Christie’s, New York City
Photos courtesy Christie’s
Buoyed by Frederic Remington’s three-dimensional, head-on design bronze Coming through the Rye, which sold for $11,223,500 (including buyer’s premium), Christie’s spring auction of American art on May 23 in New York City totaled $41,315,750. Of the 92 lots offered, 68 sold, for a 74% sell-through rate.
Christie’s also held an online sale of 112 lots of American art from May 17 through 24. It had a sell-through rate of 79% and totaled $3.2 million, according to William T. Haydock, head of Christie’s American art department.
The live sale, which took place at 10 a.m. and was followed by Sotheby’s American art auction in the afternoon and Bonhams’ the next day, started off with a bang. Auctioneer John Hays greeted the standing-room-only crowd with his usual effervescence and proceeded to sell the first five lots, all sculptures, for more than their high estimates.
A Frederick William MacMonnies bronze of Nathan Hale, modeled circa 1890, sold for $271,500 (est. $100,000/150,000) to a buyer from Missouri who was bidding online. But it was the Augustus Saint-Gaudens gilt-bronze Victory, one of only two known versions remaining in private collections, that got the crowd going. Estimated at $600,000/800,000, it went at $2,047,500 to a buyer bidding online with Christie’s deputy chairman Eric P. Widing, That sale established an auction record for the artist.
Nathan Hale by Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937), modeled circa 1890, sold for $271,500 (est. $100,000/150,000) to an online bidder from Missouri. The 28¼" high bronze with brown patina came from the estate of Richard J. Schwartz.
Victory by Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907), a 42¼" high gilt-bronze sculpture that was modeled in 1912, sold to a bidder on the phone for $2,047,500 (est. $600,000/800,000), establishing a high auction record for the artist. The work is one of eight known reductions of the figure Victory from the artist’s monumental equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, situated in Grand Army Plaza at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York City. One of only two known versions that remained in private collections, it had been acquired by Richard J. Schwartz in 1989 from Hirschl & Adler Galleries, according to Christie’s catalog.
Frederic Remington’s Coming through the Rye, the cover lot of the sale, estimated at $7/10 million, was purchased by a bidder in the salesroom. He faced competition from a phone bidder who eventually dropped out at $9.6 million. The 30¼" high bronze with brown patina, hammered down at $9.8 million, sold for $11,223,500 with buyer’s premium. The buyer, “an important collector with strong ties to galleries in New York and elsewhere,” was bidding in the back of the room and standing next to dealer Michael Frost of J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York City, while bidding. A representative from Bartfield said the gallery “was not bidding for him.”
“The sale made a new record for Remington,” said Haydock. “It’s an iconic piece.”
A bidder standing in the back of the salesroom and a bidder on the phone with Christie’s deputy chairman Eric P. Widing vied for Frederic Remington’s Coming through the Rye, the auction catalog’s cover lot. After a series of bids, the 30¼" high bronze with brown patina, modeled in 1902 and cast by 1906, sold for $11,223,500 (est. $7/10 million) to the salesroom bidder, who was standing next to dealer Michael Frost of J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York City. “He’s an important collector with strong ties to galleries in New York and elsewhere,” said a Bartfield representative, who noted, “We were not bidding for him.” The sculpture was last acquired in 1978 by Richard J. Schwartz.
In a phone interview a few days after the sale, Haydock elaborated on the auction, explaining that Christie’s strategy of upping its sell-through rate has begun to take shape. “We reached 75% sold at the live auction and 79% sold at the online auction. We’re hoping to do 80% or more in the next auctions,” he said. Furthermore, Haydock announced that the online sale “brought in Asian buyers.”
“We will continue our strategy of live and online auctions,” he said, adding that Christie’s specialists will be traveling to Hong Kong and Japan during the coming year “to give lectures and educate that marketplace.”
Illustration art contributed $4.56 million to the overall sale, highlighted by works by Maxfield Parrish and N.C. Wyeth. Norman Rockwell’s Judy Garland as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, sold to benefit the Motion Picture and Television Fund, sold for $727,500 (est. $200,000/300,000) to a man sitting in the front row of the salesroom.
After a series of bids, The Chefs at the Table: Heading for “The Knave of Hearts” by Maxfield Parrish (1870-1966) sold for $991,500 (est. $400,000/600,000) to a bidder in the room. Painted in 1925 as part of his commission for Louise Saunders’s children’s play The Knave of Hearts, the 9¼" x 20" oil and pencil on paperboard illustration introduces the chefs “as if they were actors upon a stage,” according to Christie’s catalog. Louise Saunders was the wife of Scribner’s
editor Maxwell Perkins.
“It was a mixed sale,” said New York City dealer Debra Force, noting, however, that “sculpture did well.” She bought a couple of works for clients, including Buck’s Harbor by Maurice Brazil Prendergast for $307,500.
Buck’s Harbor by Maurice Brazil Prendergast (1859-1924) sold for $307,500 (est. $150,000/250,000) to New York City dealer Debra Force. The 9¾" x 13½" signed oil on panel had been painted sometime between 1907 and 1910, after Prendergast’s pivotal trip to Paris in 1907. Last sold at Christie’s in November 2007 for $421,000 (est. $200,000/300,000), Buck’s Harbor came from the estate of Richard J. Schwartz.
Dealer Richard Rossello of Avery Galleries, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, who attended all three sales, said, “Christie’s sale started off slam-bang then fell off.”
Still lifes and trompe l’oeil works did not perform well. “The Peto, Harnett, and Haberle did not do well, and the Roesens got no attention,” stated Frederick Hill of Collisart, New York City. “Roesens are iconic; they represent so much about American art and culture in the late 19th century. It used to be that every collector had a Roesen,” the art dealer lamented. Hill noted that “Christie’s had the better selection” this spring, but the sale results were “spotty.” He thinks “there is tremendous opportunity” to collect 19th-century and early 20th-century American art now.
