The Kentucky Arsenal by Paul Sawyier (1865-1917), oil on canvas, signed, 20" x 24" (sight), plus frame, $84,000.
Lonesome Pine Trail by Robert Burns Wilson (c. 1851-1916), watercolor on paper, signed, 22" x 10¼" (sight), plus frame, $10,200.
Shoveling Snow by Paul Sawyier (1865-1917), watercolor on paper, signed, 18" x 10½" (sight), plus frame, $30,000.
Fishing Camp by Carl Christian Brenner (1838-1888), oil on canvas, signed and dated 1879, 12" x 17" (sight), plus frame, $27,600.
Kentucky River by Paul Sawyier (1865-1917), watercolor on paper, signed, 13" x 20½" (sight) plus frame, $42,000.
Burley Ride by Paul Sawyier (1865-1917), watercolor on paper, signed, 13½" x 20" (sight), plus frame, $38,400.
Still life of fruit by Henri Fantin-Latour (French, 1836-1904), oil on board, signed, 12¼" x 15¼" (sight), plus frame, flakes, scratches, some inpainting to the background, $13,200.
Western landscape by Antanas Zemaitis (Lithuanian, 1876-1966), oil on canvas, signed and dated 1923, 24" x 33", unframed, unrestored, $25,200.
Cowan’s Auctions, Cincinnati, Ohio
Photos courtesy Cowan’s Auctions
If this was a test, give the auction market an A+.
Cowan’s Auctions made the grade during its fine and decorative art sale held March 9 in Cincinnati. The exam came midway through the day when six Kentucky paintings from the Humphreys-Rayburn collection were offered.
Jane G. and Robert E. Humphreys of Owensboro, Kentucky, originated the collection in the 1960’s. The paintings were eventually passed down to their daughter Rebecca and her husband, Jay Rayburn, of Tallahassee, Florida. The works were shown in exhibits at the Kentucky governor’s mansion in Frankfort, the Northern Kentucky University W. Frank Steely Library, the Owensboro Museum of Fine Art, and the University of Kentucky Art Museum.
The auction house described the collection as “[p]erhaps the most celebrated assemblage of works by Kentucky artists in private hands.” The six paintings selected for the sale consisted of four works by Paul Sawyier (1865-1917) and one each by Carl Christian Brenner (1838-1888) and Robert Burns Wilson (c. 1851-1916).
Graydon Sikes, Cowan’s director of paintings and prints, was apprehensive going into the sale, not because of the quality of the artwork, but because of reserves placed on those pieces. “I was worried that the paintings wouldn’t sell,” he said. “They were all reserved pretty close to their low estimates.”
His anxiety, it turned out, was unfounded. Floor bidding pushed against interest from the Internet, resulting in all six paintings selling, two for auction records. Setting new marks were Sawyier’s The Kentucky Arsenal, a bird’s-eye view of Frankfort, Kentucky, oil on canvas, 20" x 24", at $84,000 (est. $50,000/75,000), and Brenner’s Fishing Camp, depicting a scene of a cabin near a riverbank with a figure in a rowboat at the water’s edge, oil on canvas, dated 1879, 12" x 17", at $27,600 (est. $5000/7000). Both pieces sold on the floor to buyers from the Cincinnati/Kentucky region. (All prices include buyer’s premium.)
The Kentucky Arsenal was prized, in part, because it was executed in oil rather than watercolor, the latter being Sawyier’s preferred medium. The work had a loose, impressionistic look, reflective of Sawyier’s later paintings. According to the auction house, the artist is believed to have created the scene from memory.
The other three Sawyiers from the collection were Kentucky River, showing the waterway passing by a rock wall, watercolor on paper, 13" x 20½", that sold for $42,000 (est. $20,000/30,000); Burley Ride, an image of tobacco being transported on the river, watercolor on paper, 13½" x 20", at $38,400 (est. $20,000/30,000); and Shoveling Snow, depicting a stoop-shouldered man in front of the old Capital Hotel, watercolor on paper, 18" x 10½", at $30,000 (est. $20,000/30,000). The final piece from the collection was Wilson’s Lonesome Pine Trail, a landscape of pine trees in a forested region, watercolor on paper, 22" x 10¼", that realized $10,200 (est. $3000/5000).
The Sawyier record made the day special. “It’s a big one for us because he’s a regional artist,” said Sikes.
“The majority of the heavy bidding was on the floor,” Sikes added. “You just don’t see that anymore. We were really, really excited. We’ve kind of solidified our position as the place to sell Kentucky artists.”
It wasn’t just art from the Bluegrass State that made the A-list. There was also an American Western landscape by Antanas Zemaitis (Lithuanian, 1876-1966), oil on canvas, dated 1923, 24" x 33", unframed and unrestored, that brought $25,200 (est. $3000/5000). “We’ve sold basically the only two of his paintings that have come to auction market,” Sikes noted. In February 2012 Cowan’s handled a 1923 landscape by Zemaitis that realized $16,800. The two paintings came from different consignors in the Chicago area.
Several folk art paintings and Hudson River landscapes also did well. A portrait of John McClellan as a West Point cadet, circa 1826, in as-found condition, brought $6000. McClellan later won accolades during the Mexican War. A South Carolina watercolor and ink drawing having figures and a bawdy verse, dated 1805, was $5700. A Hudson River school landscape by George Lafayette Clough (1824/5-1901), oil on canvas, 13½" x 17½", depicting figures in a wooded setting, made $7800.
The sale also did well in other categories. “For the entire auction we achieved much more than we expected,” said Sikes.
Highlights included a Chippendale mahogany drop-leaf table made in Newport, Rhode Island, 1750-70, that realized $45,000. The table came from a Cincinnati home where it had been stored in the basement for more than 20 years. Bringing $36,000 was a Regina bowfront upright music box from the late 1800’s, the mahogany case having a stained and leaded glass door. Thirty 15½" discs were included in the lot.
An 1827 sampler made by Sally T. Schencks of Warren County, Ohio, topped at $11,400. The schoolgirl needlework had a floral border, rows of alphabets and numbers, and a symmetrical building flanked by trees, with the verse “Through all the changeing [sic] scenes of life/ in trouble or in joy/ Oh may the praises of my God/ My heart and tongue imploy [sic].” A carved and painted trade sign depicting a spread-wing eagle with American flags and a banner, signed “James T. Howard” and stenciled “F.W. Woolworth & Co./ Chicago,” dated 1893, said to have come from the demolition sale of a Woolworth store, sold for $9600.
The auction grossed more than $972,000. Wes Cowan, the company’s president, was pleased. “I thought it was an exceptionally strong sale and very encouraging,” he said. “Prices were strong across the board, and that includes furniture, which we were very pleased about.”
However, he remained cautious as he looked forward. “Does that mean prices are coming back? I think it’s too early to tell about that,” Cowan added.
For more information, phone Cowan’s at (513) 871-1670 or visit (www.cowanauctions.com).
Chippendale mahogany drop-leaf table, Newport, Rhode Island, 1750-70, with regluing, some reset screws, and losses to two talons, and missing three corner blocks and one glue block, $45,000.
Regina bowfront upright music box, late 19th century, mahogany case, carved crest with clock, stained and leaded glass front door, 69" high x 26½" wide, cleaned and in working order, with 30 discs, $36,000.
Originally published in the June 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest