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Rock Solid Results for Rockwell and Others

Jeanne Schinto | February 7th, 2014


Paris Theater by Everett Shinn (1876-1953) sold on the phone to a Connecticut dealer for $231,000 (est. $50,000/70,000). The 20¼" x 24" oil on canvas is in a Newcomb-Macklin frame. Schinto photo.


Park Promenade with Bridge by Lesser Ury (German, 1861-1931) sold on the phone for $79,950 (est. $20,000/ 30,000). The 13 7/8" x 19 3/8" pastel on paperboard came from a New Jersey estate. The pastel is headed back to Germany.


Young Love: Walking to School by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was done in 1949 in watercolor, ink, and graphite on paper (sheet size 23¼" x 21½"). It sold for $183,000 (est. $50,000/70,000).


Norman Rockwell’s study for The Fireman is charcoal on paper (sight size 36" x 30") and brought $104,550 (est. $30,000/50,000).


Sparse, well-chosen lines by Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923) and we have Locust (Acacia). The 1965-66 transfer lithograph on paper (image size 13¾" x 27 1/8") is from an edition of 75 plus proofs. Numbered 34/75, this copy sold to a phone bidder for $7380 (est. $1500/2000).


The buyer of John Joseph Enneking’s Scituate picture, a private Ohio collector, also bought that artist’s Trout Brook, North Newry, Maine. The 24" x 30" oil on canvas in a Foster Brothers frame had been exhibited at Poland Spring, Maine, circa 1912. Its price was $30,750 (est. $7000/9000).


Charles Courtney Curran (1861-1942), The Cabbage Field, 30" x 30 3/16", oil on canvas, $86,100 (est. $40,000/60,000). Schinto photos.


Alexander Calder (1898-1976), Red Circus Horse, signed and dated “Calder 71,” gouache on wove paper (sheet size 29 7/16" x 43 3/16"), $135,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). Schinto photo.


Emile Albert Gruppé (1896-1978), Morning, Gloucester, 1950, 30" x 25", oil on canvas, $10,455 (est. $4000/6000). Schinto photo.


Winter’s Jewels, Frederick Mulhaupt (1871-1938), 36" x 36", oil on canvas, $49,200 (est. $25,000/35,000). Schinto photo.

Skinner, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Photos courtesy Skinner

Everett Shinn’s Paris Theater, a stop-action scene of a can-can show in the French capital, was the top lot of Skinner’s fine art sale in Boston on February 7. The 1940 oil on canvas shows the long legs and ruffled skirts of a footlighted dancer against an aquamarine backdrop. Glamorous patrons in feathered hats are silhouetted in the darkness of the foreground. Signed, dated, and inscribed “Property of Art Students League 245,” the American realist’s painting, reminiscent of images of the ballet by Degas, came to the sale from a private New England collection. Estimated at $50,000/ 70,000, the 20¼" x 24" picture went to a phone bidder for $231,000 (including buyer’s premium).

There were strong results for several other 20th-century American artworks over the course of this nine-hour sale that was dominated by bidders either on phone lines or the Internet. Paintings by Russians, Germans, and a Singaporean artist did well too, but the day was carried by the home team.

It wasn’t long ago that Norman Rockwell was regularly dismissed as a mere illustrator. One doesn’t hear that assessment very often anymore, especially not since prices for his work have soared, most recently at the American art sales in New York City last December. At Skinner, two items by Rockwell went on the block, and bidders paid six figures for each of them.

Young Love: Walking to School, a 23¼" x 21½" watercolor, ink, and graphite by Rockwell, fetched $183,000 (est. $50,000/70,000). The phone bidder was a Pennsylvania-based collector/ dealer, said Skinner’s Kathy Wong. Signed and inscribed “AUTUMN/ 1949,” the picture was painted for reproduction in a four-season calendar. The depiction of a schoolgirl and boy—him carrying her books and her with a flower bouquet, both eyed forlornly by the dog left behind—had sold previously at Christie’s in New York City on May 23, 1990, for $46,200.

The other Rockwell, a 36" x 30" (sight size) charcoal on paper study for a portrait called The Fireman, brought $104,550 (est. $30,000/50,000). A private collector in Florida was the winning phone bidder on that one, said Wong. The finished work is a closeup of a firefighter’s visage. He is looking appalled by an untended trompe-l’oeil cigar smoking on a ledge below the picture’s frame. The image appeared on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 27, 1944. Once owned by Gordon Swan, fire chief of Arlington, Vermont, this preliminary work was previously sold at a Skinner sale on May 21, 1981, for $6600. It came to this sale from a private Massachusetts collection.

A little over two weeks later, on February 23, by complete coincidence, Grogan & Company offered The Fireman, a 14" x 11" oil study of the same magazine cover, at its sale in Dedham, Massachusetts. “Given the prices that Rockwell has been achieving, everybody’s thinking about him right now,” said Robin S.R. Starr, fine art department director for Skinner. Still, that was quite a “bizarre” fluke, said Starr, who described herself doing “a double take” when she saw a Grogan magazine ad for the piece. A gift from the artist to the sitter, Howard Lewis (not a fireman, but an employee of a publishing house), the Grogan sale’s study by Rockwell descended in the sitter’s family. Estimated at $50,000/100,000, it brought $216,000. (A full report on that auction appears on p. 3-C.) The finished 33" x 26½" oil on canvas painting of The Fireman is in a private collection.

