Published: December 4, 2012
“Quality prevails,” stated auction house principal Sandra Germain in the days following the most recent sale at Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers. Record prices were routinely established at the landmark auction, Wednesday, October 24, with bidders from 17 countries and 43 states going head to head for the wide variety of art works offered.
Thought of by some as a regional auction house, Shannon’s is anything but, with more than 80 percent of the paintings, including all of the top lots, selling to buyers throughout the country and around the world. “Sometimes I am not sure how they find us, but they do,” said Germain in regard to bidders from Lithuania and Croatia hotly contesting works by artists from their countries. Two paintings by Croatian artist Edo Murtic had been consigned by a local private collector; both were repatriated as they sold over the phones to Croatian buyers for $9,600 each. Several Lithuanian phone bidders chased an Arbit Blatas oil on canvas, and they pushed the lot well past the $2,5/3,500 estimate to a selling price of $9,000.
This most recent auction was perhaps the most diverse to date for Shannon’s, with a broader selection of Modern, Pop and contemporary art by living artists. It was not all that long ago that Gene Shannon and his daughter Sandra turned their back on living artists †”breathers” as Shannon often termed them; today the door is wide open.
Germain commented that the broader spectrum of art offerings is in response to “what our clients are looking for. We are being proactive and responding to the different markets.” In keeping with the times, Germain reasoned that the younger clients entering the art market “want to buy big splashy Modern works for the homes they are building.”
In that vein, a Nicholas Krushenick acrylic on canvas attracted a huge amount of presale interest. Shannon’s had sold another painting by the artist in April 2011 when it sold off a well-received corporate collection of Pop Art. That sale led to the most recent consignment. “This was a powerful painting, big and bright,” stated Germain of the work titled “United Color Kit.” The painting was signed and dated 1967, a good year for the artist, according to Germain. “Large works from the 1960s are really selling well these days,” she said.
The painting had been well exhibited over the years, including an exhibit at the Walker Art Center, and it also had extensive provenance that included Pace Gallery and the private Virginia collection where it had been for many years. Estimated at $30/50,000, numerous absentee bids caused the lot to open high and the bevy of telephone bidders pushed the piece well beyond estimate, with it going to the trade for a record price paid at auction of $102,000.
Another of the abstract artists featured in the sale was Gerome Kamrowski, an American artist who studied at the St Paul School of Art and then moved to New York City where he became part of the emerging Surrealist movement. Kamrowski collaborated with the likes of Robert Motherwell, Roberto Matta and Jackson Pollock, becoming an important figure in American art’s transitional phase into Abstract Impressionism in the 1940s. The biomorphic gouache titled “Burning Spider Web” had an impressive exhibition list, including the Betty Parsons Gallery and the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. Consigned from a private collection, this “really cool painting” sold for $50,400.
Perhaps the next shining star of the abstract art world at Shannon’s will be Lee Mullican, whose acrylic on canvas titled “Sun Canyon” more than tripled the low estimate. Listing a provenance of private collections on opposite coasts, California and Connecticut, as well as the Paul Kantor Gallery, the painting saw intense action on the telephones as a bevy of bidders pushed the price realized to $38,400.
Shannon’s has gained quite a reputation over the past few sales as the authority for the works of Rolph Scarlett, and this most recent auction proved to be the place to buy for Scarlett fans. Leading the way was an abstract oil on board, 48 by 30 inches, titled “Heart Drip” that sold for $24,000. An untitled abstract by Scarlett also sold between estimates, bringing $14,400, while a Scarlett oil on Masonite with provenance of the Harriet Tannin collection realized $12,000.
The top lot of the auction came from the line of traditional art that Shannon’s cut its teeth on as a fresh-to-the-marketplace, dramatic port scene by Edward Moran was offered. Titled “Summer Morning, New York Bay,” the oil on canvas measuring 24 by 42½ inches was signed and dated 1873. Listing a single-family provenance, the painting carried an estimate of $70/90,000, yet that level of bidding would be eclipsed in the opening moments as the lot crossed the auction block.
“This was an ‘A+’ example by the artist,” stated Germain of the quality of the work. Shannon’s catalog description stated: “In ‘Summer Morning, New York Bay,’ Moran looks toward the rising sun. A hazy light washes out all but the nearest vessels, which are thrown into dramatic silhouette. The overall effect is pearlescent, a marvelous platter of glowing of glowing pinks, yellow and blue.” With eight telephone bidders pursuing the lot, bids came at a fast and furious pace and the estimate was quickly eclipsed. At $150,000, several of the phone bidders had dropped from the action; at $180,000, competition narrowed to two parties who hammered away at each other until the painting sold to an “art foundation” for a record price paid at auction of $300,000.
