Published: December 15, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Freeman’s
PHILADELPHIA – The panoply of American art was on show at Freeman’s December 5 as the firm brought to market masters of illustration, the landscapes of the first- and second-generation Pennsylvania Impressionists and the realism of the Brandywine School. On 118 lots, the auction grossed $5.15 million with an 89 percent sell-through rate. It fell just short of the $5.2 million the firm saw in the 2020 December sale, which was its highest grossing American Art sale on record. No one was pouting, especially not its head of sale, Raphael Chatroux, who spoke with Antiques and The Arts Weekly about the nuances that pushed a number of these works to auction records.
A highlight of the auction was a run of 16 Pennsylvania Impressionist paintings from the collection of Virginia and Stuart Peltz.
“They were really the first couple that started to collect Philadelphia Impressionism before the market skyrocketed in the early 2000s,” Chatroux said. “They started in the late 1980s and witnessed the birth of the style as a topic that scholars were interested in. Many of their works were included in retrospectives and the literature that we now call the bibles on the subject. Many collectors were familiar with their works as a result of seeing them in those places and they responded accordingly.”
In an interview with Freeman’s chairman Alasdair Nichol ahead of the sale, the Peltzes related that upon buying a 1737 weekend home alongside the Delaware River in Bucks County, they began in earnest exploring the area, walking into its galleries and drinking it in. There was no plan to build a Pennsylvania Impressionist collection, Virginia said, it just sort of happened.
“Once we realized that we were accumulating works by artists who were all associated with The New Hope School, we started to study the history of our surroundings, especially the Phillips Mill,” she said. “It is at that moment that we thought to ourselves: ‘Well, now we should probably only have one example by each of the artists.’
Freeman’s promoted the Peltz collection as a scholarly one, terming the works “quintessential.” They were not just average pieces by the standouts of the New Hope School, they were exceptional works by the standouts. A singular work from every important artist of the school was only deviated for that ascendant star Fern Coppedge, Kenneth Nunamaker and Walter Emerson Baum, who were each represented twice.
The Peltz collection sold out with a $1.4 million gross. It was led by Daniel Garber’s “Up the River, Winter,” which took $252,000. Executed in 1915 in a 30-by-30-inch format, the auction house noted that it was a rare subject for Garber, who was more known for his spring and summer scenes.
Chatroux said, “This one had a lot of color in it and the subject was nice, it was the view of a cottage near Lumberville above the Delaware River. It was a change from the typical landscape that he was known for.”
Selling for $100,800 was Morgan Colt’s “Butcher Wagon,” an auction record that more than doubled the previous high.
Colt was a multidisciplinary artist, engaging in architecture, metalwork furniture and painting. He was among the first generation of the New Hope Group, joining in 1912 and ultimately outlived by nearly all of them, dying at the age of 49 from an apparent heart attack. His reputation as more of a craftsman than painter stems largely from his surviving work – much of his paintings were destroyed by the subsequent owner of his property. He had no children.
“Most of his work disappeared besides those that were small format and gifted to friends or the large formats that were on the circuit,” Chatroux said. “The Peltz’s was an exhibition piece, really one of the best out there.”
In his lifetime, Colt showed the work at the “One Hundred Seventeenth Annual Exhibition” at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1922, where it presumably left his hands, and it made six other exhibition stops between 1994 and 2012.
Both of the Coppedge snowscape works brought six-figures, including $226,800 paid for “December Afternoon (Carversville)” and $163,800 for “Snowy Country Side (Lambertville in Winter).” Chatroux said the two examples represented her evolving style, the Lambertville work with its pastel colors painted earlier in 1920 and the Carversville scene at least four years later in 1924-25. She painted the latter scene on Carversville Island at the confluence of the Cuttalossa Creek and the Paunacussing Creek, a location that both Garber and Edward Redfield explored in their works. The higher selling work is the third highest for Coppedge at auction and the highest per square inch. Freeman’s holds her auction record and, interestingly, her second-highest selling work is the same scene.
“One of the real highlights was the Nunamaker, an artist from the second generation of the Pennsylvania Impressionists,” Chatroux said. At $201,600, Kenneth Nunamaker’s “River Road At Centre Bridge,” a 44-by-50-inch oil on canvas, set an auction record. It beat the artist’s record set at the height of the market in 2005, “when Nunamakers were selling like hot bread just like Redfield,” Chatroux said.