Mountain Stream by Asher Brown Durand (1796-1886), painted in 1848, sold for $967,500 (est. $500,000/700,000) to an online bidder from Missouri. The 39½" x 59½" oil on canvas “exemplifies Durand’s unique approach toward landscape painting, which concentrates on a keen observation of geologic details,” according to Christie’s catalog. “Mountain Stream stands as one of Durand’s most poignant depictions of Kaaterskill Clove…,” a deep valley in the Catskills of upstate New York and a favorite subject of the Hudson River school of painters.
Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) painted Girl in a Bonnet Tied with a Large Pink Bow in 1909. The 26¾" x 22½" oil on canvas sold in the salesroom to New York City dealer Jonathan Boos for $2,287,500 (est. $2/3 million). Collector Chauncey D. Stillman had inherited the painting in 1956, and its sale benefited his Wethersfield Foundation.
Sun Rising Out of the Mist, painted in 1973 by Fairfield Porter (1907-1975), had been acquired by a New England collector in 1977. The fresh-to-market 55" x 37" oil on canvas sold in the salesroom for $751,500 (est. $400,000/600,000) to New York City dealer Louis Salerno of Questroyal Fine Art, who beat out two phone bidders. The signed and dated landscape in hues of purple, blue, gray, and white was featured on the back cover of Christie’s catalog.
Christie’s Haydock said, “There are opportunities for buyers across categories, namely in Impressionist and Hudson River school paintings. The question remains: will we get back to the 2007 level? Our success was not defined by a particular category,” Haydock continued, pointing to works by Durand, Cassatt, and Porter, and several works of illustration art. “Trompe l’oeil was thin,” he acknowledged, adding, however, that multiple parties expressed interest in the category after the sale. Winslow Homer’s The Shell Heap, which was passed at $2.2 million (est. $2.5/3.5 million), was “a disappointment. We had a number of conversations leading into the auction, and we thought it was very good. We’ve received one post-sale bid but rejected it,” he said. Furthermore, “still life performance was devastating.” Works by Redfield and Curran, however, sold after the auction, he added.
Christie’s next American art auction will take place in November, the date to be determined. For more information, call (212) 636-2000 or visit the website (www.christies.com).
Gilbert Stuart’s Vaughan type portrait of George Washington, painted circa 1795 for Bostonian Benjamin Joy (1757-1829), a shipping merchant and the first consul to Calcutta, sold for $1,327,500 (est. $1.5/2.5 million) to a phone bidder, underbid by New York City dealer Stuart Feld of Hirschl & Adler Galleries. In 1932 the 29" x 24" oil on canvas had been acquired from Daniel H. Farr Co., New York City, by Chauncey D. Stillman, a notable collector, conservationist, and Roman Catholic philanthropist who in 1938 established what is now the Wethersfield Foundation. The sale of the portrait from his estate benefited the foundation.
Three phones and a bidder in the room went after Herbert Haseltine’s Percheron, a parcel-gilt bronze with verdigris patina, signed and dated 1954, that had descended in the artist’s family. Estimated at $40,000/60,000, the 12¾" high sculpture on a 2¾" high marble base sold for $162,500 to the bidder in the room. A salesroom announcement noted that a party with a financial interest would be bidding on the lot.
Executed circa 1900, this 25½" x 17¾" signed oil on canvas portrait by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) of “probably Alistair Cary-Elwes (1866-1946),” rather than Robert Brough, as the sitter was identified in Christie’s catalog, sold for $523,500 (est. $60,000/80,000) to a bidder on the phone with head of department William Haydock. A salesroom notice alerted bidders to the name change, which was identified by the artist’s catalogue raisonné committee. “The name change didn’t make a difference,” said Haydock, who allowed that the price was “an incredible result.”
Diana and Hound by Wilhelm Hunt Diederich (1884-1953), modeled circa 1930, sold for $391,500 (est. $150,000/250,000) to an online bidder from Missouri. The 27" high bronze with dark brown patina came from the estate of Richard J. Schwartz.
There were several works by Milton Avery (1885-1965) in the sale. Still Life, Table and Screen, 1943, a 50" x 36" oil on canvas, sold for $727,500 (est. $500,000/700,000) to a bidder on the phone. The consignor had purchased it at Sotheby’s in June 1997, paying $178,500 (est. $200,000/300,000).
An Arrangement (Woman in White Blouse) by Alfred Henry Maurer (1868-1932), signed lower right, 36½" x 28 7/8", sold for $162,500 (est. $150,000/250,000) to collector William Kahane of Newport, Rhode Island, who was bidding in the room. In a salesroom notice Christie’s said the work, painted circa 1901, had been exhibited in 1901 at The Art Club of Philadelphia under the title An Arrangement.
Street Scene by Norman Lewis (1909-1979), a 27" x 32" oil on canvas, signed and dated 1941, portrays the shopping hub at Third Avenue and 153rd Street in the Bronx. Estimated at $100,000/150,000, it sold for $439,500 to a bidder on the phone. Street Scene was in a private collection by 1944 and had descended in the family of the consignor.
Racing Off Sandy Hook by James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894), a 12" x 18" oil on canvas, signed, sold for $271,500 (est. $70,000/100,000) to a bidder on the phone with specialist Elizabeth Beaman. A salesroom notice identified the yacht at the center as Magic, not Columbia as printed in the catalog. Chauncey D. Stillman had acquired the painting by 1957, and its sale from his estate benefited his Wethersfield Foundation.
Originally published in the March 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest