Published: May 14, 2002
By Carol Sims
OLD GREENWICH, CONN. – Thursday, April 25, at 5 pm, the Greenwich Civic Center was bubbling over with enthusiasm for Shannon’s spring art auction, which ended up breaking six world records (more depending on how you want to count it) and was to become the top-grossing art auction in Connecticut’s history.
The staff was tense as they reviewed last minute left bids. With the exception of a few minor pieces, most of the art in the sale was American. Collectors were “chomping at the bit for quality,” in the words of Gene Shannon just before the sale.
People who traveled to New York for Christie’s sale of American art had ample time after that sale to have a leisurely lunch, regroup, and make the short trek out to Greenwich. Since Christie’s offered only about 60 lots, the overflow of customers was ready for more action. Shannon’s 200-plus lots would give them plenty of opportunity.
The country auction flavor is one of the hallmarks of Shannon’s auctions, now in their fifth year. Folks dressed casually for the most part (we will call it genteel country Greenwich). No one had to leave for dinner because there was a concession stand open in the foyer. Some clients brought their teenagers along. With several members of the Shannon family helping out in many capacities — front desk, phones, left bids and art handling — it was a family affair.
The art was set up on standing display panels with clamp-on lighting covering every inch. The preview at the Civic Center started the day before the sale, but the art could also be previewed from April 15 to 22 at Shannon’s Milford, Conn., gallery. Gene Shannon gracefully and warmly greeted his clients, and answered last minute questions. By the time the auction started a few minutes after 6 pm (to accommodate late arrivals), there was a feeling of upbeat determination in the room.
All prices cited include the buyer’s premium.
The first three lots sold within estimates, but lot four, “Ships of a Rocky Coast” by American painter Mauritz F.H. De Haas, hammered down at more than twice its high estimate of $12,000. Three bidders in the room really wanted this elongated painting of sailing ships on a quiet reflective sea. The phones were busy, too, driving up the price to $34,500. A lady in the room was the successful bidder. Later, Shannon said, “I had 100 buyers for that painting.”
The next lot was “Petrarch’s Home, Vaucluse, Italy,” by Jasper Cropsey ($6/8,000). Thomas Cole painted the same view, and his painting is in the Dallas Museum of Art. A bidder on the floor fought to own it at $20,700. “This was an academic painting and it went to an intellectual buyer,” commented Shannon. The sale hummed along nicely until the next Cropsey cropped up, a panoramic view of “Fort Putnam Overlooking West Point” ($40/60,000). This time a phone bidder prevailed as the bidding went to $60,000 and the next increment was $65,000. The phone bidder won at $65,000 as the floor bidder shunned a $70,000 bid. Total price with premium was $74,750.
Two phone bidders fought it out over “Afternoon Tea” by Everett Lloyd Bryant. It went for $25,300 on an estimate of $10/15,000. (Three other Bryants also punctuated the sale. More on that later; all four Bryants set a new world record for the artist). Dwight Blaney’s “Rooftops in the Rain” more than doubled its high estimate of $7,000 when the muted landscape with Vose Gallery provenance went to a phone bidder for $17,250.
A Fremont Ellis painting of a Western orchard in bloom went past the $7,000 high estimate in a hurry, to settle at $13,800. It had been sold in the fall at Shannon’s for $9,500, but Shannon’s took it back when it was discovered that what they had thought was oil paint was determined to be casein. All the better for the consignor.
American modernist Blanche Lazzell (1878-1956) really rocked the boat with her oil on board “Composition.” The 1928 Cubist-like abstraction carried a modest estimate of $7/9,000. It seemed like everyone wanted this piece. Several bidders in the room could not outlast the determined phone bidder who went to $46,000, easily setting a new auction record for the artist.
A New York City collector in the audience had consigned the next lot, one of the more important pieces in the sale, a painting by Fairfield Porter that he had purchased from Tibor de Nagy. He knew de Nagy from when he and the art dealer used to work at the same bank. The painting was accompanied with the original gallery poster for the Fairfield Porter exhibition. He was ready to let the Porter go. His overwhelming collection needed to be thinned out, and it is darn good entertainment to watch your art being fought over.
“When you have paintings in the kitchen, it’s time to deaccession,” said the consignor. He explained that he has about seven or eight places to display paintings and rotating art allows him to see more of his collection. The Porter was estimated at $25/35,000.
