Published: April 20, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Scottsdale Art Auction
SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. – If one logged into Scottsdale Art Auction’s (SAA) live-streamed sale on April 9 and 10, the sounds of bids being shouted from the phone bank and the hum of chatter from the salesroom floor might give one a momentary pause. In an era where live gallery bidding is the exception rather than the norm, it was sheer pleasure to witness the excitement that nothing but a live auction can deliver.
Made up of a triumvirate of Western Art gallery owners based in Scottsdale, New York City and Hilton Head, S.C., SAA is celebrating 17 years of auctions. We caught up with Legacy Gallery’s owner, Brad Richardson who, along with Michael Frost of J.N. Bartfield Galleries and Jack A. Morris Jr of Morris Fine Arts, said that the sale exceeded its $12 million aggregate high estimate by achieving a total of $13.3 million, with 98 percent of lots selling. While most of the bidders and buyers were in the United States, the sale had bidders from China, the Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Canada and France. A total of 900 clients registered to bid in-person, online or on the phone.
Partner Jack Morris said, “There is always a demand for quality. Despite Covid restrictions, collectors continued to pursue paintings and sculpture through the internet and auctions. Our sale on Friday and Saturday had a dramatic increase in absentee and telephone bids, and traffic on the internet platform was up over 100 percent, with 402 active bidders compared to our pre-Covid sale in 2019.”
Though the salesroom did not achieve the maximum crowds it has drawn in the pre-pandemic era, Richardson said they had the usual number of lots on offer, and between 200 and 300 people in the audience at any given time, with up to ten phone lines employed. Absentee bidding and online bidding on SAA’s dedicated internet platform rounded out bidding options. Richardson noted that since the pandemic, more clients have become more comfortable bidding online.
Charging to the head of the sale was “A Close Call” by Charles Schreyvogel (1861-1912), which had carried one of the highest estimates of the sale and sold for $819,000, within estimate, to a private collector bidding on the phone. “Schreyvogels are just very rare,” Richardson said of the artist who was a contemporary of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington. “He was not very prolific and most are in institutions. When one comes up, because there’s not a large market, they bring a good price.”
After nearly 20 years of sales, it is not unusual for some of the works on offer to be crossing SAA’s block for the second time. That was the case with the auction’s second highest price, which was established at $643,500 and realized for William Gollings’ (1878-1932) “Cheyenne Winter Camp.” Scottsdale had offered the painting in 2007 with an estimate of $250/350,000; at the time, it brought $414,400, the record for the artist. The painting retains the distinction as the highest selling work by the artist as it exceeded its $300/500,000 estimate to bring $643,500 from a private collector who had previewed the work in person and whose agent was bidding on it from the salesroom. Richardson said he was thrilled for the consignor, further commenting that “it illustrates the point that collecting is about owning the best of an artist. In anyone’s book, this was a ’10.'”
The sale set new records for two other artists. Bill Schenck’s (b 1947) “Blood on the Horizon,” which was the cover lot for the catalog, realized $64,300 on the first day. SAA smashed its own record for Clark Kelly Price (b 1945), surprising the audience when a 24-by-36-inch work estimated at $5/8,000 and titled “Last of the Water” brought $81,900, more than doubling Price’s previous record of $40,250, which SAA achieved in 2014.
Albert Bierstadt’s “Star King Mountain” had been dated to 1866 by the Bierstadt experts Richardson worked with. He attributed the price it realized of $497,250, which was just shy of its high estimate, to its subject matter and recognized place, as well as pristine condition. “It had everything going for it.” Like most of the top lots, it sold to a private collector.
The sale offered not less than nine works by Carl Rungius (1869-1959), with the group led by “Grizzly Bear,” a subject matter that was done with less frequency than sheep or deer and which is always sought-after by collectors. Such was the case with the example on offer, which roared to $468,000 for an online bidder, well past its high estimate. The work had previously sold at Freeman’s in 2012, when it realized $230,500 from an estimate of $200/300,000. Online buyers purchased all of the other works by Rungius in prices ranging from $9,945 for a landscape of a meadow to $292,500 for a sweeping landscape with bighorn sheep in the foreground.
“The Battle at Belly River” has more figures and depicts more action than is atypical of works by Charles Russell (1864-1926); as a result, Richardson said they were not sure how it would be received but, in the end, the fact that it depicted a historic battle may have helped. He noted that at least one institution had come to the table for the work but it sold to a private collector, bidding online, for $409,500.
Another work that featured unusual elements that attracted interest was “Wild Horses” by John Clymer (1907-1989). Despite living in Jackson Hole, Wyo., Clymer reportedly did not paint the Tetons into his landscapes, a feature present in the work offered that Richardson thought drove the price. It had lots of competition, selling to an online bidder for $380,250.
Richardson noted that several of the top lots were staying in Arizona. Among these was “Burning the Hogan” by Edgar Payne (1883-1947), one of two lots by the artist, which a private collector, bidding online, took to $292,500. Another Arizona buyer outlasted competition on “Poplars in Moonlight” by Birger Sandzen (1871-1954), taking the only work in the sale by the artist to $222,300.
“Forgotten” by Oscar Berninghaus (1874-1952) is a common subject matter for the artist, who Richardson said “did a lot of them.” The $60/90,000 estimate was in line with what these typically bring, but Richardson thought this was better and he was right. It finished at $210,600, from an online bidder.
One of the earliest Western artists – known as “explorer artists” – is George Catlin (1796-1872), whose renderings of native people established a lot of what is known about tribes who were eventually largely eradicated by smallpox. The sale featured two watercolor works on paper that Richardson deemed “very historically important,” saying additionally that in 17 years of sales, SAA has sold “very few” works by the artist. Sold together and each dated 1836, “Tal-lee” and “Ea’h-pa-ko-ia’s-kuk” measured 13 by 11 inches in their frames and brought $117,000 from an online bidder.
The auction house is rarely willing to reoffer a work within a few years of it selling, but made an exception in the case of Joseph H. Sharp’s (1859-1953) “Hunting Son and Eagle Star,” which a Santa Fe auction house sold in 2018 for a hammer price of $300,000. The buyer passed away since acquiring it, and Scottsdale was the auction house chosen by their estate. It exceeded expectations and made $198,900.
Richardson pointed out SAA’s ability to get high prices for living, even young, contemporary Western Art artists. “Compared to some of our competing Western Art auction houses, we excel in the most sought-after current Western artists,” he said, pointing to prices realized for works by Logan Hagege (b 1980) and Kyle Polzin (b 1974). The sale featured five works by Hagege, with all selling to online buyers for prices ranging from $15,210 to $152,100. Polzin was represented with seven still life pictures offered across both days. Internet buyers remained dominant and all sold at or above their high estimates, for prices from $17,550 to $87,750.
Scottsdale Art Auctions’ next sale will take place in spring 2022.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.scottsdaleartauction.com or 480-945-0225.
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