John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872), Lily Pond, Newport, Rhode Island, oil on canvas, 10" x 18", monogrammed and dated JFK/ 186 (indistinct). From Kensett’s major Newport series of paintings, it has a rich tactile surface and color chords that create a luminous environment; one can almost smell the sea. It represents Kensett at the pinnacle of his creative powers. John Driscoll of Driscoll Babcock Galleries, New York City, asked $735,000 for it. Photo courtesy Driscoll Babcock Galleries.
Top quality was this Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932) 22½" x 26½" oil on canvas, An Early Snow. It’s signed in the lower left and dated 1887 and was $425,000 from Avery Galleries, New York City and Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy Avery Galleries.
At the preview Questroyal Fine Art, New York City, sold this 18 1/16" x 24 1/16" oil on canvas by Paul Cornoyer (1864-1923), A Spring Day, New York, for $145,000.
Gavin Spanierman of New York City offered a wall of nocturnes by Lockwood de Forest, most of them measuring around 10" x 14". The nocturnes, painted in Santa Barbara, were priced from $25,000 to $45,000. Spanierman had another wall of small daytime pictures, some painted in Maine and in other parts of New England, in the same range of prices. Spanierman produced an informative catalog about Lockwood de Forest when the dealer featured works by de Forest at his gallery last spring.
David Johnson (1827-1908) painted West Point from Fort Putnam. Alexander Gallery, New York City, sold the 39" x 61" oil on canvas for $4.5 million. Alexander Acevedo said it was Johnson’s masterpiece, the ultimate Hudson River school painting. Photo courtesy Alexander Gallery.
James Reinish & Associates, New York City, offered for $500,000 Boat and Grain Elevators, a 30" x 36" oil on canvas by Ralston Crawford (1906-1978) and signed lower left “Crawford.”
Thomas Colville Fine Art, New York City and Guilford, Connecticut, asked $185,000 for this oil on canvas by George Inness (1825-1894), painted in 1855.
New York City
The week after Thanksgiving, collectors, dealers, and curators in American 19th- and 20th-century paintings, from all parts of this country, convene in Manhattan in much the same way collectors, dealers, and curators of Americana come together during the last week of January. The auction previews for American art at Bonhams, Christie’s, and Sotheby’s begin on Saturday and continue until their sales days.
The American Art Fair at the Bohemian National Hall kicked off the 2012 week with a festive cocktail preview on Sunday, November 24, at 5 p.m. During the week there were lectures to attend at the American Art Fair and at the auction houses. Cocktail parties were at Christie’s on Monday and at Sotheby’s on Tuesday. On Wednesday 14 galleries hosted an event called Just Off Madison and were open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. so that those who had been to the fair and the auction houses could have another glass of wine and see what else was for sale. It was a full week, but anyone who wants a crash course in American art could come be immersed and emerge wiser about this marketplace. You could meet the players, see some first-rate paintings and sculpture in the process, and perhaps even buy a piece or two.
For the show’s fifth year, 17 dealers participated in the American Art Fair, November 25-29, 2012, and filled three floors of the Bohemian National Hall (321 East 73rd Street) with artworks from the 19th and 20th centuries. The show was displaced in 2011 from the National Academy of Design, where it was launched in 2008. This venue is preferred, allowing for more dealers and more space.
The fair was free and was well attended. Dealers reported some good sales as well as sales pending, some to museums. Before the show closed, there were red dots on paintings by Cole, Homer, Heade, Benton, Duncanson, Garber, Marin, Whorf, West, Hale, Lee-Smith, Henri, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Cornoyer, Cropsey, Kelpe, Biederman, and the list went on and on. Selling continued during the momentum weeks after the show.
The buzz was about two big pictures. First, Debra Force Fine Art sold Thomas Le Clear’s The Itinerants, a large (25¼" x 40") genre painting, said to have been painted in Brooklyn in 1862. It had been exhibited at the National Academy in New York City in 1863 before it was purchased at the North Western Sanitary Fair in Chicago. It remained in the Chicago area until it resurfaced. Full of references to the Civil War, it is a rare, relevant find in its original gilded frame. The price was not posted, but another large genre painting by Thomas Le Clear sold at DuMouchelles in Detroit, Michigan, in December 2007 for $4,387,500 and went into a private collection. The underbidder then was the Detroit Institute of Art.
