Rare Bellows Tops the Bonhams American Art Auction

November 19th, 2014

Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927), The Red Bonnet, oil on canvas, 20" x 15", sold on the phone for $149,000 (est. $100,000/150,000). The catalog notes reveal that “aside from a few self portraits and portraits of friends, solitary figures are not common in Potthast’s oeuvre.”

Several phone bidders competed for this untitled 9" x 12" watercolor, gouache, and pencil on paper (laid down on board) by Charles Burchfield (1893-1967) from a private collection. It sold for $23,750 (est. $8000/12,000). It is signed and dated June 1915.

George Bellows (1882-1925), Two Women, oil on canvas, 59¼" x 65½", painted in 1924, sold on the phone for $1,265,000 (est. $1,000,000/1,500,000). Widely exhibited, it was last seen publicly in the Bellows exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, November 2012-February 2013. It was painted during the last season of Bellows’s relatively short career. According to Bonhams’ catalog entry by Glenn Peck, who is compiling the Bellows catalogue raisonné, Bellows based the picture of two women seated on a sofa, one nude and one fully clothed, on Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, which is in the Borghese Gallery in Rome. Bellows knew Titian’s masterpiece only in reproduction. Bellows first titled this painting in his own record book as Sacred and Profane Love. Its interpretation, with the reflection of a window in a mirror, two dogs in the foreground, one black and one white, and other details, retains ambiguous meaning and symbolism as does Titian’s masterpiece, painted in about 1514 in Venice to commemorate the marriage of Nicolò Aurelio and Laura Bagarotto.

Bonhams, New York City

Photos courtesy Bonhams

Bonhams held its American art sale on the afternoon of November 19, 2014, offering 95 paintings and seven sculptures, 102 works of art, of which 63 sold for a total of $4,297,625. The estimates were $4,170,000/6,271,000, figured without buyer’s premium.

After the sale Kayla Carlsen, specialist in American art at Bonhams, said, “In what appears to be a selective market for American art, the best examples in any genre continue to generate competitive bidding when they are estimated fairly.”

The keenest competition was between a phone bidder and a bidder in the salesroom for John P. Falter’s Golf Driving Range, signed and dated July 26, 1952, on the stretcher. It was a Saturday Evening Post cover for the July 26, 1952, issue. It sold in the salesroom for $197,000 (includes buyer’s premium).

Golf Driving Range had turned up at an Antiques Roadshow stop last summer in Birmingham, Alabama, with the very first person in line for an appraisal. Alan Fausel, director of fine art for Bonhams in New York, told the owner in Birmingham that for insurance purposes he would suggest $250,000 to $350,000 and if she wanted to sell it at auction he would put an enticing presale estimate of $80,000/120,000. A camera crew from Antiques Roadshow was in the salesroom to televise the results of this painting’s sale, and when New York City dealer Judy Goffman Cutler was the successful bidder they interviewed her on camera. She said she bought Falter’s picture of a variety of hackers on the driving range for a client. She talked about the groundswell of interest in American illustration and said that her National Museum of American Illustration in Newport, Rhode Island, will be celebrating its 15th year this summer with a fundraising dinner, dance, and auction on July 30. The client will lend the Falter painting to the anniversary exhibition at the museum on view all summer.

The Falter was not the most expensive picture in the sale. A large academic picture by George Bellows, Two Women, 1924, is a huge figural work (59¼" x 65½") of one woman clothed and another woman nude, both sitting on a sofa. Bellows based this composition and its underlying symbolism on Titian’s Sacred and Profane Love, research has shown. It sold to a phone bidder for $1,265,000 (est. $1,000,000/1,500,000).

Childe Hassam’s Lady in a Garden, an 18" x 15" impressionistic summer garden scene, sold in the salesroom for $905,000. Four phone bidders competed for Daniel Garber’s Country Village, an 18" x 20" atmospheric view of a Bucks County hillside painted in the 1920s, and it sold for $173,000 (est. $80,000/120,000).