A study of a different sort—a maquette for an altar screen that Harry Bertoia (1915-1978) designed in the 1950s for the Kresge Chapel at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)—sold on a phone bid to private Massachusetts collectors for $86,100 (est. $70,000/90,000). The Kresge Chapel was designed in 1955 by Eero Saarinen, Bertoia’s friend and colleague from Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. The actual floor-to-ceiling screen, nearly 50' tall, is suspended from an oculus. It consists of multiple thin rods of metal interspersed with numerous gilded metal rectangular sheets, placed at various angles and spacings, that shimmer in the changing light. The effect is that of a shower of gold leading up to or coming from the heavens. The welded, painted, and gilt metal model, just 2' tall, came from the collection of Robert Bradford Newman (1917-1983).

Newman, a professor of architectural acoustics at MIT and at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, was also a principal at Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Cambridge, Massachusetts. The firm designed the acoustics for the chapel and for MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, as well as for such spaces as the United Nations Assembly Hall, Tanglewood’s Koussevitsky Music Shed, and Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Today, known as BBN Technologies, it is a subsidiary of Raytheon.

Going for the same price as the Bertoia maquette ($86,100) was Charles Courtney Curran’s The Cabbage Field (est. $40,000/60,000). A typically beautiful Curran woman (an idealized farmworker) is depicted in profile while standing in a sea of cabbages. Wearing a long blue dress and windswept apron, she clutches one of the big blue-green cruciferous heads to her chest. The 30" x 30 3/16" oil on canvas, signed and dated 1914, had previously been sold by both Sotheby’s and Christie’s. At the former, on June 4, 1982, it made $26,400. At the latter, on December 4, 1992, the price was $38,500. The Cabbage Field’s new owner, who bid on the phone, is a Texas-based private collector.

Alexander Calder’s Red Circus Horse, a big (sheet size 29 7/16" x 43 3/16"), bright, bold gouache on wove paper, sold to a London dealer on the phone at $135,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). Calder signed and dated it “Calder 71” and also inscribed it “...Perls....,” signifying Perls Gallery, 1937-97, New York City, which mounted a career-making Calder retrospective in the same year that Red Circus Horse was created.

As many readers may know, Klaus G. Perls (1912-2008), who represented Calder from 1954 until the artist’s death, was the subject of a 2010 lawsuit by the Calder Foundation. The suit alleged that Perls surreptitiously held on to hundreds of Calder’s works and swindled the artist’s estate out of tens of millions of dollars. He was also said to have sold fake Calders. In December 2013, the suit was dismissed; according to press reports, an appeal is anticipated. This work is registered with the Calder Foundation; its Perls inscription is a reminder of happier days.

Skinner fine art sales always offer a variety of regional New England works. At this one, Frederick Mulhaupt’s Winter’s Jewels was among the very best. The 36" x 36" oil on canvas shows a woodland with a running brook and sunlight hitting the trees, making long shadows in the snow. The picture sold to a phone bidder for $49,200 (est. $25,000/35,000).

The sale as a whole achieved $2,645,012 on the 555 lots that were offered, of which about 81% sold. “We were thrilled,” said Robin Starr to sum it up. “As I’m sure you’re aware, the trend is, things that are estimated reasonably, are fresh, and of really great quality are doing tremendously well. Overall, it’s what we’ve been seeing for the last couple of years: the great things command great prices. People are just not willing to spend their money on the merely decorative. They’re saving for the really terrific. I think it’s especially true for modern and contemporary, where everything seems to be going these days.”

In addition to the live sale, there was something new during the week of February 3-11. Skinner offered a selection of prints and photographs on line only. Item estimates were mostly in three figures, and that’s what the majority of them had achieved by the end. For example, a Frank Weston Benson etching, Canada Goose, sold for $923 (est. $300/500); a Stow Wengenroth lithograph, Serenity, made $1046 (est. $250/300); and a Käthe Kollwitz drypoint, Vier Männer in der Kneipe, fetched $492 (est. $300/500).

“We’ve been working to make sure that the live sales get stronger and stronger and yet at the same time we’d like to offer ‘beginner’ material,” said Starr. On-line sales are especially well suited to prints and multiples, she added, because bidders who don’t preview the lots can know more or less what they’re getting. With unique artworks they may wonder about such things as whether the color values on their computer screen are true. “So I do think it’s a great, low-impact, entry-level way to collect if you’re new to auctions.”

Will these bidders spend more in the future? Perhaps, but will they soon come to an auction in person? It’s probably not fair to say, but they seemed to be answering that question unwittingly when they passed on a lithograph by Francis Luis Mora (1874-1940). Titled The Auction, it shows a crowd of people standing around at—wait for it—a good old-fashioned live sale.

For more information, contact Skinner at (617) 350-5400 or see the Web site (www.skinnerinc.com).


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

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