Published: August 4, 2020
RENO, NEV. — Nothing could buck Coeur d’Alene Art Auction’s July 25 sale of Western and American Art as it went for $10.4 million on 264 lots and an 88 percent sell through rate.
Auction house partner Mike Overby said his firm was permitted to have 100 people total in the room for the live auction, which amounted to 85 reserved seats to invited bidders only, with all others bidding by internet, phone and absentee. Together they numbered to around 700 bidders.
“It was no problem filling the 85 seats,” Overby said, relating that they got on the phone with clients in June to reserve the spots. “We could have filled double or triple that.” A waiting list formed.
The firm did a preview on the Friday before the sale, which allowed for anyone who did not have a reserved seat to come and see any works in person.
For any that couldn’t make it out to Reno, Overby and other specialists at the firm were there to answer questions. “We provide high res photos with framed and unframed images, full condition reports and we did some facetime requests, which was new,” he said. “It’s always busy leading up to the sale, but this was a different sort of busy.”
The sale’s top lot at $1,633,800 was Thomas Moran’s 1883 painting “Green River, Wyoming,” which sold to a private collector. Overby said the firm anticipated it would do well. “It was such a tremendous painting,” he gushed. Moran visited and sketched Green River on his first trip out West in 1871. He would return in 1879 to create more sketches, which were likely the foundation for this painting. Green River paintings from Moran continue to be some of the most sought-after by the artist for their power of image and mastery of golden light. The auction house said it was the highest result for any Moran at auction this year.
Four works in the sale came by descent from the estate of Joseph S. Cullinan, an early Twentieth Century Houston oilman who was the founder of a company that would later become Texaco. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, has a Cullinan Hall, which was funded by Cullinan’s daughter, Nina. The four works from that family were all originally purchased from the artists and totaled more than $538,000. Leading them was Ernest L. Blumenschein’s (1874-1960) 1927 oil on canvas “White Sun.” It came with a 1927 letter from the artist that read: “His [White Sun’s] Spanish name is Juan Martinez and he is known as ‘Big John’ to distinguish him from another of the same name. His father is Mauresio Martinez, a famous character, who in his boyhood had a fight with another Pueblo which ended disastrously, for Mauresio in his anger threw a stone at his adversary, killing him outright. For this act he was sentenced to forever live outside the community wall. And to this day, he is now over 90, he lives in a single house just beside the wall, and his children, still faithful to the old man, live with him.” Two works from E.I. Couse (1866-1936) brought strong results, “The Butterfly,” a 1919 nocturne oil on canvas, sold for $101,150. Of the work, founder of the Couse Foundation, Virginia Couse Leavitt, wrote, “Couse was well known for his tonal paintings of moonlight and firelight. One might question, however, why he chose moonlight as the setting for his painting ‘The Butterfly.’ Couse often took his models into the countryside around Taos in order to inspire fresh subjects for his work. These trips enabled him to make studies and to observe his models in natural settings. In 1919 Ben Lujan and one of his children accompanied Couse on one of these expeditions. As they posed in the woods beside a stream, a butterfly landed on the child’s hand. This must have been a magical moment for the child, and it inspired Couse to use it as the subject of a painting. Although the actual event would have taken place in the daylight hours, Couse chose to record it in the moonlight, thus creating an ethereal effect to help the viewer experience some of the same wonder the child must have felt as he held a butterfly in his hands.” Couse’s other work from that collection spoke to the firelight: “Mending the Drum Stick,” a 12¼-by-16-inch oil on canvas, sold for $47,600. Behind was Joseph Henry Sharp’s (1859-1953) 7-by-5-inch oil on board, titled “A Corn Dance,” which sold for $32,725.
Charles M. Russell had eight sold works in the sale with a gross tally of just over $600,000. Leading was “Blackfeet War Party,” a circa 1896 watercolor and gouache on paper that brought $190,400. Behind at $178,500 was “With a Good Hoss under Him, It was Easy for an Injun to get Meat.” And behind still at $154,600 was the watercolor “Planning the Attack (The Wagon Train).” According to Dr Larry Len Peterson, Russell mastered the watercolor medium largely from reading how-to artists books and observing other artist’s works, including those by Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. Peterson wrote, “It is striking how few Western American artists in Russell’s era worked in watercolor and how accomplished and prolific Russell would become in this media. In fact, one can make a case that Russell’s greatest talent was not oil painting or sculpting, but his mastery of watercolor.”
Other standouts in the sale included Taos Society artist Victor Higgins’ (1884-1949) “New Mexico Zinnias,” a vibrant still life oil on canvas that sold for $416,500. The auction house said it was the second highest auction result for any Higgins still life to date.
With provenance to Richard Mellon was a Carl Rungius (1869-1959) 24-by-32-inch oil on canvas titled “Herd Bull,” which sold for $339,150.
Contemporary works were led by a 2017 oil on canvas by Logan Maxwell Hagege (b 1980), titled “Where Land Meets Sky,” that brought $154,700. It had made its debut in the same year it was painted at the “Masters of the American West” exhibition at the Autry Museum of the American West. Hagege won the Thomas Moran Award for a different entry in that exhibition. Just behind at $142,800 was Richard Schmid’s (b 1934) “New Preston Falls II,” a 1989 oil on canvas depicting a waterfall on the East Aspetuck River in Connecticut. It was sold from the K.T. Wiedemann Foundation in Wichita, Kansas.
Overby said that nearly all of his buyers were private collectors in this sale, many of whom let their love of the West guide their collecting.
For additional information, www.cdaartauction.com or 208-772-9009.
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