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Middle Market Reasserts Its Presence

Jeanne Schinto | October 24th, 2013

Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942), Far Away Thoughts, 22" x 18", oil on canvas, $192,000 (est. $120,000/ 180,000).

Signed and dated 1951, Lavanderas by Filipino artist Fernando Cueto Amorsolo (1892-1972), a 30" x 24" oil on canvas, came from a private Florida collection and went to an international phone bidder at $60,000.

Laurence A. Campbell (born 1939), View from Union Square (Broadway), 16" x 12", oil on Masonite, $18,000 (est. $7000/10,000). “By the square inch, it’s right up there as one of his top prices,” said Gene Shannon.

Shannon’s offered two 36" x 29" oils on canvas of Niagara Falls by Ferdinand (Joachim) Richardt (1819-1895). A View of Niagara Falls (left) sold for $66,000 (est. $30,000/50,000), and Cloudy Day, Niagara Falls (right) sold for $19,200 (est. $20,000/30,000)

Two gouaches by Jane Peterson (1876-1965), each signed, titled, and dated 1916 on the reverse, came from a collection in the West. The Ghetto, New York (top), 18" x 24", sold for $24,000, while Mott Street (bottom), 14" x 18", sold for $28,800. “When we first got them in, we thought they were Paris,” Gene Shannon said. “But then we were looking at that bridge”—in the background of Mott Street. “And when we opened them up, there were the titles, all in her handwriting.”

Emil Carlsen (1848-1932), Full Tide Coast of Maine, 30" x 35", oil on canvas, $36,000 (est. $20,000/30,000).

We’re partial to industrial scenes, and Shannon’s had a great one by Aaron Henry Gorson (1872-1933) in this sale. Pittsburgh Steel Mills, Evening, a 29½" x 24¼" oil on board, exceeded its $20,000/30,000 estimate to bring $36,000 from a private collector.

Michael Goldberg (1924-2007), untitled, 10 7/8" x 13 7/8", oil on paper, $50,400 (est. $5000/7000).

Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers, Milford, Connecticut

Photos courtesy Shannon’s

“Overall, I would say that the middle market is back,” said Gene Shannon of Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers after his semiannual sale in Milford, Connecticut, on October 24, 2013. “Of course, we need to define ‘middle,’” he acknowledged.

For him, that falls between $10,000 and $50,000, and according to his calculations, nearly 70 artworks out of a total of 300 offered got sold in that range. “And under ten thousand dollars, we sold a pile! That really is a vote for the lower middle. Any news like that is good for the whole market.”

Shannon said he’d had some action at his previous sale, in April, that foreshadowed this outcome. “So we’re very happy that it’s there for us.”

Depictions of New York City by Jane Peterson, Guy Wiggins, Laurence A. Campbell, and Benjamin Chamberlain were among those middle-range lots, as were a landscape by Guy’s father, J. Carleton Wiggins, and one by Sanford Gifford. Seascapes by Emil Carlsen and Jack Lorimer Gray, along with ship portraits by James Buttersworth and Antonio Jacobsen, also fell within that range, as did Cape Ann school works by Frederick Mulhaupt, Max Kuehne, Emile Gruppé, and Aldro T. Hibbard. The same goes for screen prints by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein; a garden party oil on canvas by Marguerite Pearson; a sweet portrait of children playing on a hillside by Lee Lufkin Kaula; and genre scenes by Seymour Joseph Guy and Conrad Wise Chapman.

“It was nice to see genre paintings sell,” said Shannon. In the recent past, “unless it was an Eastman Johnson, they weren’t buying.”

As many as 40 works came from one client, and most of those were middle-market examples. They included the Carlsen seascape, a Carlsen still life that was as much about light as about the flowers, and landscapes by Dwight William Tryon and Charles Warren Eaton.

At the high end of the market, two paintings went at six-figure prices. One that Shannon had sold for $136,800 in April 2007 fetched even more this time, making it the sale’s top lot at $192,000 (including buyer’s premium). The picture was Charles Courtney Curran’s Far Away Thoughts, an oil on canvas of two female figures dressed in diaphanous white and posed on a scenic overlook in Cragsmoor, Ulster County, New York. One of the figures is Dorothea Storey, an art student and favorite model of Curran; the other is the artist’s 12-year-old daughter Emily.

