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American Paintings Auction (Freeman’s)

Lita Solis-Cohen | June 9th, 2013


George Sotter (1879-1953), Covered Bridge, Winter, signed bottom right, oil on canvas, 22" x 26", $122,500 (est. $50,000/80,000) to someone who left a bid with the auctioneer.


Frederick R. Wagner (1861-1940), Steel Mills Pittsburgh, signed bottom left, oil on canvas, 56" x 68", $46,875 (est. $20,000/30,000) to a buyer in the room, underbid by a phone bidder.


Bought by Forbes in 1968 at Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York City, Walter Stuempfig’s The Basket, a 30¼" x 25" oil on canvas, sold for $3750 (est. $2000/3000) to a collector in the salesroom.


Walter Stuempfig, High Tide—Hot Day, signed middle left, oil on canvas, 30" x 26", $12,500 (est. $2500/4000) to a collector on the phone.


Six phone bidders and bidders in the salesroom competed for this 28¾" x 36¼" signed oil on canvas by Theresa Ferber Bernstein (1890-2002), Warming Up the Audience. Estimated at $12,000/18,000, it sold on the phone for $31,250.


William Trost Richards (1833-1905), Dunes, signed bottom right, oil on board, 9¾" x 19¾", $10,625 (est. $6000/10,000) to a phone bidder.


Dusk over Gloucester Harbor by George William Sotter (1879-1953), a 26¼" x 32" oil on canvas, signed bottom right, sold on the phone for $43,750 (est. $25,000/40,000) despite a hole in it and some slashes, which conservators say can be easily fixed.


Harry Leith-Ross (1886-1973), The Neshaminy, signed bottom right, signed and titled on the back, oil on canvas, 22" x 32", $29,440 (est. $10,000/15,000).

Freeman’s, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photos courtesy Freeman’s

When Freeman’s announced that 59 paintings by Walter Stuempfig from the collection of the Forbes family would be sold all at one time at its June 9 American art and Pennsylvania Impressionists auction in Philadelphia, many wondered if all of them would find buyers.

Walter Stuempfig was well known in Philadelphia. He taught at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and was a regular exhibitor at academy shows. Even though several New York City galleries carried his work, he was not very well known outside the Philadelphia region.

Malcolm Forbes liked his work and collected it. “He was one of Pop’s favorite contemporary artists of the time,” writes Christopher Forbes in the introduction to Freeman’s catalog, explaining that Stuempfig’s landscapes, still lifes, and figural works evoke a sense of loneliness.

Malcolm Forbes bought his first Stuempfig from Maynard Walker through Durlacher Brothers in New York City, but eventually he began buying directly from the artist. When Christopher Forbes was made curator of the Forbes magazine collection while still an undergraduate at Princeton, one of the first things he did was to write to Walter Stuempfig for further details on the 28 works already in the collection. The younger Forbes added to the collection over the years.

At sale time, Freeman’s first-floor gallery was crowded; some of those bidding said they wanted to own something from the Forbes collection. All the pictures were visible on the salesroom walls, so bidders could take another look at them during the auction. All but seven of the 59 Stuempfig paintings sold.

The Woodmere Art Museum in the Chestnut Hill area of Philadelphia bought three of them, including Stuemp-
fig’s monumental (80" x 40") Wood’s Quarry (est. $12,000/18,000), an oil on canvas with six male figures that fetched $15,000 (including buyer’s premium). Woodmere has a mission to collect the work of artists who worked within a 50-mile radius; its Victorian museum building hosts first-rate changing exhibitions and provides studio classes for the community.

Of the 212 artworks offered at Freeman’s, 180 sold (84.9% by lot) for a sale total of $1,328,042. The top lot was George Sotter’s Covered Bridge, Winter, a 22" x 26" oil that sold on the phone for $122,500. (It has a strikingly similar atmosphere as another Sotter nocturne of the same size, Homestead at Night, that sold for $128,500 on May 22 at Bonhams in New York City.)

A fine Thomas Birch View on the Delaware River, signed and dated 1827, sold to a local collector for $50,000 (est. $40,000/60,000), and the same buyer on the phone paid $9375 for View Toward Philadelphia from Roxborough, 1870 by Edmund Darch Lewis (est. $8000/12,000) and $5937.50 for Early Moonrise Great Egg Harbor Shoals by Franklin Dullin Briscoe (est. $1500/2500). Apparently a collector of Philadelphia views, he also bought five Stuempfigs, including City Park at Nightfall, a picture of Laurel Hill Cemetery, for $2625 (est. $2500/4000); Marshland, with a view of Philadelphia in the background, for $4687.50 (est. $3000/5000); Conshohocken, a view of the Pennsylvania town, for $3125 (est. $2500/4000); Figure among Derelict Buildings for $3625 (est. $1000/1500); and High Tide—Hot Day, probably of the New Jersey shore, for $12,500 (est. $2500/4000).

The market for works by Pennsylvania Impressionist artists was strong. A phone bidder, probably a dealer, made sure that there were no bargains, buying a dozen of the 47 Pennsylvania Impressionist pictures offered. The Sotter nocturne, the sale’s top lot at $122,500, went to a collector, as did several paintings by Bucks County Impressionists that sold for more than $40,000, making it the strongest section of the sale.

Some charming sketches surpassed their estimates. After the Show by Paulette Van Roekens, a 12" x 22" oil sketch on canvas, sold for $11,250 (est. $5000/8000). A collector paid $7500 for a 24" x 25" study in oil of a female nude by Hugh Henry Breckenridge (est. $6000/10,000), and a 10" x 14" Charles Demuth watercolor on paper laid on card of a seashore scene with tiny sailboats, an uncharacteristic subject for the artist, went at $20,000 (est. $6000/10,000) to an agent in the room.

This was Freeman’s first stand-alone auction of American art and Pennsylvania Impressionist art. Generally Freeman’s pairs American art with European paintings in one catalog, but this year it sold European art and old masters art two weeks later.

Alasdair Nichol, head of paintings at Freeman’s, was pleased with the results. Of the 47 Pennsylvania Impressionist artworks offered, 40 sold for a total of $702,951, more than half the sale total. “Freeman’s has been selling Pennsylvania Impressionists dating back to the time when the artists were still alive and working,” said Nichol. “We hold records for works by Fern Coppedge, Kenneth Nunamaker, Roy Nuse, and Antonio Martino, and we were pleased at the number of consignments for this inaugural sale.”

Beau Freeman, chairman of Freeman’s, said he was pleased to see Walter Stuempfig’s works sell well in his hometown. “Bidders knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said.

For more information, contact Freeman’s at (215) 563-9275; Web site (www.freemansauction.com).


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

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