Published: November 30, 2016
NEW YORK CITY — The November 21 sale of American art at Sotheby’s totaled $28.6 million and was led by Norman Rockwell’s “Which One?,” a painting that appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post prior to the 1944 presidential election between Democratic incumbent President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Republican challenger Thomas Dewey. Making its auction debut, the striking depiction of a Cedar Rapids resident contemplating his nominees was pursued by three telephone bidders before selling for $6.5 million. With his inimitable combination of warmth, wit and humor, Norman Rockwell informed and captivated the average American in 1944, and continues to do so today. In fact, four paintings by the artist collectively brought $10 million, with his “Pipe and Bowl Sign Painter (Colonial Sign Painter),” 1926, oil on canvas, realizing $1,692,500 and “Organist Waiting for Cue,” 1928, oil on canvas, taking $1,068,500.
Milton Avery’s “Woman and Orange Mandolin” from 1947 and sold by the estate of Maxine Pines exemplifies the artist’s distinctive brand of Modernism. Encouraged by his new French art dealer Paul Rosenberg, Avery continued to simplify forms and increase his reliance on color to organize space and express mood, helping to position the artist as one of the earliest American practitioners of chromatic abstraction. This work went out at $1,452,500.
Western selections in the auction were highlighted by Albert Bierstadt’s “Yosemite,” circa 1875, a stunning depiction of the territory that, at the time this work was painted, was largely unexplored. The work, which attained $1,392,500, also includes a rare self-portrait of the artist and was likely previously owned by the commanding general of the Union Army and former President Ulysses S. Grant. Also by Bierstadt, “Sunset in California, Yosemite,” oil on canvas, garnered $1,068,500.
An artist record at auction was posted by Rockwell Kent’s “Gray Day,” signed and dated 1935–37, oil on canvas, which brought $852,500.
Rounding out the sale’s top ten, Childe Hassam’s “New York Street Scene,” 1900, oil on canvas, was bid to $1,452,500, an oil on canvas by Frederic Church, “View in New England,” circa 1853–54, fetched $852,500, and Martin Johnson Heade’s “Two Hummingbirds at a Nest,” 1868, oil on canvas, reached $552,500.
Liz Sterling, head of Sotheby’s American art department, noted, “We saw strong interest in works spanning the full diversity of genres represented in our sales: from Childe Hassam’s impressionist ‘New York Street Scene’ to Milton Avery’s modern ‘Woman and Orange Mandolin’ and Albert Bierstadt’s western picture of Yosemite. We were particularly delighted to establish a new record for Rockwell Kent, who painted ‘Gray Day’ at the height of his career in the 1930s, and to introduce Norman Rockwell’s ‘Which One?’ to auction for the first time. The election-themed painting now ranks among the top auction prices achieved for the artist. We have seen interest in these works from collectors throughout November, as they hung beautifully alongside our Impressionist and Modern and contemporary art exhibitions, in addition to our immediate presale show.”
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com.
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