Published: May 24, 2022
DALLAS — The May 10 American Art Signature® Auction at Heritage, featured just 150 works, yet was announced as “one of the most comprehensive and jubilant American art events in recent memory.” The works offered spanned the breadth of American art, from Ashcan to Impressionism, Regionalism to Hudson River, illustration to sculpture. It was a love letter to the men and women whose images have defined this country over centuries, whose portraits of its landscape and inhabitants have shaped our perceptions of what it means to be an American no matter the vast space and differences between us. The auction yielded $6,093,942 in overall sales.
The top lot was “His First Long Suit” by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, painted for the September 18, 1937, cover for The Saturday Evening Post. It’s a definitive work from the artist best known for his “paintings of fashionable men and women in a sleek, idealized style,” as the Norman Rockwell Museum puts it. Senior vice president Aviva Lehmann notes, “Leyendecker is the master of welcoming his viewer into a scene and making us relate to that moment,” she says. “It’s such a heartfelt, bittersweet [scene] that shows him to be…a masterful storyteller along the lines of Rockwell.” The painting sold for $615,000.
Another earlier, unusual Leyendecker, “Playing Hooky,” also featured among the top lots. This painting came directly from the artist’s estate, but in an unconventional manner. The consignor’s father rescued the work from a garbage pile where the artist’s sister had thrown it while cleaning out the estate following his death. Trash to treasure indeed, the sweet scene realized $300,000.
Just behind the first Leyendecker was Rembrandt Peale’s “porthole” portrait of George Washington from the Melvin “Pete” Mark collection, which achieved $591,000. The painting was excluded from the sale of Melvin’s American artifacts collection, conducted by Heritage on May 7, and saved specifically for this auction. One of the 79 depictions of the first American president that Peale produced throughout his life, this composition is also known as the “Copy,” referring to the artist’s “Patriae Pater,” circa 1824.
The third highest sale of the auction was George Tooker’s “Un Ballo In Masquera,” another subject outside of the artist’s usual scope. Known for his midcentury tempera on panel representations of modern anxiety in the public sphere, “Un Ballo” is reminiscent of Northern Renaissance masters with its flattened perspective and ominous interior lighting. The historic subject matter also belies a mystery, with no clear narrative or symbology given. Its buyer was captivated at $325,000.
All prices are given with buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, 214-528-3500 or www.ha.com.
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