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The George D. Horst Fine Art Sale

Lita Solis-Cohen | March 30th, 2014


Gustaf Edolf Fjaestad (Swedish, 1868-1948), Pool in Winter, inscribed “G Fjaestad 13” on the bottom left. It also retains on the back a label with “The Swedish Exhibition 1916” and “Panama-Pacific International Exposition San Francisco 1915.” Horst bought the 47 3/8" x 57¾" oil on canvas from a Swedish exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on February 27, 1917, for $1430. It sold on the phone for $53,125, (est. $20,000/30,000). Fjaestad was one of the leading members of the Rackstad colony of artists based in Värmland, Sweden. He painted the local landscapes, capturing the solitude of the Swedish countryside, designed rugs and tapestries, and was a furniture craftsman.


Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (French, 1796-1875), Garden Gate. It is signed “Corot” on the bottom left and has a partial label on the back. The 13" x 18¼" oil on canvas had been purchased by Horst at the Charles H. Senff sale at Anderson Galleries in March 1928 for $6000. Nichol said this painting of the forests at Fontainebleau had been checked for authenticity and was accompanied by a letter of authenticity from Corot expert Martin Dieterle. Garden Gate sold in the salesroom for $122,500 (est. $60,000/80,000).


Léon Augustin Lhermitte (French, 1844-1925), Petite fille à la fontaine, signed “L. Lhermitte” on the bottom left. The 22½" x 16¼" oil on canvas had been bought from M. Knoedler & Co., Manhattan, New York, for $2400. It sold here for $122,500 (est. $20,000/30,000).


Marie Danforth Page (1869-1940), The Mother. It is signed and dated “Marie D. Page 1916” in the upper left and has a label for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 111th annual exhibition in 1916 on the back. The 50" x 40" oil on canvas sold for $80,500 (est. $6000/10,000). It is a record for the artist, topping $18,800 paid at Skinner, Inc. in November 2007 for a portrait of a child named Frances Blackler Kennedy. Horst bought this mother and child portrait from the PAFA annual in March 1916, where it won the Philadelphia prize (voted the painting liked the most by visitors to the exhibition). Page studied at the Boston Museum School of Art with Frank Benson and Edmund C. Tarbell and is a celebrated early female artist.


George Loftus Noyes (American/Canadian, 1864-1954), Joyous Island. It is signed “G.L. Noyes” on the lower left. On the back is a label for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 115th annual exhibition, 1920, along with a Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences label. The 34" x 36" oil on canvas is in a Foster Brothers frame. Horst had bought it at the PAFA annual in April 1920. In 1938 it was appraised for $200. It sold for $122,500 (est. $10,000/15,000). It was an auction record for the artist, eclipsing $56,400, paid at Skinner, Inc. in March 2006 for Venetian View.


Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), Marshes of Long Point. It is signed and dated “F.W. Benson 19**” on the bottom left and inscribed in pencil on the stretcher “Mr. Benson” and has a label for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 121st annual exhibition in 1926 on the back. The 36" x 44" oil on canvas has its frame incised “1924 Thulin 1387.” Horst bought the painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on March 15, 1926, for $3500. It sold for $662,500 (est. $200,000/300,000). Benson was a member of The Ten (a group that included Childe Hassam, William Merritt Chase, and Julian Alden Weir) and was a sportsman as well. According to the catalog, he wanted to be an ornithological illustrator. He skillfully painted the waterfowl in flight and reeds of the marshland with loose brushstrokes.

Milly Steger (German, 1881- 1948), Figure of a Dancer. The sculpture is inscribed “M. Steger” and “Guss-Heinze” on the base. The bronze has a medium brown patina and is 27 5/8" tall and 10" wide. Horst acquired it in 1929. It sold on line for $70,150 (est. $2500/4000).


Charles François Daubigny (French, 1817-1878), Bord de l’oise, le soir, signed and dated “Daubigny 1874” on the bottom right. The 13 3/8" x 26¼" oil on panel had been purchased at the sale of the estate of George Crocker at American Art Association in New York City on January 24, 1912, for $8000. It sold at the Horst auction on the phone for $50,000 (est. $6000/10,000). It is illustrated in the catalogue raisonné by R. Hellebranth, Charles-François Daubigny, 1817-1878, Paris (1976) p. 125, no. 383.


Howard Russell Butler (1856-1934), Maine Cliffs in Sunlight. It is signed “HR Butler” on the bottom right and on the back has a label for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 113th annual exhibition in 1918. Horst bought the 25¼" x 32 1/8" oil on canvas at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts annual in March 1918 for $600. It sold for $146,500 (est. $8000/12,000). According to the catalog, Butler was born in New York City and became a lawyer who gave up his practice to paint alongside Frederic Church and John Singer Sargent. Butler funded the construction of the fine arts building on West 57th Street in New York City that housed the Art Students League, the Society of American Artists, the Architectural League of New York, and the American Fine Arts Society, the last of which Butler founded and led for its first 17 years.

Freeman’s, Philadelphia

Photos courtesy Freeman’s

“So much of what we do is about storytelling,” said Paul Roberts, who is Freeman’s president and the vice chairman of Lyon & Turnbull in Edinburgh, Scotland. The two auction houses have partnered on projects for more than a decade, and Roberts said they tell the story better than anyone else in their magazine, on their Web sites, and in their catalogs. The story of the sale of George D. Horst’s art collection—64 lots that sold for $4.3 million (including buyers’ premiums) at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on Sunday, March 30—was a good story, the kind every auctioneer likes to tell. Freeman’s even made a short documentary film about the collection.

The total was nearly three times the median estimate ($1.1 million to $1.9 million, figured without buyer’s premium, which is 25% on the first $50,000 of the hammer price, 20% on $50,001 up to $1 million, and 12% thereafter). Bidders from 47 countries participated, bidding on line, on the phones, and in the packed salesroom. Auction records were set for 18 artists, many of whom were not well known, and two of the artists had not previously had artworks sold at auction.

George D. Horst was a German immigrant who was a founding partner with Jacob Nolde of the women’s hosiery firm Nolde & Horst, established in 1890 in Reading, Pennsylvania. In time, the manufactory occupied an entire city block and employed 500 workers. Both men built country houses on adjacent 500-acre parcels of land in Cumru Township, Pennsylvania, three miles south of Reading. Horst named his parcel Sheerlund, after a tiny village in his native Germany. In 1901, both men began planting forests on the hilly farmland. The Nolde parcel is now the Nolde Forest Environmental Education Center (Nolde Forest State Park, owned and run by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). Horst’s only child, Caroline, and her husband, Robert Sullivan, turned her father’s Christmas tree planting hobby behind his summer house into a Christmas tree farm business. Sheerlund Forests had been Berks County’s largest Christmas tree farm, run by three of the four children of Caroline and Robert. (Jane Reese, George H. Sullivan, and Sue McCain have posted a farewell notice on their Web site announcing that they have decided to close the business.)

Their grandfather George Horst began collecting paintings in 1911 and became the principal art donor to the fledgling Reading Museum, which then occupied the Reading School District administration building. In 1924, when it became time to build a proper museum to house the art collection and a collection of cultural and anthropological artifacts (purchased by the museum’s first director, Dr. Levi Mengel, at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis), Horst made it known that he thought the museum should be built in City Park at the base of Mount Penn, where everyone who lived within the city limits could walk to it. By that time, he had retired from the hosiery business and left with his wife and daughter on an extended European vacation. When he returned home, he discovered that ground had been broken for the new museum across the Schuylkill River in a remote, swampy location barely within the city limits (in what became a fashionable suburb) and on land given by his principal business competitor. Horst was furious. He demanded that the museum return all the art he had lent and his cash contributions. Two years later he built his private art gallery at Sheerlund.

The Horst collection, hardly touched since George Horst died in 1934, had been put together in a relatively short time, from 1911 to 1929, and he kept meticulous records of his purchases. The Depression put an end to his art collecting. The Horst collection, housed in its separate building at Sheerlund, remained a time capsule, a window into collecting in the first quarter of the 20th century, until the family decided it was time to sell.

In a charming essay in Freeman’s sale catalog, Horst’s grandson George H. Sullivan told how he and his three siblings grew up in a house designed by Edward Durell Stone in the Art Deco style, built in 1939 at one end of the Sheerlund property. It had little wall space for their grandfather’s collection, which remained in the art gallery in the woods. The family paid little attention to the paintings and used the gallery for occasional parties, as had George Horst.

Sometime in the 1980s, George Sullivan happened to see an exhibition in New York City devoted to the work of the Barbizon painter Charles Daubigny and remembered that his grandfather had a small Daubigny sunset landscape. When Sullivan took a serious look at it and at the rest of the collection, he realized his grandfather had bought paintings of high quality. By that time, the American Impressionists, who had been ignored for a generation, were beginning to attract attention, and Sullivan learned that works by Childe Hassam, Frank Weston Benson, Daniel Garber, Edward Redfield, and Emil Carlsen had some value, as did some of the European paintings.

