Published: May 18, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Heritage Auctions
DALLAS – Heritage Auctions’ director of American Art, Aviva Lehmann, described the May 7 American Art sale as “a perfect moment in American art. We had great examples across all categories and price points and saw interest and strength in every area. This is the third sale we’ve had during the pandemic and each has exceeded our expectations, and I’m thrilled to be seeing new bidders and buyers.”
That was a rare moment of understatement if one considers that the sale realized $10,780,250, against an aggregate low/high estimate of $3,785,500/5,751,500, and was 98 percent sold by lot. Several of the top lots had numerous bidders on them, including clients new to Heritage.
The top lot of the sale handily beat all contenders for best in show and set a new auction record for its artist, Joseph Christian Leyendecker (American, 1874-1951). “Beat-up Boy, Football Hero” sold for $4,121,250, leaving not only its $150/250,000 estimate in the dust but also the previous world record of $516,100, which had been set by Sotheby’s in December 2020 for “Carousel Ride.”
Leyendecker’s scenes of children are considered among the finest within his body of work, which included more than 300 covers for The Saturday Evening Post, a role he filled prior to – and set the stage for – fellow illustrator Norman Rockwell. “Beat-up Boy, Football Hero,” done in 1914, typifies Leyendecker’s ability to tell a story using a single figure, in this case a defiant and precocious young boy after a football game.
The painting had resided in one family for close to 100 years and was on its original stretcher, having never been relined. A copy of the November 21, 1914 issue of The Saturday Evening Post featuring the work on its cover accompanied the lot. Twelve bidders created a scrum with one, a private American collector who had been bidding on the phone, emerging victorious.
Norman Rockwell’s (American, 1894-1978) “Excuse Me! (Soldier Escorting Woman)” secured the second highest price in the sale when it was knocked down for $543,000. The painting was one of only six covers Rockwell painted for Judge magazine and the price realized sets the record for one of his Judge covers. Done in 1917, the painting depicts a young woman dressed in her Sunday finest on the arm of a dashing young soldier as she walks away from a suitor. Rockwell’s message is clear: she chose the soldier over the civilian, an image that furthermore reinforced the idea that Americans supported their troops, in any way possible. The painting had initially been sold at a Liberty Bond auction to fundraise for World War I.
Heritage toured a number of paintings through its New York City gallery prior to the auction in Dallas and Thomas Moran’s (American, 1837-1926) “A Mountain of Loadstone – Arabian Nights” from 1898 was “one of the stars,” according to Lehmann. “With Moran, one thinks of his early landscapes but he also did these fantastical seascapes that are reminiscent of JMW Turner.” Part of a grouping of works from a Palm Beach, Fla., estate, the Moran had an extensive provenance that could be traced directly to the artist. Nine competitors pushed bidding to $375,000, well above its estimate of $150/250,000.
Another work that visited New York City was “Mount St Helens, Columbia River, Oregon” by Albert Bierstadt. Done in 1880, the oil on canvas had been in the collection of Western art collector, L.D. “Brink” Brinkman and will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné. With four bidders in pursuit, it nearly doubled its high estimate and topped off at $350,000.
Ten bidders competed for “Santa Maria della Salute” by John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), which the artist did in 1904 in watercolor and pencil on paper. It is described in the catalog as “an exciting new addition to the artist’s dozen known works recording the façade of the majestic Baroque church located at the entrance to the city’s Grand Canal” and will also be added to the ongoing catalogue raisonné database. It realized $250,000, more than double its high estimate.
A hauntingly beautiful, if stark, watercolor painting of the Finnish Congregational Church and Parsonage on St George Road in South Thomaston, Maine, by Andrew Wyeth was one of two works by the artist in the sale and brought its high estimate, $250,000. The other Wyeth work – “Hill Orchard” – was also a watercolor and realized $112,500 against an estimate of $80/120,000.
It is sometimes detrimental for one auction to feature several works by the same artist, but Heritage challenged this tradition, offering six distinctly different works by Birger Sandzén. Prices ranged from $68,750 for “Sunset, Logan, Utah” of 1929, to $225,000 paid for the 1930 work “Aspens, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.” Heritage holds the current record for a work by the Swedish American artist and Lehmann said the artist is “a natural fit for us because we’re Texas based and that was his area. We knew we had a strong client base and that we could offer several. All exceeded their estimates.”
Heritage Auctions’ presence in the sport collectibles market make it a logical place for selling the works of LeRoy Neiman (American, 1921-2012), which first appeared as a regular feature in Playboy magazine, where they depicted men’s culture in sporting events and social activities. “Roulette Table at Vegas” saw interest from 15 bidders and brought $200,000; it was the highest price achieved for eight paintings and drawings by the artist in the sale.
“With Rockwell and Leyendecker doing so well, it elevates the market for secondary or more obscure artists,” Lehmann said, speaking in reference to a work titled “The Seige” by Eugene Iverd (American, 1893-1936), which was the cover of the January 15, 1927 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The previous record for the artist was $12,500 and Lehmann had put an estimate of $4/6,000 on the oil on canvas, but 18 bidders pushed it to $162,500.
Sculpture was a small section of the sale but nonetheless attracted strong prices. Two bird bronzes that Paul Manship had made for the Bronx Zoo – from a larger commission of ten – were consigned by a descendant of the artist and each were offered at $20/30,000. “Shoebill Stork” soared to $81,250, while “Goliath Heron” flew to $52,500. One of Lehmann’s favorite pieces in the sale was “Wounded Comrade” by sculptor Carl Ethan Akeley (American, 1864-1926), who was also a taxidermist, conservationist, biologist and photographer whose sculptures can still be seen in the Akeley African Hall of Mammals at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “Wounded Comrade” was designed in 1913 but cast a year after Akeley died by his widow, Mary. The work was subsequently acquired by Tiffany & Co., where it was purchased by the Perkins family of Lee, Mass., who owned it until this sale.
Heritage Auctions’ next American Art sale is scheduled for November 5.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.ha.com.
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