Shannon paused the sale for a few moments in order to get all of the phone bidders alerted when the Porter came up to the center easel. The quiet pause acted as a catalyst. Between very active bidding in the room and telephone bidders, the “Small Interior” was the object of fierce competition among several individuals. A woman in the room won the piece for $85,000.
Shannon’s presented a Guy Carleton Wiggins of “Old Trinity” in the hopes of following on the heels of last fall’s successful sale of the same subject by the same artist. Last year the small 12- by 9-inch version brought $52,000. This time, however the fervor was not there and the larger painting failed to reach its low estimate of $48,000. This painting was sold after the auction for a total of $50,600.
“Still Life with Apples, Ladder and Tree” by Levi Wells Prentice ($25/35,000) tantalized would-be owners with its rich colors, interesting composition and appealing subject. A bidder in the room snapped it up for $43,700. Another painting that slightly surpassed its estimate was the moody painting by Alexander Helwig Wyant “Adirondacs, Early Autumn,” [sic], which sold for $41,400 on a high estimate of $30,000, and set a world record in the process.
Another auction record was set by the study for “Strollers” by Gertrude Fiske, which sold for $34,500 to a private collector from Darien, Conn. “She cried when I took it off the wall,” said Shannon about the consignor, who hopefully is feeling better now. The painting showed two young women in 1920s attire and was dated 1926.
Shannon was particularly pleased with the record-breaking sale of the Charles Henry Gifford painting, “quite possibly his masterpiece” which sold for $68,500, well above the former world auction record and within its estimate. The consignor had refused to consider a lower estimate than $60/80,000 and Shannon had to “take it at that or else walk away,” even though the estimate seemed high to him. He chose to include it in the sale because it was such an exceptional work of art.
A bright happy scene of a dance floor entitled “The Ball” by Everett Lloyd Bryant caused a bidding war between a phone bidder speaking to Gene Shannon, and left bids being voiced by Mary Anne Shannon. Auctioneer Harmer Johnson did a double take when he saw the husband/wife team bidding against each other. “We’re not together,” instructed Mary Anne, which was followed by Johnson’s comment, “Yes, but you have a beautiful relationship.” Gene’s bidder on the phone took the lot at $34,500 ($8/10,000). Another happy scene by Everett Lloyd Bryant went to the same buyer on the telephone that had purchased the earlier lot. “At the Beach” ($8/12,000) ended up at $32,200.
The top lot of the auction was a luminist golden sunset on the New Jersey shore by Francis A. Silva. The painting had several interested bidders but narrowed down to three in a matter of a few seconds. A phone bidder bought the piece for $145,500. The 1883 painting came out of a private collection in Connecticut and was similar to an undated piece by Silva in the collection of the Bruce Museum. Shannon had expected the painting to go higher, but it sold well within the $120/180,000 estimate.
A lady in the room acquired “A Cloudy Morning” ($8/12,000) by Julian Onderdonk for $20,700. Inscribed “Southwest Texas” on the reverse, the 12- by 16-inch painting captured a beautiful but somewhat foreboding scene of gathering clouds over an expansive flat terrain with a single tree silhouetted against the horizon.
The sale was winding down, but there were still a few bidding wars left. The Frederick De Bourg Richards painting of “Crossing the Bridge” brought $23,000 on an estimate of $4/6,000; the diminutive 4- by 5¼-inch New York Street scene by Paul Cornoyer sold for $4,312 ($1,5/2,500); a portrait of a mother and child by Henry Inman went for $9,200 ($3/5,000); a genre painting by Jules Worms “Laundry Day, Montmartre” went to a phone bidder for $9,775 ($4/6,000); “Composition” dated 1940 by Albert Eugene Gallatin was pushed to $13,800. The Gallatin set a world record and was consigned by the same person who had consigned the Lazzell.
The bidding was lively all the way to the end of the sale. Gene Shannon kept some interesting pieces for the end, including a charcoal sketch by William Glackens, a couple of John Edward Costigan landscapes and a pair of Richard Hayley Lever landscapes.
“Under $100,000 New York doesn’t want to deal with it, or they will put it on a dot-com [auction]. We came from the dealer background, and have kept our business personable. We offer research, respect and a lot of extras,” said Shannon. This sale was smaller than the fall sale, and was 83 percent sold by lot. “We are always trying to raise the bar,” said Shannon
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