Published: November 20, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
BOSTON – On November 11, Grogan and Co. sold about 475 lots of jewelry, artwork by N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, Lyonel Feininger, Frank Benson, a bronze by Max Beckmann, pottery by Picasso, silver, rugs and more. The “more” included a group of more than 40 love letters written by Andrew Wyeth to an early girlfriend. The top lot of the day was a large Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph, “Jane Avril,” which earned $73,200. Although selling for lower prices individually, the Wyeth material was fascinating and provides previously unrecorded information for Wyeth collectors and scholars. Collectively, the Wyeth material brought more than $155,000.
Sometimes, things just come together as one might hope they would. Such was the case with the Wyeth material. Four works with strong connections to the Wyeth family were consigned by a grandchild of N.C. Wyeth. When Grogan included photos of two of those works in its presale marketing on Instagram, they were seen by the owner of the letters, who then contacted Grogan and agreed to consign the letters to the sale. Coincidentally, the PBS series American Masters just broadcasted a new film about Andrew Wyeth, and the Thomaston Place auction the same weekend included an Andrew Wyeth watercolor.
The love letters present a side of the artist that has not been publicized and also correct misinformation about the relationship published in Richard Meryman’s 1996 biography Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life. Most biographies of Wyeth talk of his love for his wife, Betsy, whom he met in 1939 and married in 1940. However, before he met Betsy, the 20-year-old aspiring artist met and fell in love with Alice Moore, a Vassar graduate, just a few years his senior. They met in 1937 and dated for almost two years, during which time Wyeth wrote to her frequently. The warm and affectionate letters talk about his love for the young woman, his pleasure when in her company, the hope that someday they would marry, his concerns that she did not love him and the artwork he was producing at that early period. He was gaining recognition in the art world for his work, separate from his father, N.C. Wyeth, and the letters discuss his early successes, including his first shows at the Macbeth Gallery, and his thoughts on the progress he was making as an artist. He also discussed some of his early subjects. As the story has been told, Alice Moore kept the letters in a box under her bed where they were found after her death and sold to a gallery in Marblehead, Mass. The group of letters include some from Wyeth’s mother and sister, indicating that Moore was well liked by the family, contradicting comments in Wyeth biographies. The letters often say that Wyeth believes that if he achieves success as an artist, she will be more likely to love him. The letters also discuss other artists and individuals who were important influences on the young Wyeth. The letters had previously been consigned to Skinner, who offered them as a single lot, and they did not meet the reserve set at that time.
Grogan’s fine arts director Georgina Winthrop, after reading the letters, several of which include ink sketches by Wyeth, decided they should be sold individually, and Michael Grogan, president of the company, agreed. Various letters, they reasoned, would likely appeal to different buyers. Some would be of interest because of the warm emotions Wyeth wrote about, while others, discussing his paintings and growing acceptance in the art world, would be of interest to others. Grogan went to the expense of transcribing each of the letters and including them in the online version of the sale catalog, thereby assuring that the content will be available to future scholars. One can only wish that Moore’s letters to the artist have survived, but if they do, they have not been found. Fortunately, the entire collection of letters was bought by one collector, Linda Bean of Maine, and they will remain together. She paid more than $47,000 for the collection, and she also bought a circa 1912-15 oil on canvas by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), “The Family Home, Chadds Ford,” for which she paid $48,800.
That painting was one of four works consigned by a grandchild of N.C. Wyeth, including a drybrush portrait of John McCoy by Andrew (1917-2009) that sold for $23,180, and a watercolor, also by Andrew, “Along the Concord River,” which sold for $30,500. This was one of Wyeth’s earliest works, done in 1935 while he was a teenager. Both were done by Wyeth as wedding presents. Henriette Wyeth (1907-1997), another of N.C. Wyeth’s children, was also an artist, and her oil portrait, “The Artist’s Niece at 21,” sold for $4,880.