Austrian artist Franz Richard Unterberger was represented with a masterful work, “Canal in Venice.” Although Unterberger painted throughout Europe, his Italian landscapes are widely considered to be among his most important works, particularly his Venice scenes. Painted from an elevated vantage point so often preferred by the artist, the painting was strongly illuminated by a midday sun and exhibited a pale tonality with “colorful notes” of clothing worn by passengers in the boats and along the sidewalks.
“This was one of his masterpieces,” stated Germain, “everything you could want in an Unterberger painting was in this one. The sidewalks along the canal depicted people from all different walks of life from elite women with parasols to merchants and children. The way he depicted the light in the painting is really fabulous.” Although bidders from Austria were on the lines and active, the painting sold to an English dealer for $180,000.
One of the most dramatic paintings in the auction was an atypical oil on canvas by Arthur Wesley Dow titled “The Glory of Shiva, Shiva Temple, Grand Canyon,” signed and dated 1912. The Impressionist scene was executed in varying hues of purple in the shadowed canyon to the vibrant crimson light of sunrise bathed against the limestone butte on the distant North Rim. As auction house principal Gene Shannon noted in the catalog, “In contrast to the gauzy tonal images he usually painted of New England marshes, Dow took on a fugitive effect of sunlight viewed at the cusp of the day, knowing that within moments the light would alter irrevocably.” The attractive work was fresh to the market consigned directly from a private collector in Nebraska.
“There are only a few works known by Dow of the Grand Canyon,” stated Germain, “and most of those are horizontal images. The fact that this was vertical scene and that it retained the original frame made it a rare painting.” Estimated at $50/75,000, the painting was the subject of a great deal of attention, with at least one client flying in to preview the lot. Once again a full bank of telephones was ready as the lot crossed the auction block, and bidding was quick paced as it surpassed the estimates, never slowing until the final bid of $120,000 was executed by the private collector who flew in for preview.
A classic Edward Willis Redfield oil on canvas, signed lower left and circa 1917, depicted a winter farmscape with a sleigh traveling a snow-covered road. Executed in the muted colors of sunset, “Sleigh Days” listed an impressive provenance of several galleries and ended in a private Philadelphia collection. Typical of the works the artist is best known for at the height of his career, the painting sold above estimate, achieving $168,000.
“Winter Stream,” a softly painted oil on canvas depicting a small stream framed by steep, snow-covered banks and a row of trees still retaining a few brightly colored leaves, was executed by Walter Launt Palmer. Listing a single-family history, the painting was termed by the auction gallery “a fine example of the artist’s work.” Bids soared past the $40/60,000 estimate to a selling price of $90,000.
An attractive Luigi Lucioni oil on canvas titled “The Leaning Silo, Manchester, Vt.” attracted quite a bit of attention. A large example of his popular Vermont scenes, Lucioni’s depiction of the dappled light coming through the trees was excellent. The painting attracted the attention of several bidders, bringing $45,600.
A seminal work by J.G. Brown was one of the surprises of the auction. Titled “Shoeshine Boy,” the unusually small oil on canvas measured 12 by 16 inches and depicted a young lad in tattered clothing catching a catnap while leaning against a wall and seated on his shoe-shine box. The painting, in filthy condition, had been discovered by a keen-eyed shopper at a tag sale, where it was snapped up and consigned to Shannon’s. “We had it cleaned and the detail in the painting was exceptional †right down to his right hand stained from the shoe polish,” noted Germain, “and the child was charming, not the sort of street urchin that Brown usually depicted. It was quintessential Brown.”
Bidders agreed; 14 telephone bidders were lined up as the painting crossed the auction block. Opening above the modest $8/12,000 estimate, the painting realized $43,200.
A Dale Nichols oil on canvas, a gift from the artist to a friend and in whose Oregon family the painting has descended, depicted a winter farm scene with a bright red barn, a horse-drawn farm sleigh and prancing dog. Dated March 1948 and inscribed “For Sarah Day,” the painting was well received, with numerous phone bidders and several in the gallery pushing the lot well past estimate to $43,200.
Another good selection of paintings by David Burliuk crossed the block. “Still Life on the Beach,” a colorful work depicting a galvanized pail full of flowers in front of an inlet and against an Impressionist sky, exceeded the $15/25,000 estimate, going to a telephone bidder for $31,200.
Works on paper included a Camille Pissarro hand colored etching titled “Marche de Gisirs Rue Cappeville” that sold at $33,600, while a Thomas Hart Benton lithograph titled “Wreck of the Old 97″ went out at $7,700.
A couple of the surprises from the Modern art selection included a wood sculpture by Nancy Grossman from 1964, titled “Vertical Message,” that was estimated at $4/6,000. The unusual piece was subjected to a flurry of bids that ended at $33,600. Grossman has been widely exhibited. including her “Tough Life Diary” show at the Francis Young Tang Museum at Skidmore College. Another surprise was a Hannes Beckmann oil on canvas board titled “Equinox” that soared past the $3/5,000 estimate to bring $15,600.
Prices include the buyer’s premium charged.
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