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Washington Tops in Texas Auction

Susan Emerson Nutter | May 10th, 2013


Rembrandt Peale, Martha Washington, circa 1856, oil on canvas, 36½" x 29", signed lower left, inscribed on the back “Mrs. Martha Washington (1795) / Painted by / Rembrandt Peale / with improvements From / Original by Ch’s W. Peale / Philadelphia,” $158,500.


Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860), George Washington, circa 1856, oil on canvas, 36½" x 29", signed lower left, inscribed on the back “Original Portrait of [indistinct] (1795),”$662,500.


John McCrady (1911-1968), Steamboat ’Round the Bend, 1946, oil on canvas, 78" x 168", signed and dated “46” lower right, $542,500.


Blanche Grant (1874-1948), Indian Tales, Taos, 1922, oil on canvas, 40" x 30", signed lower right, inscribed on the back “Indian Tales / Taos, New Mexico / 1922 / by Blanche C. / Grant,” $62,500.


Jerome Thompson (1814-1886), Riverbank in Bloom, 1865, oil on canvas, 18" x 15", signed and dated 1865 lower left, $512,500.


Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Blue Butterfly, 1896, oil and ink on paper, 5" x 8¼" (paper), signed and dated lower right “Albert Bierstadt / April 16 / 96,” $20,625.


Millard Sheets (1907-1989), Girl with Calabash, Moorea, 1977, watercolor and pencil on paper, 21¼" x 29¼" (sight), signed and dated 1977 lower right, titled, signed, and dated on the back “Girl with Calabash Moorea / Millard Sheets / May 1977,” blind stamp at lower left corner of paper “Torchon,” $40,625.


Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922), Coreopsis, Near San Antonio, Texas, 1919, oil on canvas board, 9¼" x 12¼", signed lower right, titled, signed, and dated on reverse “Coreopsis- / near San Antonio, Texas- / -Julian Onderdonk- 1919,” $50,000.

Heritage Auctions, Inc., Dallas, Texas

Photos courtesy Heritage Auctions

American art had quite a showing at Heritage Auctions’ Dallas event held May 10 and 11. Up for bids were wonderful examples of Native American, Texas, Western, California, and American fine art. When the dust settled more than $4.5 million had been spent and several records were set.

Often enjoying a place of prominence in elementary classrooms across our country is a replica of an iconic portrait of President George Washington by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). An original Peale portrait of Washington set a new world auction record for a porthole portrait by the artist when it sold for $662,500 (includes buyer’s premium).

According to Heritage, it was Peale’s lifelong goal to paint the most recognizable image of Washington. It seems he was successful in this endeavor. Another of Peale’s artworks, one of Martha Washington, also sold strongly when it obtained a winning price of $158,500.

Here is how the story unfolded. According to Brian Roughton, director of fine arts at Heritage Auctions, there were eight people bidding on the George Washington portrait. “All but one of these bidders wanted to buy the pair of Peales—both George and Martha,” Roughton explained. That one bidder who did not want the pair was the successful buyer of the Washington portrait. “So the underbidder of George ended up purchasing Martha,” Roughton said, “and is probably now looking for another Peale portrait of Washington to make that pair.”

Another record fell when Steamboat Round the Bend by John McCrady (1911-1968) sold for $542,500. Commissioned in 1946 by Delmonico’s Restaurant in New Orleans, the massive 14' wide image is considered McCrady’s most famous mural and a tribute to southern regional art. It makes sense that this topic was of interest to the artist. Born in Canton, Mississippi, McCrady was raised in the South and became known for depicting southern scenes, particularly those of African Americans. Just such a piece, Portrait of a Negro, won him a scholarship from the Art Students League in New York City, where he was able to study with well-known artists such as Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) and Kenneth Hayes Miller (1876-1952).

“I found it intriguing that five bidders were competing for this McCrady,” Roughton stated. “One would think the size of the painting would have hindered interest, but obviously that was not the case.”

The biggest surprise of the two-day sale for Roughton, though, was none of the above. Most stunning was when yet another record was set as the 1865 oil on canvas Riverbank in Bloom by Jerome Thompson (1814-1886) went to $512,500. This final price not only destroyed the painting’s $8000 presale high estimate, it greatly surpassed the $52,000 mark, which had been the most a Jerome Thompson work had sold for in the past.

“It was the perfect storm,” Roughton explained. “There were several bidders who wanted this painting for their own private reasons. The painting had an intrinsic value to them, and they kept the bidding going.” When word got out how strongly this Thompson work sold, “we were inundated with people who wanted to sell their Jerome Thompson paintings, hoping for the same result,” Roughton stated. “I told those who inquired there was a reason for this selling price, and it was due in part to the bidders. Because this particular Thompson sold so well, it did not mean others would do likewise.”

Needless to say, this May 10 and 11 fine arts event had its exciting moments. The auction sold 88% of the lots put on the block, making for a very successful two days. In a press release, Ed Beardsley, vice president of fine and decorative art at Heritage Auctions, stated, “These results confirm Heritage Auctions looms large in the American art auction arena. An increasing number of important collectors trust us with their paintings and sculpture, because we consistently deliver knowledgeable buyers across the complete spectrum of American fine art.”

That spectrum included Western and California art as well as work by Texan artists and Native American items at this May event. Indian Tales, Taos, a1922 work by Blanche Grant (1874-1948), did well when it brought $62,500. Born in Kansas, Grant created landscape and figure work associated with the American Southwest. Millard Sheets (1907-1989), a representative of the California school, was a native Californian. His Girl with Calabash, Moorea, 1977, a wonderful example of California Modernism, went to $40,625.

When the name Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) is mentioned, thoughts of dark western landscapes come to mind, but Bierstadt did not limit himself to one area. Heritage offered four butterfly paintings that were offered individually and sold collectively for $64,375. “Bierstadt made these butterfly images as gifts for friends,” Roughton explained. “He would paint one side of the butterfly, and while the paint was wet, fold the paper in two to create the other wing. He then painted in the head and body of the butterfly. These four were in very good condition, which helped them sell strong,” he added.

Top lots from the artworks by Texas artists who are identified with the plein-air Impressionist movement included Coreopsis, Near San Antonio, Texas, a 1919 oil on canvas board by Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922) that brought $50,000. Onderdonk, who was famous for his paintings of Texas wildflowers, mainly bluebonnets and coreopsis, gave rise to the so-called “Bluebonnet school” and is one of the best-known Texas Impressionists. Also a plein-air Impressionist, Dawson Dawson-Watson (British/American, 1864-1939) painted Texas Cacti, which did well at $32,500. According to Heritage Auctions, Dawson-Watson “is among the most sought after early Texas artists to work in this style.”

Several Native American lots garnered their share of attention during the May 10 session, driven by the fact that many items offered were fresh to the market. Obtaining a winning bid of $32,500—more than doubling its presale estimate—was a rare Apache pictorial coiled storage jar. Equally impressive was a monumental (27¼" tall) Santa Clara redware jar by Richard Ebelacker (1946-2010). This circa 1992 jar was decorated with a highly polished slip and three bear-paw impressions on the shoulder. It brought $18,750.

“We were very pleased with this two-day event in May,” Roughton said. “It was an exceptionally successful sale with a strong buy-through rate.” One can’t ask for anything better than that.

For more information, contact Heritage Auctions at (800) 872-6467 or (214) 528-3500 or via the Web site (www.ha.com).

Guy Pène du Bois (1884-1958), The Artist’s Wife, 1928, oil on canvas, 36" x 29", signed and dated “28” lower right, $95,500.

Apache pictorial coiled storage jar, circa 1900, woven of willow and devil’s claw with overall lattice pattern enclosing human figures and animals, all beneath a darkened rim, 25" high, $32,500.


Originally published in the September 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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