Published: November 8, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy Shannon’s Auctioneers
MILFORD, CONN. – On October 27, Shannon’s Auctioneers conducted its Fine Art Auction, offering almost 180 paintings, sculptures and multimedia art. The majority of these were created by American artists, and all represented in the top lots shared this nationality, with works ranging from the Nineteenth to the Twentieth Centuries. The 179-lot sale had a buy-through rate of 84 percent, totaling $3.75 million.
All but one of the top selling paintings was created by a male artist, and it was an untitled canvas by Lynne Mapp Drexler that took pride of place as the highest selling painting. Drexler was a student of Robert Motherwell and Hans Hofmann, and she became involved in the New York City Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1950s. Using vivid colors to influence her composition, Drexler’s landscape is composed of mosaic-like shapes that create the image of a thicket against a blue sky. Many of her paintings created after 1962 are inspired by the landscape of Monhegan Island, Maine, where she and her husband moved following their time in New York, and her affinity with nature and music became deeply intertwined in her work. Estimated at just $50/75,000, online and phone bidding multiplied the price to $450,500.
Many of the top lots were landscapes, two showing the variations of the Pennsylvania countryside and its seasons. The first was by Daniel Garber, a leading member of the group of landscape painters who lived and worked in Bucks County, Penn., and became known as the New Hope School of American Impressionists. The School embraced the French Impressionist approach to painting en plein air and capturing the changing effects of natural light while developing their own distinct idiom in the Bucks County landscape. His 1940 oil on canvas painting “Elm Bough” showed the waning summer light of a river scene and sold within estimate, to a phone bidder for $262,500. In third place was another New Hope artist from Buck’s County, Edward Redfield’s “Drifted Road” that also achieved its estimate at $237,500.
Scott Kahn’s “The Woods” differed from its peers in color and time of day, showing the gem tones of nighttime with blue and red trees under a starry sky. The only living artist in the top lots, Kahn draws from his imagination and memories to create surrealist landscapes from his own experiences. According to the catalog, he considers his work a “visual diary of the world around him.” His work has grown in popularity and price in the past few years and this painting was no exception, bought for $212,500.
Born in England, Thomas Moran is still considered an American artist due to his numerous paintings and commissions of what would become National Parks, such as Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, and was even memorialized as the “Dean of American Landscape Painters.” Moran also traveled abroad extensively in Europe and produced this scene of Venice in 1903, having visited the city in 1886, 1890 and 1911. It sold within estimate for $162,500. The only other landscape in the top lots that was specifically not American was by Robert Vonnoh, a scene of the Grez River in the countryside of northern France that bid to $68,750.
Two more landscapes sold closely behind the Vonnoh in price. After emigrating from Scotland as a child, William Hart began his artistic career as a journeyman decorative and portrait painter, later focusing on landscapes and finding success in his thirties onward. The first to sell, “Sun Setting Over Mountain Stream” more than doubled its high estimate, bringing $62,500 and was one of at least six autumn scenes painted by the artist, most likely modeled from landscapes in northeast New Hampshire. Selling at its high estimate of $60,000 was a seascape by William Trost Richards, showing a less tranquil New England scene of dark clouds and crashing waves off the “Coast of Maine.”
Thomas Hart Benton’s study for “Over The Mountains,” now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art along with ten out of 18 completed panels of the unfinished American Historical Epic, also sold over its high estimate for $81,250. The project, which was originally intended to feature 50 panels, was a turning point in Benton’s career. Growing tired of formalism and abstraction at this time, he began to define his own style that would eventually grow into a force in American Regionalism and American modern art writ large.
Portraiture was another prominent genre among the top lots, and those that fetched higher prices were diverse examples of representation. The highest selling and perhaps most striking of these was by Walt Kuhn (1877-1949), depicting a woman in showgirl dress. Kuhn helped to organize the Exhibition of Independent Artists in 1910 and was a founding member of the Association of American Painters and Sculptors (AAPS), who later organized the 1913 Armory Show. Following this event, Kuhn began developing his own artistic style and focused on circus and vaudeville performers as subjects. Instead of presenting his showgirl with all the artifice of her profession, Kuhn paints this young woman standing slightly slumped with a direct, sober stare against a stark, voided background. Simply titled “Girl in Green,” the portrait sold within estimate for $106,250.
The work of Kuhn’s colleague Robert Henri was next in the top listings; one of about six studies of Faith Atkins (later Witter and Breeden), who was five years old at the time of sitting for two 1928 portraits. Henri is known for his playful portraits of children; however, this study is indicative of the more formal mode of painting that he assumed when traveling and fulfilling commissions in Ireland. In this series, Henri emphasized color and form, and here his intentionally limited tonal range is emphasized by his dashes of color. The effect is nonetheless evocative of a well-behaved but still cheeky child and was bid to $100,000.
American Impressionist William Merritt Chase also made an appearance with “Man Holding A Cigar,” an undated portrait of an unidentified man. Chase was successful early in his career and exhibited four portraits at the Society of American Artists in 1878; he also worked as a teacher at the Art Students League in New York City and presided over a large gallery space in the Tenth Street Studio Building. Either a friend of the artist, a New York socialite or both, the formal dress of this sitter exhibits Chase’s technical mastery of bravura brushstrokes and the immediate presence that drew clients with the subject’s direct gaze. Selling above its high estimate, the portrait achieved $52,500.
Prices listed with buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Shannon’s will conduct an online-only sale in January. For information, 201-877-1711 or www.shannons.com.
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