By Carter B.
American Paintings sales at Sotheby's and Christie's are getting
expensive for the new and not necessarily rich collector and over
the last two years or so those auction houses have not only raised
their commission fees but have also not been holding as many "small,"
or "arcade" sales.
Spring Season Phillips
has launched an impressive campaign to move into the "big
leagues" of art auctions and held impressive sales in Impressionist
& Modern Art and Contemporary Art at the rented quarters of
the American Crafts Museum at 40 West 53rd Street across from
the Modern Museum of Art with very impressive and slick catalogues
and many fine pictures. The first sale was not a resounding success
with many major works being failed to sell, although the star
lot, "Suprematist Composition" by Kazimir Malevich did
sell for an impressive $17 million. The second sale, however,
was very successful with 95 percent of the lots selling, two setting
auction records for the artists.
the third major Phillips
sale of the season with a very slick catalogue but the auction
is being held at Phillips existing, small quarters at 406 East
79th Street. The executives of Phillips have indicated that they
are looking to find impressive and large new auction quarters,
probably in midtown.
this sale had no "blockbusters,"
it had plenty of good paintings and it was very successful with
144 of 185 lots being sold for a total of $3,526,810, well over
its high pre-sale estimate of $3,130,900. The Spring auction season
had been remarkably strong until the African and Oceanic Art auction
May 19, 2000 at Sotheby's (See The
City Review article)
at which barely over half the lots were sold, possibly foreboding
the end of an otherwise euphoric season generally. This sale,
however, not only indicated that a softening was not the case,
especially in the field of American Paintings, but also that Phillips's
foray into the big leagues should be taken quite seriously. As
the first of the three auction houses to put up its American Paintings,
the sale obviously was being closely watched to get a sense of
the market for the big auctions the next two days at Sotheby's
and Christie's, especially since the stock markets have not recovered
yet from a substantial slump over the last month or so.
works at Phillips soared.
shown above, "Gaillardias
in a Chinese Vase," by Edward Steichen (1879-1973), a 16-by-12-inch
oil on canvas, had an estimate of $20,000 to $25,000 and sold
for $85,000 including the buyer's premium as do all the sales
results in this article. This is an extremely strong Steichen
painting as the artist is best known for his photography and for
his beautiful Tonalist paintings. His paintings are quite rare
and have long been greatly undervalued, but this price indicates
that may be about to change dramatically.
"Still Life with
Fruit and Nuts," by Robert Scott Duncanson (1821-1872), a
12-by-16-inch oil on board, dated 1848, shown above, was the
cover illustration and had an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000.
It sold for $225,500, a remarkable price considering the painting's
small size, its less than pristine condition, and the fact that
the artist is primarily known as the best "Antebellum African-American"
painter of landscapes in the mid-19th Century and not as a painter
of still lifes. The painting is, in fact, very nicely done, and
the very high sales price reflects the market's very strong recent
affection for this type of painting despite the fact that it cannot
compete historically and aesthetically with the simultaneously
achievements of the Hudson River School of landscape painters,
the Luminist landscape painters and America's many fine genre
artists of the period. Similar still life paintings by Duncanson,
who was self-taught, are in the Corcoran Gallery in Washington,
DC and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
auction had two nice marine
paintings by James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894), the prolific
and superb painter of yachts. Lot 35, shown above, "Off The
Battery," is a good typical, small work by him that is interesting
because it not only shows Castle Clinton at the southern tip of
Manhattan but also the forest of sailing ship masts that dominated
the skyline. Buttersworth's paintings are noted for their fine
detail and accuracy and for the wonderful sky treatments. This
painting had a reasonable estimate of $50,000 to $70,000 and sold
for $211,500. The other Buttersworth, Lot 34, had a higher estimate
of $60,000 to $80,000 reflecting its larger size, 14 1/4 by 22
inches and the fact thatit had a more dramatic sky. Entitled "The
Dauntless Off Sandy Hook," it sold for $167,500. The price
differences between the two paintings reflect both the quality
and the location.
