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July 23, 2009 

Collectors and dealers in Western art are flocking the annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, which kicks off in the grand ballroom at the Silver Legacy Resort Casino in Reno, Nevada, on July 25, 2009. The sale was launched in 1985 with 132 lots that sold for a total of $200,000.

By 2008, the auction had grown to 278 lots, which brought in a total of $37 million. About the same number of works go on the block this year, with a presale estimate of around $15 million. "We have estimated the individual paintings very conservatively," said Coeur d’Alene’s Mike Overby, "so it’s a buyer’s market like no other!"

Among the highlights are several paintings and works on paper by Charles M. Russell (1869-1959), ranging from the ca. 1894 watercolor Cowboy on a Bucking Horse (est. $60,000-$90,000) to The Truce (1907), a scene of several Indian men on horseback approaching a military encampment (est. $2,000,000-$3,000,000).

Another top lot is The U.S. Clipper Ship "Flying Fish" (n.d.), a marine scene by the British artist Montague Dawson (1895-1973), which carries a presale estimate of $300,000-$500,000.  

The sale includes several works depicting dramatic Western scenes by noted Taos School artists. Indians on horseback are the subject of both Oscar BerninghausThe Advance Scouts (ca. 1951) (est. $600,000-$900,000) and E. Martin HenningsTaos Indians Homeward Bound (ca. 1920) (est. $600,000-$800,000).

Contentment (1918), a scene by E. Irving Couse of an Indian brave at his hearth, with a tobacco pipe and surrounded by painted pottery, is estimated at $300,000-$500,000, while Joseph Henry Sharp’s Lure of the West (n.d.), a view of an Indian encampment in a valley under a rainy sky, is estimated at $200,000-$300,000.

The auction also features works by contemporary artists like Luke Frazier (b. 1970), whose vivid painting of a moose fording a stream, Old Timer (2009), is estimated at $25,000-$35,000, and Mian Situ (b. 1953), whose Journey of Hope and Prosperity (2009), a complex scene of Chinese immigrants on the deck of a 19th-century schooner, is estimated at $250,000-$350,000. 

Navajo, a painting by Gerard Delano (1890-1972), sold for an astounding $1.247 million at last year’s sale. This time around, Delano is represented by Ambushed, a bright and animated oil of Indian warriors on horseback that is estimated at $80,000-$120,000.

Sotheby’s London
series of seven Old Master and British art sales at the beginning of July totaled £45 million ($72 million), a sum that fell "comfortably" within the presale estimate of £36.5 million-£53 million. The total was not dramatically lower than the 2008 tally, which was £59.5 million ($117.3 million). Sotheby’s Old Master expert Alexander Bell noted the "long-established and stable collecting base" for the Old Master market, as well as the presence of "new buyers."

Among the highlights this time around was Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Massacre of the Innocents, a large (48 x 67 in.) oil on oak panel that sets the Biblical scene in a Netherlandish village in the depth of winter. According to Sotheby’s, this example is the best of eleven versions of the composition, which was devised 30 years earlier by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The work sold to a telephone bidder for £4.6 million, well above its presale high estimate and the highest price of the week.

Jusepe de Ribera’s dramatic and large (76 x 61 in.) Prometheus, the artist’s first image of a Titan from Greek mythology -- two others are in the Prado -- sold for £3.8 million, a new auction record for the artist. The painting, which had been acquired from the legendary art dealer Eugene Victor Thaw, was part of a special, single-owner sale of works from the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, the former cook and later wife and heir to Johnson & Johnson scion J. Seward Johnson, Sr.; her collection brought £10.5 million all told, above the £8.3 million presale estimate.

In the area of British paintings, the top lot was George StubbsPortrait of Baron de Robeck Riding a Bay Hunter (1791), a precisely rendered scene of a rearing horse with rider in an English landscape, which sold for £2 million ($3,358,994), just at the £2 million presale low estimate. The painting seems to be easy to trade: it had sold at auction in 1960 (£20,000), 1972 (£130,000), 1987 ($2,200,000) and 1999 (£1,900,000).

Another top lot was Gabriel Metsu’s scene of A Woman Selling Game from a Stall (ca. 1653-54), which brought £1,161,250 ($1,896,042), a new record for the artist. The buyer was London dealer Johnny van Haeften.

The Old Masters & 19th-century art sale at Christie’s London on July 7, 2009, totaled £20,284,400 ($32,840,444), with 48 of the 63 lots finding buyers, or 76 percent. The sale included three new auction records in the top ten: Fra Bartolomeo’s charming portrait of the Madonna and Child with Saint Anne and the infant prophet Peter (£2,169,250); Willem Claesz. Heda’s hedonistic still life featuring a hearty blackberry pie (£1,285,250); and Giuliano Bugiardini’s portrait of a young Florentine gentleman (£825,250).

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