Published: November 25, 2003
– Philadelphia has often been at the center of things. One hundred miles south of New York City, 133 miles north of Washington D.C., the city of 5.8 million was once central to the American colonies. It was where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were signed, and even served as the nation’s capital from 1790 to 1800. From October 16 to 19 Philadelphia was arguably the best place to view and acquire American art — when nearly 60 galleries exhibited American works of art at the 33rd Street Armory for the twelfth annual USArtists.
The Women’s Board of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts presents the yearly event to benefit the academy, the first American art school and museum. It was toward the end of the Eighteenth Century that artists Charles Willson Peale and William Rush got the idea for an American art academy in Philadelphia. PAFA officially opened in 1805.
Vose Galleries, Boston, hung a stellar Maxfield Parrish entitled “Circe’s Palace,” of 1907, at the entryway to USArtists this year. It was priced at $1.8 million, well within the parameters for a major Parrish. No coincidence that Parrish was a graduate of PAFA. Nearly every prominent alumnus was represented at the show. “I’m very proud that my brother Terry was the first dealer to sign up for this show,” remembered Bill Vose. The family owned Vose Galleries has been a key-stone of the show ever since.
N.C. Wyeth’s dramatic painting of “The Wrestling Match at the Pied Merlin” was another knockout painting at the Vose booth. It was signed “N C Wyeth to Henry” (Holzer), the artist’s cousin, and came to the gallery through the Holzer family. Wyeth shows two men preparing to grapple in what looks like a pub, and yet the figures are so beautifully painted and illuminated that it seems more a noble conflict than a barroom brawl. The suspense of the moment, just before a major event, is typical of Wyeth. Somerville Manning, Greenville, Del., brought an exciting N.C. Wyeth of an Indian about to launch an attack with a tomahawk entitled “The Savage gave a yell,” 1927.
Melissa Williams, Melissa Williams Fine Art, Columbia, Mo., said, “I live in a small town. I have to go to urban areas and large cities with good museums.” She sold nine pieces at USArtists. “It was the best show I have ever had there,” said Williams, who also found herself buying a small Hudson River painting of a man making wheat sheaves. “There is a range of [price] values at this show,” said Williams.
She noticed that there were several museum people shopping the show, including representatives from the Allentown Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and of course, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Others reported that there were representatives present from the National Academy of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Ira Spanierman of Spanierman Gallery, New York City, said, “We did very well. We sold a Fern Coppedge for record price plus several other things — Hudson River School, Sanford Gifford, [Walter Emerson] Baum, a Lilly Martin Spencer still life of raspberries in a bowl.” He met some new people and also managed to buy “some great things.” They showed Arthur W. Dow’s soft and lovely “Ipswich Landscape” with a peaceful blaze of light peeking through pale violet clouds.
First-year exhibitor John Driscoll of Babcock Galleries, New York City, was delighted with the show. “I found it to be extremely well organized; the people there were very helpful and everything was as smoothly run as could be imagined.” Babcock Galleries did business at the show and has continued selling since the show. They brought material having to do with Pennsylvania, and several pieces by women artists.
Caroline Owens of Adelson Galleries, Inc, New York City, said they “met a lot of new people, one in particular is likely to be a very good customer in the future. These shows are great marketing tool, such a great audience down in Philadelphia; they appreciated what we brought.”
One of the paintings Adelson Galleries brought was Jane Peterson’s “Dancer with Doll,” circa 1922. Peterson depicted an attractive woman with a 1920s hair bob with aqua and mauve colors throughout the composition. They also brought a lively Prendergast watercolor entitled “Girls on the Riverbank,” circa 1910-13; a large portrait by Sargent of Mrs Jacob Wendell, 1888, offered for seven figures; a luscious William Merritt Chase landscape that was well structured and painted loosely; a Bierstadt oil sketch of an “Indian Camp” and Childe Hassam’s fresh and bright “Isles of Shoals,” July 1886. They also brought Marsden Hartley’s colorful and brilliant “Hall of the Mountain King,” 1908.
Presiding over the booth of Cooley Gallery, Old Lyme, Conn., was a celebratory still life that was painted by Paul LaCroix (1811-1847). According to Jeff Cooley, it inspired a fellow dealer to say, “It makes me want to party.” The painting depicted a bountiful display of grapes, corn, melon and berries along with an open bottle of champagne and a full glass of champagne temptingly close to the viewer.
Audrey Hall of Dixon Hall Fine Art was especially pleased to bring an Arthur B. Carles “Still Life with Flowers and Cloth.” The lively painting had been in the collection of Mrs Earl Horter of Doylestown, Penn., since 1939.
Acme Gallery, Boston, was brimming with paintings that had an intellectual or whimsical edge to them. David Cowan has an eye for unusual and powerful images, such as the Robert Beauchamp self-portrait of 1989. Cowan was delighted with the show and appreciated the “crowd of sincerely nice people who are educated in the arts and interested in looking at art.”
Gerald Peters Gallery, New York City, brought a mix of contemporary art and heavy hitters such as Milton Avery. You could find works by Morgan Russell, Hugh Breckenridge and Max Weber. They had a small but exquisite nude by Childe Hassam entitled “The Dressing Table (Portrait of Kitty Hughes)” that was done in 1918 and a handsome A.T. Bricher shore scene with a rocky bluff.
Louis Salerno, Questroyal Fine Art, New York City, sold two Sanford Giffords and one Cropsey in Philadelphia. He brought well-paired Thomas Cole and Frederic Church paintings — the Cole showing a sunset on Catskill Creek, 1845-47, and the Church a lake scene, probably in Maine somewhere, 1878.
Alfred J. Walker of Boston brought a pair of William Bradfords to the show. Both had a rosy midnight-sun glow to them. One was entitled “Labrador Coast,” and the other “Bark Panther Under the Midnight Sun” of 1876. William Bradford painted the Panther when he chartered the vessel to take him to the arctic. The artist has seen a dramatic increase in value in the past several years, and the recently concluded exhibition at the New Bedford Whaling Museum has contributed to his stature.
Bringing a fine example of the Boston School by William McGregor Paxton was Richardson-Clarke Gallery, Boston. They brought Paxton’s “Two Nudes,” a 1930 painting measuring 32 by 38 inches. It was priced at $325,000. In a different price range they hung a charming painting of “Sunset on Mount Desert, Maine” by Francis Flanagan, which was $6,500. The mood for winter was set by highly observant snow paintings by Alfred Janson and John Nichols Haapenen.
Philip Rosenfeld, Pennsylvania Arts Conservatory, Berwyn, Penn., has exhibited at USArtists for several years. He sells art from “painters who are still selling for under $50,000, and most of my sales are under $20,000.” He looks for “artists who have not yet been recognized but are of the same quality as those who are commanding much higher prices.”
Rosenfeld was ecstatic about this year’s show. “The gate on Friday was extraordinary. I have never seen it so busy on a Friday. The art was beautiful, dealers were very professional, and the crowd was interested and knowledgeable. They get excited about the artwork. At heart we are all collectors looking for that special find and there were many at that show. I had a wonderful time.” This was the gallery’s best year ever at USArtists. Old and new customers came from South Carolina, Washington, D.C., New York City, Buffalo and Baltimore.
According to show spokesperson Thom Duffy, the attendance this year was more than 6,000 people spread out over the three-day show and its preview.
Connie Kay loves her year-round volunteer job as dealer coordinator. “In the early years we were begging dealers to come. Now we have a waiting list of at least eight or nine people,” said Kay. Most of the deposits for next year’s show will be in by December, and the few (very few) open spaces will begin to be sold in January. The Women’s Board strives to keep a geographic, price and style balance, although most of the show is Nineteenth and Twentieth Century art with some contemporary. “This year’s show was one of our best because the balance was still there. That is why we get the gate that we do.”
Another secret of the show’s success said Kay, is the warmth between the committee and the dealers. In addition to hosting a setup cocktail party and a Sunday brunch for the dealers, the volunteers take their jobs very seriously and nothing warms the heart of a dealer better than a well-run successful show run by competent, gracious people. The Women’s Board also buys at the show. They believe in the art. “Everyone here is very interested in art and interested in the PAFA, where it all began,” said Halloran.
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