Another even larger masterpiece at 39" x 61" was West Point from Fort Putnam by David Johnson. It was offered by Alexander Acevedo of Alexander Gallery for $4.5 million. It is a quintessential Hudson River school picture of a favorite view of many painters. Hanging next to it was a smaller view of the scene (28" x 40") by Robert Havell Jr., who painted West Point from Fort Putnam in 1848. It was $450,000. Next to it was the hand-colored engraving and aquatint of the same view by Havell, offered along with a drawing by Havell in preparation for the print.
That view of West Point from Fort Putnam was first painted by Thomas Cole, the father of Hudson River landscape painting, who died in 1848. About Havell’s picture, Loie Acevedo said, “It shows everything about the Hudson River—the steamships, the smoke from the railroad, the gorgeous scenery, the view of West Point, and people enjoying it—the best of life in America at the time. We have interest in it, and I hope it goes to a museum. It is such a perfect example.”
There were more landscapes from this period for sale. Jonathan Boos had a brilliant picture of ice on the Hudson by James McDougal Hart. Winter on the Hudson, 34" x 71½", was shown in its original frame with “J.M. Hart” in block letters on the bottom center of the frame. Boos said that it is Hart’s masterpiece, and Alexander Acevedo agreed. Boos asked $350,000 for it. For a smaller landscape of this period, there was a luminous gem by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872) called Lily Pond, Newport, Rhode Island at Driscoll Babcock Galleries. Only 10" x 18", it is a major painting with rich color chords—Kensett at his best, painting the light and sea air of Newport. It was $735,000.
These few pictures represent a fraction of the works on view. The fair began with the purpose of showing collectors that not all the works of great art are sold at auctions, and it achieved its goal. The American art auctions in the last five years are a fraction of the size they used to be. Auctions have shrunk in size, partly because of the huge number of private sales that auction houses are making, and partly because of the economic melt-down in 2008. One market watcher commented that American painting is now in a recovering bear market—a good time to buy.
Dealers are saying that what gets to auction are the second-tier things the major collectors were offered privately and turned down. That is not entirely true. Some very good paintings find their way to auction. Nevertheless, in the last five years since the launching of the American Art Fair, dealers (with some exceptions) have not been buying at auctions for stock, as they once did. They have managed to come up with some high-quality pictures on consignment. Some paintings come directly from the estates of artists, and sometimes the galleries buy outright from collections.
The auction houses publish their total sales, which were up significantly this year, and the dealers keep their business private. It is impossible to confirm that the trade does more business in a year than the auctions. Dealing remains a private business, and more dealers are becoming private dealers (by appointment only) and therefore no longer opening a gallery with regular hours. These dealers depend on fairs for exposure.
Those who come to American art week need five days to see it all.
The stalwarts arrive on Sunday afternoon and leave on Thursday night. That is why the dealers and auctioneers, who complain about giving up Thanksgiving weekend to get ready for the onslaught, are always talking about moving the dates to the week before Thanksgiving—but they never do. They know that American art week in New York City, like the Macy’s parade, begins the Christmas season.
The pictures and captions show some pictures that sold and some that were for sale at the American Art Fair and Just Off Madison. There was a broad range of oil paintings and watercolors, portraits, and genre pictures. There were still life paintings, plenty of landscapes, Modernist pictures, some abstract art, and some sculpture in marble, bronze, and wood. There was no contemporary art; the artists whose works are shown must be dead.
Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York City, showed this group of gouaches on paper by Albert Swinden (1901-1961). Painted in the mid-1940’s, they were priced from $22,000 to $28,000.
Jonathan Boos sold four pictures at the American Art Fair and also participated in Just Off Madison. Over a sofa he hung Providence River by Alfred Thompson Bricher (1837-1908). He asked $675,000 for the 25" x 50" oil on canvas. Showing in an apartment at 50 East 72nd Street, rather than in a gallery setting, is a good way to sell art. Boos offered works by Jacob Lawrence, Andrew Wyeth, Jerome Meyers, Harry Bertoia, and more. Just Off Madison.
Franklin Riehlman Fine Art at 24 East 73rd Street offered prints and drawings by George Bellows (not shown) and asked $18,000 for Girl with Fruit by Martha Walter (1875-1976). It’s 14" x 10". Just Off Madison.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest