Published: April 11, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy of Blackwood March Auctioneers
ESSEX, MASS. – Michael March is well known for his knowledge of the works of Cape Ann artists. His March 29 auction included several, and his commentary as he was selling these paintings made the audience aware of his thoughts as the sale progressed. The sale included a selection of Oriental rugs, etchings by American artists, lithographs, woodblock prints and frames, along with some Asian items and jewelry. March has been selling paintings of Cape Ann artists for more than 30 years and has established auction records for several of those artists.
The major towns on Cape Ann are Gloucester, Rockport and Essex. The Cape Ann art colony is the oldest and most continuously active in the United States and can trace its roots back about 150 years. Fitz Henry Lane was one of the early painters of the region, having been born in Gloucester in 1804. Dozens of other prominent Nineteenth Century artists worked in the region. Some were there only for short periods while others lived there permanently. William Morris Hunt, Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam, John H. Twachtman, John Sloan and Edward Hopper were among the early painters on the cape. The region presents varied subject matter for artists; from the active harbor scenes in Gloucester to landscapes, street scenes and scenes depicting granite quarrying and other industries of the area. Literally hundreds of artists painted on Cape Ann, and tourists visiting the area in the Nineteenth-Twentieth Centuries took home many of the works that were for sale in the artists’ studios and galleries.
When March was asked which of the paintings he expected would do well, he immediately selected a small, unframed painting by Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938). Mulhaupt, who had studied in France, made his first visit to Cape Ann in 1907 and eventually became a year-round resident. Unlike many of the other artists, he was not a plein air painter. He made highly detailed sketches of his subjects and then completed his work in his studio. The 8-by-10-inch harbor scene that March was selling had turned up when he was appraising other material for a local woman. She took the painting out of a drawer, saying it had belonged to her grandmother and asking if it had any value. March said, “I could have told her it was worth $25 and she would have been happy. When I told her what I thought it was worth, she was delighted.” The auction estimate was $2/4,000, and it sold for $5,900, one of the highest prices in the sale. At least four bidders competed for it and it wound up going to an internet bidder.
The painting that brought the highest price in the sale at $6,490 was a 30-by-32-inch winter scene by W. Lester Stevens (1888-1969). Stevens was born in Rockport, Mass., and in 1921, along with 50 other artists, including Aldro Hibbard and Anthony Thieme, founded the Rockport Art Association. After World War I he had a solo show at the Boston Art Club, and one of the paintings in that show was accepted for a show at the Corcoran Gallery. Also doing well was a Rockport street scene by Carl W. Peters (1897-1980), which finished at $3,304. Peters was a native of Rochester, N.Y., and during the WPA years, painted several murals in that city.
A panorama of Gloucester Harbor, 60 inches wide, by Robert Gruppe (b 1944) realized $1,180. The artist is the son of Emile Gruppe, one of the major Rockport artists who died in 1978. Seemingly ubiquitous in sales of paintings that include Cape Ann artists are works by Earl T. Merchant, whose works are very distinctive, Outsider art. Merchant was a street artist, painting residents and tourists alike. March said, “I think I’m the only person Earl never painted.” Often his works sell for less than $100, as did most of the ones in this sale. Two, however, brought more. One was a portrait of Herman Rust, which realized $413, and the other was a portrait of Helena McCann, which earned $443.
Although most of the paintings were by members of the Rockport Art Association, not all the paintings were of Cape Ann scenery. A large painting by contemporary artist David Tutwiler titled “Union Pacific #844 in Glenwood Canyon” earned $2,832. Tutwiler has a gallery in Rockport and is also well known for his railroading subjects. A still life by Marjorie Swinson went for $118.
The sale included black and white lithographs by Stow Wengenroth (1906-1978). Andrew Wyeth called Wengenroth “America’s greatest living artist working in black and white,” and his works are in several major museum and private collections. “Granite Pier, Lanseville, Ma” achieved $354; “Lanesville Harbor” reached $325; and “Cape Ann Willows” made $354. A black and white lithograph by Alan Crane, “Sandy Bay,” earned $236, and a lithograph by Gordon Grant, “Gloucester Wharves,” went for $118.
Asian items included a hand painted Japanese Satsuma vase that brought $1,003, more than three times its estimate. An assembled group of 22 Chinese export celadon plates fetched $354, and a pair of framed Chinese embroidered pictures, each with three panels, made $649. Oriental rugs were led by an antique Shirvan Caucasian prayer rug, 62 by 38 inches, which ended up going out at $1,770.
After the sale, Michael March said that there were more than 300 online bidders registered for the sale as well as a number of absentee and phone bids. “The sale went well, and the paintings brought what they should have. The Stevens painting, which was the highest priced item in the sale, was a very powerful painting. You just don’t see many of that quality – and the buyers knew it. A bidder from Colorado took some of the Oriental rugs and I was a little nervous when an internet bidder bought the marble topped chest for $25. I sure hoped I didn’t have to ship that. And I didn’t.”
All prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.blackwoodauction.com or 978-768-6943.
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