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American Paintings

Sotheby's New York

4 P.M., November 13, 2017

Sale 9689


Moran Canyon

Lot 29, "Canon of the Virgin River," by Thomas Moran, oil on canvas, 20 by 30 inches, 1909



By Carter B. Horsley

This November 2017 auction of American Paintings at Christie's New York includes a large and excellent group of works by Thomas Moran and good examples by Frederic Church, Albert Bierstadt, Norman Rockwell and Florinne Stettheimer.

Lot 29 is a very good oil on canvas by Thomas Moran (1837-1926) entitled "Canon of the Virgin River."  It measures 20 by 30 inches and was painted in 1909.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"Thomas Moran was and continues to be celebrated as the visual architect of the dramatic Western panorama, which captured the imagination of turn-of-the-century America and was integral to the creation of the U.S. National Parks. Canyon of the Virgin River manifests the profound veneration and wonder that Moran harbored for the unmatched topography of the Southwest. Here he presents a romantic and inspirational vision in an awe-inspiring vista that captures the unique character and grandeur of this area of the country.

"Moran first visited the Southwest, predominantly Utah, and eventually Arizona and the Grand Canyon, in 1873 as a member of Major John Wesley Powell's geographic surveying expedition. "Four years earlier Powell had captured the nation's attention when he led a small group of men in custom-crafted boats through the white water of the Colorado River.” (N.K. Anderson, et al., Thomas Moran, exhibition catalogue, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 358) The explorer’s stories of the dramatic landscape instantly captured Moran’s attention, undoubtedly stimulating thoughts of the endless possibilities of such a place at the hands of one of the country’s foremost landscape painters, and Moran soon accepted an invitation to join a subsequent excursion. After travelling by rail to Green River, Wyoming, and onwards to the Salt Lake City, Utah, area, Moran set out overland with Justin E. Colburn, a newspaper correspondent who would write of the vast lands and inhospitable environment.  The pair travelled south, along the front of the mountains, periodically taking side trips into the wilderness, both finding its unique landforms intensely stimulating. Colburn later reported, "Nature's work in this ca˝on country is on the most magnificent scale. The plains are wide, the mountains high, and the walls of perpendicular cliffs hemming it in unbroken, and for many miles altogether impassable. The gorges are deep, and the color intense. There is a prodigality of everything but water, and the vegetable and animal life which cannot subsist without it.” (as quoted in Thomas Moran, 1997, p. 364)

"Eventually, in Southern Utah, the pair met the Rio Virgin River, south of Toquerville, and headed East into the numerous wonderful canyons of the area known today as Zion National Park. Making note of the spectacular formations all around them, they travelled through the deep canyons, continuing northeast before eventually turning southeast and arriving in Kanab, Major Powell’s headquarters. After resting for several days and preparing for future excursions, Moran, Colburn, Powell’s topographical aide, Professor Almon Harris Thompson, and photographer John K. Hillers set out on the Rockville Trail back in the direction of Zion. Now approaching the high plateau, the group eventually arrived at the brink of Pa-ru-nu-weap or Roaring Water, Canyon, well above the east fork of the Virgin River, likely the location featured in the present work. Later describing the scene as in the painting, Powell reported, “Below us stretching to the south, until the world is lost in blue haze, is a painted desert; not a desert plain, but a desert of rocks, cut by deep gorges and relieved by towering cliffs and pinnacled rocks--naked rocks, brilliant in the sunlight.” (as quoted in T. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, Norman, Oklahoma, 1966, p. 122) After climbing to a still higher vantage point, Moran made at least one sketch, which he reported in letters sent back to his wife, and committed the site to memory, to serve as material for future, finished compositions executed in his East Coast studio.

"In Canyon of the Virgin River, Moran masterfully captures the majesty and visual splendor of the place and conveys the awe and wonder that these natural formations evoke. He mesmerizes the viewer, presenting a vast expanse bisected by a deep jagged cut in the earth. Throughout, there is a dramatic play of light and shadow on these enchanted lands that is heightened by Moran’s celebrated ability to capture the various colors and textures that characterize the canyons of the Southwest. As with his most celebrated depictions of the area, Moran takes as his vantage point a high overlook, underscoring the vastness and seemingly endless depth of the canyon, which is further underscored by a left-hand turn at the back of the formation that obscures the viewer’s view. A small silver waterfall visible in the distance, a tributary to the Colorado, is dwarfed by the overwhelming largess of the landscape, achieving the same effect employed with human figures by numerous member of the Hudson River School. In Canyon of the Virgin River, however, there is no sign of human presence. Moran's daughter Ruth recalled: "To him it was all grandeur, beauty, color and light--nothing of man at all but nature, virgin, unspoiled and lovely." (as quoted in C. Clark, Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West, Austin, Texas, 1980, p. 21)

"Featuring such celebrated characteristics, Canyon of the Virgin River is representative of Moran’s mature style and of the artist at the height of his abilities. Moran, who had studied in Europe, began painting at a time when John Ruskin’s strict theories mandating adherence to transcribing nature with exactitude were being championed. However, by the time he created the present work, even after having travelled West under the auspices of precise geologic transcription, it is evident that he was far more interested in capturing and conveying the awe-inspiring effect of the landscape than realistic exactitude. In Canyon of the Virgin River, as in all his best Grand Canyon works, Moran integrates a true understanding of the mood of this unique place and its sublime beauty. This tactic was noted by contemporary observers, "Mr. Moran had the emotional side of his nature well under control. When others hurried from place to place, lest some new view escape their attention, he sat on a convenient rock near the brink and gazed silently into space, watching the shadows come and go and absorbing the subtle transformation caused by the always changing sunlight...He sketched scarcely at all, contenting himself with pencil memoranda of a few rock forms, and making no color notes whatsoever. He depended upon keen powers of observation and a well-trained memory for rich tones which perhaps a year later were to reappear on canvas, true to nature and likewise true to the interpretive touch of genius." (Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, p. 217)

"Both Moran’s talents as an artist, including his ability as a painter and his intense commitment to his subject, were exceptionally well matched for the wonderful subjects of the American Southwest. This vast and poetic landscape presented Moran with an opportunity to convey his adoration and reverence for the region and in so doing secure a name for himself within the pantheon of American painters. Canyon of the Virgin Riverfeatures all the characteristics of Moran’s most successful paintings, while also representing a rare portrayal of a unique locale. When first executed, such paintings conveyed the grandeur of the entire West to a ravenous American public, capturing their imagination and largely influencing their conception of the area. Today, these paintings arouse in their viewers a romantic conception of the history of our country, while continuing to capture with intense emotion our great admiration for its unique and magical lands."

The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It sold for $2,412,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.

The sale total was $34,131,500.


Moran geyser

Lot 28, "Castle Geyser, Yellowstone," by Thomas Moran, watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper 9 1/4 vy 13 3/4, 1873

Lot 28 is a watercolor, goache and pencil on paper by Moran of "Castle Geyser, Yellowstone."  It measures 9 1/4 by 13 1/4 inches and was painted in 1873.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"The unique geological formations of the Yellowstone region, and especially those of the Firehole River area, captivated American audiences during the latter half of the 19th century. Seizing on fascination with this mysterious faraway place, Thomas Moran wholly committed himself to recreating literally and artistically their uniqueness, at a degree that would not only establish the painter as one of the most popular of his generation, but also lead to the area’s permanent preservation in the form of Yellowstone National Park. Castle Geyser, Yellowstone is a characteristic example of Moran’s best exploration of the subject, with exquisite detail, powerful color variation and dramatic atmospheric effect.

"Images such as the present work were eagerly consumed by American patrons upon Moran’s return from his 1871 trip to Yellowstone. In addition to commissions by the country’s most enterprising businessmen, likely the original purpose of the present work, these works were reproduced and distributed more broadly to a mass audience. The most notable of these series was the stunning 15-part folio of chromolithograph reproductions commissioned by and created under the supervision of publisher Louis Prang in 1876. “Louis Prang was an aggressive and successful entrepreneur who built an enormous lithographic business. His first successful chromos reproduced paintings of sentimental and historic interest, but by 1873 he was anxious to undertake an ambitious project involving the increasingly popular American West. With this intention he tried to commission Thomas Moran to paint '12 or more water color pictures of the Yellowstone country.' Moran collaborated with Prang on the selection of subjects, sketching suggested designs in the margins of his letters, asking 'Shall I give you a geyser? The most pictorial one is the 'Castle,' but the 'Giant' is the largest.' As a lithographer, experienced in the printing trade, Moran knew well how Prang's artists and printers would use his watercolors for making chromolithographs. His highly finished watercolors, with distinct outlines and delicate but clear colors, suited their methods of reproduction, and Moran did not change his style for this commission. In all, he made twenty-four paintings for Prang, of which the printer used fifteen for The Yellowstone National Park, and the Mountain Regions of Portions of Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Utah, published in 1876 with text by F.V. Hayden." (C. Clark, Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West, Austin, Texas, 1980, pp. 44-45)

"Accompanying the reproductions of Moran’s work were a series of maps related to the expedition, together with Ferdinand Hayden’s recordings of the unique geology of the area. Beyond Moran’s own interest in the view seen in Castle Geyser, with a strikingly similar version to the present work featured prominently in the portfolio, Hayden dedicated considerable prose to the scene. Hayden’s words uniquely build on the intensity of Moran’s visual representation, further transporting the viewer to this remarkable natural wonder: “The scene as we look out upon it on a cool frosty morning surpasses description. All about us rise columns of steam mingled with numerous fountain jets. The delicate wreaths of steam extend far up into the heavens…Among the great geysers the “Castle,” represented in the picture, plays an important part…The eruption commences with a succession of jets of water and steam, which reach a height of two hundred feet….The noises are indescribable. It sounds as though the Castle had a thunder-storm in its interior, and to those noises of elemental war add the sounds of several steamboats letting off steam, and we can form some idea of the sounds heard during the eruption of the geyser. The entire eruption lasts about an hour and a half.” (as quoted in N.K. Anderson, Thomas Moran, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 336) Hayden, however, recognized where his own abilities to capture the scene fell short and Moran’s artistic talents had to take over, reporting, “In front of the Castle is the beautiful blue spring, which has been given the fanciful name of ‘Circe’s Boudoir.’ Words must fail to give an idea of the exquisite beauty of this spring.” (as quoted in Thomas Moran, p. 336)

"The importance of works such as Castle Geyser is thus manifold. Firstly, they are unrivaled in their technique within the scope of early American art. More importantly, the period success and enduring appreciation for Moran’s unique ability to accurately, and emotionally, convey the awesomeness of these American natural landmarks, is confirmed by their impact on our nation’s land preservation policies. Admired by sophisticated patrons of his day, and broadly reproduced and consumed by a vast audience of fascinated Americans, both then and now, Moran’s direct impressions recorded from his explorations of Yellowstone remain one of the most historically significant and visually compelling series of American Art."

The lot has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000.  It sold for $300,000.

Moran large

Lot 31 , "Zion Valley, South Utah," by Thomas Moran, oil on canvas, 22 1/8 by 42 1/8 inches, 1914

Lot 31 is a good, large oil on canvas by Moran of "Zion Valley" in Utah.  It measures 22 1/8 by 42 1/8 inches and was painted in 1914.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:


"Zion Valley, South Utah manifests the profound veneration and wonder that Thomas Moran harbored for the Western American landscape. In doing so, it represents the best of Moran’s efforts at designing an awe-inspiring image that captures the unique character and grandeur of the natural formations at Zion National Park. The Southwest is a landscape inextricably linked with American's national heritage, and Moran's depictions of this region have been celebrated for over a century for their ability to transcend simply beautiful artistic reproductions, stirring within their viewer an intense emotional appreciation for his subject. 

"Following his first trip West to Yellowstone with Ferdinand V. Hayden in 1871, Moran next set out in 1873, joining Major John Wesley Powell’s survey of the Southwest. Powell had already captivated American audiences when he led a small group of men through the treacherous waters of the Colorado River, winding his way through a grand landscape that sounded as if it could rival that of the Yellowstone region. With Powell’s invitation to join his next expedition, Moran saw a unique opportunity to build upon his fast-developing popularity and, specifically, to compile material for a pendant painting to join his massive Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone(Smithsonian American Art Museum, Lent by the Department of the Interior Museum, Washington, D.C.), which Congress had purchased for the Capitol.

"Travelling overland with a newspaper correspondent as companion, Moran ventured southward from the Salt Lake City area through territory that had already been settled by followers of the Mormon faith, towards the canyon lands of Southwestern Utah and Northwestern Arizona. Periodically stopping along the way, the pair eventually arrived in the valley encompassing Toquerville before pushing eastward to the settlements of Virgin, Grafton, Rockville and finally Springdale, where they happened on the scene depicted in Zion Valley, South Utah. Moran made several sketches of the valley through which the Rio Virgin ran, known by local tribes as Mukuntuweap and located at the mouth of Zion Canyon, before travelling onwards to meet Major Powell in Kanab, Utah, and eventually set his eyes on the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River for the first time. 

"However, Moran was immediately captivated by the unique and dramatic light, color and topography of Utah, which he would never forget. Writing some years later, he reported, “Southern Utah is where Nature reveals herself in all her tumultuous and awe-inspiring grandeur…There is a ca˝on off the Rio Virgin known in the local Indian vernacular as Mu-Koun-Tu-Weap, that for glory of scenery and stupendous scenic effects cannot be surpassed. Its cliffs rise up in rugged massiveness for 5000 feet, with some of the most peculiar formations believable toward the top. It is a marvelous piece of Nature's handiwork that is worth going a long distance to see. I think southern Utah is unsurpassed in the class of scenery that characterizes it.” (as quoted in G. Lindstrom, Thomas Moran in Utah, Logan, Utah, 1983, p. 5) Taking up the Zion subject in earnest once back in his New England studio, Moran completed a number of watercolors of the area, including Valley of the Babbling Waters, which would become widely circulated in the famous chromolithographic series of Louis Prang. In addition to finding his source material for the present work, this expedition to the Southwest proved crucial to Moran’s career and provided eye-opening reference for a lifetime of painting. 

"As evidenced in Zion Valley, South Utah, the unique topography of the land lent itself particularly well to Moran’s style of painting. Here, Moran presents in rare large-scale an awe-inspiring scene of one of Utah’s most breathtaking panoramas, rendering the spectacular expanse of cathedral-like cliffs that buttress the lush Rio Virgin valley and define the Zion area. Unlike Moran’s other celebrated images of the canyon lands of Southern Utah and Northern Arizona, Moran does not choose as his vantage point a place high above his vast subject. Instead, as in his most accomplished views of Green River, Wyoming, the painter utilizes a low angle to convey reverence. Throughout, there is a dramatic play of light and shadow on the fantastic natural forms, with a variegated paint surface that conveys the dry desert sand of the hillside at left, the rough fašades of the buttes and coarse branches of the shrubs surrounding the river. To further capture the unique texture and light of the environment, Moran utilizes color modulations in richly painted and drastically varying hues of yellow, pink, orange, green and blue. The fiery cliff face of the leftmost feature, likely Mount Kinesava or the West Temple, is dramatically set against a crystalline sky that further magnifies its majesty. By contrast, the central and right portion of the vista, likely the East Temple and the Watchman, is silhouetted against approaching clouds that emanate from the depths of Zion Canyon. The entire landscape is suffused with saturated, atmospheric light, which enhances the scene’s vast ruggedness and grandeur. 

"The success of Moran’s abilities as an artist are evident here, as is his ability to capture the imagination of his public audience by conveying the splendor of the American landscape. As such, Zion Valley, South Utah joins Moran’s accomplished paintings of numerous other celebrated places throughout the West. In addition to the present work, at this time Moran explored a series of unique locales outside of his norm, apparently deeming them important for his viewers to gain exposure to, including the Devil’s Tower, Wyoming; Index Peak, Wyoming; the Pueblos of Acoma and Laguna, New Mexico; and the Garden of the Gods, Colorado. By establishing so greatly the importance of such subjects through his majestic depictions, Moran undoubtedly contributed to a broad appreciation that was central to conservation and preservation efforts in early 19th century America. In fact, years after Moran’s initial visit to Southern Utah, and his subsequent success in disseminating his imagery of the Southwestern landscape throughout the country, President William Howard Taft created the Mukuntuweap National Monument in July 1909. Within a few years, the old dirt trails and wagon roads that the painter had initially relied upon to traverse the area had turned in to gravel roads, which were increasingly popular amongst tourists. A decade later, in 1919, the Monument was expanded and renamed Zion National Park, the first of its kind in the state of Utah. By 1923, the Union Pacific Railroad, whose many promotions had been graced by Moran’s images, established a terminus north of Zion at Cedar City, and eventually the path that Moran had likely walked in the 1870s was expanded to accommodate automobiles. Undoubtedly the popularity of locales like Zion, and specifically the valley depicted in Zion Valley, South Utah, were the direct result of Moran’s efforts to share the unique landscape of the Southwest with a vast American audience, whether through the auspices of railroad promotion or over a fifty year period as a fine artist. 

