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American Art

Sotheby's New York

10 A.M., May 21, 2019

Sale 10074

Silva 79

Lot 79, "Sailing on the Hudson near Nyack," by Francis Augustus Silva, oil on canvas, 20 by 36 inches,

By Carter B. Horsley

This May 21, 2019 auction at Sotheby's New York of American Art is highlighted by a fine abstract landscape by Georgia O'Keeffe, a great Hudson River scene by Francis Augustus Silva, a great mountain scene by Sanford Robinson Gifford.

Lot 79 is a wonderful oil on canvas by Francis Augustus Silva (1835-1886) that is entiled "Sailing on the Hudson near Nyack."  It measures 20 by 36 inches.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"Painted in 1872, Francis Augustus Silva’s Sailing on the Hudson near Nyack depicts a broad view of the Hudson River Palisades and Hook Mountain near Nyack, New York as viewed from the Hudson River. New York’s early Dutch settlers referred to Hook Mountain as Verdrietige Hook, or 'tedious point,' due to the forceful gusts of winds that sailors encountered while traveling through this region of the river. The present work dates to a period of exceptional output for Silva, who traveled frequently from New Jersey to Massachusetts in search of desirable subject matter. Art historian Mark D. Mitchell writes, 'By far the most famous of Silva’s themes from this early period was not formal, but geographic: The Hudson River…his Hudson River scenes are his most charming and effective early works…The correspondence between the Hudson River and the quality of these paintings is virtually inexplicable, as they stand apart aesthetically from his other work of the early 1870s. Perhaps the phenomenon is best explained simply as a serendipitous consequence of time and geography of Silva’s concurrent artistic maturation and awareness of his Hudson River School predecessors on their turf' (Francis A. Silva: In His Own Light, New York, 2002, pp. 33-34).

"Sailing on the Hudson near Nyack represents one of Silva’s most successful forays in the Luminist idiom. Preeminent scholar John I. H. Baur first coined the term 'Luminism' in 1954 to distinguish a group of Hudson River School artists, including Silva, Martin Johnson Heade, and Fitz Henry Lane, among others, for their unambiguously American consciousness of the effects of light and atmosphere. In her discussion of the distinct characteristics of the Luminist movement, the art historian Barbara Novak writes, 'Luminist light tends to be cool, not hot, hard not soft, palpable rather than fluid, planar rather than atmospherically diffuse. Luminist light radiates, gleams, and suffuses on a different frequency than atmospheric light…Air cannot circulate between the particles of matter that comprise Luminist light' (Nature and Culture, London, 1980, pp. 18, 29).

"The eastern seaboard, specifically the Hudson River Valley, was a favored subject of Luminist painters, who were attracted to the region’s clear light and relatively undeveloped shores. In Sailing on the Hudson, Nyack, Silva deliberately heightened the atmospheric effects of sunlight to convey the transcendent qualities of the natural world and man’s spiritual relationship to the physical environment."

The lot has an estimate of $700,000 to $1,000,000.  It sold for $740,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.


The sale total was $19,021,250 with only 62.7 percent of the 83 offered lots selling.

Gifford

Lot 67, "A Lake Twilight," by Sanford Robinson Gifford, oil on canas, 16 1/8 by 28 1/4 inches, 1861
Lot 67 is a lovely landscape of a lake at twilight by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823-1880).  The cover illustration of the auction catalogue, it is an oil on canvas, it measures 16 1/8 by 28 1/4 inches and was painted in 1861.
The catalogue provides the following commentary by Dr. Ila Weiss:

"Almost from the beginning of Sanford R. Gifford’s career as a landscape painter, in the mid-1840s, he found inspiration and delight in the confluence of light and air in nature, increasingly understood during the 1850s in terms of color. At the end of that decade he was repeatedly commissioned to paint vistas unified and glorified in golden aeriality, idealizing the American wilderness, often peopled with Native Americans and amusingly titled Indian Summer.  An abrupt change of mood—dark, even menacing—invades some of his paintings of the early 1860s, including A Lake Twilight. This was interpreted in retrospect by George W. Sheldon as a conscious rejection by the artist of earlier stereotyping ('How One Landscape Painter Paints,' Art Journal, no. 3, 1877, pp. 284–285). In fact, many American landscape painters embraced twilight subjects during the anguished time leading up to and during the Civil War. For Gifford, whose patriotic as well as abolitionist proclivities had been expressed in his European Journals of 1855-57, the turmoil of this period, compounded by constant awareness of the suffering from severe depression of his brother Charles—his kindred spirit in love of art and wilderness—imagery of sunny effulgence was no longer adequate (Sanford R. Gifford, 'European Letters,' 3 vols., Archives of American Art, microfilm D21). Sanford joined the Seventh Regiment, New York State National Guard, in April 1861; Charles died of a drug overdose a month later.

"A Lake Twilight was purchased soon after its completion in early 1861 for the art collection of the Young Men’s Association of Troy, New York. The painting is listed as #233 in the Gifford Memorial Catalogue (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1881), 16 by 28 inches, sold in 1861 to the Troy institution but not traceable twenty years later. That upstate self-improvement organization, part of the athenaeum movement, was founded in 1835. It amassed a library, sponsored lectures and debates, and held annual art exhibitions, all necessitating fundraising that was supported by Gifford and other artists. The Gifford painting shown in their 1861 exhibition as 'Sunset' was probably A Lake Twilight. Other works of his had been acquired there in 1859 and 1860 (Ila Weiss, Poetic Landscape: The Art and Experience of Sanford R. Gifford, Newark, Delaware, 1987, p. 86; Kevin J. Avery and Franklin Kelly, eds., Hudson River School Visions: The Landscapes of Sanford R. Gifford, New York, 2003, p. 117).

"Two known paintings by Gifford may be considered preliminary to the twilight painting. A Mountain Lake at Sunset, 7 by 12 inches (MC 493), at the New Britain Museum of Art in Connecticut, retains elements of Indian Summer imagery: a central iconic mountain beyond water and forested foothills, doubled in reflection; and a wigwam and its presumed occupant beaching a canoe in the left foreground, derived from Gifford’s 1859 drawings of the Micmacs of Nova Scotia. The vista may be a recollection of the double peaked Vermont mountain, Camel’s Hump, viewed from across Lake Champlain, an area Gifford had explored in 1858. In this painting, however, the mountain is darkened to cobalt blue in near-silhouette against a transitional twilight sky, the sun just disappearing behind a distant peak toward the right. The sky, pale azure at the upper edge blending to yellow towards the obscured horizon, is energized by horizontal streaks of pink-purple clouds fading in the radiance, while pink-lit, purple toned cloud puffs rise in response to the mountain contour.

"Directly preparatory to A Lake Twilight is a painting called Twilight Mountain at the Lorenzo State Historic Site in Cazenovia, New York. As an inscription on the verso identifies the work as a Christmas gift of 1860, it was most likely painted not long after Sanford’s visit to his ailing brother in Wisconsin that September. Almost as large as the final version, 15⅞ by 21¾ inches, its squarer format and looser brushwork project immediacy, as does the replacement of the nostalgia-laden Native American staffage with the contemporaneity of a white-shirted hunter loading a deer carcass into his bateau in the foreground—an activity in which the artist may have engaged, possibly accompanied by his early camping companion, Charles. While a ruddy luminosity subsumes details on the mountain side, red highlighted trees on the middle-distant shore contract the space. A repoussoir of dead tree trunks at the left and a bristling fallen trunk at the bottom edge create a tactile visual barrier to the evoked experience.

A comparison of the preliminary study with the resolved imagery of A Lake Twilight further reveals the artist’s process and intention. The lurid coloring of the study is now modified as a more subtle mixture of warmth and coolness to capture a fleeting light-moment. Toward the right, warm white light of the just-set sun, thickly painted, is tenderly reflected by small cloud streaks, their impasto texture catching actual light to intensify the effect. The sky, deepened to grayed azure at the left, fades in response to the white effulgence, with the pale salmon-colored horizontal cloud-bar bisecting the peak comparably affected. An elegant contour refines the shape of the double-humped mountain, its rightmost peak curving in response to the brilliant light. Despite the transformation, an old inscription on the stretcher, not in Gifford’s hand, identifies the view as 'Twilight in the Green Mountains, Vt.,' possibly confirming the Camel’s Hump identification. Momentarily affected by the dazzling radiance, the mountain peak glows light salmon above gray-purple shadow. In the foothills, a few black conifers and red-orange highlights on scattered trees evoke the dense forest submerged in purplish-brown gloom. The watery reflection doubles the dark warm tones of mountain and hills, then the sky’s gray-blue, with white containing hints of yellow and salmon echoing the light drama in the right foreground. The space is magnified in breadth and depth, the far shore widened to occupy the more horizontal format and its recession exaggerated through adjustments of scale and tonal modulation. Highlights are now picturesquely concentrated on the foreground, white and salmon touching rocks and a birch tree that replaces some of the bare trunks of the study’s repoussoir; and access to the hunter has been cleared. Juxtaposed to the substance and weight of the foreground, the more tonally unified, deeply colored aerial distance is separated as a realm of beauty and ideality—a memory, perhaps, and a welcoming escape.

"That this painting may have been closely related to a lost National Academy exhibition piece of 1859, A Sunset in the Wilderness, an earlier moment, is suggested by a description of the latter as 'gorgeous in color, the western sky filled with golden light, the mountains bathed in the gloom of the coming darkness, and the rosy tints reflected from the brilliant clouds, and the deep blue of the sky above, are very happily brought down into the soft verdure and the quiet waters of the foreground' (“Exhibition at the Academy of Design: Second Article,” New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, May 17, 1859, p. 2).
"Another observer commented, Gifford’s 'pictures are remarkable for expression, a quality that we so often miss in the most elaborate and finished productions' ('Galleries of the Academy of Design,' Manufacturers and Farmers Journal, Providence, Rhode Island, May 9, 1859, p. 2).

"Gifford’s twilight imagery at the brink of the Civil War culminated in the huge, for Gifford, Twilight in the Catskills, 27 by 54 inches, at the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven, Connecticut. The impact of its size, wide format, and dramatic effect of colored light created a sensation at the 1861 National Academy Annual, widely recorded. Its heavily clouded upper sky, stained dark red by the afterglow and punctuated with red-orange cloud-dashes, looms over a narrower band of luminous orange containing yellow radiance at its center. A distant string of mountains is plunged into near-blackness, its forms barely discernable in the dim red light. Bare dead trees bracket the panorama, black lines against the sky. In the gorge below the vantage point, brilliant reflected sky light snakes along a waterway into the inky distance.

While the Catskills painting was Gifford’s most dramatic twilight image, reactions to it suggest the impact of similar contemporary imagery, fraught with emotion, including A Lake Twilight. At a preview exhibition of the Catskills painting one reviewer commented, 'the luminous sky, empurpled hills, and finely glowing sentiment of the whole, indicate that the artist of this picture has a power of color-treatment that has been partially latent in previous efforts' ('The Artists’ Reception at the Studio Building,' World, March 7, 1861, p. 5). When shown at the National Academy, Twilight in the Catskills was proclaimed 'the representative landscape of the year.'

'Nothing approaching it in power, in a certain volcanic intensity…is to be found in the exhibition…The picture unites many of the elements essential to a grand and powerful interpretation of one of those capricious moods in which Nature sometimes indulges. The sunset is not an average sunset. The royal purple of the hillsides is not their habitual evening garb. The light which the stream reflects is ghastly…Even the dead golden tinge which kindles upon the distant tree tops, and glimmers through the brooding purple of the twilight, has about it something mysterious and alien…These are the exceptional moods which Nature delights to talk of, and it seems to us that Mr. Gifford has hit upon and reproduced such a one. His work…could hardly be more powerful or imply a more thorough mastery of the resources of the palette' (Fine Arts: National Academy of Design,' World, April 6, 1861, p. 3)."

The lot has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.  It sold for $2,900,000.

O'Keeffe

Lot 10, "Waterfall, No. 2, Iao Valley, oil on canvas, 24 by 20 inches, 1939
Lot 10 is an excellent landscape oil on canvas by Georgia O'Keeffe    that was painted in 1939.  Entitled "Waterfall No. 2, Iao Valley, it measures 24 by 20 inches.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Georgia O’Keeffe first traveled to the Hawaiian Islands in 1939, by which time she had firmly established herself as a prominent voice in modern art in America through her deeply personal images of magnified plants and flowers, as well as the sun-bleached animal bones of the deserts in the American Southwest. Attracted by O’Keeffe’s success and her distinctive interpretation of natural subjects, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, now known as the Dole Pineapple Company, sent the artist to Hawaii to create images of pineapples for a new promotional campaign. Instantly captivated by the region’s lush tropical landscape—so different from anything she had previously experienced—O’Keeffe spent nine weeks exploring its unique natural character, ultimately completing twenty paintings of the delicate yet powerful waterfalls, dramatic valleys and chasms, and the tropical flora that she encountered there. O’Keeffe recognized her powerful reaction to Hawaii and the influence it had on her work, writing to the photographer Ansel Adams, who made his own inaugural trip to the region in 1948 on assignment for the United States Department of the Interior, that 'I have always intended to return [to Hawaii]…I often think of that trip at Yosemite [with you] as one of the best things I have done—but Hawaii was another' (Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i, Kihei, Hawaii, 2011, p. 25).
"The present work is one of four images O’Keeffe painted of the spectacular waterfalls in the Īao Valley on Maui. Though her subject here is entirely unique within her celebrated oeuvre of natural scenery, the lens through which she interprets it evokes her profound, almost spiritual reaction to the landscape, the quality that pervades the entirety of her body of work. Here, O’Keeffe emphasizes the drama of the setting by allowing the powerful cliffs to dominate the composition. She eliminates the foreground entirely and includes only a small area of blue sky and clouds, implying that the viewer is closely positioned to these mountainous forms. O’Keeffe captures the fecundity of the Hawaiian landscape by applying passages of shades of verdant green to render her subject. Her crisply defined contours and careful modeling of forms create sculptural depth on the picture plane, while simultaneously her disregard for traditional scale and spatial depth contributes to a modern sense of flattened patterning. As such, the traditional landscape is transformed into an abstract design of organic lines and shapes. 'It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract,' she once explained of her intent. 'Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify' (Barbara Haskell, Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstraction, New York, 2009, p. 166).
"O’Keeffe exhibited her Hawaii paintings for the first time on February 1, 1940 at An American Place in New York. In the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, she articulated the esteem with which she regarded this new artistic output, writing 'If my painting is what I have to give back to the world for what the world gives to me, I may say that these paintings are what I have to give at present for what three months in Hawaii gave to me...What I have been able to put into form seems infinitesimal compared with the variety of experience' (Georgia O'Keeffe: Exhibition of Oils, Pastels, New York, 1940, n.p.) This body of work was met with enthusiastic praise, with critics recognizing and remarking on the success this new outlet afforded her aesthetic. The New York World-Telegram enthused, '[O’Keeffe’s] pictures, always brilliant and exciting, [now] admit us to a world that is alien and strange' (Georgia O’Keeffe’s Hawai’i, p. 20)."
The lot has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.  It sold for $932,000.

