Published: May 30, 2017
NEW YORK CITY AND BOSTON, MASS. – Energy and excitement for American art was resurgent in the salesrooms of the major auction houses this past week as gavels came down on choice examples offered by Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams, along with some American art offered in Skinner’s more broadly based paintings and sculpture sale. The auctions once again provided opportunities aplenty for collectors to see and vie for stellar examples of top-shelf works by the nation’s blue-chip artists through three centuries.
In a sale featuring a selection of American artists and with an interesting subset of Modernism, Sotheby’s May 23 American art auction realized $33.1 million. The sale achieved a sell-through rate of 70.7 percent by lot.
No surprise, all-American favorite Norman Rockwell commanded the top price here for the second season running. Painted at the height of his career and exemplifying his ability to depict everyday life with a dose of humor, “Two Plumbers” was eagerly pursued by two telephone bidders, who battled for more than seven minutes before the work sold for $14,975,000. The work has remained in the same private collection since its purchase at Sotheby’s in May 1996 for $882,500 – a world auction record at the time, though surpassed just three lots later in the same sale by Rockwell’s “The Watchmaker,” selling for $937,500.
In the most recent sale, Rockwell also nabbed the second highest price rung with “First Flight (Old Woman Riding Airplane), 1938, going to an American private collector for $1,632,500.
In addition to Rockwell, works by Twentieth Century American icons, such as Thomas Hart Benton, Maxfield Parrish, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley and Rockwell Kent helped the sale’s total.
Fetching $1,152,500 from a private collector was Thomas Hart Benton’s “Across the Curve of the Road,” circa 1938, oil and tempera on canvas mounted on panel.
Maxfield Parrish contributed “Lady Violetta and the Knave,” 1924, oil on board, which went out at $1,092,500.
From the Modernist slant, Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Turkey Feathers and Indian Pot,” 1941, oil on canvas, pulled in $972,500, while a brace of works by Marsden Hartley followed, including “Landscape, New Mexico,” 1923, oil on canvas, purchased for $852,500 by the Owings Gallery, and “Church by the Barrens,” 1940, oil on board, finishing at the same price.
A bid of $702,500 won Rockwell Kent’s “Blue Day, Greenland,” 1935-37, oil on canvas, while $612,500 was the final price for both “Sunset on Long Island,” 1901, by Thomas Moran and “So the Change was Made, and They Went Forward as Briskly as They Durst on the Uneven Causeway (Crossing the Fens)” by N.C. Wyeth.
Liz Sterling, head of Sotheby’s American art department, commented, “We are thrilled with the price achieved by ‘Two Plumbers,’ which now ranks among the top four auction prices for Norman Rockwell. In addition to strong results for some of the most recognizable names in the world of American art, we were delighted to see Grace Hartigan, Carroll Cloar and Stephen Greene achieve new auction records, as well as for a new record for a work on paper by Robert Riggs. The afternoon also saw the auction debut for George Howorth, whose portrait of Alexander Hamilton sold for nearly three times its high estimate.”
Sotheby’s first dedicated online-only sale of American art followed on May 24 featuring paintings from the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by artists Otis Kaye, Charles Demuth, Antonio Jacobsen and others.
For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com.
At Christie’s spring sale of American art on May 23, the top lot was Frederic Remington’s “Coming Through the Rye,” which achieved a world auction record for the artist at $11.2 million, as well as a record for American sculpture pre-World War II. The piece was inspired by the artist’s own illustrations, one published in Century Magazine in October 1888 and the other in Harper’s Weekly in December 1889. Four mounted cowboys, pistols raised aloft, keep a steady pace in a tight, boisterous group.
The sale totaled $41,315,750, offering 92 lots, and was 75 percent sold by lot and 88 percent sold by value.
Additional world auction records were set for Asher Brown Durand, Wilhelm Hunt Diederich and Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
Albert Bierstadt’s (1830-1902), “Twilight, Lake Tahoe,” circa 1870s, oil on canvas, realized $3,247,500, while Childe Hassam’s (1859-1935), “Just Off the Avenue, Fifty-third Street, May 1916,” oil on canvas, fetched $2,407,500.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) was represented by “Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow,” 1909, oil on canvas, which brought $2,287,500.
“Victory” by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was a gilt-bronze modeled in 1912, and it was bid to $2,047,500.
The American art sale had an online component that closed on the following day, May 24.
For information, 212-636-2000 or www.christies.com.
Bonhams’ May 24 sale of American art was short and sweet, with a decided emphasis on Twentieth Century painting. Generating $3.6 million on 86 lots, it opened with an abstract pastel on paper composition, $4,375, by Byron Browne and closed with Wolf Kahn’s oil on canvas “Green Foreground, Warm Background,” $35,000. Explosive interest in Marsden Hartley and the father and son painters Andrew and Jamie Wyeth filled the interstices.
Top honors went to “Landscape No. 39” by Hartley. The autumnal oil on board from the estate of Jane Rau realized $1,387,500. Expert Gail R. Scott, who is including the piece in her forthcoming book Marsden Hartley: The Complete Paintings, dates the work to 1930, not long after Hartley settled for a time in New Hampshire’s Franconia Valley. It is one of approximately 26 paintings the artist produced during the summer and fall of 1930, and one of five completed along the Little River, which it depicts.
A second Hartley, the oil on canvas “Still Life with Pears,” brought $118,750. This arresting composition, whose bold, flattened shapes show the influence of Cezanne, dates to 1925-26, when Hartley lived in Europe.
The centennial of the birth of Andrew Wyeth, along with the rise in prices for the narrative art tradition founded by his father, N.C. Wyeth, assures us that 2017 will be a banner year for the Brandywine’s first family of painting. At Bonhams, the watercolor and pencil on paper “Hide and Seek (Study for Dryad),” Andrew Wyeth’s austere yet voluptuous depiction of a nude emerging from the craggy interior of a barren tree, crossed the block at $271,500. A regular Wyeth model, Senna Moore of Chadds Ford, Penn., posed for the picture. According to Bonhams, “Dryad” was one of the artist’s last major efforts in tempera. Andrew Wyeth’s watercolor and pencil drawing “Blueberry Pickers” of 1942 made for $97,500.
“Declaration of Independence” sold for $307,500. The 2002 oil on canvas by Jamie Wyeth is contemporary in feeling but invokes the Colonial past through its inclusion of a tall case clock, candlestand and ladderback chair. The antiquarian references seem a conscious nod to the kind of historical narrative favored by the artist’s grandfather, N.C. Wyeth.
The oil on board “Crossing a Stream (Pig-a-Back)” drew a bid of $118,750. Eastman Johnson painted the contemplative sylvan view, harkening to a more peaceful past, months after the Civil War’s conclusion.
Thomas Moran’s “Sunset at Sea” evokes the romantic sublime. The oil on canvas of 1907 made $247,500. Measuring a little over 24 by 30 inches, it is considered a more intimate work than Moran’s grand manner canvases of the American frontier.
Bonhams also saw interest in the 1911 Impressionist oil on canvas “After the Bath,” $75,000, by Frederick Carl Frieseke and in “Begonia Plant in Flower Pot,” $87,500, by Albert Edward York. The 1968 oil will be included in Cecily Langdale’s forthcoming catalog raisonné of the artist’s work.
For information, 212-644-9001 or www.bonhams.com.
A grouping of sculptures highlighted the May 19 paintings and sculpture auction at Skinner, including works by Auguste Rodin, Cyrus Dallin and Alexander Calder. The auction, which contained more than just works by American artists, also covered a broad range of styles and regions, from Nineteenth Century American landscapes, early Twentieth Century works, Modern and contemporary art to a selection of Post-Impressionist drawings from the estate of Elaine Sargent.
The sale totaled $1,834,734, with 76 percent of lots sold (508 auctioned, 386 sold).
Calder (American, 1898-1976) led the day with an untitled standing mobile dated circa 1953 that sold for $267,000. A landscape with figures by Henry Moret (French, 1856-1913), “La Cote de Trégune/Harvesting Kelp,” reaped $159,000, while Rodin’s (French, 1840-1917) “Grande Main Crispée Gauche (Large Clenched Left Hand)” took $147,000.
American Jasper Johns (b 1930) hit the bull’s-eye with “Target with Four Faces,” 1979, edition of 88 plus proofs, which finished at $29,520.
For information, 617-350-5400 or www.skinnerinc.com.
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