"Moran's landscape paintings, particularly those of the Southwest, are treasures in our cultural history, having conveyed the grandeur of an entire region to the American public for generations. As Carol Clark writes, "Moran's western canvases and watercolors depicted areas of great significance to the American public; they conferred historical legitimacy to a land lacking human associations and presented a stage for the unfolding drama of a nation's future…As America viewed her land, especially the West, as part of a natural historical past destined to determine a great future, Americans began to accept landscape painting in oil and watercolor as an integral and formative element of this destiny.” (Thomas Moran: Watercolors of the American West, Austin, Texas, 1980, p. 35) It was the finest accomplishment of Moran's career that, through works such as Zion Valley, South Utah, he transformed the appreciation of art and the allure of the West into an integral part of the American identity."

The lot as an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It sold for $2,052,500.


Waterfall by Moran

Lot 31, "Upper Falls of the Yellowstone," by Thomas Moran, watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper, 12 3/4 by 10 inches, 1873

Lot 31 is a watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper by Moran of the "Upper Falls of the Yellowstone."  It measures 12 3/4 by 10 inches and was painted in 1873.


The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:


"After travelling to Yellowstone in 1867, James Dunlevy wrote of the then largely unexplored area, “Tall spires of colossal grandeur which in beauty and symmetry are superior to any works of art; beetling cliffs of rock…turreted like castles and rolling away off in beautiful white pyramidal forms, were to be seen on every side. Language is not adequate to convey an idea of the marvelous beauty of the scenery, which is beyond the power of descriptions, and begets a wonderful fascination in the mind of the beholder who reverently gazes at the snow crowned summits, that seem as if ‘they were to show how earth may pierce to Heaven and leave vain man below.’…We trust ere long some select party, well prepared and equipped, will be able to penetrate these wilds and reveal to the world its manifest beauties, existing as they do in all their pristine grandeur.” (as quoted in J.L. Kinsey, Thomas Moran and the Surveying of the American West, Washington, D.C., 1992, p. 47)

"No more mysterious or wonderful a place could have been described to stimulate intense interest from the American public, and no greater challenge could have been issued for an enterprising young painter looking to make a name for himself. Inspired by such accounts, in 1871 Thomas Moran secured sponsorship to set out for Virginia City, Montana, to join the United States Geological Survey of Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden. Traveling by horseback through Southern Montana and Northeastern Wyoming, the expedition explored spectacular natural wonders, including the Upper and Lower Falls of the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake and, ultimately, the Upper and Lower Geyser Basins of the Firehole River. Accompanying the photographer William Henry Jackson, with whom he frequently worked in a near collaborative manner, Moran often lagged behind the group, wandering afield to dash off sketches of these magical places. The painter was particularly inspired by the Falls of the Yellowstone area, where the pair lingered behind for at least four days, prompting Jackson to later report: “Moran’s enthusiasm was greater here than anywhere else.” (as quoted in T. Wilkins, Thomas Moran: Artist of the Mountains, Norman, Oklahoma, 1966, p. 91) 

"Moran raced home with the spoils of his trip to set about creating finished compositions in his East Coast studio. The hurried field studies that he had completed in Yellowstone, often with little detail other than contour lines and numerous annotations, together with Jackson’s photographs, provided the artist with reference for some of his most accomplished paintings. Moran would rely on these materials, as well as his powerful memory of the experience, over the course of his long career. Moran later reflected, “Since that time, I have wandered over a good part of the Territories and have seen much of the varied scenery of the Far West, but that of the Yellowstone retains its hold upon my imagination with a vividness as of yesterday…The impression then made upon me by the stupendous and remarkable manifestations of nature’s forces will remain with me as long as memory lasts.” (as quoted in C. Clark, Explorers of the West, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1997, p. 27)

"Created just two years after Moran’s inspiring first trip to the area, Upper Falls of the Yellowstone represents the artist at his best, characterized by precise renderings of topography and extremely delicate gradations of tone. Without losing the integrity of his first-hand observation, in the present work Moran renders a wide range of effects that instill upon his viewer, then as today, the intense spectacle of his subject. Utilizing subtle washes and intensely varying tones, Moran establishes the textures of his scene. The earth, water and sky are carefully set against each other in alternating areas of light and dark in deep, warm burgundy and soft, cold cerulean. Amidst the clear light, plumes of mist, as fresh and cool as the blues with which Moran painted, seem to descend upon the viewer, just as they descend upon the figure in the foreground. This creel-laden fisherman not only lends scale to the composition, but also presents a further means by which the viewer enters the artist’s world. 

"Moran’s achievement with the Yellowstone subject was almost immediately recognized and indeed was instrumental in Congress’ decision to make the area America’s first National Park. "Years later William Henry Jackson wrote that during the Yellowstone debate 'the watercolors of Thomas Moran and the photographs of the Geology Survey [Jackson's] were the most important exhibits brought before the Committee'…'They did a work which no other agency could do and doubtless convinced everyone who saw them that the regions where such wonders existed should be carefully preserved for the people forever.'" (N.K. Anderson, Thomas Moran, Washington, D.C., 1997, p. 53) In addition, private collectors were keen to obtain examples of what were quickly becoming the most sought after works of art in America. Chief among these was English industrialist William Blackmore, who commissioned a series of Yellowstone watercolors in 1872 that were described as “the most brilliant and poetic pictures that have been done in America thus far.” (as quoted in Thomas Moran, p. 74) One of the Blackmore commissions, The Upper Falls of the Yellowstone (Thomas Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma), is strikingly similar to the present work, which was likely executed for a similar commission.

"Beyond private collectors of the original paintings, Moran’s striking images of Yellowstone appeared in several periodicals and special publications. For example, Picturesque America, focusing on little-known natural wonders of America, published a woodblock print related to Moran’s paintings of the Upper Falls, and a series of fifteen chromolithographs adapted from his watercolors were published in 1876 by Louis Prang. As a result, Moran’s early Yellowstone imagery served as a turning point in the artist’s career and firmly established him as one of the most celebrated artists in America. Demonstrating Moran’s mastery of light, color and composition as well as his ability to capture the spirit and essence of the Western landscape, Upper Falls of the Yellowstone possesses all the best qualities of this seminal 1870s series, which ranks amongst the most important early contributions to both environmental conservation and the cultural patrimony of our nation."

The lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.  It sold for $1,188,500.

Venice by Moran


Lot 43, "Venice," by Thomas Moran, oil on canvas, 14 by 20 inches, 1896

Moran was often referred to as the American Turner because many of his Venetian scenes reminded people of the spectacular work of Turner.  Lot 43, "Venice," is a small oil on canvas by Moran that measures 14 by 20 inches.  It was painted in 1896.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

In May 1886 Thomas Moran traveled to Venice for the first time. A popular subject of interest and nostalgia in the late nineteenth century, Venice was certainly already a familiar place for Moran through the writings of Lord Byron and John Ruskin and depictions by J.M.W. Turner. Nonetheless, he was amazed by the splendor of the place, writing to his wife Mary, "Venice is all, and more, than travelers have reported of it. It is wonderful. I shall make no attempt at description..." (as quoted in N.K. Anderson, et al., Thomas Moran, New Haven, Connecticut, 1997, p. 122) Upon his return, Moran immediately set to work on studio oils, and, from that point forward, he submitted a Venetian scene almost every year he exhibited at the National Academy. "The subject became his 'best seller.'" (Thomas Moran, p. 123)

The lot has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000.  It sold for $60,000.

Rockwell

Lot 15, "What Makes It Tick? (The Watchmaker)," by Norman Rockwell, oil on canvas, 26 1/4 by 26 inches, 1948

Lot 15 is a good oil on canvas by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) entitled "What Makes It Tick? (The Watchmaker)."  It measures 26 1/4 by 26 inches and was painted in 1948.

The catalogue essay provides the following commentary:

"Norman Rockwell stated, “One of my best, I think,” in his autobiographical book The Norman Rockwell Album (New York, 1961, p. 112) of his painting The Watchmaker painted in 1948 as a commission from The Watchmakers of Switzerland, now known as the Federation of Swiss Watchmakers. The Swiss firm was seeking a marketing campaign that could elevate their brand globally, and they needed an artist who could generate maximum impact in a single image. Rockwell, at the height of his fame, fit the bill. As America's preeminent illustrator, Rockwell was one of the greatest mass communicators of the century. Painting a sweeping range of topics during a century of extensive technological and social change, he helped forge a sense of national identity through his art. Rockwell was witness to the height of Impressionism as well as the development of Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. He traveled to Europe to study the art of Pablo Picasso and he was aware of the move toward Modernism in America by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, among others. Despite the trends of the day, however, Rockwell chose to pursue a career as an illustrator, producing more than 800 magazine covers. In doing so, Rockwell became as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created. 

"In addition to Rockwell’s countless Saturday Evening Post covers, he was highly sought after for story illustrations and advertisements. Virginia Mecklenburg notes that, during the post-War era, Rockwell’s “advertising commissions picked up…when corporations recognized that his images were especially appropriate for lifestyle advertising that associated a product with an activity or experience rather than providing specific information about the goods being sold.” (Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, New York, 2010, p. 127) The commission on behalf of The Watchmakers of Switzerland was particularly high profile as the image was to be advertised over a period of many years in the Post and Life magazine, as well as to be displayed in jewelry stores internationally. Rockwell ultimately created two paintings for The Watchmakers of Switzerland, the present work and The Jewelry Shop of 1954. 

"While Rockwell’s commissioned work differed from his covers of the Post in meeting more specific needs, his approach to his subject was distinctly his own and Rockwell never strayed from his own underlying themes and artistic principles. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in The Watchmaker, whose subject bore a deep personal connection to Rockwell. As Laura Claridge notes, "John Rockwell's father and mother—Norman's great-grandparents—were Samuel and Oril Sherman Rockwell. Born in 1810 to well-to-do farmers in Ridgebury, Connecticut...Samuel was apprenticed when he was fifteen years old to a watchmaker and jeweler in Manhattan. After twelve years of applying 'more than ordinary natural aptitude for the business,' the twenty-seven-year-old man bought the modest establishment and developed it into a 'flourishing and profitable business.'...Samuel Rockwell worked so hard that he was soon able to sell his watch shop in 'the crowded city' of New York to establish a real estate business in the 'pure air' of Yonkers.” (Norman Rockwell, New York, 2001, n.p.) This family history would have likely provided a meaningful backdrop to the artist’s conception of the work. 