Miller

Lot 73, "Two Arapaho," by Alfred Jacob Miller, watercolor and gouache on paper laid down on card, 9 1/2 by 12 1/14 inches

Lot 73 is a very find watercolor and gouache on paper laid down on card by Alfred Jacob Miller that is entitled "Two Arapaho."  It measures 9 1/2 by 12 1/4 inches.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"In the narrative extracted from The West of Alfred Jacob Miller (1837), the artist writes, 'This scene represents an Arapaho Indian en famille, smoking his pipe and reposing under a blanket suspended from the branches of a tree, to screen them from the sun. We saw some fine specimens of this tribe. They do not shave their heads like the Sioux, but braid the center or scalp lock with ribbons or feathers of the 'War Eagle.' We noticed also a difference in their moccasins, the fronts extending only to the instep and wanting the side flaps. Indians are capable of designating a tribe very often by merely having the moccasins. The Arapahos were tall, finely formed men, from 5 ft. 8 in. to 6 ft. in height. In setting out on their war parties, the process of painting, dressing, and adorning themselves occupies considerably of their time and attention. When a party is seen scouring over the prairies under these circumstances it bodes no good to those they happen to encounter. As regards their steeds, they have no geldings & we saw none, except those brought from the States. The animal thus preserves all his game spirit & is capable of great endurance. They partake somewhat of the Arabian breed" (Alfred Jacob Miller, The West of Alfred Jacob Miller (1837): From the Notes and Water Colors in The Walters Art Gallery with an Account of the Artist by Marvin C. Ross, Norman, Oklahoma, 1968, p. 73)."

The lot has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000.  It failed to sell.


Baalbeck by Church

Lot 46, "Ruins at Baalbeck," by Frederic Edwin Church, oil on canvas, 21 3/4 by 36 1/8 inches, 1868

Lot 46 is a fine Middle East landscape, "Ruins at Baalbeck," oil on canvas by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900).  It measures 21 3/4 by 36 1/8 inches and was painted in 1868.

The catalogue provides the following commentary by Dr. Gerald L. Carr:

"A chance, congenial encounter at Beirut, Lebanon, prompted this, Frederic Edwin Church's first full-fledged Near Eastern studio venture. Church painted this work during his only transatlantic journey, November 1867 to June 1869. Accompanied by his wife, young son, and mother-in-law, he visited several European countries including France, Britain, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, portions of the Ottoman Empire in the southern Mediterranean, Cyprus, Turkey, and Greece. The southerly segments of their family travels were commemorated in a recent touring U.S. museum exhibition organized by the Detroit Institute of Arts, Frederic Edwin Church: A Painter's Pilgrimage, 2017-18.

"Edward F. de Lancey, (1821-1905) a widowed New York lawyer then touring Asia Minor whom Church met at Beirut during January or February 1868, commissioned the present picture. Church began the canvas while at his seaside Beirut hotel, continued working on it mid-year in Alpine Germany, completed it at Rome autumn 1868, and sent the finished picture to de Lancey in New York via London. In effect the painting became the artist's long-distance Syrian surrogate during the sole calendar year he spent away from the United States in 1868.  Church much liked the result; he reported that visitors to his Rome studio admired it; the buyer, de Lancey, also liked it. The scene is a capriccio—i.e., composed prospect involving fictive ruined architecture. It moodily visualizes sparse Ottoman Syrian Roman remnants at sundown amid the region's semi-deserts, weathered, horizontally proportioned mountains, elongated coastline, and thinned human and domesticated animal populations. Its current title is modern and approximate. No early designation is recorded; it was not, apparently, publicly exhibited at the time. In extant documents Church termed it "a Syrian subject." An undated torn, yellowed typewritten label on the back of the stretcher which says, correctly, that it was painted "by order," identifies it as "The Lebanon Mountains."

"In three extant letters...written during 1868 from, respectively, Beirut, Paris, and New York, de Lancey discussed the commission, referring also to correspondence from the artist, one letter existing...the others unfortunately lost. Initially de Lancey asked only that Church paint something of 'oriental character as a memento of my visit to these ancient and sacred lands.' As de Lancey later made clear, Church conceived combining inland features and 'a stretch of the Mediterranean with that soft and superb blue, that it has only in the East.' De Lancey liked that idea, shared Church's vicarious fascination with ruined Palmyra in present-day Syria, and considered accompanying him to Palmyra; unfavorable circumstances, however, cancelled that journey for both of them. After starting the canvas, Mr. and Mrs. Church did visit Baalbek, in Lebanon's fertile Bekaa Valley, May 1868. In the present painting, the Corinthian columnar remnants and parched setting are, one might say wistfully, more Palmyrean—or perhaps evocative of Kunawat, Borsra, in present-day Syria, or Jerash, in present-day Jordan (to neither of which Church went, either, but which he knew through visual and verbal sources)—than Baalbekian. The painting's most Baalbekian aspect is the collapsed Corinthian capital at lower left, which simplifies Church's on-site penciled and painted vignette (Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York; inv. no. 1917-4-581) of Baalbek's 'Temple of Bacchus.' Lebanese seaside classical sites today within automobile reach of Beirut at Tyre and Byblos, both (particularly the former) with impressive upright columns, are mostly modern re-erections. Church passed Tyre south of Beirut five times by boat (the first, at night) but made no mention of it in extant documents; Byblos, north of Beirut, he may not have seen. He could, however, have read about both places, and he acquired at least one photograph (at Olana) of 'Old Tyre.' En route to Petra, in Jordan, during a key sketching expedition from Beirut February-March 1868, he had traversed impressive inland deserts. Ruins of Baalbek affirms that soon after settling at Beirut, which served as his base of operations between January and May 1868, he consulted available prints and photographs of regional antiquities and leafed books to which he has access, coordinating those sources with increasing firsthand experiences and letting his imagination roam.

