“It’s the best one that I have ever seen,” commented an enthusiastic Gene Shannon while motioning toward a landscape painting, one of hundreds of paintings on view in the preview area prior to his recent fine arts auction. Similar superlatives rolled off his tongue with regularity as the auction house principal reflected on painting after painting, all handsomely displayed throughout the preview area.
Was it just preauction hype? The answer to that question was spelled out over the course of the evening sale, and once again the auctioneer proved to be true to his word. Lot after lot of “exquisite,” “charming,” “well executed” and “historically important” paintings routinely exceeded estimates during Shannon’s Fine American and European Paintings, Prints and Sculpture auction on Thursday evening, October 25. Sales totals came in well above estimates, at $3.3 million on just under 300 lots.
Record prices were established for five artists and a record was tied for one other. In several instances, the previous records were shattered, such as the case for the Frederick Vezin painting where a record price established in Europe this past September was eclipsed ten-fold at Shannon’s.
The painting that Shannon had candidly referred to as “the best,” obviously meant in reference to the artist’s oeuvre, was a stellar work by Hermann Herzog. The large oil on canvas, measuring 19½ by 29½ inches, depicted an extensive mountainous vista with a dramatic cloud-laden sky above and three elk poised on a grassy outcrop in the foreground. “He painted it like a Bierstadt,” commented Shannon of the exquisite work.
As the painting crossed the auction block, bids came fast and furious from the bank of more than 20 telephones and from the large crowd assembled in the gallery. Selling above estimates, the painting hammered down for an impressive $78,000.
Shannon’s reported more than 400 registered bidders taking part in the sale, and that only included those in the gallery, on the telephones and the people that had executed absentee bids. The large number of participants bidding online via the Internet was unknown.
The gallery also reported “50 new buyers, which is always a lot of fun,” stated Shannon’s daughter and partner, Sandra Germain. “We have been getting new clients participating in our auctions every time we have a sale,” said Germain. Playing on words from a hit movie, she mused, “If you build it, they will come.” Shannon’s has been building it, and the new clients have been coming.
Preview for the auction proved to be lively. “It has been an enthusiastic crowd,” stated Shannon in the hours leading up to the sale, “and if that is any indication as to how things will go tonight, we are going to do quite well,” he said. Enthusiasm carried over from preview into the auction and it was displayed right from the start with a Samuel Colman view of Mount Chicorua doubling the high presale estimate as it was hammered down at $12,000.
A Bruce Crane oil titled “Gathering Hay” was offered next and it, too, shot past its $6/8,000 estimates, bringing $13,200. Another early surprise was a Virgil Macey Williams landscape with children, estimated at $10/15,000, that left the block at $27,600.
Creating almost as much of a stir at the sale as it did when it was first exhibited by the artist at The Carnegie Institute in 1936, Luigi Lucioni’s “Portrait of Bob, 1936,” properly advanced to become the top lot of the auction. The painting depicted a cross-legged, handsome Bob Elser seated in a chair and casting a provocative glance towards the painter. A yellow curtain hanging behind the subject added to the visual appeal.
Last shown in 1940, the painting had subsequently been “lost,” disappearing into a private collection. Shannon discovered “Bob” while visiting a client and began making regular inquiries in regard to the painting’s availability. Persistence finally paid off for the auctioneer and the painting was ultimately consigned.
Estimated at $80/120,000, bidding on the lot opened at $65,000 with five phone lines and several in the gallery actively pursuing the appealing painting. Bids came from all over the place as several tried to claim the lot. As the price escalated beyond the high estimate of $120,000, however, competition narrowed. The last three phone bidders in the competition turned out to be representatives of major American museums, according to Shannon, with bidding culminating when one museum eclipsed the other two at $153,600,
Interestingly, a previous record price for the artist at auction was established at Shannon’s when it sold “Tocata in Yellow” for $83,700 last year, only to have that price surpassed at Christie’s a few weeks prior to this most recent auction when the portrait of Lucioni’s friend Paul Cadmus realized a then-record price of $91,000. The sale of “Bob” at $153,600 put the record for the artist firmly back in Shannon’s corner.
Another of the lots to attract serious attention was an oil on canvas by French artist Charles Chaplin titled “The Music Girl.” Shannon stated prior to the sale that the painting was “causing an uproar in the marketplace,” with serious interest coming from numerous clients wishing to repatriate the painting. “It is going to make some noise tonight,” stated the auctioneer during preview. Estimated at $40/60,000, the large oil, measuring 51 by 30 inches, had a host of phone lines that were indeed ready to make some noise. Bidders in the gallery were shut out of the action as the telephone bidders hammered away at each other, with a private buyer claiming the painting at $96,000, underbid by both the New York and French trade.
Albert Bierstadt’s oil on board titled “Waterfall” was another lot to attract a great deal of presale attention. Listing provenance of Alexander Gallery, Kennedy Galleries and Maxwell Galleries, the attractive painting went to a private collector selling between estimates at $96,000.