“It’s one of Curran’s top five or six images that have been auctioned,” said Shannon, who identified both buyer and seller as private collectors. “These things come out for whatever reasons. Strangely enough, the man who bought it has been buying Modernism from us for the last few years. He said it just grabbed him, and he could not let go of it.”

An example of Franz Kline’s work, an untitled 1957 oil on paper with collage, went overestimate too. A small work, just 8½" x 10 7/8", it sold for $120,000 to a broker.

Not much larger than the Kline, an untitled Abstract Expressionist oil on paper by Michael Goldberg provoked a genuine bidding war among phones, people in the audience, and the Internet. The outcome was a price of $50,400, ten times the low estimate. “I have sold him before,” said Shannon. “It’s hard for the layman to rate ‘good, better, best’ with Abstract Expressionism. People who know obviously rated this as ‘best.’ It’s easier when you’re looking at something like the Niagara paintings.”

He was referring to two somewhat similar 19th-century oil on canvas views of Niagara Falls by Ferdinand Richardt that sold for $66,000 and $19,200, respectively. Each was 36" x 29" and had been hanging for decades in the Niagara Club of Niagara Falls, New York, a private men’s club founded in 1902. One of the paintings had a plaque commemorating its presentation to the club in 1917. “I was told that if you looked at the paintings at the club, then turned to look out the window, the same scene was right there,” said Shannon. The club dissolved a few years ago, and the paintings were sold to the private collector who consigned them.

The Danish-born Richardt painted numerous Niagara Falls landscapes. A panoramic example from 1856 was chosen to be the backdrop in National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol during the luncheon on the second inauguration day of Barack Obama. It was borrowed from the U.S. Department of State’s collection.

What exactly made the radical price difference between the two at this sale? “The one we used for the cover lot”— A View of Niagara Falls —“was a total, full winner of a painting,” said Shannon. “It was a nine point eight for the artist. Everything was crystal clear. The paint was layered. The glazes were fresh.” And it depicted “just a really great day.” Underbid by a major museum, it went to another major museum, said Shannon.

As for the other one, showing the same relative perspective on the great natural wonder, it was “painted thinly,” Shannon said. Cloudy Day, Niagara Falls depicts darker weather, and as a result, “the water didn’t jump, the mist was not translucent.” It was bought by a private collector.

The painting with the highest estimate, $200,000/300,000, was a 19th-century trompe l’oeil style oil on panel still life by William Harnett, consigned by a Michigan collection that observers surmised to be Richard Manoogian’s. For many years a ravenous collector for both his private and corporate collections, he is looking to sell, we have heard from two sources. Nevertheless, Dutch Jar and a Bust of Dante, 1885, did not find a buyer. Shannon said he believes its problem was that the props were largely European, not American. In addition, he noted that elements in the composition may produce a sense of unease in viewers. Several items in the picture are set at precarious angles, such as a pewter candlestick that seems about to fall over. “It did not inspire tranquility,” the auctioneer said.

John Frederick Peto’s Still Life with Pipe, from the same Michigan collection, sold for $13,200 (est. $12,000/18,000). Shannon had sold the poor man’s Harnett, a 6½" x 9" oil on board, to the consignor in April 2009 for $22,800.

As usual, Shannon sold to phone bidders far and wide. This time, he also sold to a neighbor. A collector in Milford paid $20,400 for one of the two New York City scenes by Wiggins.

At the sale’s end came a section of vintage frames that did well; two by Stanford White went at $5700 and $3000, each estimated at $1200/1800. Also, a couple of oak painting easels sold above their estimates for $1320 and $1440. “It’s very hard to find working artists’ easels,” said Shannon. “One buyer was a doctor who paints. Another was a gallery owner.”

For more information on the sale, which achieved a total of $2.4 million, contact Shannon’s at (203) 877-1711; Web site (

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

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