"Beyond reflecting the artist’s own specific upbringing, The Watchmaker also embodies a more universal theme Rockwell consistently explored throughout his career—the passage of time. The same year the present work was painted, Rockwell embarked on a series of seasonal images to be published as calendars for Brown & Bigelow. The imagery most often featured a young boy and his grandfather or a boy and his father, the elder of the two imparting valuable wisdom and life lessons to the young pupil. Mecklenburg writes, “In 1948, Rockwell proposed a calendar series featuring images of the four seasons of the year to Brown & Bigelow, the company that produced his Boy Scout Calendars. With the seasonal calendars, he returned to themes about the passage of time that had occupied him during his early years at the Post. In revisiting the motif in the late 1940s and 1950s, Rockwell approached the idea not from the perspective of a twenty-something but as a man in his fifties. The conception was Rockwell’s own. He wanted, he said, ‘to mirror the average person…leading our kind of life during each of the four seasons of the year,’ adding, ‘I prefer painting either the very old or the very young because they remain strictly themselves; neither type wants to pretty up.” (Telling Stories, p. 151) This theme of the passage of time is echoed in The Watchmaker. Rockwell depicts an earnest young boy mesmerized by a wizened old man. The boy’s face is pressed against the glass as he observes the watchmaker ply his craft, while the watchmaker is deep in concentration as he carefully makes adjustments to the interior mechanics of the boy’s watch. 

"Rockwell’s work is also often autobiographical. This can be at times literally, such as with his iconic Triple Self Portrait of 1960 (Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust), or figuratively when small clues suggest that Rockwell in some way identifies with his subjects. In the present work, the watchmaker can be interpreted as an avatar for Rockwell, whose own meticulous craft required fine tools and expert attention to detail. Rockwell labored extensively over every detail in his imagery, ensuring that the sum of the parts equals and betters the whole. In this way, the fine and delicate tool the watchmaker is using to examine the watch could be a synonym for the small paintbrush that Rockwell employed to achieve the mesmerizing surface of the painting. When the advertisement ran in the magazines, the copy underneath the image underscored this notion, reading: “When you listen to your watch, it speaks not only of the passing of the seconds but of the skills of all of the men whose efforts have gone into its perfection.” 

"This underlying symbolism within the work perhaps derives from Rockwell’s deep familiarity with Old Master paintings and his delight in touting this understanding of art historical precedent in his compositions. This intellectual aspect of his work can be seen most overtly in paintings such as The Art Critic (Norman Rockwell Museum Collection) but also in more subtle ways, which manifest themselves in his studied compositions. Both the imagery and the meticulous manner of execution found in The Watchmaker can be seen as successor to Renaissance paintings, such as Petrus Christus’ A Goldsmith in His Shop (1449, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), where the artists have relished demonstrating their technical mastery in depicting a profusion of textures. The interior of the watchmaker’s shop afforded Rockwell a platform from which to highlight these skills. The depiction of glass—perhaps the hardest, most elusive surface to replicate—is here used to expert effect. The warm and subtle light from the lantern overhead also delicately bathes the surface, illuminating flecks of gold from the watches as well as the glint of the watchmaker’s glasses. As the eye dances from one part of the composition to the next, the myriad details are astounding.

"To create the intricacy of The Watchmaker, Rockwell took a series of preparatory photographs, a technique he adopted in the 1940s. Rather than isolating his figure or figures against a blank background, as he had done before, he began to paint fully realized and often quite elaborate backgrounds in his best works from this period. In order to achieve the desired effect, Rockwell no longer relied solely upon professional models, enlisting them for hours on end, as he had done in his early years in New Rochelle. Rather, upon his move to Arlington, he began to incorporate photography into his creative process. This method meant he could stage elaborate tableaus as subjects and capture the various expressions of his sitters in an instant. Rarely satisfied with a single photograph, the finished illustration was often a composite of many. David Kamp writes of this exhaustive creative system, “First came brainstorming and a rough pencil sketch, then the casting of the models and the hiring of costumes and props, then the process of coaxing the right poses out of the models, then the snapping of the photo, then the composition of a fully detailed charcoal sketch, then a painted color sketch that was the exact size of the picture as it would be reproduced, and then, and only then, the final painting.”("Norman Rockwell's American Dream," Vanity Fair, November 2009, p. 5)This new approach, coupled with towns around the country full of fresh faces willing to pose for the celebrity artist, meant a flurry of artistic inspiration.

"Rockwell painted The Watchmaker in a small hotel room with dim light. Armed with several preparatory photographs of both the central characters, as well as the glass store front of the jewelry store, he painstakingly recreated the sanctuary of the elderly watchmaker honing his craft. Laura Claridge writes: “Throughout the spring and summer of 1948, Rockwell worked on several ads, including a first-rate oil painting for The Watchmakers of Switzerland. An old watch repairman is meticulously rendered, from his wrinkled, crepey hands, to his overgrown eyebrows…The crowded pictorial space of the work points to what will be a hallmark of Rockwell’s remarkable achievements in the next decade for the Post. In the ad, the total effect dramatically exceeds what corporations were accustomed to getting from the commercial artists they paid.” (Norman Rockwell: A Life, New York, 2001, p. 350) Through this consistent high level of execution throughout the room, Rockwell creates what Karal Ann Marling has described as “a kind of ‘Magical Realism,’” where the viewer’s eye can constantly move from object to object and experience every segment with “the same degree of intensity.” (Norman Rockwell: America's Most Beloved Painter, Cologne, Germany, 2005, p. 70) A similar effect has been experimented with in film. Todd McCarthy explains, “In cinematography [it] is called ‘deep focus,’ in which foreground and background objects possess an equal clarity, producing an effect that is sometimes hyper-realistic. This approach came into vogue in Hollywood in the early 1940s, due especially to the adventurous creativity of cinematographer Gregg Toland on William Wyler’s Little Foxes and Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.” (in V.M. Mecklenburg, Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, p. 207)

"Also as in the often idealized world of the movies, Norman Rockwell's work has been characterized as a reflection of our better selves, capturing America as it ought to be. His work is often viewed as both of a moment and simultaneously timeless, in its communication of the universal truths of human nature. "In the twentieth century, visual imagery permeated American culture, ultimately becoming the primary means of communication. Rockwell's images have become part of a collective American memory. We remember selective bits and pieces of information and often reassemble them in ways that mingle fantasy with reality. We formulate memory to serve our own needs and purposes. Rockwell knew this instinctively: 'Everything I have ever seen or done has gone into my pictures in one way or another...Memory doesn't lie, though it may distort a bit here and there.'" (M.H. Hennessey, A. Knutson, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, exhibition catalogue, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999, p. 64) Indeed, Laurie Norton Moffatt writes, "His images convey our human shortcomings as well as our national ideals of freedom, democracy, equality, tolerance and common decency in ways that nobody could understand. He has become an American institution. Steven Spielberg recently said, 'Aside from being an astonishingly good storyteller, Rockwell spoke volumes about a certain kind of American morality.' It is a morality based on popular values and patriotism, a morality that yearns above all for goodness to trump evil." ("The People's Painter," Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, New York, 1999, p. 26)

"In his autobiography My Adventures as an Illustrator, Norman Rockwell reminisced of his early career ambitions, “In those days the cover of the Post was (it still is, by the way) the greatest show window in America for an illustrator.” (Norman Rockwell: My Adventures as an Illustrator as told to Tom Rockwell, New York, 1979, p. 63) Beginning with his first cover published in 1916 and continuing through 1963, Rockwell entered American homes through 321 covers of The Saturday Evening Post over the course of his career as the nation’s leading illustrator. The Watchmaker, which literally depicts a shop window, exhibits the pinnacle of Rockwell’s achievement as a realist painter, compositional master and American storyteller. Drawing inspiration spanning the history of European and American art, and staking a case for his own position as a fine artist in the post-War era, The Watchmaker encases an exquisite range of detail and allusions for the inquisitive eye, while also presenting an image of youthful wonder and idealism contrasted with sage wisdom and expertise."

The lot has an estimate of $4,000,000 to $6,000,000.  It sold for $7,287,500.

Church

Lot 44, "A New England Lake," by Frederic Edwin Church, oil on canvas, 30 by 42 inches, 1854

Lot 44 is a very nice New England landscape by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) that was painted in 1854,  An oil on canvas, it measures 30 by 42 inches.  It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It sold for $1,812,500.

The catalogue entry provides the following commentary:

"A true artist-explorer, Frederic Edwin Church traveled the globe to invigorate his artistic career. While he eventually settled at Olana in upstate New York, his numerous journeys allowed him to catalogue within his memory and sketchbooks environmental details from across New England and from as far-flung locales as the tropical lands of South America and Jamaica, the foreboding icebergs of the Arctic and the ancient cities of Europe and the Middle East. On each trip, Church recorded the local flora, topography and atmosphere with astonishing detail, which upon his return to the studio would be incorporated into tremendous sublime renderings that capture the true feeling of a place, if not one exact location. Painted directly after his return from his first trip to Colombia and Ecuador in 1853, A New England Lake reveals the artist at a critical moment of his career on the verge of mass celebrity. At once embodying the essence of his beloved New England region yet also reflecting the atmosphere of the newly experienced South American tropics, A New England Lake demonstrates how Church’s worldly wanderlust spirit inspired him to develop his unique, transcendent vision of the American landscape. 

"In the present work, Church integrates imagery from the mountains and lakes of Vermont and Maine into a magnificent panorama of placid waters and fertile forests under hazy, distant peaks and a dramatic, colorful sky. Perhaps particularly inspired by Bigelow Mountain in Maine, the vista resembles a sketch of that location from August 1852 in the collection of the Olana State Historic Site. As praised by a reviewer when A New England Lake was exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1854, “The lake is a precious little bit of water, lying in the immediate foreground, the fading (sun setting) light softly toned away into deepening shadow…A boat containing a single figure is gliding quietly in the semi-obscurity. A point of finely wooded land juts out into the lake from the left, with cows standing on the sandy shore and in the water. In the background are bold and characteristic mountains. In the middle ground, which descends abruptly to the wooded margin of the lake, are pasture fields and patches of wood. The clouds and skies are in the artist’s usual style--the former pretty highly tinted. The reflections of the water, and the water itself, are fine--about as good as we should fancy possible to art. The sentiment of the picture is of mingled quiet, solitude and sublimity.” ("Academy of Design," The Evening Mirror, New York, April 18, 1854, p. 2) 

"Indeed, as in the best of Church’s work, the thoughtful placement of man within a quiet yet dynamic environment of land, water and sky invites the viewer to join Church within his peaceful perception of American scenery. The glowing pink clouds set amidst the bright blue expanse of sunny sky spark musings on the awesomeness of nature. Gerald Carr reflects, "Church bids his viewers to linger with his painted re-creations, and, by extension, to linger with him. Taking the viewer, as it were, by his hand, giving him the vast expanses in which to roam, he enjoins him to perambulate, probe, and ponder. He highlights figures, human-made objects, animals, and individual and clustered natural features...Clothing his distances with tangible, breathable atmosphere, he devises lighting effects intense, subtle, supple, and steady. He gives trademark prominence to his skies. At length, after the beholder has turned away, Church entreats an escorted return visit." (In Search of the Promised Land: Paintings by Frederic Edwin Church, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2000, p. 20) 

"In A New England Lake, this ‘tangible, breathable atmosphere’ largely derives from Church combining the features of his classic American landscape compositions with the new type of humidity and sunlight he experienced while in South America. As Franklin Kelly explains of the artist’s records and sketches from his first exploration in 1853, “With Humboldtian precision he noted the different types of animals and foliage, but sometimes the broader views melded North and South in his mind. As he wrote to his sister: ‘…in some places [it] might resemble New England were it not for the tropical foliage.’” (Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, Washington, D.C., 1988, p. 75) This contemplation of the similarities between the environments was manifested in his artwork upon his return back home. For example, perhaps it is not solely coincidence that the trees and peninsular outcropping at the center of A New England Lake seem to mirror the left side of a graphite etching from the banks of the River Magdalena in Colombia known as Tropical Lagoon (Olana State Historic Site, Hudson, New York). 

