There is no setting more fitting for The American Art Fair than the museum of the school that has nurtured more than 2,300 academicians. So when the lights in the galleries of the National Academy of Fine Arts were turned on Sunday evening, November 28, they illuminated something of a homecoming.
Not only was the art on display in an elegant environment that seemed custom made for it, the 11 American art exhibitors were, on this third year of the show, very much at home. All except one are based in New York City.
The mood here was festive. Thomas Colville of Thomas Colville Fine Art, Guilford, Conn., and one of the fair’s co-founders, summed it up best. “The market is coming back. We are looking forward to a successful show,” he said.
The gala opening was clearly an insider’s event. Patrons, celebrities and curators exuded a camaraderie that comes with familiarity. Several dealers reported opening night sales.
The collections of paintings and sculptures provided a glimpse into America’s evolution, beginning at Hammer Galleries, where Gilbert Stuart’s 1822 portrait of George Washington dominated the wood paneled wall. While this may be the first time the 44½-inch-tall oil on canvas was shown at the National Academy, it has been displayed in many other venues around the world. The painting comes from the collection of Armand Hammer, who, when he bought it in 1970, paid the world record sum of $205,000.
The gallery also showed several fine offerings from the family Wyeth. “Light Station” by Andrew Wyeth, 1983, depicting a white dog as lighthouse sentry, was flanked by N.C. Wyeth’s “Maine Island and “Pyles Barn, Chadds Ford.”
At Avery Gallery, director Nina Rossello presided over a display anchored by Louis Mignot’s “View of Newburgh, New York, 1856.” The winterscape is pure New England lore, with a flagstone fence framing a woman in red trudging through snow against a background of snow-covered mountains. This was surrounded by a collection that included Fitz Henry Lane’s monochromatic oil on canvas of Antelope , the first ship built for the China Trade, and William Glackens’s “Cafe de la Seine,” a representational monochromatic offering.
Thomas Colville Fine Art peppered the exhibition with several new the-to-the-market offerings. Among the more dramatic was John Frederick Kensett’s “White Mountain Scenery,” a large masterwork capturing river and mountains. Another fresh offering was Sanford Robinson Gifford’s 1869 “Lagoons of Venice,” a luminous version of the city’s boats that served as a model for most of the Venetian works the artist created after his return to the United States. William Lamb Picknell’s “La Lande de Kerran,” 1878, a spare landscape of rocky outcroppings against a cloudy sky, was another.
Featured prominently at Hirschl & Adler Galleries was self-taught artist George Caleb Bingham’s “Wood-Boatman on a River.” The dramatic genre scene, painted circa 1854, portrays three men gathered around a harmonica player under a luminist sky. Across the floor, Jane Peterson’s large “White and Pink Dogwood” jumped the decades and changed the mood. It is the largest Peterson the gallery has seen, reported Eric Baumgartner.
In the large rear gallery, Debra Force, director of Debra Force Fine Art, greeted viewers with John White Alexander’s dramatic portrait of a green and red kimono-clad woman teasing a butterfly, aptly named “Butterfly.” The collection also included Marsden Hartley’s “Stormy Sea 3” and Thomas Hart Benton’s “Ozark Reflections.” Several of the offerings, Force said, were fresh, having come in during the past couple of weeks.
At Questroyal Fine Art, Thomas Hart Benton’s “Swing Your Partner” drew great interest. It was shown en suite with Arthur B. Carles’s exuberant oil on canvas “Calla Lilies,” a Modernist interpretation in shades of blue and violet, and two Hudson River School works. They were second-generation Hudson River School painter John William Casilear’s “Landscape” and William M. Hart’s “Rocky Coast at Sunset.”
The fair’s newest exhibitor, Adelson Galleries, replaced recently retired Bernard Goldberg. Adelson’s emphasis was on American Impressionism. With a John Singer Sargent exhibition currently running at the gallery, it was not surprising to see at least one on view here. “Val d’Aosta: Stepping Stones,” circa 1907, is an unexpected landscape in which the shadow of the artist is reflected in the waters of the stream. According to gallery president Warren Adelson, the oil on canvas is painted with “brio and freshness.”
At Menconi & Schoelkopf Fine Art, new acquisitions kept the booth filled with viewers. Frederick Childe Hassam’s “To the 101st Massachusetts Infantry” portrayed a poignant meeting set against a coastal scene. Theodore Wendel’s “Giverny Landscape” was both spare and expressive.
Alexander Gallery, whose booth was long and narrow, filled the walls with landscapes. Beginning with “Light of the Lehigh,” a small but breathtaking winter scene by DeWitt Clinton Boutelle, the Alexander exhibition then moved to the large and exquisitely rendered painting “The New World” from The Discovery of America series by Baron Jean Antoine Theodore Gudin.
At Godel & Company Fine Art, the American vision was seen in seascapes, mountain terrains and urban landscapes. Frank W. Benson’s “Down the Rapids” captures the moment of action as two men rowing a canoe begin their descent into white water. In contrast, a turn-of-the-century painting by Paul Cornoyer caught New York City’s muted early morning palette.
Gerald Peters Gallery focused on Modernism, thus setting its exhibition apart. The gallery showed mostly artists whose estates it handles, including William Zorach, Marguerite Zorach, Gaston Lachaise and Max Weber. Works by Milton Avery and George Ault were also included.
The American Art Fair will return next year for another run at the National Academy Museum & School. For more information, 212-472-1636 or www.theamericanartfair.com .