The manuscript material will be available to the public. A few days after the sale, Bean talked about her reasons for wanting the letters, aside from the romantic interest. “The letters, between 1937 and 1939, shed important light on Andrew Wyeth’s preparation while in Port Clyde, Maine, for his first big art exhibition and its complete sellout at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. While still in his early 20s, Andrew’s letters point to the respect he had for little-known artist-illustrator Sidney Marsh Chase, who, with Andrew’s father, N.C. Wyeth, purchased a fisherman’s home in Port Clyde where Andy spent every summer since he was three. ‘Uncle Sid’s’ relationship to the Wyeth family will be featured in my upcoming Wyeth Reading Room in Port Clyde.” That facility will showcase the multigenerational artist family’s history through pictures, related books, magazines and other miscellaneous items, pointedly highlighting their relationship and influence in Port Clyde, which was the site of the Wyeth family summer home since 1920.
The sale also included about 40 works, plus ephemera, by Lyonel Feininger (1871-1956), which had descended in his family and were consigned by the estate of his youngest son, who died in 2011. Topping the collection was a 1954 watercolor of three figures, which earned $12,200. It will be included in the soon-to-be-published Lyonel Feininger: The Catalogue Raisonné of Drawings and Watercolors by Achim Moeller and Sebastian Ehlert. An ink and watercolor, “Three Figures,” earned $7,930, and a pencil on paper drawing of a locomotive with several figures ended at $6,710. These will also be included in the catalogue raisonné. A family ephemera lot, which included drawings, postcards, sketches and more, realized $5,795, more than 14 times the estimate.
Lucy Grogan heads the jewelry department and she always puts together a well-rounded selection, with offerings in all prices ranges. Most successful was a platinum, emerald and diamond ring, which sold for $27,450. The emerald-cut emerald weighed about 4.25 carats and was flanked by two trillion-cut diamonds, approximately 2.00 total carat weight. During the gallery talk a couple of days before the sale, Grogan showed the attendees a pair of Indian high-carat gold, enamel and garnet bracelets that she particularly liked. She said they were typical of the style of work produced by India’s Mughal empire and that the pair had likely been produced later, when the style gained popularity in the West. The bracelets more than doubled the estimate, finishing at $6,710. Also selling well over the estimate was a signed Dreicer & Co platinum and diamond brooch, circa 1910, that reached $14,640.
Several designer pieces were included, and some may have been good buys. A gold, diamond and ruby ring by Guiseppe Picchhiotti, one of Italy’s premier jewelers, sold for $2,440. A gentleman seated in the audience said that he had worked for the company and that a ring of that quality would have originally sold for about $12,000. A pair of gold and pearl earclips by Elizabeth Gage, a British luxury designer, went out for $1,586. A colorful Cartier 18K gold, carved coral, carved nephrite and diamond brooch, signed and numbered on the pin, finished at $17,080. Several other pieces achieved five-figure prices.
Silver offerings included a seven-piece coffee and tea service, Cosmos pattern, by Georg Jensen that sold for $6,710 and an Albert Coles five-piece coin silver coffee and tea set, circa 1845-50, that reached $1,708. A 14K gold ecclesiastical chalice, weighing 301 pennyweight, earned $9,760.
The sale concluded with a variety of selected decorative arts, including a large pair of Japanese Meji period bronze and mixed metal vases, nearly 24 inches tall, that sold well in excess of the estimate, finishing at $18,300. During the gallery talk preceding the sale, Michael Grogan pointed out the quality of the work on the vases and explained that this type of metal work was an outgrowth of the metalwork on weapons and armor of the Samurai period. A Tiffany Jeweled Feather 16-inch lamp shade sold for $7,930, and a signed Jose Reyes Nantucket basket purse brought $3,965.
After the sale, Michael Grogan commented, “I was pleasantly surprised at the active bidding in the room. It felt like there was more of that than there has been in the past. And some of the things went to nearby Beacon Hill homes. That was nice to see. It also felt like there was more internet bidding than we’ve seen. The Toulouse-Lautrec poster was a surprise, bringing much more than other examples have done. It was signed – that’s probably the reason it did so well. I was also glad to see that the untitled work by Melvin Edwards, a black artist, did so well, bringing $13,420. That was way over the estimate. All in all, it was a good sale, and it’s good to know that the Wyeth letters will stay together.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium, as stated by the auction house.
For information, 617-720-2020 or www.groganco.com.
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