Published: November 16, 2010
“There is a lot of art energy out there,” proclaimed Gene Shannon in the hours leading up to the October 28 sale at the specialty art auction house that bears his name. And indeed there was. Fueled by enthusiastic bidders from 42 states and 17 countries, Shannon’s auction resulted in a sold rate of 76 percent, with records established in several categories. Interestingly, Shannon noted that more than 90 percent of the sales were made to private collectors.
One painting eclipsed the $500,000 level at the auction, four paintings shot past the $100,000 mark, and 14 surpassed $50,000, all contributing to a sales total of more than $3.8 million for the evening.
With more than 95 percent of the materials coming fresh to the market, including an impressive corporate collection of bronzes, the preview area bordered on remarkable. An incredible selection of trompe l’oeil were pointed out as Gene Shannon provided a private preauction viewing of the better works in the sale. As he looked over the paintings that lined the walls of the gallery, terms such as “very, very sweet,” or “this one is gonna smoke” routinely rolled off his tongue. Rightly so, as there were “very, very sweet” paintings everywhere one looked, and a good number of them did “smoke.”
A selection of works by Russian American artist David Burliuk made up the first few lots of the auction and they progressively attracted more and more attention lot after lot. Burliuk’s “Hermitage” painting was up first, hammering down between estimates at $3,600. It was followed by an Impressionist scene titled “Crimea” that hammered down above estimate at $16,800, and that was followed by another Impressionist scene titled “Moscow River” that sailed past the $7/10,000 estimate to bring $31,200.
A Johann Berthelsen oil on canvas consigned from a private Connecticut collection was titled “The Brooklyn Bridge at Night,” depicting smoke-billowing tugs passing underneath the span. Estimated at $8/12,000, the painting did well, selling at $14,400.
“In American Modernism, Rolph Scarlett was the talk of the evening,” stated Shannon. The first of the Modernist paintings to sell was a Scarlett that had descended in the artist’s family until being placed in a New York private collection. After establishing strong prices for Scarlett’s works in his auction earlier this year, Shannon had high hopes for the six works that would cross the block that evening.
An untitled 42-by-56-inch oil by Scarlett that had been exhibited in the 1990s at the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery set the tone for the evening as it shot past the $25/35,000 estimate. Heated competition from five bidders pushed the price to $84,000, selling to a private collector and establishing a record price paid at auction for the artist.
A watercolor and ink abstract set yet another Shannon’s-generated record price paid at auction for a work on paper by Scarlett as a strong, Kandinsky-like image hammered at $24,000. The artist intentionally dropped the “L” from his name in the signature, “a ploy for him to aggravate the gallery owner that represented him,” according to Shannon.
The top lot of the auction came as one of the trompe l’oeil paintings was offered. While there were numerous prime examples of the genre offered, “The Golden Horseshoe” by William Michael Harnett (1848‱892) captured the most interest. “This is truly an icon in American still life,” stated Shannon prior to the sale. Consigned from a corporate collection, the painting had matter-of-factly been included in major exhibitions from the 1960s through the 1990s at institutions such as the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Whitney, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Amon Carter Museum
Shannon’s catalog stated: “Harnett painted two types of trompe l’oeil still lifes †in the first group, complex heaps of cultural touchstones (books, manuscripts, musical instruments, ink wells and tankards), magically held together as if by an invisible thread, and in the second, simple gifts that belie the artist’s hidden motivations. ‘The Golden Horseshoe’ is the best-known, most exhibited, and celebrated examples of the latter.”
The painting attracted major attention from galleries around the globe and a host of phone bidders made their way to the Milford gallery to inspect the painting. After a flurry of competition, the field narrowed to two phone bidders in the final stretch, and the clash between the two private collectors ended when one of them executed a final bid of $552,000.
Other notable results included Andrew Wyeth’s “Bird Bath,” a watercolor painted from his barn on Benner Island, Maine, and acquired by an American museum for $228,000.
Eastman Johnson’s classic work titled “The Card Players,” painted in 1853, more than tripled the presale estimate after an enthusiastic bout of bidding from two well-regarded private collectors as it was knocked down at $168,000.
“It is just a great day for Cropsey,” stated Shannon prior to the sale. A luminist Jasper Cropsey autumnal view, “On the Susquehanna , ” had spent its entire life framed in a shadowbox and was described by Shannon as “so pristine.” Private collectors battled it out for the special work, which will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné being compiled by the Newington Cropsey Foundation. Doubling the low estimate, the painting sold at $120,000.
A number of Nineteenth Century American landscapes, all of notable quality, fed off of the price realized for the Cropsey, including an Alexander Wyant at $96,000, a Samuel Colman for $36,000, an A.T. Bricher coastal for $31,200, and a tiny Hudson River School landscape, thought possibly to be by Kensett, soared to $36,000. Others paintings sold included a Louis Remy Mignot snow scene selling at $31,200 and a wonderful pair of miniature Connecticut landscapes by George Henry Durrie that went out above estimates at $31,200.
Impressionist works fared well at the auction, with an intimate view of a young woman reading by John White Alexander selling at $78,000. Two paintings by Martha Walter did well; an oil titled “At The Beach” sold for $55,200, while an oil on board titled “Crowded Beach” realized $36,000. “Memories,” a Charles Courtney Curran oil on canvas, went out at $44,280, and an Albert Herter oil depicting a woman with flowers sold for $43,200.
European works filled up the large bank of phones that Shannon’s provides for clients. A chilly looking skating scene by Belgium artist Charles Leickert sold between estimates, bringing a cool $90,000. French summer scene watercolors by Luigi Loir heated up the crowd, garnering $66,000 and $43,200.
Other European works included an Orientalist painting by Clemente Pujol De Gustavino that sold for $57,600; “Along a River,” depicting a small boat floating down a landscaped river scene by Spanish artist Emilio Sanchez-Perrier, was knocked down at $31,200; and a Swiss scene of a maiden tending sheep by Luigi Chialiva brought $26,400.
Prices include the buyer’s premium.
Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers’ next auction is scheduled for April 28; consignments will be accepted through the end of February. For further information, 203-877-1711, or www.shannons.com .
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