Published: September 29, 2020
NEW YORK CITY – Fifty lots only. That was the model for Doyle’s September 17 Important Paintings sale that grossed $1.7 million. Thirty-eight of the works sold with 171 registered bidders from around the world.
On the boutique sale’s format, Doyle’s vice president and director of paintings Angelo Madrigale, said, “It’s in part due to the bizarre nature of 2020. We have a lot of wonderful things in the pipeline, and its been busy on both ends – consigning and buying. We’ve been putting together auctions quite often all throughout the shutdown and we’ve had a lot of successes across categories. We had 50 paintings ready to go that we felt great about.”
And even though there was a Calder, Katz and Sargent in there, the top lot honors went to Nancy Graves’ (American, 1939-1995) “Vertigo,” which set an artist auction record as the painting soared well over the $20,000 high estimate to land at $200,000. It would not be the first time the artist landed somewhere spectacular.
In 1969, Graves received a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, displaying her life-size mixed media “Camels” sculptures, which were lauded for their realism. She was 29 years old and the youngest person to that date to receive that honor. Ten years later, she created “Vertigo,” a monumental 64-by-80-inch painting that renders the abstract in nature, as if one is looking at a microcosm of life – a specimen through a microscope.
Madrigale wrote, “Graves created abstract paintings and sculpture that took their cues from elements of science and nature, showcasing sometimes recognizable forms, but stripped of any context.”
It sold to a private collector after about ten minutes of bidding.
“The market for her work has been quiet for some time, but we’re hoping that this is part of a resurgence of interest,” Madrigale said. “Redeveloping the secondary market for many women artists throughout history who have been overlooked or not given their due is important for us. In our past sale in May, we had strong results for Elaine de Kooning, Barbara Hepworth and more.”
The other masters were still strong.
Taking $162,500 on a $40,000 high estimate was the 1980 “Portrait of Maxine Groffsky,” a 24-by-18-inch oil on board by Alex Katz (American, b 1927). The painting was consigned from the estate of Gustav and Mira Berger. Gustav was well-known among art conservators, having run Berger Art Conservation, Inc. in New York City from 1967 to 1993 and serving as the director of research for the Art Conservation Research Foundation for 18 years through the 1980s and 1990s.
“Alex Katz’s market in general is very hot right now,” Madrigale noted. “That’s just gleaned from anecdotal evidence on the stream of advisors and collectors who are often inquiring to find an Alex Katz work. It seems like the market is excited for anything and everything he has done.”
Groffsky, a friend of Katz, was one of the editors of the Paris Review, a position she held from 1965 to 1974. She then became a known literary agent.
Not far behind at $137,500 was an untitled 5¾-by-15-3/8-inch Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) oil on canvas mounted to board from the collection of author Dorothea Benton Frank, who had a single-owner 190-lot auction at Doyle the day prior. Created circa 1946, the Calder was originally a gift from the artist to American architect and designer Benjamin Baldwin. Baldwin had just finished working with the artist to install a mobile in the newly designed Terrace Plaza Hotel in Cleveland, one of the first public buildings in America to commission site-specific works of contemporary art for its interiors. Baldwin believed in total design, adapted from the Bauhaus which brought architecture and decorated interiors into a singular vision. His design for the hotel also included works by Jim Davis, Saul Steinberg and Joan Miró. Calder’s gift to Baldwin appeared symbolic, including images of an eye, a snake, a spoked wheel, nose and bowtie.
A portrait of Louis Alexander Fagan by John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) rose to its high estimate at $118,750. Sargent signed and dedicated the 30¼-by-25-1/8-inch oil on canvas “To my friend Fagan” in 1893, the year before the sitter stepped down from his role as Keeper of Engravings at the British Museum, a position he held since 1869. In that time Fagan wrote at least 12 titles on various artists in the museum’s collection, including explorations of Raffaello Sanzio, William Faithorne and William Woollett.
Other notable works in the sale included “The Pont Neuf, Wrapped (Project for Paris)” by Christo and Jeanne-Claude (French/American, 1935-2020 and 1935-2009), which sold above estimate for $156,250. The artist left specific instructions on the back of the frame as to how the two-part work was to be mounted. The artists wrapped the Pont Neuf, Paris’ oldest bridge, in 1985 with the present work completed three years earlier, possibly as a study. The work had been purchased directly from the artist by the consignor.
“All in all it was a very strong sale,” Madrigale related. “We’re planning to do something similar with a whole new batch of great works in December.”
Prices include buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, 212-427-2730 or www.doyle.com.
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