Published: February 9, 2021
Bonhams has expanded their auction calendar to include sales dedicated solely to Western fine art, a category that has previously been offered within their sales of American and California Art. Heading up that department, and overseeing the firm’s inaugural sale on February 26, is Katherine Halligan, a fine art appraiser and advisor with a certification in California and Western Art. Halligan brings with her work experience at both John Moran Auctioneers and Christie’s Los Angeles. We caught up with her on the eve of her first sale to see why Bonhams decided to branch out and what surprises the company’s inaugural sale holds.
Welcome! When did you join the Bonhams team?
I joined Bonhams in mid-November 2020, so this is my first sale.
Bonhams has been selling Western Art as part of their California Fine Art sales for years. What led to the decision to have a separate sale?
The California and Western Art department at Bonhams just had their 40th anniversary auction in October 2020, so we’ve been selling Western Art for decades. In 2019, the department hosted two significant single owner collections of Western Art: The L.D. “Brink” Brinkman Collection and The Eddie Basha Collection: A Selection of Western American Art. The decision to separate California and Western Art sales really came out of the success of these single owner sales, and the recognition of the strength of the Western market on the corporate level. I think, too, that California and Western art subjects are often paired together by auction houses but there’s not a huge amount of crossover with collectors, so having dedicated sales for each subject makes sense to me from a catalog and targeted marketing perspective.
Several auction houses already hold dedicated sales of Western Art; do you think there’s room in the field for one more player?
I would argue that we already are a Western Art player. Western Art comprised about 25 percent of every California and Western Art catalog already, and historically we’ve had consistently strong results. Because we are an international company, unlike many of our Western auction competitors, we can offer unique marketing opportunities to clients. Highlights from The Eddie Basha Collection, for instance, were previewed in Germany and Hong Kong. I’m also able to work effectively internally with other departments to cross market. We’ll be previewing the February 26 sale alongside the Native American department, which has a sale the day before ours. I’m excited to see the two sales hung together! I’ll brainstorm with our Books & Manuscripts and Prints & Multiples specialists to find potential clients in their areas who might be interested in the historic Leopold Gast & Bro., Lithographic Company collection of lithographs and drawings from 1850s St Louis, which are included in the auction.
What are some of the records Bonhams currently holds in Western Art?
We have a number of top-ten and top-five placements for auction records. The Brinkman sale, for example, set a number of world records, including Robert Lougheed’s “Scattering the Bell Riders,” which sold for the world auction record of $106,250. “Prairie Showdown” by Ken Carlson set a world auction record for the artist when it sold for $112,500. Bonhams achieved the highest price for a work by Ernest Martin Hennings since 2008, when “The Taos Twins” sold for $1,032,500; and we topped the 2014 record for Howard Terpning when “Coffee Coolers Meet the Hostiles” achieved $1,392,500. Outside of the Brinkman sale, we set a record in 2015 for Conrad Buff, whose “The Majestic Southwest” brought $68,750, and the artist record for Russell Cowles was established at $52,500, when we sold “Valley of the Rio Grande” in 2012.
Does your inaugural sale have an important collection that you built the rest of the sale around?
The sale includes works from various private collectors sourced throughout the country. We do have a capsule collection of wildlife and sporting art from the Berry B. Brooks Collection. Brooks was an accomplished big game hunter, but was also a naturalist, conservationist and wildlife documentarian. The collection includes a fantastic painting of elephants by Brooks’ acquaintance artist Bob Kuhn as well as a selection of bronzes of African animals. I’m particularly charmed by Louis-Paul Jonas’ “Hippopotamus” from 1932.
What are some of the highlights of the sale we should keep an eye on?
Among my favorites in the sale, and certainly highlights, are the Cyrus Dallin sculptures. The 22-inch-tall “Appeal to the Great Spirit” comes from a fourth-generation collection in the New York area and has the most glorious patina. We also have his 8-inch-tall version of the same subject for people collecting at different price points. And “The Signal of Peace” is also a really beautiful example with great patina, from a private Florida collection.
I’m really taken by the Harold Harrington Betts painting. It’s got this amazing fauvist palette and great details on the Navajo Chief Gov’ of War figure.
The two works by Frank McCarthy are interesting to see together. While very different subjects, they both have amazing action and movement. The painting “Flash Flood” from 1955 was used to illustrate a pulp Western and was the cover of the July 1955 issue of Cavalier Magazine; and “Into the Battle,” a circa 2000 personal work by the artist, showcases the very precise, smooth style McCarthy is best known for.
The top lot in the sale is Walter Ufer’s charming scene of everyday life in Isleta, N.M. Tiwa Pueblo Indian young women walk through the scene balancing vessels on their heads and wearing the traditional knee-length dress called a manta.
-Madelia Hickman Ring
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