Published: April 30, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Fontaine’s Auction Gallery
PITTSFIELD, MASS. – On April 21, John Fontaine conducted his first auction comprising solely works of art. He said, “We’ve been in this building for more than 22 years and never did an entire sale with just paintings. I wanted to give it a try, and I had two consignors who each wanted to give us a substantial number of paintings. With those two collections, which comprised over half the sale, we decided to give it a try.”
Descriptions in the catalog and online were comprehensive, and all paintings had been black-lighted, allowing descriptions to include mentions of in-painting, repairs, etc. Fontaine called the first 100 lots the “Discovery” portion of the sale. Although those lots had been cataloged and described, they were not available for online bidding. The next portion of the sale, another 200 lots, featured bidding that was on four online platforms. In addition, multiple phone lines were in use, and there were a number of absentee bids. As often happens these days, the crowd in the salesroom was sparse and numerous items were sold to online and phone bidders.
Topping the sale was “March Floods” by John Fabian Carlson (American, 1875-1945), an impressionistic forest landscape with remnants of melting snow, which finished at $34,943, going to a bidder on the phone. Carlson was born in Switzerland and his family moved to the United States in 1884. He was a well-regarded painter, a member of the National Academy and winner of several prestigious prizes during his lifetime. His works hang in the Dallas Museum of Art and other museums. The Vose Gallery website says, “While he proclaimed that art could not be taught, but only learned through practice, John F. Carlson, nonetheless, was one of the most important teachers of landscape painting in the early decades of the Twentieth Century. Due to Carlson’s busy teaching schedule, his own painting time was generally relegated to the late fall and winter, and thus he became known for his tonalist snow scenes.” He wrote Elementary Principles of Landscape Painting, which was published in 1928.
Of three Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978) pencil sketches, one sold at the sale, and there was postsale interest for the other two. Each was from the estate of Sarah (Sally) Swift, a personal friend of the Rockwells, and they had given these to her. Accompanying each was a handwritten Christmas card signed by the Rockwells. When Swift died, she gave the drawings to her caretaker and close friend, who was the late wife of the consignor. Selling for $18,150 was “Christmas: Santa Claus Reading Mail.” The sketch, used in a December 1935 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, depicted Santa with his pipe, seated at a table, reading his mail. The accompanying Christmas card was signed by Norman and Molly Rockwell. One of the others was a colorful sketch of a young boy, and the other was a sketch used in a 1922 Saturday Evening Post, titled “Maid With Movie Magazine.”
Not bringing the highest price of the day, but a painting with a good story, was a scene of a black family set on a Southern plantation in the Twentieth Century. It was done by Clementine Reuben Hunter (American, 1887-1987), a self-taught black artist who lived and worked on the Melrose Plantation, in Natchitoches, La. Hunter was a farm laborer who never learned to read or write. The day before giving birth to one of her children, she is said to have picked 78 pounds of cotton. Hunter did not start painting until she was in her 50s. She was the first African American artist to have a solo exhibition at the present-day New Orleans Museum of Art and her works hang in several museums. Her painting sold for $2,118.
There were other works that did well. “Misty Afternoon” by Charles Courtney Curran, (American, 1861-1942) depicted a woman in a white dress standing on a mountaintop in Cragsmoor, N.Y. Curran and his family summered at Cragsmoor, a summer arts colony, for 40 years, and Curran created some of his best known paintings in the vicinity. They feature young, attractive girls dressed in white or pastel colors, as does this one, posed in brilliant sunshine. This painting went to an internet bidder, finishing at $16,335. A profile portrait attributed to the woman who founded the Rookwood Pottery, Maria Longworth Nichols Storer, finished over the estimate, at $6,353. A signed charcoal abstract drawing by Joan Miro (Spanish, 1893-1983), realized $4,235, and an unsigned, original etching and soft-ground etching, circa 1900, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (French, 1841-1919), “Le fleuve Scamandre,” brought $2,420. Another etching, “Baigneuse Debout A Mi-Jambes,” by the same artist ended at $908.
The sale included several lots of original Disney and other original comic art work. A group of 12 watercolor illustrations, most in color, for Disney films by Frank Follmer (American, 1913-2000) may have been a bargain. Seven were scenes from Snow White and five were scenes from Pinocchio. The largest of the group was 12 by 18 inches, and the lot sold for $2,723. Follmer started working for Disney in 1937 and contributed to several films and cartoons. There was also a lot with seven signed cartoon drawings, including six by Theodore Geisel (American, 1904-1991), better known as Dr Seuss. Included were drawings for Cat in The Hat, Yertle the Turtle and others. The lot sold to an internet bidder for $3,933. Seven signed sketches by Charles Schulz (American, 1922-2000) of Peanuts characters realized $2,722.
Sharing some thoughts after the sale, John Fontaine said, “I wish we had had more people in the room, but I thought that the better things brought what they should have. The sale was an experiment for us, in terms of just being fine art, and our upcoming sales are back to our regular format, including a wide range of material.”
Prices are given with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For information, www.fontainesauction.com or 413-448-8922.
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