Published: October 9, 2007
New buyers and seasoned collectors filled Bonhams & Butterfields’ galleries in San Francisco and Los Angeles on August 7 for the opportunity to bid on works by legendary California and American masters.
Simulcast between Northern and Southern California, the highly competitive sale garnered 15 new auction world records for well-known artists such as E. Charlton Fortune, Alson Skinner Clark, Benjamin C. Brown, Mary DeNeale Morgan, Paul de Longpre, Frank Cuprien, Ross Dickinson, Emil Kosa Jr, Annie Lyle Harmon, Paul Grimm, Charles Chapel Judson, John Ottis Adams, Rachel Hartley and contemporary artists Robert Clunie and Standish Backus Jr.
The standing-room-only salerooms played host to highly competitive bidding both on the telephones and in the rooms for American Impressionist works, Colorist and plein air paintings, Western and American landscapes, seascapes and still life paintings, among others.
The marquee lot of the sale was an oil on canvas board painting titled “Mending Nets” by E. Charlton Fortune. The work depicts a French harbor scene †unusual subject matter for a work by an American artist. “The sale of this painting for $480,000 not only establishes a new auction world record for the artist, but solidifies the place of California and American artists in the global art market,” said Scot Levitt, vice president and fine arts department director.
Working in obscurity for most of her career, Fortune used the “E” to disguise her gender. “Fortune’s works, although rare to public auction, are becoming highly sought after. Collectors are looking for her early works, such as ‘Mending Nets,’ as well as later examples,” continued Levitt. “The color palette and the brush strokes of this Impressionist work are exquisite, greatly differing from Fortune’s later body of work, which is composed mainly of portraiture and religious compositions.”
The painting has been a part of several museum exhibits, the earliest in 1989 at the Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art.
Much like Fortune’s “Mending Nets,” “Bridge Builders” by Alson Skinner Clark also depicts a European scene. Achieving a new auction world record at $204,000, the Impressionistic painting debuted in 1906 as part of a large show at the Art Institute of Chicago. The work infuses the canvas with graceful color and a sense of movement. One author wrote that the artist received the highest compliment when his former teacher, William Merritt Chase, purchased this work for his own collection.
“The market for American master Maynard Dixon continues to be strong. Bonhams & Butterfields sold each Dixon oil painting offered during the August sale above its high estimate,” said Levitt. Along with the bountiful offering of traditional Dixon watercolors and rolling Western landscapes, a pair of gouache mural studies by the artist attracted collector interest. Using a strong desert palette, the two works depict human forms within ethereal Egyptian and classical scenes. According to Donald Hagerty, these sketches are likely the preliminary images for a Dixon mural done in 1929 for the US Savings and Loan Association in San Francisco. A rarity at public auction, the 4-foot-wide pair of mural studies, 1929, sold for $45,000.
Bringing nearly six times the presale estimate, “Bouquet of Pink and White Peonies” by Paul de Longpre is, according to Levitt, “one of the largest floral works to come to market in recent history.” Setting a new auction world record at $144,000, the 1891 painting is alive with blooms in the saturated tones of dainty pink, rich mauve, assorted greens and a skilled application of white, cream and ivory. The work will be available to the public as it was acquired by the Irvine Museum in Irvine, Calif.
Dynamic bidding was seen for Maurice Prendergast’s “Two Women Seated with Parasols in a Park.” “Typically associated with auctions held in the East, the artist [Prendergast] was well received at Bonhams & Butterfields on the West Coast. The overwhelmingly successful result demonstrates the broad reach of our buying base,” explained Levitt.
The unframed watercolor has a rich and striking composition. Detailed facial expressions from both of the seated ladies are distinct, along with folds in clothing and accessories in the ladies’ possession. Initially estimated to fetch as much as $50,000, “Two Women Seated with Parasols in a Park” brought $204,000.
Additional highlights of the August auction include Granville Redmond’s “A Field of California Poppies,” which brought $420,000; “Moonlight Reflections,” also by Redmond, sold for $204,000; “Lake in the Sierras” by Edgar Payne surpassed its high estimate of $150,000, selling for $264,000; and John Marshall Gamble’s “Wild Heliotrope near Laguna Beach” brought $144,000. Strong prices were also seen for contemporary plein air, watercolors and Southern California artists such as Robert Clunie and Harley Brown.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Bonhams & Butterfields’ next sale of California and American painting and sculpture will be conducted in December. The auction will feature an assortment of important Western scenes, plein air, Society of Six, genre painting, land and cityscapes by established California and American artists, including Maynard Dixon, Frank Tenny Johnson and John Marshall Gamble, among others.
For information, 415-861-7500 or www.bonhams.com .
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