"As a studio project, the present picture was re-orienting—or Orientalizing—for Church. He began it just weeks after having surveyed in London during December 1867 with a well-connected English escort, the editor, playwright and art critic Tom Taylor (1817-80), the bewildering studio contents which J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), the far-famed English landscape and marine painter, had bequeathed to Britain. An autographed photograph portrait of Taylor dated 'Dec 1867,' preserved at Church's former home, Olana, in Upstate New York (New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Olana State Historic Site, Taconic Region; inv. no. 1986.228), helps document their rendezvous. That encounter couldn't have been more timely: shortly before he himself set foot in the Mediterranean, Church sought, and obtained, comprehensive contact with Turner's art. Between 1857 and 1865 Taylor had favorably reviewed for the London Times newspaper four displays in London of Church's major Western Hemisphere canvases. During his career Church was influenced by and often compared to Turner. Prior to 1867, Church would have counted himself lucky to have viewed the two principal paintings by Turner then in the U.S. Both were marines with ships, and both were owned by James Lenox (1800-80), a wealthy, reclusive New York philanthropist and bibliophile whose prodigious book, manuscript, and art collections remained mostly sequestered until after his death. More than once American journalists of the 1850s and 1860s had alluded longingly to Lenox's Turners, "which everybody has heard of but nobody has seen." Church's privileges thereto stemmed from his having painted for Lenox a major equatorial canvas, Cotopaxi (1862; Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan). In London a half-dozen years later—select framed works by Turner were then housed at the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, while the remainder and his studio materials were in storage—Taylor helped release for Church a floodgate of artistic stimuli in that vein. Years later Church recollected having viewed there 'a great many of Turner's smaller pictures and sketches.' Turner had been enraptured by Italy, particularly Venice, which, admittedly, didn't interest Church. Turner had not traversed the southern Mediterranean, nor had he seen mainland or isled Greece, but he had known people who had. Aided by their testimonies and his own literary and image prowlings, from the eighteen-teens he frequently painted evocative fantasies involving ancient Rome and Roman personages and deities, and, occasionally, ancient Greek equivalents qua Greece. Though landscape vocabularies Turner mulled fabled empires, conquests and defeats, imposing sharp-edged and crumbled edifices, and pullulating crowds. In those respects as in others, Turner was heir to the French Baroque landscapist who had lived in Rome, Claude Lorrain (1600-82), as Church also knew.

"Church's Ruins of Baalbek attenuates Turner's mid- and late-life Mediterranean oeuvre and to a lesser extent Claude's images with ruined architecture, while maintaining Church's signature verisimilitude. In 1992 ('Frederic Edwin Church and Italy;' cited above) I wrote that the present painting 'is spare, desiccated, granular, as though atmosphere as well as objects were defined through shifting sands.' Recent technical examination done at the Detroit Institute of Arts suggests that the canvas has lost some of its original subtleties, and that during the painting process Church changed his mind about portions of the composition. Regardless, it was always thinly brushed. Overall the finished painting was, and remains, deliberately distinct from anything he'd previously done in his studio(s). De Lancey's third letter to Church recapped Church's satisfaction with the picture and pondered its possible public display. 'As to when & where to have it shown here, write me at once your own wishes, & they shall be fully carried out,' de Lancey offered. 'In my own house of course, very many would not see it, whom you would like to see it for your own sake.  And as you tell me it is the 'finest' in color & possesses 'more sentiment' than any you have yet executed—the public for their own sake should have a free opportunity of viewing it...I feel from what you say, that you have produced an extraordinary work, and am truly grateful that you have taken so much interest in my commission as to do so" (Letter from Frederic Edwin Church to Edward de Lancey, Hudson, New York, November 23, 1868).

"Church's next Mediterranean studio canvas, the same-size Valley of the Lebanon..., was painted entirely at Rome. There, the depicted architecture is more ample, abundant, and particularized, the firmament and staffage comparatively intricate, and the environment inland. Because of problems with that painting's prospective English buyer, Church consigned Valley of the Lebanon (one of several titles accorded that canvas early on) to the American art market, by which means it became, November 1869, his first Mediterranean-theme work displayed in the U.S.

"It seems to me that the muted Turnerian tenor of Ruins of Baalbek honestly signals Church at that initiating transitional period for him, 1868, and the bolder Valley of the Lebanon at that subsequent transitional period, 1868-69. Through his travels in Europe and especially the Mediterranean, he really did want artistically to re-frame but avoid duplicating himself. I would say that he succeeded. It counts that he believed he had, as well."


It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000.  It failed to sell.

Cole Arno

Lot 43, "Sunset on the Arno," by Thomas Cole, oil on canvas, 32 by 51 1/4 inches, 1837

Lot 43 is a large oil on canvas by Thomas Cole (1801-1848) entitled "Sunset on the Arno.  It measures 32 by 5 1 1/4 inches and was painted in 1837.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Thomas Cole’s singular legacy remains as the progenitor of the Hudson River School, the first native art movement born within the United States. Learning from Cole, ensuing generations of painters working within this genre were able to visually parallel the untapped resources of the American wilderness with the potent energy of a maturing nation. Born in Lancaster, England in 1801, Cole emigrated to the United States with his family and settled in Philadelphia when he was seventeen. By 1825 Cole had moved repeatedly, spending time in Ohio and Pittsburgh, before arriving in New York where he traveled up the Hudson River for the first time. The young painter quickly rose to significant prominence within New York’s cultural community to become one of the founding members of the National Academy of Design the same year.

