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American Art

Lita Solis-Cohen | May 22nd, 2013

Ludwig Bemelmans (1898-1962), Chef, watercolor and ink on paper, 13½" x 10", signed lower right and bearing estate stamp (on the reverse), sold for $7500 (est. $3000/5000).

Theodore Earl Butler (1861-1936), New York Harbor, oil on canvas, 31½" x 44",  signed and dated “T.E. Butler 1917,” sold for $86,500 (est. $40,000/60,000).

Paul Howard Manship (1885-1966), Flight of Night, inscribed “Paul Manship © 1916” on the globe and “ROMAN BRONZE WORKS N-Y” beneath the globe, bronze with brown patina, 13½" high on a 4" high marble base, sold for $116,500. Some say the figure is Artemis, the Greek goddess of the moon, while others say the figure is symbolic of the passage of time. It was cast in an edition of 20; other examples are at the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

Bonhams, New York City

Photos courtesy Bonhams

An Eastman Johnson painting of an Indian family was pictured on the cover of Bonhams’ American paintings catalog for a sale held on Wednesday afternoon, May 22. It is a rare picture that reflects Johnson’s life among the Ojibwe in northeastern Minnesota. The old man who peers out at the viewer is a Native American, but he is dressed in white settler’s clothing and smoking a pipe, showing that he has succumbed to white men’s ways. In contrast, the young child swaddled in an Indian blanket in a cradle represents the traditional life of Native Americans. The large government storehouse in the foreground nearly eclipses the traditional Ojibwe teepee where two females are shown near the teepee’s opening. Johnson’s painting foretells the future of the Ojibwe; they gave up their migratory life and wigwams and settled in reservations.

According to the catalog notes, Johnson wrote to his patron Henry Wadsworth Longfellow on June 3, 1857, from the shores of Lake Superior that he “found so much of the picturesque & of a character so much to my taste & in my line, that I determined to employ this summer or a portion of it making sketches of Frontier life.” Johnson added that his “chief desire” was to paint pictures and make sketches, and when he returned to his studio he completed a handful of pictures. This is one of those pictures; it was painted 1857-58, and it came directly from the Johnson family. Bonhams sold it for $422,500 (includes buyer’s premium); the buyer on the phone was a private collector.

A huge painting of picturesque scenery of the American West, 54" x 84", by Albert Bierstadt sold for $338,500 and would have sold for seven figures if it had not been in such compromised condition. The buyer must have a genius of a conservator and took a big chance that the painting could be restored. Bierstadt made sketches and took photographs on three trips to the West, from which he created large-scale canvases, wanting to bring this uncharted terrain to people who could not experience it themselves.

Bonhams hoped to get a six-figure price for Daniel Ridgway Knight’s La Vendange, an impressive composition of French peasants in a vineyard. The large painting, 33¾" x 43¾", with a $300,000/500,000 estimate, failed to sell.

Bonhams offered 95 lots, of which 66 sold, which is 69.5% by lot, for a total of $1,994,250, well under presale estimate. The sale reflected an uneven market and meager offerings.

Several landscapes and some sculpture performed well. George William Sotter’s Homestead at Night sold for $128,500, and Theodore Earl Butler’s New York Harbor, another Impressionist work, sold for $86,500 (est. $40,000/60,000). Walter Launt Palmer’s Path through the Snow under Golden Skies brought $56,250 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Bonhams seems to find buyers for Sargent drawings in every sale. This time the charcoal on paper of an attractive Mrs. Hardt sold for $56,250 (est. $50,000/70,000). Paul Manship’s elegant bronze Flight of Night, 13½" high, sold for $116,500 (est. $100,000/150,000). The market for sculpture remains strong.

For more information, call (212) 644-9001 or check the Web site (

Walter Launt Palmer (1854-1932), Path through the Snow under Golden Skies, oil on canvas, 30" x 18", signed lower left, sold for $56,250 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Worthington Whittredge (1820-1910), A Catskill Brook, oil on canvas, 22" x 15", signed lower left, sold for $40,000 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Albert Bierstadt, Early Snow in Yosemite Valley, Sentinel Rock, oil on canvas laid down on masonite, 54" x 84", sold for $338,500 (est. $300,000/500,000). This large painting of Yosemite was composed from sketches and photographs Bierstadt made on three trips to the West in order to show the unchartered region of America to those unable to experience it themselves. This is one of Bierstadt’s fantastical images of the West. It was in need of significant restoration, and its condition kept the price down.

Eastman Johnson (1824-1906), Indian Family, oil on canvas, 19 1/8" x 22¾", sold for $422,500 (est. $400,000/600,000). In the summer of 1857 Johnson traveled to Grand Portage, Minnesota, where he settled in with the Ojibwe at their newly created reservation. While he was there Johnson made numerous small charcoal and crayon drawings as well as oil sketches of Native Americans. Thirty-nine of them are in the St. Louis County Historical Society in Duluth, Minnesota. They were done in the field and carried back to his studio for use in future compositions. From these sketches he made several finished pictures that comment on the Ojibwe acceptance of reservation life. The painting remained in the Johnson family; it is not signed.

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Study of a Bighorn Ram, oil on canvas, 14" x 20", with initials “AB” lower left, sold for $47,500 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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