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American Art

Lita Solis-Cohen | December 4th, 2013

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) painted Girl Choosing Hat in 1931. The 38½" x 30" oil on canvas sold in the salesroom to Judy Goffman Cutler, a New York City dealer and cofounder and director of the National Museum of American Illustration, for $1,205,000 (est. $400,000/600,000), underbid on the phone. The painting was done for the Saturday Evening Post cover for the January 31, 1931, issue. The painting had been a gift from the artist to his nephew John Rockwell, who lived in Denver, and descended in John Rockwell’s family. “I love the painting,” said Judy Cutler. “It will be a good addition to the museum’s collection.”

This 12" x 16" painting by Grandma Moses (1860-1961), Plowing, sold to an absentee bidder for $68,750 (est. $12,000/18,000). Bonhams had offered it a year earlier at double the estimate, and it did not sell. With the estimate cut in half, there was good competition, and it sold for four times its estimate in a strong Grandma Moses market.

Henry Bacon (1839-1912) signed Arriving at New York Harbor “Henry Bacon, Paris” (on lower left). The 9¾" x 6¾" oil on panel sold in the salesroom for $18,750 (est. $4000/6000). The Statue of Liberty in the background gave it great appeal to New Yorkers.

This amusing 44" x 33¾" study for The Facts of Life by Norman Rockwell sold on the phone to a collector for $941,000 (est. $300,000/400,000). This, his last study for the cover of the July 15, 1951, issue of the Saturday Evening Post, is different from the published work, which omits the wallpaper printed with the busy design of strutting hens, roosters, and baby chicks.

Bonhams, New York City

Photos courtesy Bonhams

Girl Choosing Hat, Norman Rockwell’s painting for the cover of the January 31, 1931, Saturday Evening Post, sold at Bonhams in New York City on December 4, 2013, for $1,205,000 (including buyer’s premium) to Judy Goffman Cutler, a dealer and the director and cofounder of the National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island.

 “It was painted at the start of Rockwell’s most fruitful years at the magazine and will be a good addition to the museum’s collection,” she said. “The beautiful young girl choosing a hat in anticipation of a costume ball and the concern of the older lady, her grandmother or the seamstress, is typical Rockwell. He often contrasted youth and age and always expressed broad human values. The fabrics are brilliantly painted. The contrasts of textures are exceptional.”

This Rockwell came from the artist’s family. It was a gift to his nephew John Rockwell, who lived in Denver, and descendants sent it to Bonhams for sale. The sale of this cover illustration just hours after $46 million was paid at Sotheby’s for Saying Grace, another Post cover, demonstrates the range of prices in the market for Rockwell, the best-performing artist in the December round of American paintings sales. The other Rockwell painting at this Bonhams sale was a study for The Facts of Life, the cover of the July 15, 1951, issue of the Saturday Evening Post, which sold for $941,000 (est. $300,000/400,000) to a collector on the phone. The finished cover substituted a plain white background for the busy hen and chicken wallpaper.

 Illustration art boosted the sale total for Bonhams to about $5.2 million, well over presale estimates of $3,058,000/4,582,000. Of the 123 lots offered, 99 lots sold for an 81% sold rate (95% by value). The salesroom was crowded, and people stayed until the end of the sale. Kayla Carlsen, American art specialist and head of sale, said, “We saw a tremendous number of private buyers who bid aggressively, and twenty percent of them were new clients for Bonhams.”

American Impressionists sold well. Works by Abbott Fuller Graves were embraced. The charming Rowing to Picnic Rock by Graves sold for $197,000 (est. $70,000/100,000). A large flower picture by Graves, In Bloom, painted in Kennebunkport, Maine, sold for $185,000 (est. $100,000/150,000).

Sculpture was well received. A collection of bronze bookends provoked competitive bidding. Pushing Men by Harriet Whitney Frishmuth (1880-1980), stamped “Gorham Co. Founders QLR,” sold for $16,250 (est. $4000/6000). Bookends by Charles Henry Humphriss, Indian Chiefs, brought $30,000 (est. $4000/6000). A large (66" tall) marble sculpture, Undine Receiving Her Soul, by Chauncey Bradley Ives sold for $87,500 (est. $40,000/60,000). A fine cast of Stalking Panther by Alexander Phimister Proctor brought $60,000 (est. $12,000/18,000), which may be a record for this cast.