"Under the Palisades,"
by Granville Perkins (1830-1895), a 12-by-18-inch oil on canvas
had an estimate of only $7,000 to $9,000, reflecting the artist's
lack of celebrity. The quite charming painting, however, is very
fine and an excellent rendition of the New Jersey Palisades that
surprising were not painted that much by the Hudson River School
landscape painters with one notable exception of a large work
by Jasper Francis Cropsey. This painting is also interesting because
it shows three very different kinds of boats reflecting the river's
busy traffic. Given the specific geography, the overall quality
and nice depiction of the different boats and how strong the market
was on this day it is a little surprising that this lot sold for
marine painting, Lot
33, "Sinking of the Cumberland by the Merrimack," a
19 3/4-by-24 1/2-inch oil on canvas by Edward Moran (1829-1901),
sold for $34,500, more than double its high estimate of $15,000,
reflecting interest in the historical subject. It is a very dramatic
painting and Moran is a member of one of the country's most illustrious
artistic families, which also includes Thomas Moran, the great
painter of the West.
add more value to landscape paintings and the auction had several
other works of prominent sites. Lot 9 was a pair of 18-by-24-inch
oil on canvas paintings of Niagara Falls by Nicolino Calyo (1799-1884).
The nicer of the two is shown above. Calyo and Thomas Chambers
were the best "primitive" artists to depict the famous
falls in the 19th Century. The falls, of course, were also painted
by many of the country's greatest artists and the best versions
are by Frederick Edwin Church, Alvin Fisher, Thomas Cole, John
F. Kensett, Robert W. Weir, Albert Bierstadt and George Inness.
This very handsome lot sold for $19,550, just shy of its reasonable
high estimate of $20,000.
the most spectacular
scenic wonders in New York, or for that matter the Northeast is
Mohonk Lake atop Mohonk Mountain in the Shawangunk Mountains a
few miles west of New Paltz, New York. Amazingly, it does not
appear to have been painted very often. James Hope (1818-1892)
painted many natural wonders on the East Coast and Lot 16 is his
view of the lake and its marvelous cliffs, shown above, a 19-by-26-inch
oil on canvas that sold for $8,050 within its estimate. From the
little pavilion atop the cliffs, there is a spectacular view of
the Hudson River and several states!
scenic spot, Kauterskill
Falls, further north in the Catskills was very popular with artists.
The most famous painting of the falls was by Thomas Cole, the
founder of the Hudson River School, and several versions were
also done by Sanford Robinson Gifford. A very good vista of the
falls was painted by Edmund Darch Lewis (1835-1910), Lot 17, a
20 by 15 1/4 inches, dated 1860. The painting, which is need of
a major cleaning, sold for $19,550 and had an high estimate of
"New England Sunset,"
by George Curtis (1816-1881), a 20-by-30-inch oil on canvas, also
did extremely well selling for $123,500, more than double its
high estimate. The lovely sunset beach scene was reminiscent of
some works by John F. Kensett and Worthington Whittredge and its
very high price reflected the fact that it was a very nice Luminist
work. The price, nonetheless, was awesome as Curtis is not a famous
name and hardly is recorded in most textbooks.
quite fine beach scene,
Lot 54, by Edward Lamson Henry (1841-1919), who is best known
for his genre scenes and not at all for beach scenes, sold for
$39,100, well over its high estimate of $30,000 and quite impressive
for a 8-by-14-inch oil on canvas painting in need of restoration
artist who fared well was Horace Wolcott Robbins (1842-1904),
whose "A Keen Valley Runaway," Lot 30, a 24-by-36-inch
oil on canvas, sold for $16,100, more than three times its low
estimate. The painting was a nice, typical, well-done landscape,
but nothing extraordinary, an indication that collector interest
in landscapes is reviving.
very nice small Hudson
River School landscape paintings did very well. Lot 51, "View
of Lake Champlain," a 5-by-8 1/2-inch oil on panel in desperate
need of a "cleaning" by John Frederick Kensett, one
of the school's giants who also became a great Luminist painter,
sold for $43,700, and had a high estimate of $20,000.
Kensett, Lot 25, shown
above, "Points of Rocks, Newport," a 14-by-24-inch oil
on canvas, sold for $29,900, just under its low estimate. It was
by the River," a 8 1/4-by-7-inch oil on artist board by Richard
William Hubbard (1816-1888) sold for $20,700 and had a high estimate
of only $5,000. The artist was a consistent but minor follower
of the Hudson River School. Lot 38, "Summer Landscape,"
a 12 1/4-by-8 1/4-inch, arched oil on canvas by James MacDougal
Hart (1828-1901), sold for $23,000 and had an estimate of $10,000
to $15,000. (I once owned the painting and had bought it at Sotheby's
for about $2,500 a decade or so ago, but was not the consignor
at this auction.) James Hart and his brother, William, were prominent
Hudson River School painters.
