$55 MILLION FOR SOTHEBY’S AMERICAN. . .
Last week, as the long Memorial Day weekend approached, the major New York auction houses celebrated with two jam-packed sales of American art -- and both totaled $55 million, with Sotheby’s barely edging out Christie’s by $300,000 or so.
Sotheby’s New York went first on May 23, 2007, with a sale of American paintings, drawings and sculptures that totaled $55,744,199, with 180 of 217 lots finding buyers, or almost 83 percent. Prices given here include the auction house premium (20 percent of the first $500,000 and 12 percent of the rest).
Talk of the sale, and top lot, was Albert Bierstadt’s Mountain Lake, a four-foot-wide painting of deer at lakeside during sunrise, which sold to a phone bidder for $4,856,000 (est. $2 million-$3 million). Consigned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, one of the more richly endowed art institutions in the country, the work was the only Bierstadt painting in the museum collection. A museum spokesperson told Bloomberg news that the painting hadn’t been put on exhibition for the past two decades -- but curiously enough, one current show at the MFAH is titled "Bierstadt to O’Keeffe: Highlights from the Stark Museum of Art." It stands to reason -- why not sell your Bierstadt if you can borrow one when you need it? The museum is clearly undertaking some housecleaning, shedding 24 works to the hot art market to raise funds for new acquisitions.
As it happens, according to a report in the Kansas City Star, another Bierstadt, Mountain View, Sunset, which had been on loan at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City since 1969, was withdrawn by the anonymous lender and sold privately to another collector. The Nelson-Atkins wasn’t given a chance to make a counter offer on the picture, which was described as "much-loved." Thus does the hot art market suck paintings from public view.
The second highest lot at Sotheby’s was Norman Rockwell’s Home on Leave (Sailor in Hammock), a 28 x 27 in. oil of a young seaman with a dog in his lap, reclining in his whites in a striped hammock. Perhaps borne up by some good will from New York’s Fleet Week, the picture sold for $4,520,000, clearing its presale high estimate of $3 million by a goodly sum. According to the Baer Faxt, the buyer was London dealer Ray Waterhouse.
Other hot tickets were John Singer Sargent’s Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr., an elegant half-length portrait featuring a society lady in a flowered muslin dress holding a rose and fan, which brought $2,168,000 (est. $2 million-$3 million) and Edward Henry Potthast’s impressionistic image of people relaxing at New York’s Far Rockaway beach, which went for $1,384,000 (est. $400,000-$600,000) -- a record for the artist that would be exactly equaled the next day at Christie’s, when Potthast’s The Water’s Fine sold for an identical sum.
Other new records were set for Gifford Beal ($132,000), Robert Spencer ($492,000), Walter Launt Palmer ($198,000), Alexander Ferdinand Wust ($60,000), Thomas Waterman Wood ($180,000), Daniel Ridgway Knight ($570,000), Herman Fuechsel ($84,000), Adelheid Dietrich ($252,000), Philip Russell Goodwin ($156,000), Colin Campbell Cooper ($180,000), Stephen Scott Young ($348,000), as well as Winslow Homer for a work on paper ($1,020,000).
. . . AND $55 MILLION FOR CHRISTIE’S AMERICAN
Christie’s New York’s sale of American paintings, drawings and sculpture on May 24, 2007, totaled $55,405,200, with buyers snapping up 139 of 162 lots, or 86 percent. Eleven lots sold for over $1 million, adding up to more than a fifth of the sale total. While less flashy works were passed, the sale showed a still-growing market for American painting.
Top lot was Andrew Wyeth’s 1973 Ericksons, which brought a whopping $10.34 million (est. $4 mllion-$6 million), a new auction record for the artist. New York private dealer Michael Altman was the winning bidder. In a palette of soft pinks and grays, the painting features a pensive profile of Wyeth neighbor and frequent subject George Erickson, at rest in the kitchen of his rural Maine home -- a picture that is both a quintessential piece of Americana and, with its air of solemnity, slanting light and checkered floor, evocative of works by Johannes Vermeer.
Another top lot was Mary Cassatt’s Children Playing with a Dog (1907), which sold for $6.2 million (est. $3 million-$5 million). Cassatt works don’t get much more Cassatt-like than this, depicting a mother playing gently with a baby while a little girl with ribbons in her hair holds a small dog. The work was consigned to the house directly by one of Cassatt’s heirs.
Following close behind were a 1916 watercolor of an abstract blue spiral by Georgia O’Keeffe, Blue I, which sold for $3,008,000 -- quintupling its top estimate of $600,000 -- and Jacob Lawrence’s 1947 The Builders, a tempera-on-board scene of toiling construction workers in the artist’s dynamic, jagged style, which stood out amid the soft tones and country themes of the rest of the sale and brought in $2,504,000 -- quadrupling its top estimate, also $600,000, and setting a new auction record for Lawrence.
Other records were set for Mario Korbel ($45,600), Charles Demuth ($656,000), Milton Avery ($992,000), Henry Billings ($72,000), Charles Sheeler ($1,048,000), Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait ($1,104,000), Ferdinand Richardt ($288,000), George Winter ($228,000), Frederick William MacMonnies ($300,000), Francis Luis Mora ($57,600), William Henry Lippincott ($264,000), Henry Siddons Mowbray ($288,000) and Edward Potthast ($1,384,000), as well as Oscar Bluemner ($768,000) and N.C. Wyeth ($180,000) for a work on paper.
AMERICAN SALE AT BONHAMS
Meanwhile, Bonhams New York took its turn with an "American Paintings" sale on Tuesday, May 22, totaling $3 million, with 55 of the 101 lots finding buyers. Big lots were Frederick Carl Frieseke’s oil-on-canvas Two Ladies in a Garden, which went for $880,000 (est. $700,00-$900,000), and a lovely Sargent watercolor of a Venice gondola, Sandali, which brought $768,000 (est. $200,000-$300,000).
Other notable lots were a John Martin Tracy oil titled Hunter’s Rest, featuring two gentlemen hunters enjoying a picnic with their dogs and a servant, which sold for $420,000 (est. $150,000-$200,000), and an N.C. Wyeth oil with the cumbersome title Louise loved to climb to the summit on one of the barren hills flanking the river and stand there while the wind blew, which went for $144,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000). Rockwell’s oil-on-canvas study for a Life cover, titled Good Scouts, went for $120,000, clearing its top estimate of $90,000.
CHRISTIE’S HONG KONG RAKES IT IN
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Christie’s Hong Kong totaled a whopping $79,170,000 for the firm’s combined sales of modern and contemporary Asian art on May 27, 2007.
The top lot in the 20th century Chinese art category was Wu Guanzhong’s 1973 work, Scenery of Northern China, an airy, snow-swept mountainscape, which sold for $4,051,150 (no estimate was given). Quite a coup for a man once supposedly dubbed "a fortress of bourgeois formalism" and sentenced to hard labor.
In the contemporary category, top honor went to Yue Minjun’s Portrait of the Artist and His Friends -- strangely, not the characteristic work featuring identical, cackling, pink-faced characters that Minjun is known for, but a looser group portrait of real people from 1991. No matter. It went for $2,618,925, handily topping an estimate of ca. $450,000-$700,000.
NEW CHICAGO AUCTIONEER
Chicago has a new art auction house. Dubbed Chicago Art Auction, the firm specializes in fine art and holds its inaugural auction on June 10, 2007, at the Catalyst Ranch in the Cha Cha Room at 656 West Randolph Street. The sale features works by artists ranging from Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Käthe Kollwitz to Clyfford Still. For details, see www.thechicagoartauction.com