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California Paintings

Alice Kaufman | November 25th, 2013

Under Surveillance, 24" x 30", oil on board, 1971, by Frank McCarthy (1924-2002) sold for $112,500 (est. $30,000/50,000) to a private collector from Texas, who had bought a Bierstadt at the Bonhams spring 2013 sale. Catalog notes said, “A porcelain plate was produced on behalf of Wells Fargo & Co. of this painting in an edition of 10,000. Plate number 1542 accompanies this lot.”

Spring, 1926, thought to be near Pasadena/La Canada, 30" x 34", is by John Frost. It sold for $269,000 (est. $150,000/250,000) to the same collectors who bought “the small Guy Rose [Spring Rain]. They buy wholeheartedly.”

Mount San Antonio (Mount Baldy), 25" x 30", by William Wendt (1865-1946) sold to a Los Angeles collector, a first-time buyer at Levitt’s sales, for $106,250 (est. $50,000/70,000).

Bonhams, Los Angeles and San Francisco

Photos courtesy Bonhams

 “The hedge fund managers aren’t interested in 19th-century American. The people who buy American paintings are solid, rational people with lots of money and good taste. They’re not buying as an investment.” That quote is from “Record Prices Mask a Tepid Market for Fine Art,” a New York Times December 7, 2013, article on the front page of the Business Day section by columnist James B. Stewart. He was quoting David Kusin, a specialist in art and investments.

Scot Levitt, who is the California and Western paintings specialist for Bonhams, agreed. As for the multimillion-dollar headline-grabbing prices paid for some contemporary paintings, Levitt felt that there is more appetite for risk than connoisseurship involved in the matter. “How can these prices be sustained?” he asked.  “There is just not that much value in contemporary art. It’s like a game of musical chairs, and at some point, someone will be left without a chair.”

At the November 25, 2013, California and Western paintings auction in Los Angeles and San Francisco, sales to a group of solid, rational people with good taste totaled $3.4 million (including buyers’ premiums). Levitt said he was “pretty happy about that. All the better things sell. Significant works by big names are what is driving the market. The market is less volatile, and the buyers are more confident.”

Speaking of big names, paintings by Guy Rose have always brought stellar prices. At this sale there were two, and the larger of them brought $665,000. How long can Levitt keep finding paintings by Guy Rose to sell? “It’s not going to last forever,” Levitt replied and added that regular consignments of Rose paintings are “the luck of the draw” and that past sales of Rose’s work “hopefully will encourage someone to consign.” There will be a Rose painting in the next Bonhams sale overseen by Levitt on April 8. It’s a “foggy coastal scene,” 18" x 22", and a consignment from the Alexandra and Sidney Sheldon collection. Levitt called Sidney Sheldon “the most-published author.” You may recall some of Sidney Sheldon’s prolific writing—blockbuster novels on top of scripts for well-known television programs.

One very positive aspect of this sale was the number of big sales to first-time or “relatively new” buyers. According to Levitt, “Collectors are still discovering that California and Western paintings are a worthwhile collectible, and they continue to discover this market.”

For more information, contact Bonhams at (323) 850-7500 or (

San Gabriel Road, circa 1914, by Guy Rose (1867-1925) sold to “a new collector to us” from the Los Angeles area for $665,000. The painting measures 24" x 29¼" and was estimated at $600,000/800,000.

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946) painted Great White Throne, Zion Canyon, Utah in August 1933. The 20" x 16" oil on canvasboard sold to a dealer from Utah for $112,500 (est. $30,000/50,000), which surprised Levitt, who called the price “a big number.”


In the Silence of the Night by William Frederick Ritschel (1864-1949), 30" x 36", was estimated at $50,000/70,000 and sold for $106,250 to a longtime private collector from Monterey.

Valley Road (25" x 30") by Maurice Braun (1877-1941) sold for $47,500 (est. $25,000/35,000) to a private collector in San Diego. “Braun is a San Diego artist, and his paintings often sell to people in San Diego.”

Mountains and Lake, Hawaii (16" x 24") by Lloyd Sexton Jr. (1912-1990) sold to a private collector from northern California for $35,000 (est. $15,000/20,000).

Pinnacle Rock (24" x 30") by Franz Arthur Bischoff (1864-1929) sold for $68,750 (est. $40,000/60,000) to the same private collector from Pasadena who bought Valley Road by Maurice Braun.

Quiet Brook (30" x 36") by William Wendt sold for $106,250 (est. $65,000/85,000) to a private collector, a “regular client” from San Diego, according to Levitt.

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

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