The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts has attracted many distinguished artists in the more than 200 years since its founding. Many of those same teachers and pupils were there †at least in spirit †for a “homecoming” at the 18th annual USArtists American Fine Art Show and Sale, which opened with a gala on September 30. Works by Thomas Eakins, Arthur B. Carles, Thomas Sully, Rembrandt Peale, Joan Sloan, Maxfield Parrish, Cecilia Beaux, Mary Cassatt and many others with PAFA lineage were offered for sale by the 36 participating dealers, who showed only American artists for this event. It was an eye-popping array of centuries and styles. The money raised from the show directly supports PAFA student scholarships.
In a bold and brilliant move, the PAFA Women’s Board hosted the 2010 USArtists at the stunning Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building †part of PAFA’s museum exhibition space †on North Broad Street, right in the heart of Philadelphia. Exhibitors and attendees raved about the new location. It was a fabulous way to draw top dealers to the show, get the attention of the collectors and upgrade the whole event, especially since there was a hiatus last year. Dealers, mindful of the museum environment, brought their best art †and the art in turn deserved the gravitas of the museum surroundings. The show took up two floors in the gorgeous contemporary building with its airy atmosphere. One could start on the first floor with 15 dealers then take the elevators (or brave the enormous and elegant stairway) to the second floor where there were 21 more dealers.
“This is the best spot in the city to have the show, quite frankly,” said Robert Schwarz of Schwarz Galleries, Philadelphia, a sentiment that was unanimous among the dealers. The armory that used to house the show is now a Drexel University sports facility, so there is no going back.
About 15 percent of the show was new art from dealers in the primary market such as Hirschl & Adler Modern, Forum Gallery, F.A.N., PPOW and Arcadia Gallery, all showcasing the talents of living artists. Other dealers like D.C. Moore and steven harvey fine art projects had new work as part of their displays. Much of the new art they displayed was figurative and realistic, and, as in the combined booth of Hirschl & Adler Modern and Hirschl & Adler Galleries, the new blended quite harmoniously with old.
At the gala, red dots happily appeared on a $225,000 Edward Redfield and a $4,500 Frank Baum at the booth of Paul Gratz, Gratz Gallery, Doylestown, Penn. Both paintings were sold to local people. Gratz also had interest in Fern Coppedge, Robert Spencer and Suzette Keast paintings. In the first few minutes of the gala, a patron snapped up a small oil by Gregory Prestegord for $850 at the booth of F.A.N Gallery, Philadelphia. The show was humming along at many different price points.
Eric Baumgartner, Hirschl & Adler Galleries and Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York City, was very pleased with the show. They had the first booth on the first floor. On opening night, they sold a 2009 oil on canvas by Randall Exon (b 1956) titled “Skaters on the Brandywine.” It measured 60 by 60 inches and showed four figures skating on a dark winter day. Exon teaches at Swarthmore College. “We tried to tailor our material to celebrate Philadelphia artists,” said Baumgartner, who would like to see the show reinstate the PAFA stickers that used to go on the works of PAFA pupils and teachers.
Helena Grubesic, Debra Force Fine Art, New York City, had three sales at the show, including one on opening night to a Philadelphia area collector †Robert Vickrey’s (b 1926), “Chalk Wall,” 1953, 46 by 26 inches, which is “the most desirable period for the artist,” according to Grubesic. The other two sales were traditional Nineteenth Century paintings.
Torrential rain and consequent street and rail line closings made getting to the show difficult for some people. “Weather was a huge detriment †especially Thursday night and Friday. Some people got stuck in New York and in Washington, so attendance was not as robust as in some years. But the people who came were high caliber collectors,” said Grubesic. Intrepid collector Ed Harvey came to the gala in his duck boots rather than miss the event. Patty Castner confirmed that the gala was attended by 350 people and that from the gala to the close of the show on Sunday, there were 3,000 attendees.
Collectors made an impression on dealers for their knowledge, willingness to make purchases and overall enthusiasm. Thomas Colville, Guilford, Conn., sold two six-figure paintings at the show and a four-figure painting after the show. The postshow interest from collectors has been notable to several dealers.
People marveled at the huge gold leaf frame with its applied three-dimensional extensions of nautical navigational tools that housed an equally arresting painting by Mauritz de Haas at the booth of Avery Galleries, Bryn Mawr, Penn. “We have never seen a frame so elaborately decorated,” said Nicole Amoroso, who confirmed the sale of three paintings at the show. Many stopped to enjoy the large 1912 portrait of Katharine Rhoades by Arthur B. Carles, and works by several New Hope painters.
A collection of 50 recently discovered Herbert Pullinger oil paintings was displayed at the booth of Pennsylvania Art Conservatory, Berwyn, Penn. Dealer/conservator Philip Rosenfeld found these charming little paintings in shoeboxes and in storage under furniture †filthy dirty and unframed. “It took us a year to finish the cleaning and framing as well as the cataloging,” said Rosenfeld. “These are bright, cheerful paintings. They are not somber.”
Indeed, the Pullinger oils were fresh, colorful renderings of people enjoying the Jersey shore †something that Pullinger liked to do with his family in the 1930s. He made his living with his etchings and illustrations, so he kept these personal little paintings for himself. “Once they’re sold, they’re sold. It is a rare opportunity to own a Pullinger oil,” said Rosenfeld.
Paintings and sculptures from the 1930s were featured along with Hudson River material and Regionalism at David David Gallery, Philadelphia. Carl David said, “Everyone seems to be trending toward the 30s and 40s. It offers terrific quality and it’s affordable; young collectors find it more interesting, with more color, more life, more story telling. Even collectors of Impressionism are now moving into this area of collecting.”
Upon approaching the Cooley Gallery booth, visitors were struck with two magnetic nocturnes and a grouping of serene landscapes painted at twilight. Cooley Gallery, Old Lyme, Conn., set up an exhibition of the work of Lockwood de Forest (1850?932), complete with a published catalog on the artist. The rest of the booth demonstrated de Forest’s fascination with myriad locales, including Maine and the Adirondacks, atmospheric effects and experimentation with composition and palette. The Cooley Gallery grouping of paintings was kept by the artist during his lifetime and later by his family. “I took a little bit of a risk and ended up selling some things,” said Jeff Cooley after the show.
Blue Heron Fine Art, Cohasset, Mass., displayed four paintings by Edith Branson (1891?976), a Midcentury Modernist with curvilinear geometric compositions and a careful patchwork of myriad hues. Branson celebrates the human figure with her distinctive aesthetic. Dealers Jim Puzinas and Shelley Brown were very excited to “debut” her work at USArtists. Branson’s artistic prominence is poised to reassert itself after decades of dormancy.
Artists in attendance included Stuart Shils, whose “Germantown Houses” was displayed at the booth of steven harvey fine art projects, New York City. Shils is the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant, an NEA fellowship and an award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Right next to Shils’s colorful and abstracted canvases were paintings by his PAFA teacher, Seymour Remenick. Shils was thrilled that they were both part of USArtists.
For further information, www.pafa.org/usartists or 215-972-0550.