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Charles Ephraim Burchfield
Backyards in Golden Sunlight
Christie's New York
May 19, 2005

Marsden Hartley
Movement, Sails

Edward Hopper
Study for Nighthawks (pair)

Andrew Wyeth
Battle Ensign
Sotheby's New York
May 18, 2005

Frank Benson
The Artist's Daughters

Georgia O'Keeffe
Petunia and Coleus
bought in

Wayne Thiebaud
Christie's New York
May 12, 2005

Richard Prince
Untitled (Oriental Glasses)

Keith Haring
Untitled (Exploding Head)
Sotheby's New York
May 11, 2005

Frank Moore
Sotheby's New York
May 21, 2005

Art Market Watch

The sale of American art held by Christie's New York on May 19, 2005, totaled $40,669,200, with 182 of the 217 lots finding buyers, or 84 percent, a new record for a various-owner sale of American art at Christies. Six paintings sold for more than $1 million, and several new auction records were set.

The top lot was Robert Henri's portrait of an elegant Jessica Penn in Black with White Plumes (1908), which was purchased by an anonymous buyer for $3,600,000, well above the presale high estimate of $1,500,000. The painting was from the collection of Helen and David B. Pall, the same source as the record-setting Edward Hopper lot, his late Chair Car (1965), which sold on May 12 for $14 million to Berry-Hill Galleries.

Other record-setting lots in the top ten included Sanford Robinson Gifford's minimalist Fire Island Beach (1878), which sold for $2,144,000 (est. $800,000-$1,200,000) and Willard Leroy Metcalf's large and pretty The Red Oak (No. 2) (1911), which went for $1,584,000 (est. $600,000-$800,000). Other records were set for Julius LeBlanc Stewart ($2,312,000, to Michael Altman Fine Art), George Hitchcock ($856,000, to Berry-Hill Galleries), Eastman Johnson ($856,000) and Charles Burchfield ($856,000).

The Johnson, The Little Soldier (1864), had sold at auction less than two years ago, bringing $231,500 in December 2003; similarly, the Burchfield, the lovely Backyards in Golden Sunlight (1966), had sold in 2001 for $511,750. Did someone say "art as an investment"?

Other notable lots in the top ten included Marsden Hartley's Movement, Sails abstraction, an oil on board dated 1916, which sold for $1,696,000, and Martin Johnson Heade's notably pink-hued Hummingbird Perched on an Orchid Plant (1901), which was purchased for $1,136,000 (more Heade money had been spent the day before at Sotheby's, see below).

Two interesting lots that came to the block late in the sale were drawings by Edward Hopper. A pair of charcoal studies from 1942 for the iconic painting Nighthawks sold for $352,000, while a 1920 crayon drawing for the etching House on a Hill went for $307,200. An exhibition of newly found drawings by Hopper is currently on view at Peter Findlay Gallery in midtown Manhattan.

Sotheby's usually beats arch-rival Christie's in the American art segment of the market, but this spring Christie's had the better sale, and marginally edged out Sotheby's for the top spot. The auction of American art at Sotheby's New York on May 18, 2005, totaled $40,448,000, with 159 of 191 lots finding buyers, or 81.6 percent. According to the auction house, 51 percent of the lots sold for above their presale estimates.

Top lot was Andrew Wyeth's tempera-on-panel Battle Ensign (1987), which sold for $3,824,000 to an anonymous buyer, well above the $2 million presale high estimate and a record for the artist at auction. From the collection of Mr. & Mrs. Thomas J. Watson, Jr., the painting shows a tattered American flag flying on a line outside a white house on a Maine cliff, a flag that that rested on the coffin of a family friend.

An auction record was set for Martin Johnson Heade when his Sunny Day on the Marsh (Newburyport Meadows) (ca. 1871-75 sold for $2,760,000 (est. $800,000-$1,200,000) to Joe Caldwell of the Caldwell Gallery in Manlius, N.Y.. Edward Redfield's Brooklyn Bridge at Night sold for $966,000, well above the presale high estimate of $250,000 and a new auction record for the artist. Frank W. Benson's The Artist's Daughters (1906) sold for $3,376,000 (est. $2,500,000-$3,500,000). The small (26 x 36 in.) but stiffly charming picture had never been published or exhibited, and had descended through the family of the original owner, who acquired it directly from the artist.

Sotheby's continues to sell works from the collection of the ailing Reader's Digest. Among this property was Frederic Edwin Church's The Highlands of the Hudson River (1866), which sold for $1,052,000, more than twice its high estimate, and Fairfield Porter's Lichen, Wild Roses and Primroses (1972), which brought $262,400.

Among the unsold lots was a dramatic painting by Georgia O'Keeffe pairing a Petunia and Coleus (1925), which was estimated at $3,500,000-$4,500,000.

Here, a little late news from the day sales of post-war and contemporary art that followed the headline-making evening sales earlier this month [see "Art Market Watch," May 14, 2005]. Both houses did considerable business during the day. On May 11, 2005, Sotheby's totaled almost $30 million, with 276 of 323 lots finding buyers, or more than 85 percent. On May 12, 2005, Christie's totaled more than $36 million on 271 lots sold, or more than 85 percent by lot.

Top lots at the two houses had remarkable overlap. At Sotheby's they included works by Joan Mitchell ($828,000), Wayne Thiebaud ($688,000), Jean-Michel Basquiat ($660,000) and Alexander Calder ($632,000). At Christie's the list included Wayne Theibaud ($777,600), Gerhard Richter ($755,200), Ellsworth Kelly ($732,800) and Joan Mitchell ($688,000).

Similarly telling is the list of top lots from Christie's afternoon sale (Christie's breaks out the data in two parts, morning and afternoon) -- all five were by Richard Prince. Needless to say, the auction fever for Prince works is unbroken. The top lot, a unique 30 x 40 in. black-and-white photograph of a woman wearing "oriental glasses" from 1982 went for $632,000, well above the presale high estimate of $200,000. Another, even smaller photograph of a model's face from 1982, Untitled (Fashion), sold for a similarly impressive $576,000 (est. $120,000-$160,000).

It's worth noting, as well, a rise in the prices of works by Keith Haring. At Sotheby's, his 1983 oil-on-tarp Untitled (Exploding Head) went for $492,000, well above its $350,000 high estimate, while at Christie's, Haring's Untitled lot 567 went for $318,400, above a high estimate of $200,000.

Sotheby's New York set a new auction record for the late artist and AIDS activist Frank Moore (1953-2002) on May 21, 2005, when his 1995 painting Cow, complete with an artist-designed frame, sold for $284,800, exceeding its presale estimate of $20,000-$30,000 by about 10 times. The record was set in the sale of furniture and fine art from the New York townhouse of renowned designer Gianni Versace, which totaled $5.9 million, above the presale estimate of $5.1 million. Of 442 lots, 393 found buyers, or almost 90 percent.

A second painting by Moore in the auction, his oil-on-canvas Stretch, an allegorical portrait of a giant redwood tree against the rocky mountains, sold for $180,000 (est. $15,000-$20,000). The auction contained six additional Moore works -- Versace clearly was a fan -- all of which sold for above their estimates. Other top lots in the Versace sale, many of which tripled or quadrupled their estimates, included a 19th-century Italian micromosaic table that sold for $251,200 and an Empire-style console that went for $96,000.

The brisk business shows that Versace glamour continues to draw bidders, noted auction specialist Elaine Whitmire. At Sotheby's evening sale of post-war and contemporary art on May 10, Versace's Blue Nude by Roy Lichtenstein sold for $5,280,000, double its presale estimate.

For complete, illustrated auction results, see Artnet's signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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