William McGregor Paxton’s The Visitor was a crowd favorite. Bidders in the salesroom and on the phone competed for this subtle, tonal profile portrait of a young woman putting her calling card on a hall table. A period piece painted in 1910, it sold to a phone bidder for $109,375 (est. $70,000/90,000).

An accomplished Cubist composition by Suzy Frelinghuysen, a 16" x 12" oil and collage painted in 1942, was offered as the first lot and got the sale off to a good start when it sold well over estimate for $77,500 (est. $25,000/45,000). There was keen competition for Reginald Marsh’s Off to the Movies, Love Affair Is Playing!, painted in 1939. It sold for $90,000 (est. $40,000/60,000).

Paul Howard Manship’s bronze figure of Venus Anadyomene, a small study for a fountain, only 7½" high and on its original marble base, sold for $82,500 (est. $40,000/60,000.)

Small paintings sold well at Bonhams. An untitled Charles Burchfield, signed and dated June 1915, a 9" x 12" gouache and watercolor on paper, sold for $23,750 (est. $8000/12,000). An Albert Bierstadt Butterfly, an oil and pencil kind of Rorschach test on paper, just 6¾" x 8½", dated December 16, 1890, sold for $27,500 (est. $12,000/18,000); the artist probably gave it as a gift. Size does matter. The big Bellows painting brought a big price, but collectors look for little gems. A small Joseph Christian Leyendecker, a watercolor and gouache on paperboard illustration for the Rosicrucian Order, 18" x 8", sold on the phone for $32,500 (est. $5000/7000) showing strength in the market for small examples of American illustration.

For more information, call (212) 644-9089 or check the Internet (www.bonhams.com).

Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was born in Lebanon and came to America as a boy. He was a painter, sculptor, and author who worked in America and abroad. Standing Figure and Child is a signed pencil and watercolor on paper, 11" x 7", which sold for $31,250 (est. $5000/7000.) Gibran’s most famous work was The Prophet, a book first published in 1923 that has been translated into 20 languages and remains fairly popular as a source for pithy, poetic quotations. Another drawing by Gibran of three standing figures (not shown), 9½" x 8", sold for $20,000 (est. $3000/5000).

Joseph Christian Leyendecker (1874-1951), an illustration for the Rosicrucian Order, signed with conjoined initials lower left and dated ’02, watercolor and gouache on paperboard, 18" x 8", sold for $32,500 (est. $5000/7000).

Off to the Movies, Love Affair Is Playing! by Reginald Marsh (1898-1954), a 28" x 20" watercolor and gouache on paper, sold on the phone for $90,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). It descended in the family of the original owner, who received it as a gift from the artist. The 1939 movie Love Affair starred Irene Dunne and Charles Boyer.

Suzy Frelinghuysen (1911-1988) Composition 1942, inscribed and dated 1942 (on the frame), oil and collage on board laid down on panel, 16" x 12", sold on the phone for $77,500 (est. $25,000/45,000).

Daniel Garber (1880-1958), Country Village, oil on masonite, 18" x 20", from a San Francisco collection, sold on the phone for $173,000 (est. $80,000/120,000). A catalog essay calls Garber “a true romantic realist” and points to the jewel-like color tones used to depict the atmospheric qualities of the Pennsylvania landscape.

William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941), The Visitor, oil on canvas laid down on board, 18" x 14 7/8", signed and dated 1910, sold on the phone for $109,375 (est. $70,000/90,000). Paxton was born in Baltimore, moved to the Boston area as a youth, and spent time in Philadelphia and Paris. Art historians usually link him to the Boston school of painters of his era. This painting portrays a woman leaving her calling card, an urban social ritual early in the 20th century.

John Philip Falter (1910-1982), Golf Driving Range, oil on canvas, signed and dated July 26, 1952, on the stretcher, sold for $197,000 (est. $80,000/120,000) in the salesroom to New York dealer Judy Goffman Cutler, founder with her husband, Laurence Cutler, of the National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island.

Originally published in the February 2015 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2015 Maine Antique Digest

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