Published: December 21, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy James Cox Gallery
WILLOW, N.Y. – In an online-only sale on December 12, James Cox Gallery offered 225 pieces from seven private collections and six estates, including that of Marcuse “Cusie” Pfeifer (1936-2020), noted gallerist and internationally known collector of fine photography. Tied for top lot status at $22,800 each were “Ronettes,” 1964, by John Chamberlain (1927-2011) and A.R. Penck’s (1939-2017) untitled, 1981, India ink on paper of totemic figures.
With estimates ranging from $50 to $25,000, the gallery’s no-reserve sale included significant artwork in all media, with a special emphasis on the Woodstock art colony, WPA artists, fine printmakers, and urban subject matter. Gallery owner James Cox said the sale totaled $182,730. Of the 225 lots offered, only 11 did not sell in the auction that registered 1,108 approved bidders on the LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable platforms. There were 38 countries represented and 123 winning bidders from eight countries. Cox noted that the Chamberlain will stay in the United States, while the Penck is heading to Geneva, Switzerland.
Landscapes, especially wintry scenes, did well in this sale leading up to the winter holidays. John Pike’s (1911-1979) vision of a homey residence amid snow-laden trees titled “Winter,” circa 1970, surpassed its $1,8/2,200 expectation to sell for $6,000. The watercolor on paper measured 21½ by 29½ inches and was signed lower right. Bentley’s oil, “New York Farms,” circa 1940, 25 by 30 inches, earned $3,900, and the same price was attained for his “Snowbound Brook,” circa 1940, oil on canvas, 25 by 30 inches.
Pike painted cover art and illustrations for major magazines like Life, Readers Digest, Collier’s and Fortune, and worked on commissions for many corporations. He established the John Pike Watercolor School in Woodstock in 1960 and in 1966 he became an instructor for “Painting Holidays,” teaching watercolor workshops worldwide. He was a member of the National Academy of Design, the Society of Illustrators, the American Watercolor Society, the Philadelphia Watercolor Club and the Air Force Historical Foundation, among other associations.
Cox said he is branching into somewhat unfamiliar territory in offering photography, one of the main features of this sale with 40 works from the collection of “Cusie” Pfeifer crossing the block.
Pfeifer, born in Little Rock, Ark., where her family owned the M.M. Cohn Department Store, was a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and came to photography after a stint working at New York’s New School and the Museum of Modern Art. Early in her career she worked for prominent Madison Avenue art dealer Robert Schoelkopf and eventually acquired his gallery space, opening her own eponymous gallery there in 1976. She was also a founding member and president of the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD).
After 14 years on Madison Avenue, Pfeifer moved to Kingston, N.Y., where she restored a pre-revolutionary stone house on historic Maiden Lane. Her collection was the focus of an exhibition titled “In Celebration: A Recent Gift from the Photography Collection of Marcuse Pfeifer” in April 2019 at the Samuel Dorsky Museum on the campus of SUNY New Paltz. Cox said the proceeds from the sale of Pfeifer’s estate will be donated to her alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College. He will be offering more from her collection in later sales.
One of the works from her collection in this sale was an early cyanotype by Anna Atkins (1799-1871) “Sagittaria sagittifolia (Arrowhead plant),” circa 1843, 13½ by 9½ inches, framed under glass, that was bid to $6,000.
A photographer that Pfeifer championed, Carlotta Corpron (1901-1988) was represented by “Calla Lillies,”1987, a gelatin silver print, 12½ by 9½ inches, which finished at $3,000.
Two oils on canvas, a landscape and shore scene by Jehudith Sobel (1924-2012) were notable. “Landscape with Barns,” 20 by 24 inches, signed lower right with a “Fletcher Gallery-Woodstock, NY” label on verso, sold for $5,400, while “Waterfront Seagulls,” 30 by 36 inches, took $4,500.
Master watercolorist and Boston native John Whorf (1903-1959), known for his depictions of genre subjects and views of harbors and beach scenes, was represented by a dynamic scene of “Lobstermen in Turbulent Surf,” circa 1950, a watercolor on paper, 21½ by 30¼ inches, that fetched $4,500, a domestic scene of a glistening nude woman fresh from her bath in “Drying Off,” circa 1925, 20½ by 13½ inches, at $2,280.
Another nude subject, this an oil on canvas by James Chapin (1887-1975), “Life Class – California,” 1941-1942, brought $3,600. The oil on canvas, 29 by 40 inches, was signed lower right, framed and carried an ACA Galleries label on verso. It had come from the estate of the artist.
A Woodstock favorite, Rolph Scarlett (1889-1984) was in the lineup with an untitled oil on Masonite, 47½ by 33½ inches, also leaving the gallery for $3,600.
And a delightful portrait of “Olivia in Striped Chair,” circa 1975, by Alice Neel (1900-1984) slipped its $300/500 estimate to find a buyer at $3,360. The lithograph, edition 11/200, 26½ by 21 inches, was signed lower left. “It’s going to Half Moon Bay, Calif.,” said Cox.
Additional highlights included John F. Carlson’s (1875-1947) “Landscape,” circa 1920, oil on board, 6½ by 7¾ inches, doubling its high estimate to fetch $3,000, and “Black Splash Under Red Sphere” by Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974), 1966 an artist proof screenprint, 30 by 22¼ inches, which sold for $2,400.
Asked about surprises in the sale, Cox said he was very gratified by the price achieved for a small oil on board work by Elaine Wesley (1923-2007), which had come from her estate. “Vortex,” 1993, 18 by 14 inches, made $1,440.
He added that he was also pleased that a Hudson River School oil on canvas, “Spring Time” by Dubois Fenelon Hasbrouck (American, 1860-1934), doubled its high estimate to finish at $2,040.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. “We like what we’ve settled into,” said Cox when asked about his next sale. “A sale in May and a sale in December. But next year for the winter sale, I’ll do it a week earlier.” For additional information, www.jamescoxgallery.com or 845-679-7608.
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