Published: June 21, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Freeman’s
PHILADELPHIA – Female artists enjoyed more than a moment of fame at Freeman’s American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists sale, earning not only the top result but setting records for two artists. Originally scheduled for Sunday, June 5, the sale was rescheduled to Monday, June 6, because of technical difficulties. Despite this, the sale saw more than 85 percent of the 136 lots exchange hands, and it grossed $2.7 million.
“We feel great. The niche did quite well, and we broke some records,” said Raphaël Chatroux, Freeman’s specialist in fine art and the head of sale. “It is particularly exciting that about 40 percent of the clients in the sale were new to Freeman’s. Not only were prices strong for second wave or second generation Pennsylvania artists but we are seeing increasingly more buyers outside of the area for regional art. In the past five years, we’ve noticed an increasing depth and breadth to the market.”
Chatroux was also pleased by the high results the sale saw for early Nineteenth Century pieces that many other auction houses have taken to, including in Americana sales, for works by artists such as William Michael Harnett (1848-1892), Margaretta Peale (1795-1882) and Severin Roesen (1815-1872).
The $252,000 earned for “Winter Decoration” by Fern Isabel Coppedge (American, 1883-1951) was high enough to rank not only as the top lot in the sale but also the third highest price ever achieved at auction for the artist. Chatroux attributed this to a few factors: the work had been off the market for a while, it was painted early in the artist’s career, in 1935 and, at 38¼ by 40 inches, it was an unusually large format for the artist. Depicting a wintry view of Lambertville, N.J., a landscape Coppedge returned to frequently in her 30-year career, it was considered a quintessential example of her work but was additionally distinguished from others by the extent to which it had been cited in literature and included in museum shows. Among these was an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1936 and a traveling show that was hosted at six institutions between 1998 and 1999.
“It’s rare to see Fern Coppedge’s works with exhibition and publication history,” Chatroux said, noting that it sold to a private collector in Pennsylvania, who took it well past its $100/150,000 estimate. Also selling above and beyond its $40/60,000 estimate at $88,200 was Coppedge’s “Carversville Brook,” another representative work that, measuring 18 by 20 inches, was in a smaller format that made it more amenable to buyers. The painting was not fresh to the market, having been sold at Sotheby’s New York in July 2021, where it made $47,800.
One of the artists Freeman’s achieved a new world auction record for was Sarah S. Stilwell Weber (1878-1939), whose original cover art for the August 25, 1917, issue of The Saturday Evening Post sold for $119,700, to a buyer in New York. According to AskArt, the previous record for the artist was $52,500, so this result more than doubled the high bar. The 32 by 27 inch oil on canvas, which was titled “Three of Us,” depicted three young girls in summery bathing suits or sundresses. It had connections to Philadelphia as its first owner, Mr Alexander R. Boyd (Doyle & Sons), was one of the builders of the historic Art Deco Boyd Theatre, which opened its doors in December 1928, and was the last movie theater in downtown Philadelphia prior to its closure in 2002. According to Freeman’s catalog, the painting passed to the family of the seller through the friendship between Boyd and the seller’s grandparents. Its sale at Freeman’s marks the painting’s first public appearance since it was shown in the ladies’ lounge of the theater.
There was more illustration art in the sale, including “Christmas Morning,” by Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). It was not attributed to a particular source and sold within estimate, for $44,100. Also meeting expectations at $30,240 was Norman Rockwell’s “Character Study” that featured a dedication inscription “‘My very best wishes/to/Sir Jay Chernis/Cordially/Norman Rockwell/November 3rd/1975.”
Prior to the sale, the world auction record for Emma Fordyce MacRae (1887-1974) had been $23,750, a high bar in place since 2008 when Christie’s sold “New England, Rockport Beach.” Two works by MacRae were in Freeman’s sale and both realized higher prices. “Melina in Green” found a new home with a Pennsylvania collector for $63,000, while “New England in September” made $23,940. Both works had been consigned from a private collection in the United Kingdom and both were sold to benefit Alzheimer’s Research UK. There were other similarities between the two paintings: both were in Max Kuehne frames, and both had been exhibited, variously, at the Art Club of Philadelphia, the Boston Art Club and the MacDowell Club in New York City. Additionally, “Melina in Green” had been published no fewer than four times.
Though MacRae was best known for her floral still lifes that were often paired with fragments of interiors or Japanesque tapestries, she also received critical praise for her figural portraits of cooly detached women (usually friends or models she hired) set against a decorative background, such as “Melina in Green,” which Chatroux said had attracted the interest of museums.
One of the many new clients who participated in the sale paid $226,800 – and the sale’s second highest price – for Edward Willis Redfield’s (1869-1965) “Road to the River.” The painting had provenance to a Philadelphia gallery as well as a 2016 Freeman’s sale, so it was not fresh to the market, but Chatroux said it was “in its original frame and in great condition” and met his expectations. It was one of three works by Redfield offered, one of which did not sell.
Also selling within expectations was “Garden of Dreams” by Willard LeRoy Metcalf (1858-1925), which was chased by two online bidders before it ended at $163,800. Done in a tonalist manner, the catalog cited the painting as “arguably one of Metcalf’s most romantic paintings, providing ample evidence of his mastery of paint, through a staccato brushwork and an expertly restricted color palette.”
George William Sotter (1879-1953) had three works in the sale, two of which were appealing night scenes that achieved results high enough to put both of them on the leaderboard. Bringing $126,000 was “The Artist’s Studio,” which was accompanied by a letter from the artist while “Fishing Village at Moonlight” faded out at $78,750.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Freeman’s next sale of American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists will take place in December.
For information, 215-563-9275 or www.freemansauction.com.
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