Nunamaker and Redfield go hand in hand, the latter serving as a mentor to the young Ohio artist who settled in Redfield’s Centre Bridge.
“It was one of the largest canvases he ever produced. ‘Road to Centre Bridge’ was very much influenced by Redfield,” Chatroux noted. “The format particularly – Redfield was known for painting big, luscious landscapes on large formats.”
Rounding out the Peltz collection were works from George William Sotter, Walter Emerson Baum, William Langson Lathrop, Clarence Raymond Johnson, John Fulton Folinsbee, William Francis Taylor, Arthur Meltzer and Harry Leith-Ross. Consignments from other sellers in the auction brought further exemplary works from all of these artists to sale.
The runaway leader in the overall sale was “Sycamores,” a 52-1/8-by-56-1/8-inch oil on canvas executed in September 1923 and acquired shortly thereafter by Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo. It remained in that gallery’s holdings for nearly 20 years until it was deaccessioned and acquired by John F. Lewis, a Philadelphia lawyer and collector of rare books, art and portraits, whose papers reside in the collection of the University of Delaware. It was purchased from Lewis by McClees Galleries in Philadelphia and sold to its present consignor, who unloaded it here for $390,600.
“It was really an exhibition piece, museum quality,” Chatroux said. “It’s representative of his early work – it was decorative, but in a good way. It had a bolder and lighter palette, it wasn’t as dark as the early canvases are. The treatment of the light is exceptional, which is what garnered his reputation. The touch is loose. If you’re far, you see the subject, but you have to get closer to see that the subject is the paint itself.”
The auction house located ten references or illustrations of the work in literature and it had been exhibited seven times. The auction house wrote, “‘Sycamores’ is one of the last large-scale canvases completed by Garber and marked the artist’s triumphant return to the highly decorative (and critically successful) series of canvases he produced in the previous decade, such as ‘Towering Trees’ (1911), ‘The Wilderness’ (1912) and ‘Hawk’s Nest’ (1917).”
Offered at auction for the first time was Edward Redfield’s “Abandoned Road,” a countryside snowscape featuring a horse-drawn sleigh gliding down an undisturbed path in the distance. It sold for $352,800. Known for his vivid greens of spring and summer, the present work with its azure blue sky seems brighter and warmer than his other snowscapes, foretelling of the impending melt from the warm sun.
Two works from Mary Elizabeth Price demonstrated the artist’s signature floral subjects embellished with gold and silver leaf. The gold glistened stronger as “Mallow and Lily,” a 44-by-42-1/8-inch oil on Masonite sold for $107,100. An inscription to the back indicated she had exhibited it at the National Academy of Design. Behind at $27,720 was a floral still life, “Tiger Lilies,” on a silvered background.
A California collector of illustration art offered up two notable examples from Stevan Dohanos and Joseph Kernan – both were original illustrations for cover art that appeared on the front page of the Saturday Evening Post. An artist auction record was set for Dohanos when his “Tying Flies” sold for $252,000. It features a fly fisherman making flies in his work area, similar in style and subject to the way Norman Rockwell depicted shopkeepers plying their trade. It appeared on the March 4, 1950 issue. At $126,000, the Kernan, with a similar subject, was no slouch. “Tying a Fly” features the fisherman in the elements, already waded into the water and tying a fly to his pole wedged against his body. It was painted for the May 25, 1929 issue and is the second highest record to date for the artist.
The Wyeths were represented by works from Andrew and son Jamie, the latter earning $226,800 for his “Saltwater Ice,” an image of two ravens perched on a rock with an emerald green crashing wave in the background. It was from an animal portrait series that Jamie painted along the coast of Maine, which included other subjects of crabs, fish and birds. The work had been exhibited twice since 1999 and was requested by the Brandywine River Museum for a 2024 show on the artist. Andrew Wyeth was represented by “The Johnson Place,” a 1939 pen and ink wash on paper laid down to board that brought $40,950. The work depicts the home of Adam Johnson, Wyeth’s neighbor and sometimes subject in Chadds Ford. Wyeth had inscribed it to Estelle Seal: “To Mrs Seal who tried to teach me something.”
“We’re very pleased with Sunday’s result, which confirms the strength of the market,” Chatroux said. “The Peltz Collection brought incredibly fresh works to market, and its success demonstrates two areas in which Freeman’s excels: the market for Pennsylvania Impressionism and single-owner auctions.”
All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For information, www.freemansauctions.com or 215-563-9275.
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