"Fall River Landscape,"
a very good oil on canvas, 6 1/8 by 10 1/8 inches, by James David
Smillie (1833-1909) sold within its estimate for only $6,125,
which is surprising considering its quality and other prices at
this auction. The artist's brother, George, was also an artist
and both were quite good though not as famous as the Hart brothers.
Hudson River School
works were sold. Lot 42, a very fine 9 1/4-by-15-inch oil on canvas
by David Johnson (1827-1908), an even better Hudson River School
painter than the hearts and quite similar in quality to James
Casilear, failed to sell despite its excellent quality. Entitled
"A Lush Summer Landscape," it had a rather ambitious
high estimate of $45,000.
Lot 64, "News from the Front," by Louis Charles Moeller
(1855-1930), a 12-by-16-inch oil on canvas. It had an estimate
of $15,000 to $20,000 and failed to sell despite the fact that
it is a great American genre painting. The artist has always been
very popular for his club-like interiors with men chatting and
lounging and outdoor scenes by him are quite rare.
"The Village Pump,"
by William Morgan, oil on canvas, 15 by 12 inches, is an exceedingly
lovely genre painting by a relatively unknown artist painting
in the popular style of John George Brown, Thomas Waterman Wood
and Eastman Johnson. It sold for $12,650 and had a high estimate
Another work that is very
striking and rather
unusual is Lot 141, "Cafe Scene - A Study of a Young Woman
in a Pink Dress," shown above, " " by George Benjamin
Luks (1867-1933). The 25-by-30-inch oil on canvas is unsigned
but has descended in the artist's family, according to Phillips.
Luks is the most raucous and robust of the Ash-Can School of painters
who were led by Robert Henri, but Luks can be uneven. At his best,
though, he produced some smashing pictures and this one is quite
bold. The bright dress and checkercloth are counterpoints to the
darker figures of the two men in the picture, which are classic
Luks. The woman's sharply delineated face and hat are rather unusual
for the artist but the overall effect of the painting is very
strong. It sold for $17,250 and had a low estimate of $20,000.
auction had three very
good works by Ben Shahn, Lots 177, 180 and 181. Lot 181, shown
above, "Man Asleep," is an oil on gouache on paper,
3 1/4 by 12 3/4 inches and is a marvelous composition in classic
Shahn style and palette. It was once in the Edith Gregor Halpert
Collection and had a high estimate of $6,000 and sold for $12,650.
Lot 177, shown below on the left, is entitled "Design of
Spears from Hamlet" and is a ink on paper, 5 7/8 inches by
4 1/2 inches that sold within its estimate for $1,265, a fine
example of Shahn's great calligraphic skill. Lot 180, shown on
the right below, "The Gestures of the Little Flowers,"
a 8 3/4-by-7 1/2-inch watercolor and gouache on paper, also sold
within its estimate for $3,680. These were all fine works by a
great artist at very reasonable prices.
recent sale of American
paintings would be complete without at least one pretty "lady
in white" painting and Lot 116, shown below, "A Summer
Walk, a 12-by-9-inch pastel on canvas by Charles Courtney Curran,
is a very fine example of the genre and a superb Curran painting.
It sold for $36,800 and had a $35,000 high estimate.
highest price achieved
at the auction was "$442,500 for Lot 87, "Vista from
Point Lobos," by Guy Orlando Rose (1867-1925), a 24-inch
square oil on canvas that was executed in 1926. A fine and bright
impressionist work, it had a high estimate of only $80,000 despite
the fact that Rose had begun to achieve big prices in recent years
and is now considered one of the better American Impressionists
of that late period.
shown above, a 20-by-16-inch oil on board by George Copeland Ault
(1891-1948), is a very strong portrait that the catalogue dates
to 1923. It sold for $41,400, just over its low estimate of $40,000.
the exhibition of American
paintings at Sotheby's, Ben-Ali Haggin, a connoisseur in the field,
welcomed Phillips foray into the big leagues and suggested it
should not call it itself Phillips Auctioneers, but Phillips Sales,
to further differentiate itself from Sotheby's and Christie's.