When Alasdair Nichol, Freeman’s head of paintings, was called to take a look at George Horst’s private museum, he told the family that it would be a perfect single-owner sale. He convinced them that Freeman’s had buyers for art at all levels and that whereas some auctioneers would take only a few of the works for a major sale and put the rest in secondary sales, Freeman’s would market it as a collection and would advertise it internationally and extensively in the U.S. Freeman’s did. Nichol took a selection of pictures to Philadelphia’s Main Line, to Washington, D.C., and to London and held a week-long exhibition at the Chestnut Street auction house in Philadelphia.

All the advertising achieved good results. The small Estuary with Sailboats and Lighthouses, done in 1891 by Eugène Louis Boudin, sold to a London client for $170,500 (est. $40,000/60,000). Advertising worldwide alerted a German buyer to the sculpture Figure of a Dancer by Milly Steger, and it sold on the phone for $70,150 (est. $2500/4000), a record for the artist. The previous record for a Steger had been $14,780 (ï™9375) paid for a carved wood sculpture at Van Ham Fine Art Auctions in Cologne, Germany in 2008.

The top lots were bought by American private collectors. A snow scene by Edward Redfield, Winter Sunlight, painted with thick impasto and out of doors, is a classic Redfield snow-covered road that leads the viewer right into the wintry scene. It sold for $710,500 (est. $200,000/300,000). Redfield had exhibited it at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’  124th annual exhibition in March 1929, where Horst bought it. In 1938 it was appraised at $400.

Frank Weston Benson’s sporting picture of waterfowl on the Marshes of Long Point, depicting a peninsula jutting into Lake Erie, sold for $662,500. Horst had bought it for $3500 at the 1926 PAFA annual selling exhibition. He must have been flush that year. At that same PAFA show, Horst bought Daniel Garber’s Glen Cuttalossa, which sold at Freeman’s for $398,500 to an American private collector.

Horst owned Copper and Porcelain by Emil Carlsen. The 58" x 46¾" still life of a copper urn and Chinese porcelain vases against a tapestry is probably the largest still life the artist ever painted. Moreover, it is in its original Carrig Rohane frame, designed by artist Hermann Dudley Murphy and incised “19 (M) 09.” It sold for $386,500, a record for the artist. The previous record for a painting by Carlsen was $156,000 paid at Sotheby’s New York in November 2006 for a 24" x 18" still life called Red Carnations and Delft. Horst had bought Copper and Porcelain in April 1929 at the National Academy of Design in New York for $4000. Carlsen was considered the greatest still life painter of his day, excelling in painting the reflective surfaces of copper and brass.

Research has shown that Carlsen’s birth certificate in Copenhagen is dated 1848. He came to the U.S. after art study in his home city as a youth, worked in Chicago, and then studied in Paris, where he saw the work of Jean-Baptiste Chardin. Carlsen returned to the U.S. and was a teacher and painter in San Francisco before settling in Manhattan and becoming successful enough to live on the sales of his paintings.

Horst collected a painting called The Norwegian Cottage, signed and dated 1909 by Childe Hassam. It sold for $242,500 (est. $200,000/300,000). It is relatively small at 25" x 30¼" and an early European subject for the artist; Hassam’s American subjects generally bring more.

There were some surprising prices for works by less well-known artists. Nichol thought Frederick Wagner’s Winter Afternoon was among Wagner’s best works. It sold for $98,500, a record for the artist,  topping the previous record of $46,875 that was paid at Freeman’s in June 2013 for Steel Mills, Pittsburgh. Horst acquired Winter Afternoon at the PAFA annual in 1919. Artists generally put their best work in the PAFA annuals, which functioned as selling exhibitions where collectors had the confidence to buy. PAFA catalogs accompanied many of the lots.

Horst acquired Joyous Island by George Loftus Noyes at the PAFA annual exhibition in 1920. The 34" x 36" painting sold for $122,500 (est. $10,000/15,000), also an auction record for the artist and well over the previous record of $56,400 paid at Skinner, Inc. in March 2006 for Venetian View. An American plein-air painter, Noyes was a teacher of N.C. Wyeth. His work is rare because much of it was destroyed in a fire in Boston (reported as either at his studio or in a barn) in 1939.

Horst acquired Howard Russell Butler’s Maine Cliffs in Sunlight, a 25¼" x32 1/8" oil on canvas, at the PAFA annual in 1918 for $600. It sold at Freeman’s for $146,500 (est. $8000/12,000) and set an auction record for the artist, soaring above the previous record of $26,400 that was paid at Christie’s Los Angeles in April 2007 for a larger (40" x 50") painting called Moonrise, Miramar, California.

Jonas Lie (1880-1940) is considered the finest of the Norwegian immigrant painters. Horst bought Beyond by Lie at the PAFA annual in 1920. The 30¼" x 50" painting of sailboats has an unusual perspective. In 1936 it was valued at $500. It sold at Freeman’s for a record $146,500. That topped the artist’s previous record of $132,000, paid at Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, New York, in September 2008 for In the Path of the Sun, a 30½" x 45" work painted the same year as Beyond.

The American pictures starred, but some European works also performed well. Horst had bought Garden Gate by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot at a sale at Anderson Galleries in New York City in 1928 for $6000. It sold at Freeman’s for $122,500 (est. $60,000/80,000). A 22½" x 16¼" painting, Petite fille à la fontaine, by Léon Augustin Lhermitte (1844-1925) sold on the phone for $122,500 (est. $20,000/30,000). It was one of Horst’s early purchases when he acquired it from M. Knoedler & Co. in Manhattan in 1915 for $2400.

Bord de l’oise, le soir by Charles François Daubigny, a 13 3/8" x 26¼" river scene, signed and dated 1874, sold for $50,000 (est. $6000/10,000) to a phone bidder who made multiple purchases and caused Nichol to comment from the podium, “We are witnessing a recovery of the market for the Barbizon school.” This painting was the most expensive painting Horst bought; it cost him $8000 at an auction at the American Art Association. In 1912, at the same sale, the painting by Boudin cost him only $400. At Freeman’s, the Daubigny painting sold for $50,000, and the one by Boudin sold for $170,500, demonstrating how preferences change over the years.

The quality and the freshness of the paintings, most of them in their original frames, made for a white glove sale. The paintings were illustrated with and without their frames in the catalog. New York City dealer Louis Salerno on his Questroyal Gallery blog called it “The Year’s Most Important Sale” and suggested it was a sign of the recovery in the American paintings market.

Paul Roberts, capitalizing on a good story, is using the white glove sale to launch a new department for Freeman’s and Lyon & Turnbull devoted to selling collections. “It is what we do best,” he said. Thomas McCabe and David Walker are in charge in the U.S., and Paul Roberts and Gavin Strang have taken on the task in the U.K.

For more information, contact Freeman’s via the Web site (www.freemansauction.com) or call (215) 563-9275.

Frederick R. Wagner (1864-1940), Winter Afternoon. It is signed “F. Wagner” on the lower left. The 40" x 49 7/8" oil on canvas sold for $98,500 (est. $10,000/15,000), a record for the artist, topping $46,875 paid at Freeman’s in June 2013 for Steel Mills, Pittsburgh. Horst had bought it at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on March 27, 1919, at the 114th annual exhibition. Born in the Philadelphia suburbs, Wagner enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 1879 and became a pupil of Thomas Eakins. Wagner was influenced by the art of William Glackens and John Sloan and introduced urban realism into the otherwise rural idyllic landscapes typical of the Pennsylvania Impressionists. 

Jonas Lie (American/Norwegian, 1880-1940), Beyond. It issigned and dated “Jonas Lie 19” on the bottom left and has a label reading “The Corcoran Gallery of Art/ Seventh Contemporary American Oil Paintings 1919” on the back. The 30¼" x 50" oil on canvas had been purchased at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, on April 2, 1920. It sold for $146,500, a record for the artist. Besides having been shown  at the Corcoran in Washington, D.C., in 1919, it was in the 115th annual exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia, February 8-March 28, 1920.  In 1936 it was valued at $500.

Edward Willis Redfield (1869-1965), Winter Sunlight. It is signed “EW Redfield” on the bottom left and is inscribed “Winter Sunlight/ $3000 EW Redfield Dec. 28” and “EWR/ Stockton, NJ” in pencil on the back of the upper stretcher. It has a label on the back for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts’ 124th annual exhibition, 1929. The 38¼" x 50" painting sold to a collector for $710,500 (est. $200,000/300,000). Horst had bought it at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts on March 8, 1929. In 1938 it was valued at $400. It was exhibited at Pennsylvania Regionalism: The Turn of the Century Impressionism & the Real at the Miller Gallery, the Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, April 19-October 30, 1999, and was illustrated in the Sentinel, the newspaper for Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 1999. It is also illustrated in The Redfield Letters byJ.M.W. Fletcher, JMWF Publishing, Lahaska, Pennsylvania (2002).


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

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