 26 by 38 inches and showed a harbor scene. Dated 1914, it was an exciting piece. Jerome Jacalone of the gallery said, “This is a small, intimate show. The National Academy is a great venue. It feels as if you are looking at someone’s private collection, going from room to room.”
Childe Hassam’s “Gloucester Harbor” of 1919 was hung by Godel & Co., New York City, along with “Girl with a Teacup” by William Glackens, 1935; “Grand Canyon” by Thomas Moran, 1921; and “Robbins Reef Lighthouse off Thompkinsville, New York Harbor” by Francis Augustus Silva, 1878. A standout at the Godel display was a typically austere folk portrait by Ammi Phillips, circa 1848, titled “A Portrait of Jeanette Payne.” Howard Godel said, “Collectors of the kind of art at this fair really love art. They are not speculators. They are people who buy art for the right reasons.” Godel was pleased to chat with scholar Michael Quick, the leading expert on George Inness and author of the catalogue raisonné.
Hirschl & Adler featured James Henry Haseltine’s sculpture “America Honoring Her Fallen Brave,” 1865, and a Childe Hassam pastel on paper titled “Four in Hand at the Grand Prix.” Stuart Feld, the gallery’s president and director, is currently preparing a book on Hassam. “An Arrangement of Double Hollyhocks,” 1878, by Aldelheid Dietrich was getting a lot of attention. There were pieces by Sanford Robinson Gifford, Alfred Mauer, bronze reliefs by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a striking painting of men working in the forest by N.C. Wyeth titled “Lumber,” a Maurice Prendergast titled “Siena” and a Theodore Robinson titled “The White Bridge.” One of the highlights was a wonderful Colin Campbell Cooper painting of the “Metropolitan Life Tower, Madison Square,” circa 1909‱919, the world’s tallest building from 1909 to 1913.
Eric Baumgartner, Hirschl & Adler’s senior vice president and director of American paintings and sculpture, said, “There was a steady stream of people through the fair, and especially on Monday, when there seemed to be quite a few museum people, including those from the MFA Boston, the High Museum and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.” Also spotted were representatives from the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Wadsworth Atheneum and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
You could find Hudson River School examples from Sanford Gifford, David Johnson, Jasper Cropsey, Alvan Fisher and George Inness at Menconi & Schoelkopf, New York City, but there were surprises, too. There was a painting by self-taught African American artist Horace Pippin, and modern works by Joseph Stella and Marguerite Zorach. The Inness, “An Autumn Day,” 1893, was particularly beautiful. The Zorach was an eye-catching abstract with bright colors and a playful composition. The dealer sold a major piece by American Modernist Niles Spencer titled “Back of the Town, Provincetown,” 1926.
One exhibitor, Gerald Peters Gallery, transported viewers to the Old West with “The Rattlesnake” and “Bronco Buster,” bronzes by Frederic Remington; a rare Charles Russell painting titled “Navajo Lookout Surveying the Plains,” circa 1918/19, priced at more than $1 million; and a Cornelius Kieghoff oil, “Moonlight Salmon Fishing.” A magnetic painting of a Native American, “Kish-Kallo-Wa, Family Algonquin, Tribe Shawnee,” was painted by Henry Inman in 1832-33 as part of a group of 144 Indian portraits, each with its own number on the frame. “Kish-Kallo-Wa” was number 10, emblazoned boldly on the original frame. The sale of the portrait, priced at $450,000, is restricted to qualified institutions and Gerald Peters has represented the collection for many years. On a different note, Gerry Wunderlich of the gallery was especially pleased to display John Tracy’s large sporting art painting of hunters and dogs moving through the tall grass and woods.
Questroyal Fine Art had a lively watercolor on paper by Andrew Wyeth titled “Beech Trees,” a classic Guy Carleton Wiggins oil on board of Columbus Circle, an enchanting painting of a snowy forest titled “New England Winter” by Walter Launt Palmer and a choice William Trost Richards oil titled “Sundown, Atlantic City.” Dealer Louis Salerno also brought a striking Hermann Hertzog from 1878 titled “Mountain Falls by the Mill,” as well as works by Ralph Blakelock. For pure, radiant beauty there was “Autumn Lake Scene” by John William Casilear, who captured glowing autumn colors reflected in calm, still water. Viewers could also find two lovely florals by Martin Johnson Heade: “Red Roses in a Crystal Goblet” and the delicate white blossoms of “Cherokee Roses in a Tumbler.”
Spanierman Gallery featured a grand William Merritt Chase portrait of “Child Star Elsie Leslie Lyde as Little Lord Fauntleroy,” circa 1888. The 69¼-by-39½-inch painting had the feeling of the great Spanish painter Diego Velasquez. Also on display was a lovely 30-by-30-inch painting of a waterfall by John Henry Twachtman, circa 1898, and an impressive Arthur Wesley Dow painting of the Grand Canyon.
Alex Acevedo of Alexander Gallery co-organized the show with Thomas Colville, who explained that the idea for the exhibition grew out of a joint effort in 2007 to get collectors to circulate to various New York galleries during auction week. The dealers were happy with the success of that event, but had the desire to create a more efficient means for collectors to see all of the art without having to traipse all over the city, hence The American Art Fair. According to Colville, within hours of making the first few phone calls, word was out and the available exhibition space was taken.
“The space would have been perfect for ten dealers. We had 11 and still weren’t able to include several of the dealers we wanted,” said Colville. Next year, Colville and Acevedo hope to double the size of the show and even at twice the size, the exhibition will be exclusive. Show organizers hope to utilize two floors of the National Academy, although the venue for the event next year has not been confirmed.
The National Academy of Art and Design, as it was first called, was founded by Samuel F.B. Morse, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand and other like-minded artists in 1825 “to promote the fine arts in America through instruction and exhibition” as stated by the academy website. For four days, visitors to the National Academy could speak with some of the most knowledgeable experts in Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century American art and ask questions about the museum-quality works displayed, many of which were created by Academicians, including some rare and beautiful paintings by the founders.
The National Academy is an honorary association of American artists, who, once elected to membership by their peers, can sign NA after their name. Membership to the academy recognizes the stature of an artist within the professional arts community. Since members are required to contribute works of art to the museum collection upon election, the National Academy is one of the finest repositories of American art in the world.
Special events at the inaugural fair included a free seminar at 3:30 pm before the gala titled “Taste, Timing and Tenacity: What Every Collector Needs to Know in the Current Market.” Panelists included Bill Fine, president, ArtNet Worldwide Corporation, and dealers Stuart Feld, Thomas Colville, Alex Acevedo and Ira Spanierman. It was an informative session with many astute observations and questions from the audience. On December 2, Scenic Hudson hosted a special event attended by 75 guests. The keynote speaker was Morrison H. Heckscher, Lawrence A. Fleischman chairman of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
For details about the next American Art Fair, call 212-472-1636 or visit www.theamericanartfair.com .