Review and Photos by Laura Beach
SANTA FE – The envy-provoking exhibition “Good Company: Five Artist Communities in New Mexico,” on view at the New Mexico Museum of Art through March 10, underscores the advantage of collecting emerging artists, provided one has discipline and patience to watch reputations develop. The show is drawn from the collections of the century-old museum, often the first to acquire works by painters whose names are now synonymous with the region. Most of us are familiar with the early Modernists associated with the Taos Society of Artists; Los Cinco Pintores, known as the Santa Fe school; and, most famous of all, the Stieglitz Circle, whose Southwestern stars included Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, Andrew Dasburg and John Marin, to name a few. Less well-known are the mid-Twentieth Century abstractionists in the Transcendental Painting Group _ think Emil Bisttram and Raymond Jonson – and the Rio Grande Painters Group, whose best known member is Cady Wells.
These five painting circles and more were showcased in a November 10 sale meticulously curated by Santa Fe Art Auction director Gillian Blitch and conducted at the Gerald Peters Gallery. Peters’ productions are invariably elegant, with handsome catalogs, gracious hospitality and shuttle service to parking opposite the gallery on busy Paseo de Peralta. Buyers for the top lots generally bid by phone or online, while the hometown crowd snaps up bargains, of which there were a few. Total sales this round reached $2,206,475, including buyer’s premium. The sell through rate was 84 percent.
“We look for fine American art by classic and contemporary masters. We are very focused on women artists of the West and Southwest and have a growing area of specialization in Native American art,” explained Blitch, who worked as a gallerist and private curator in Scottsdale before joining Peters Gallery.
As is tradition, the sale kicked off with two engravings by Gene Kloss, known for her dramatic nocturnes and Pueblo ceremonial views. “Moonlit Kiva” of 1953 brought a solid $4,095. After that came cowboy works on paper by Eggenhofer and Wieghorst, the highest realizing $7,020, and bargain Western bronzes. Concluding the sequence was the vigorously contested 1899 painting “She-Comes-Out-First Sioux” by Elbridge Ayer Burbank, who created roughly 1,200 portraits of Native Americans from 125 tribes. The $18,720 price was a record for the artist.
Nineteenth Century explorer paintings are rare and thus pricey. William T. Ranney’s oil on canvas “The Wounded Trooper” was the best in this category, surpassing its low estimate to sell for $117,000.
Wildlife painting is a bright spot in the Western art market. Bob Kuhn’s 2007 acrylic on panel “High Plains Lothario,” depicting a buffalo stag and his mate, garnered $140,400.
Five works by Gerard Curtis Delano, who studied on the East Coast with Dean Cornwell, Harvey Dunn and N.C. Wyeth before making his mark as a painter of Navajo scenes in Arizona, culminated with the cover lot “The Canyon Trail,” auctioned for $117,000.
Classic Santa Fe and Taos school paintings formed the core of the auction. Topping all was the oil on canvas “Hunting Son and Eagle Star” by the Taos school founder Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953), $351,000. The artist, who first visited the northern New Mexico town in 1893, was a favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt, who ordered a studio built for Sharp at the Crow Indian agency on the site of the Custer battlefield.
Nathaniel Owings of the Owings Gallery underbid “Taos Indian Maiden” by E. Martin Hennings, $152,100. The Santa Fe dealer claimed “Casa Lucero” by William Penhallow Henderson for $18,720. Owings Gallery has long handled the Santa Fe painter and furniture maker’s estate.
The exotic portrait “Shoo Shang” by Taos artist Nicolai Fechin was a happy surprise, more than tripling low estimate to bring a record $128,700. “Girl by the Oven,” a portrait by another Taos artist, Eanger Irving Couse, made $26,325.
Blitch included two works by the often overlooked Eliseo Rodriguez, born in Santa Fe in 1915 and so closely associated with Los Cinco Pintores that he has been called El Sexto Pintor. Rodriguez was the subject of an exhibit and catalog at the New Mexico Museum of Art in 2003 but is not yet widely recognized. His 99¾-inch-tall mural-style painting of a New Mexico village scene left the room at $29,250. The choice El Greco-like “La Virgen Apocalyse” of 1970 by Rodriguez passed at $8,500.
Blitch rightly promoted “The Arrival of the Cloud People,” a 1975 acrylic on board by the late Native American artist Helen Hardin. It surpassed high estimate to bring $29,250. Another woman artist and longtime New Mexico resident, Henriette Wyeth, is also coming into her own, a trend acknowledged and encouraged by the traveling exhibition “Magical & Real: Henriette Wyeth and Peter Hurd, A Retrospective,” jointly organized by the Michener and Roswell museums. Wyeth’s large still life “C-shell” gaveled down at $18,720.
Also deserving more recognition is the late Santa Fe artist Clark Hulings, who despite his conservative approach to painting was technically unsurpassed. Of several beautiful Hulings canvases offered, “Tesuque Cottonwoods,” an oil of 1976, went for $29,250.
If you have any of the so-called storyteller figures by Cochiti Pueblo potter Helen Cordero tucked away, get them out now. The charming pieces, which Cordero began making in 1964, can bring roughly $1,000 each. This round, circa 1973 Cordero nativity with 13 figurines garnered $17,550.
Among Pueblo pottery and Navajo weaving, the highest price paid was $38,025 for the Third Phase chief’s blanket.
“Still Life with Zinnias” by Andrew Dasburg (1887-1979), an oil on canvasboard by the early Modernist represented in New York’s 1913 Armory Show, achieved $58,500. The gorgeous Dasburg pastel “Llano Autumn Valley” passed at $7,000, about half of its retail value. Zealous reserves tanked “Russian Musicians,” a pastel on paper by Leon Gaspard, passed at $55,000, and a small oil on tin painting by Thomas Hart Benton passed at $50,000. The latter, estimated at $100/150,000, is a study for the full-size 1951 painting “Desert Still Life,” bequeathed by the artist to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.
Under Blitch’s direction, Santa Fe Art Auction is ramping up quarterly online-only sales, featuring material valued at $10,000 or less and often organized by theme. The company’s highly successful October sale featured prints and other works on paper of New Mexico interest. A sale set for February 15-24 will showcase Spanish Colonial and other Hispanic art.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium but do not reflect additional fees associated with online and credit-card purchases.
Santa Fe Art Auction is at 1011 Paseo de Peralta. For information, www.santafeartauction.com or 505-954-5858.