The Ideal Christ by Hiram Powers, an idealized bust of the Savior, 31" high, sold for $137,000 (est. $80,000/120,000). It has a fascinating history. It is the only surviving marble version known from an edition of three replicas produced in Rome during the 1860’s and early 1870’s. This bust had sold at Bonhams in London on April 15, 2008, for £240,000 ($395,093), a record for the artist at auction. Carlsen said the buyer this time had been one of the underbidders at the London sale.

The first owner of this sculpture was Thomas Keay Tapling (1855-1891), who bought it in Rome in 1873, when he was a 17-year-old student. He became a politician, businessman, and philatelist and died at the age of 35, leaving the bust to his sister. Tapling’s stamp collection is now at the British Library. Original plaster casts of Powers’s original clay models of Christ are at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.

“The consignor was well aware that he would not get what he paid for it five years ago,” said Carlsen, who was right on with her presale estimates.

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Chauncey Foster Ryder (1868-1949) signed Hillside with Trees “Chauncey F. Ryder” (on lower left). The 24" x 20" oil on canvas sold for $15,000 (est. $6000/8000) to the trade.

Richard Schmid (b. 1934) signed Minnesota Farmhouse with “Schmid” (lower right) and “1987” and inscribed the title and “#2183” on the stretcher. The 18" x 16" oil on canvas sold on the phone for $30,000 (est. $8000/12,000).

Hiram Powers (1805-1873) created The Ideal Christ based on an ancient Italian crucifix owned by Charles E. Lester. Powers made three replicas of the head late in his life. This is the lone known survivor. The 31" tall marble is signed “H. POWERS sculp 1871” (on the reverse). It sold on the phone for $137,000 (est. $80,000/120,000). Kayla Carlsen, specialist at Bonhams, said the buyer in New York had been one of the underbidders when Bonhams sold this sculpture in London on April 15, 2008, for £240,000 ($395,093), an auction record price for a work by Powers.

Two original plaster working casts, made from Powers’s clay originals, with their bronze pointing pins, dating from 1864 and 1868, and another fragmentary plaster are now in the permanent collection of Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. The whereabouts of two other marble replicas are unknown. They were carved in marble by Ambuchi on order from two American collectors, William H. Aspinwall of New York City and Joshua H. Wolcott of Boston. Research done at Bonhams in London identified this example, which is slightly larger in size, as the third replica. Powers owned a cast reproduction of the crucifix owned by Charles Lester, who exhibited his sculpture throughout the United States in the early 1860’s. The fact that he based his Ideal Christ on Christ’s head on the antique crucifix is documented in a letter quoted in the London catalog.

According to the catalog, Thomas Keay Tapling (1855-1891), a young wealthy student of 17, had bought it from the artist’s studio in Rome in June 1873. Tapling, an avid philatelist and cricketer, went on to become a member of Parliament while he ran his wealthy family’s carpet and furniture business. His ground-breaking stamp collection is now at the British Library. When he died, the sculpture passed to his sister.

These bookends are by Charles Henry Humphriss (1867-1934) and are titled Indian Chiefs. Each is inscribed “Chs. H. Humphriss” on its base. One is inscribed “ROMAN BRONZE WORKS, N.Y.” on the bottom. They are bronze with a brown patina and 9¼" tall. They sold for $30,000 (est. $4000/6000).

Abbott Fuller Graves (1859-1936) signed Rowing to Picnic Rock on the lower left. The 32" x 46" circa 1900 painting sold for $197,000 (est. $70,000/100,000).

Alexander Phimister Proctor (1862-1950) inscribed Stalking Panther “A. PHIMISTER PROCTOR 1891-1892” and “COPYRIGHT” (on the base). The 10" x 37" bronze with greenish brown patina is also stamped “O.B. 1746/ C. No 35” (underneath the base). It sold in the salesroom for $60,000 (est. $12,000/18,000).

Originally published in the April 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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