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Art Market Watch
 
RECORD SALES AT BARRIDOFF GALLERIES
As Maine goes, so goes the U.S.? The annual auction sale of Old Masters, European and American art held by the Barridoff Galleries in Portland, Maine, was a great success. Of the 335 lots in the sale, about 80 percent found buyers, for a grand total of $3.5 million, the highest amount to date. Presumably, the success in the Pine Tree State is a bellwether for the coming auction season in New York.

"The sale was terrific," said Rob Elowitch, who serves as auctioneer and runs the business with his wife, Annette Elowitch. "And the after-sale interest in the unsold lots was even more terrific. People are gobbling up the available works!"

The top lot was Marsden Hartley's bold blue-and-red painting of The Six Fish (1941), which went for $336,000 (est. $250,000-$350,000). The painting's iconic power, Elowitch suggested, might well come from its symbolism, which can be read both in Christian terms and in reference to Hartley's own biography and the mythology of Maine fishermen. The oil on board, which measures 18 x 24 inches, has been out of sight since the early '80s, owned by the same Maine family.

All prices include the auction-house premium of 17 percent on the first $50,000, 15 percent on the next $50,000 and 10 percent on the remainder.

One big-ticket work that sold after the sale was Angelica Kauffman's Virgil Writing his Epitaph at Brundisium (1785), an iconic 39 x 50 in. Neo-Classicist canvas of the poet on his deathbed, accompanied by Augustus and two women. It sold for $226,000 (est. $225,000-$275,000). The packed salesroom, with a bank of 20 phones, included some museum buyers, most likely drawn by the Old Masters from the collection of Peter Walch, the Kauffman expert and current director emeritus of the University of New Mexico art museum.

Another Walch lot was the painting of Rebecca at the Well, which though attributed only to "Italian School" soared past its $20,000-$30,000 presale estimate to bring $132,500. Perhaps, the anonymous buyer has a clearer idea about who the artist might be. On the other hand, the 17th-century picture is a charming depiction of the Biblical story, in which the virgin bride to be -- here dressed in Renaissance finery -- seems to receive Abraham's emissary with some reserve.

Another interesting result in the auction greeted one of the sale's relatively contemporary offerings, the Photorealist painting Stones #6 by the Maine artist Alan Magee (b. 1947). The 42 x 52 in. acrylic on canvas, which depicts in painstaking detail a natural arrangement of multihued, water-smoothed stones, sold for $87,250 (est. $30,000-$50,000), a new auction record for the artist.

Other top lots included In the Garden by Abbott Fuller Graves, an American Impressionist painting of a woman tending the roses in her lush garden, which sold for $160,000 (est. $100,000-$150,000), and Morris Kantor's strikingly modernist Untitled, A Posthumous Portrait of the Artist's Mother, which went for $58,500, well above the presale high estimate of $18,000 and a new auction record for the artist.

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