"Cole’s early success enabled him to take the 'Grand Tour' in 1829, visiting England, France and Italy over a three year period. While he virulently disliked the French artists of his day, Cole found refuge in the natural splendor of Italy. Like many in the American cultural and intellectual elite of the early nineteenth century, Cole developed a strong interest in the compelling duality of Italian history. Visiting Americans could marvel at the former majesty and achievement of their Roman past, lamenting its dissolution ever-present in the Romantic ruins and crumbling aqueducts, and claiming their nation as the intellectual successor to the Classical world. 

"Compared to the robust, unconquerable landscapes that define Cole’s Hudson River paintings, Sunset on the Arno presents a softer, more tranquil version of nature. Defined by the serpentine Arno river, which eaves through the foreground and middleground of the picture, the composition encourages the viewer’s eye to meander through the picturesque countryside. To the right and above in the distance are the dark woods of the Cascine. Beyond them, the mountain summit half dissolves in the vapory splendor of an Italian sunset. Although there are several structures present in the composition, they too seem only a degree removed from the natural world, mere elements of the background and not the intended subject of the work. An airy warmth radiates from the fading sun and the river is denoted by pale amber tones with highlights of dusty pinks and warmer blues.

"As with his trips through Upstate New York and New England, Cole kept sketchbooks full of careful pictorial and written notes while traveling through Italy. He heavily relied on this documentation as an aide-mémoire for his studio compositions. Cole rarely based his final canvases on a single sketch or description, choosing instead to amalgamate multiple sources combined with elements from his imagination. Per this working process, Cole completed Sunset on the Arno in 1837, five years following his return to North America, and one year after he completed his celebrated series The Course of Empire (1833-36, New-York Historical Society, New York). As in his best compositions, the present work demonstrates Cole's unique ability to “draw a veil over the common details, the unessential parts, which shall leave the great features, whether the beautiful or the sublime, dominant in the mind” (Matthew Baigell, Thomas Cole, New York, 1981, p. 13).

"This harmonization of precise details of compositional elements, such as the charming river boats and their canopies, with the atmospheric and ambiguous setting of countryside bathed in early evening light, creates a compellingly timeless vision of Italy. The stillness and tranquility of the composition presents the viewer with a vista that feels unaffected by time, and a way of life lived in continuity for centuries. The Italian landscape offered the American creative intellect a tangible heritage—a visible past which was not found in the uncultivated wilderness of their native land."


The lot has an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000.  It failed to sell.


Lawrence

Lot 20, "The Carpenters," by Jacob Lawrence, gouache, watercolor and pencil on paper, 19 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches, 1946

Lot 20, "The Carpenters," is a watercolor and pencil on paper by Jacob Lawrence (1917-2000) that measures 19 1/2 by 25 1/2 inches. 

The catalogue provides the following commentary:

"Jacob Lawrence executed The Carpenters in 1946, soon after he completed his military service during the Second World War. The body of work executed by the artist upon his return home demonstrates his profound interest in the depiction of African American workers and labor, subjects that would preoccupy him for nearly the entirety of his career. 

"Lawrence synthesizes dark and light tones to portray the principal elements of the composition, creating tonal modulations that imply volume and create a remarkable dynamism that permeates the composition. Indeed, In the present work, Lawrence depicts an industrious carpentry shop, its employees all busily engaged in the tasks of the day. The work aptly exemplifies Lawrence’s signature Cubist-based style, demonstrated in the compressed pictorial space, his reductive color palette and use of angular planes and fractured forms. LawrenceLawrence actively considers the structural role of color in works such as The Carpenters, once articulating its power as “change as you move over the picture plane, in any of the elements with which you are working—the change of the texture, line, the warm color against a cool color, a shape. [How a color] in a round shape means something different if it’s a square or a rectangle” (as quoted in Lowery Sims Stokes, “The Structure of Narrative: Form and Content in Jacob Lawrence’s Builders Paintings, 1946-1948,” Over the Line: The Art and Life of Jacob Lawrence, Seattle, Washington, p. 208).

"Works such as The Carpenters display Lawrence’s incisive examination of social issues, particularly the African American experience in the post-war years. Not unlike the images of barbers, builders and seamstresses Lawrence produced during this period, The Carpenters depicts a profession that did not legally or socially exclude black Americans, thus capturing “the economic advancement that marked the war years for African Americans as well as the aspirations for greater advancement in American society, which would coalesce into the civil rights movement in the 1950s” (Ibid., p. 211).

"Lawrence would return to The Carpenters subject again in the late 1960s, placing it among the most persistent themes in his body of work. The present work was unknown to Lawrence scholars until 2019, having remained in the family of its original owners, who purchased it from The Downtown Gallery soon after it was completed in 1946." 


It has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,00.  It sold for $980,000.

Hopper

Lot 16, "Shakespeare at Dusk," by Edward Hopper, oil on canvas, 17 1/4 by 25 1/8 inches, 1935


Lot 16 is an excellent oil on canvas by Edward Hopper (1882-1967) entitled "Shakespeare at Dusk."  It measures 17 1/4 by 25 1/8 inches and was painted in 1935.  It was once owned by John J. Astor VI of New York and included the "Romantic Painting in America" show at he Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1944 and a retrospective on the artist at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1982.

The catalogue provides the following commentary:


"Among the most significant painters of the twentieth century, Edward Hopper cultivated a quintessentially American aesthetic marked by evocative images that captured the subtle intrigue and psychological complexity of modern urban existence. His contemplation of the commonplace and his penetrating study of the psyche burrow deep beneath the unremarkable surfaces of archetypal American subjects: nighttime diners, dimly-lit hotel interiors, and forlorn vernacular architecture. Though based on a fundamental commitment to naturalistic representation, Hopper’s work transcends mere narrative illustration in search of the symbolic and suggestive. His art serves as a form of sublimation, a deeply personal expression of his inner emotional response to the physical world. Summarizing the difficulty of imbuing his paintings with incommunicable thought, Hopper once remarked: 'If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint it' (as quoted in Edward Hopper & Company, San Francisco, California, 2009, n.p.).

"Painted in 1935, Shakespeare at Dusk captures the visual poetry of twilight in a large city, when the cacophonous noise of streetcars and elevated trains begins to acquiesce to the stillness of night. This Central Park scene belongs to Hopper’s celebrated series of New York cityscapes—subject matter he explored early in his career while studying under Robert Henri and continued until his death in 1967. A lifelong lover of poetry and prose, Shakespeare at Dusk is among the only major works in Hopper’s oeuvre that overtly references the profound influence of literature on his emotional response to specific times of day, particularly the evening. The poems that he quoted, often as explanations for his own art, frequently focus on the mood of dusk—its sense of mystery, anxiety, and eros born out of the varying effects of light and shadow.

"Based on Henri’s teaching, Hopper’s formative New York canvases, such as Blackwell’s Island (1911 Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), Queensborough Bridge (1913, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), and East River (1920-23, Private collection), are devoted to scenes along the city’s waterways near his former studio at 53 East 59 thStreet. Hopper did not return to specific New York subject matter until the late 1920s when he painted The City (1927, University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson, Arizona), a second iteration of Blackwell’s Island (1928, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas), Williamsburg Bridge (1928, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and Manhattan Bridge Loop (1928, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts). In the following decades, Hopper ventured further uptown for subject matter, portraying the Harlem River in Macomb’s Dam Bridge (1935, Brooklyn Museum, New York), Central Park in Bridle Path (1939, Private collection), and Riverside Park in August in the City (1945, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida). Nearer his studio at 3 Washington Square North, where he lived and worked from 1913 until his death, Hopper based Early Sunday Morning (1930, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) on shops along Seventh Avenue and Nighthawks (1942, Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois) on a restaurant on the corner of Eleventh Street and Seventh Avenue. In a 1935 interview for the New York Post, the reporter Archer Winsten asked what Hopper did for fun. He replied: “I get most of my pleasure out of the city itself” (as quoted in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 1995, updated & expanded 2007, p. 270).

"Shakespeare at Dusk depicts two statues cloaked in shadow near the deserted southern end of the Central Park Mall, which is illuminated by the vibrant afterglow of sunset on the horizon behind the shadows of high-rises at the western end of the park. The inclusion of identifiable modern skyscrapers is exceedingly rare in Hopper’s oeuvre and the present work is one of only a few New York scenes where the exact physical location is clearly apparent. In the foreground, Hopper presents John Quincy Adams Ward’s full-standing sculptural portrait of the celebrated playwright William Shakespeare, with his head bowed in contemplative thought. Describing the scarcity of recognizable buildings in his work, Hopper stated: 'I think a lot about the interiors of big cities. I probably try to represent something universally valid' (as quoted in Gerald Matt,Western Motel: Ed
ward Hopper and Contemporary Art, Nuremberg, Germany, 2008, p. 7). While a universal representation of a city at twilight, Shakespeare at Dusk is an unmistakably specific New York image.

"In the artist’s record book next to a small sketch of the present canvas, Hopper’s wife, Jo, wrote: 'Shakespeare at Dusk. Mall, Central Park about 5 P.M. Nov. [November] dusk with pink glow in sky back of trees. Foreground grey pavement, slightly warmed by glow in sky overhead (offstage). 2 statues on high pedestals—L. [left] Shakespeare—green; R. [right] Columbus not distinct. Foreground R. [right] tall bare tree trunk dark. Foliage across middle green & brownish. Red lit electric sign outside park showing thru foliage not well explained. Big unlit sign U.S. top of building L. [left] back. No other signs on windows lit yet. Silhouette of buildings outside park across back grey blue” (Artist's Record Book, vol. II, p. 9). Hopper consigned Shakespeare at Dusk to the Frank K. M. Rehn Gallery on November 21, 1935, shortly after completing the work in his studio. As was typical of his working method, he made several detailed pencil sketches on location that later served as references for the final oil.  The ambiguity of narrative content in Hopper's paintings, like Shakespeare at Dusk, sparks the imagination and provokes an endless interpretation of meaning. Loath to provide commentary on his own art, Hopper did explain: 'There is a certain fear and anxiety, a great visual interest in the things that one sees coming into a great city' (as quoted in David Anfam, 'Rothko's Hopper: A Strange Wholeness,' ed. Sheena Wagstaff, Edward Hopper, London, 2004, p. 39).

"The preeminent Hopper scholar Gail Levin comments: 'Hopper’s mature cityscapes were generally undisturbed by human presence. There is often an eerie feeling born of this desertion, this absence of activity' (Edward Hopper: The Art and the Artist, New York, 1980, p. 45). When an interviewer commented on the lack of figuration, Hopper observed, 'It’s probably a reflection of my own, if I may say, loneliness. I don’t know. It could be the whole human condition' (as quoted in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper, New York, 1984, p. 69).

"The present work is singular in Hopper’s oeuvre in its direct reference to a literary figure that had a significant influence on the artist’s career. While most of his paintings contain elements of poetic inspiration, few are as forthright as Shakespeare at Dusk. As Gail Levin suggests, the title of the painting invites a comparison to the bard’s oft-quoted description of autumnal twilight:

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
(William Shakespeare, Sonnet 73)

"The darker connotations of the last lines may have been particularly meaningful to Hopper whose mother had passed away earlier that year on March 20, 1935 at the age of eighty-one. The loss of his only surviving parent appears to have activated Hopper’s own conception of his mortality and his interest in evening’s waning light, as seen in Shakespeare at Dusk and House at Dusk (1935, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia) of the same year.

"Hopper was a lifelong lover of literature and poetry. As a young boy, he discovered English classics and French and Russian translations in his father’s library, which he often illustrated with his own drawings and sketches. This practice continued into his early career, when he worked rather begrudgingly as a commercial illustrator for a variety of periodicals and magazines. In his adulthood, he indicated a fondness for Paul Verlaine, Marcel Proust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Sherwood Anderson, Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Robert Frost and Henrik Ibsen. It was through study with Henri at the New York School of Art that he became intensely interested in literature and its relationship to the visual arts. According to his classmate Rockwell Kent, Henri’s pupils often talked of literature. They discussed Verlaine, Eugene Sue, Charles Baudelaire, and the French Symbolist poets, which Kent described as “in keeping with the slightly morbid overtone of Henri’s influence’” (as quoted in Gail Levin, “Edward Hopper’s Evening,” The Connoisseur, September 1980, p. 56).

"Stemming from his early interest in literature and Henri’s philosophical teachings, Hopper’s paintings surpass an exact transcription of a physical location to convey a literary sense of mood and emotion. Most often these personal expressions are tied to the artist’s own feelings towards a specific time of day, as in Shakespeare at Dusk. Writing on Henri’s influence and Hopper’s sensitive evocation of the evening hour, Gail Levin states: “Hopper always managed to extract an authentic sense of mood. On this subject, Robert Henri offered more specific advice: ‘Low art is just telling things, as, there is the night. High art gives the feeling of night. The latter is nearer reality, although the former is a copy’” ("Edward Hopper's Evening," The Connoisseur, vol. 205, no. 823, September 1980, p. 56.).

"Hopper’s fascination with the ‘feel of night’ began as early as 1914 with his most ambitious French composition, Soir Bleu (1914). He continued the theme on his return to New York with his series of nocturnal etchings Night on the El Train (1918), Night in the Park (1921), and Night Shadows (1921), as well as in later paintings like Night Windows (1928, The Museum of Modern Art, New York), Office at Night (1940, Whitney Museum of American Art), and Nighthawks. As in Shakespeare at Dusk, these works demonstrate Hopper’s attraction to certain qualities of the evening—mystery, silence, lust, and despair—which can also be detected in his favorite poetry. He quoted often from Verlaine’s “La Lune blanche,” which recalls the calm of the twilight hour seen in the present work.

"The distinct emphasis on the time of day is apparent in his titles, which regularly indicate a general hour. His twilight imagery, such as Railroad Sunset (1929, Whitney Museum of American Art), House at Dusk and Cape Cod Evening (1939, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.), and the present work, recalls Goethe’s “Wanderer’s Nightsong,” a poem that he described as “an extraordinary visual picture” (as quoted in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: An Intimate Biography, New York, 1995, updated & expanded 2007, p. 266).

"In this evocative image of Central Park at twilight, Shakespeare at Dusk Hopper masterfully conveys the sensation of early evening as the vestiges of sunlight fade and day cedes to night. He ruminates on the passage of time and the unknown associated with the oncoming darkness. While he often represents this idea in the form of voids, as in Automat (1927, Des Moines Art Center, Iowa) and Two Comedians (1966, Private collection), his treatment of this theme is more subtle and suggestive in the present work.  Hopper radically rethought his art following his 1933 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Painted in 1935, Shakespeare at Dusk can be seen as a metaphor for the new direction of his work, one that would be less populated and increasingly existential. 

"Hopper’s art, like the poetry and prose that he loved, often suggests more than it reveals. 'By refusing to be narrative and aiming instead at suggestive symbolic content,' writes Gail Levin, 'Hopper at his best created paintings which express the psychological pulse of their time and yet speak for all time' ('Edward Hopper’s Evening,' The Connoisseur, September 1980, p. 59).  Hopper stated, 'I look all the time for something that suggests something to me. I think about it. Just to paint a representation or a design is not hard, but to express a thought in a painting is. Thought is fluid. What you put on canvas is concrete, and it tends to direct the thought. The more you put on canvas the more you lose control of the thought. I’ve never been able to paint what I set out to paint' (as quoted in Gail Levin, Edward Hopper: As Illustrator, New York, 1979, p. 6). Dusk, with its rapidly fading light and evolving hues, manifests this statement."

The lot has an estimate of $7,000,000 to $10,000,000.  It failed to sell.

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