"In addition to possible specific inspirations from sketches executed overseas, the overall sense of light and drama in the present work seems to foreshadow Church’s South American works of the next years, which would gain him a global reputation. In fact, Carr suggests that the intense, glowing white light grazing the tree tops at right anticipates the bold sun at the center of The Andes of Ecuador (1855, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, North Carolina), while Kelly posits that La Magdalena (1854, private collection), submitted to the National Academy the following year, is almost a tropical version of A New England Lake. As in A Country Home (1854, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle, Washington), Church’s other 1854 submission to the Academy, “An indelible South American tone also permeates A New England Lake. The sky is much like that in A Country Home, but with an even greater sense of moist, glowing atmosphere that makes works such as Home by the Lake of 1852 seem almost airless in comparison. The mingling of northern and southern characteristics apparent in Church's writings and sketches from his 1853 trip was carried over into his finished paintings…He had seen a new world and a different landscape, and this was causing him to look with different eyes at the familiar territory of North America.” (Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, p. 77) 

"Executed during this momentous turning point in his career, A New England Lake represents the culmination of Church’s early years perfecting his notion of New England topography, but also a pivotal change in style integrating the more dramatic light and aura which would create his blockbuster works of the following years, such as Heart of the Andes (1859, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Combining the discoveries from his first worldly travels with his years of experience in his more immediate New England environment, in A New England Lake, “What Church had managed to elevate was the very substance of everyday American life, a feat no other landscape painter of his era could equal." (Frederic Edwin Church and the National Landscape, p. 77)."

Bierstadt

Lot 46, "Clear Lake, California," by Albert Bierstadt, oil on board, 18 by 24 inches, circa 1881

"Albert Bierstadt's majestic depictions of the American West are the artist's highest regarded works and rank among the most triumphant accomplishments in nineteenth-century American art. Beginning in 1859, Bierstadt made multiple journeys from the East Coast to the far reaches of the Western frontier in search of a pure landscape untouched by human presence. While the artist traveled West well after the first explorers, his art offered “visual confirmation of the alpine peaks, enormous trees, and stunning valleys they had described with all the exclamation words would allow.” (N.K. Anderson, Albert Bierstadt: Art and Enterprise, New York, 1991, p. 79) For American collectors of his time, Bierstadt's works came to typify the wilderness experience, and as summarized by Gerald Carr, “Bierstadt was among the most energetic, industrious, and internationally honored American artists of the nineteenth century.” (American Paradise: The World of the Hudson River School, New York, 1987, p. 284) 

"Bierstadt visited as far as California for the first time in 1863, when he spent a month in Yosemite Valley before returning to his New York studio. Over the next several decades, he returned to the state as a source of considerable artistic inspiration, creating some of his most monumental and majestic canvases; however, it may not have been until the summer of 1880 in which he made his way to Clear Lake. Located North of Napa County, it is the largest freshwater lake in California and may be the oldest natural lake in North America. It was, and still is today, a popular fishing destination known for its abundance of bass. 

"Clear Lake, painted circa 1881, was inspired by his visit to this region and depicts the crystalline surface of the lake bathed in a warm sunlit glow. The scene is framed by autumnal trees, likely a feat of artistic license to add more vibrant color to his composition. A patch of meadow, painted in warm tones of green and yellow and dotted with granite boulders emerging from the ground, is illuminated by the high, late afternoon sun. The mountains, with their rocky facades alternately in light and shadow, glimmer in the distance. 

"Clear Lake is evocative of Bierstadt’s landscapes on a monumental scale, which immerse the viewer into the pristine, magnificent landscape. His synthesis of the wide open expanses and the finely detailed, almost intimate passages of landscape places his work among the most successful expressions of the many paradoxes of nature. This expression, through Bierstadt's attention to detail and evocation of light, harmoniously brings together the spiritual and natural world. Like no artist before him, Bierstadt established himself as the pre-eminent painter with both the technique and the talent to convey the powerful visual impact of the Western landscape, to capture the mammoth scale of the open spaces and to begin to interpret this new American landscape in a manner equal to its majesty and grandeur. 

"In summarizing Bierstadt's achievement, Gordon Hendricks wrote that "his successes envelop us with the beauty of nature, its sunlight, its greenness, its mists, its subtle shades, its marvelous freshness. All of these Bierstadt felt deeply. Often he was able, with the struggle that every artist knows, to put his feelings on canvas. When he succeeded in what he was trying to do--to pass along some of his own passion for the wildness and beauty of the new West--he was as good as any landscapist in the history of American art." (Albert Bierstadt: Painter of the American West, New York, 1973, p. 10)."

The lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.  It sold for $552,500.

Stettheimer


"Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose SÚlavy," by Florinne Stettheimer, 1923

The Jewish  Museum of American Art last year held a major exhibition on Florinne Stettheimer and the large paintings included is in this auction, "Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose SÚlavy."  It shows Duchamp sitting in an armchair embroidered with his initials, working a crank that sends aloft on a mechanical spring his female alter ego, SÚlavy, in a pink outfit. The painting has a unusual frame which is gray with Duchamp’s initials repeated all around it. Duchamp sppears in other paintings by Stettheimer and she referred to him as "Ducheand Stettheimer shared a long friendship, and he figures in a number of her paintings, and he organized a posthumous retrospective of her in 1946 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000, about 10 times what it was acquired for in 1990 at Sotheby's when it was sold by the estate of Virgil Thompson, whose oper, "Four Saints in Three Acts" (1928) had stage designs by costumes created by Stettheimer and a libretto by Gertrude Stein.

It failed to sell.


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