“This is the best group of Gruppes we have ever had,” said Shannon referring to the numerous paintings that were offered by Emile Gruppe. “Bickford’s Marina, Rockport” was attracting the most attention, an early work that depicted a harbor scene with a shadowed dock extending out into the water where sunlit sailboats were docked. Done in the 1920s, Shannon commented that “people are very excited about it.” The painting was estimated at $20/30,000 and listed a private New England collection as provenance.
“There has been so much buzz about it, I have no idea what it is going to bring,” stated Shannon during preview. “A handsome price, for sure.” The telephones were active on this lot as well, with it selling handsomely at $45,600.
Also sold was an Gruppe winter landscape titled “Woodland Stream.” Listing a provenance of The Strong Museum, the painting sold between estimates at $21,600.
A nice Jasper Cropsey oil on canvas had collectors out in force. Listing private collections as the provenance, the fresh-to-the-market painting depicted a scene that proved especially popular with bidders, a view of the Hudson River near Tappan Zee, a spot just north of Cropsey’s home and studio in Hastings-On-Hudson. The painting will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Cropsey’s work currently being prepared by the Newington-Cropsey Foundation.
An Abbot Fuller Graves scene found its way to the auction block in Greenwich, coming all the way from Atlanta, Ga. The pleasing scene of a woman standing on her front doorstep enjoying the spring sunlight and blooming trees was bid to $66,000.
An interesting J.G. Brown painting of a young boy in tattered clothing was another lot to exceed estimates. Titled “Where’s My Penny,” the painting depicted the boy searching his pockets. One unusual feature of the work is that the boy was selling bananas, a fruit that would have been considered quite a luxury in those days. Listing a private collection as provenance and estimated at $30/50,000, the painting sold at $60,000.
An interesting Dale Nichols painting did well at $50,400. Titled “Arizona Twilight,” the painting depicted a lone rider silhouetted against the darkened desert landscape and mountainous backdrop with a band of salmon-colored clouds extending across the skyline. The painting is the first “Arizona” scene that has come onto the market, according to the auction gallery.
An extremely rare John La Farge watercolor and gouache depicting a South Pacific scene with 15 natives in a canoe was among the offerings. The rare watercolor was inscribed on the back “Boat going from& up the coast to Apia to a big Talolo, an official presentation of food, Jany, 1891.” The watercolor had been exhibited in Paris in 1896 and was purchased right after the show and disappeared until recently discovered. Despite the rarity, the lot sold under estimates at $48,000.
“These things are volatile,” said Shannon in regard to the Frederick Mulhaupt painting that was offered. Considered to be the “Father of the Cape Ann School,” the oil on board depicted “Gloucester Harbor in Winter” and was the object of serious interest both prior to and during the auction. Estimated at $12/18,000, the painting sold for a solid $31,200.
Shannon’s most recent addition to his lineup is Robert Vickery, whom he terms a “breather” †a living artist. Only the second living artist to be represented in a Shannon auction, there were three interesting works included. Vickery, now in his 80s, executed the works much earlier in his career, such as “Skipping Rope,” painted in 1951, a tempera on gessoed panel. Selling between estimates at $18,000, the painting had been consigned by a private Connecticut collector. From the same collection came “Girl with Balloon,” a tempera on Masonite that also sold between estimates at $12,000.
“We have been leading the pack with Lever and there are some really good ones in this sale,” stated Shannon. An Impressionistic scene by Haley Lever titled “Fresh Breeze and Sailboats, Marblehead, Massachusetts, 1915” led the grouping at $40,800. The oil on canvas listed a provenance of Vose Gallery. Two small Manhattan scenes also attracted interest with “Hudson River from Fort Lee” depicting waterfront buildings on the New Jersey side, warships on the river and Manhattan in the background, sold above estimates at $26,400, while “US Battleships Down The Hudson” also exceeded estimates at $12,000.
A lone Modernist work by Victor Vasserely was another of the lots to attract a huge amount of interest. “It is just what they want to see in a Vasserely,” stated Shannon. “A good early work from the 1950s with lots of appeal. It is going to scream,” he said. The phone banks were maxed out as the lot crossed the block and the $10/15,000 presale estimates immediately fell by the wayside as European and French bidders battled for the lot. Titled “Aila,” the painting sold at $50,400.
There was a good assortment of sculpture in the sale, something not normally seen at Shannon’s. Two Louise Nevelson wooden constructions were offered, with “Small Column XII,” circa 1971, selling at $14,400, while “Small Column VII,” also 1971, realized $13,200.
A bronze fountain by Edward Francis McCartan, “Nymph and a Frog,” measuring 30 inches tall, sold for $21,600, while Cyrus Dallin’s “Signal of Peace” bronze brought $19,200.
Prices include the buyer’s premium charged. The next auction at Shannon’s will take place May 1. Consignments are currently being accepted. For information, 203-877-1711 or www.shannons.com .