Purchase Story

American Art at Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s, New York City

Photos courtesy Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s American art auction on May 23, 2017, was all about the Rockwells that sold, whereas the sale on November 13, 2017, was all about the Rockwells that were withdrawn by a court order.

No Credit Given (Boy and Shopkeeper) by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), one of his earliest images, executed when he was 23 years old, appeared on the May 1917 cover of People’s Popular Monthly. It sold for $771,000 (est. $300,000/500,000) to a phone bidder. The 20" x 17" oil on canvas, signed, went to a private collection.

The auction of seven works of art from the Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, including two paintings by Norman Rockwell gifted to the institution by the artist, scheduled to be part of Sotheby’s November American art sale, was postponed for 30 days by an injunction granted late on Friday, November 10, by the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The injunction has since been extended and remains in effect through January 29. The museum had designated a total of 40 works to be sold at Sotheby’s, and the injunction applied to all, said Sotheby’s spokesman Darrell Rocha. Nineteen of the 40 had dates confirmed, Rocha said. Sotheby’s had not guaranteed them, he added.

Paul Manship’s Diana, property from a private collection in Savannah, Georgia, sold for $975,000 to an anonymous buyer on the phone with Liz Sterling, chairman of American art. In 1921, Manship (1885-1966) cast his first bronze edition of Diana, of which this work is an example. The bronze with traces of gilt, 38" high on a 1" marble base, had an estimate of $400,000/600,000. This edition is “the original and the smallest of three versions that Manship made,” according to Edwin Murtha (Paul Manship, 1957, p. 161), referenced in Sotheby’s catalog.

The morning after the appeals court injunction, the seven paintings had been removed from the exhibition floor and a small group of Massachusetts residents from the Berkshires demonstrated quietly in front of the auction house at 72nd Street and York Avenue in support of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, who had filed the motion.

Thomas Moran (1837-1926) gifted A Sand Storm, Acoma, New Mexico to Dr. and Mrs. William Abraham Bell in 1901. The Bells settled in Manitou Springs, Colorado, in the 1870s and befriended Moran when he was traveling in Arizona and New Mexico. Estimated at $150,000/250,000, the 9¾" x 13¾" watercolor and pencil on paper, signed, dated, and inscribed, sold for $399,000 to an online bidder. Nathaniel Owings of Owings Gallery, Santa Fe, was the underbidder. The work descended in the Bell family.

“The O’Keeffes are beautiful,” declared New York City dealer Debra Force after previewing the American art sale. She bid successfully for this 1937 oil on canvas by Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Shell (Shell IV, The Shell, Shell I), paying $1,515,000 (est. $700,000/1 million) for it. The 9½" x 13" painting, property from the estate of a private California collector, has provenance of Hirschl & Adler Galleries and the Downtown Gallery, New York City.

Furthermore, a banner advertising the Rockwells on the front of Sotheby’s building was replaced with one advertising the Impressionist and modern art sale.

On Monday, November 13, a little before the scheduled 4 p.m. sale, as a convivial crowd filled Sotheby’s seventh-floor salesroom, an addendum noted that lots 10 through 16 had been withdrawn from the sale.

In addition to Rockwell’s Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop, 1940, gifted to the museum by the artist in 1966, with an estimate of $7/10 million and Shuffleton’s Barbershop, painted in 1950 and gifted by Rockwell in 1959, other works from the Berkshire Museum withdrawn from the American art sale were Albert Bierstadt’s Connecticut River Valley, Claremont, New Hampshire, 1865; Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s The White Dress, 1921; Magnolia, dated 1860, by John La Farge; Hunter in Winter Wood, 1860, by George Henry Durrie; and Diana of the Tower, 1899, by Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Besides the seven lots in the American art sale, Sotheby’s had 12 other works with confirmed sale dates out of the 40 the museum had placed with the auction house.

The withdrawals notwithstanding, the late afternoon sale totaled $19.4 million, with a 75.3% sell-through rate by lot. The original estimate, which included the Berkshire Museum property, was $48.2/71.8 million.

The Owings Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico, bought New Mexico Recollections by Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) for $615,000. Painted 1922-23, the 21¾" x 35¼" oil on canvas had an estimate of $700,000/1 million. The work was painted while Hartley was in Berlin and is one of 24 paintings in a series of the same title.

While attending the auction preview the week before the sale, several dealers had remarked, “There isn’t much here” without the Berkshire Museum pieces. Nevertheless, in a week filled with art fairs and gallery open houses, the sale was attended by the usual cast of dealers and collectors in town for the events and those curious about the well-publicized sale. “It’s on the schedule,” several attendees explained. Dealers like to see what others are buying.

The top-selling lot of the sale was this 23¾" x 35¾" oil on canvas by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Indians Crossing the Columbia River (Indians on the Columbia River, with Mount Hood in the Distance), signed and dated ’67. It sold for $2.175 million (est. $1.5/2.5 million) to A.J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC, Seattle, Washington. The work had been in a “distinguished” American collection since the 1970s. Bierstadt first saw Mount Hood on his second journey west with the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow, according to an entry in Sotheby’s catalog.

The highlights of the sale included Albert Bierstadt’s Indians Crossing the Columbia River, 1867, which sold to A.J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC for $2.175 million (with buyer’s premium); Georgia O’Keeffe’s Shell, 1937, which went to Debra Force Fine Art, Inc. for $1.5 million; and Mary Cassatt’s Master Robert Kelso Cassatt, 1882-83, which sold for $1.45 million to Nan Chisholm Fine Art on behalf of a private collection.

The captions and images illustrate the sale. Further information is available online (www.sothebys.com).

The top-selling lot of the sale was this 23¾" x 35¾" oil on canvas by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), Indians Crossing the Columbia River (Indians on the Columbia River, with Mount Hood in the Distance), signed and dated ’67. It sold for $2.175 million (est. $1.5/2.5 million) to A.J. Kollar Fine Paintings, LLC, Seattle, Washington. The work had been in a “distinguished” American collection since the 1970s. Bierstadt first saw Mount Hood on his second journey west with the writer Fitz Hugh Ludlow, according to an entry in Sotheby’s catalog.

Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) painted South American Landscape (Study for Chimborazo) during 1856-57. He first traveled to Colombia and Ecuador in 1853. Church relied on his plein-air sketches and memory of the landscape to compose this work, which was painted several years after that trip. The 12 1/8" x 18 1/8" oil on canvas sold to a buyer bidding in the room for $519,000 (est. $200,000/300,000).

Imaginary Portrait of a Woman by Max Weber (1881-1961), signed and dated 1913, sold to a phone bidder for $795,000 (est. $400,000/600,000). It went to a private collection. The underbidder was art dealer Nan Chisholm, who was in the salesroom. The work was acquired by the consignor at Sotheby’s New York, May 19, 2004, American paintings, drawings, and sculpture auction, where it sold for $456,000.

The Cotton Plantation by William Aiken Walker (1838/39-1921), property from the Mellon family collection, sold for $350,000 (est. $150,000/250,000) to a buyer bidding in the salesroom. The 22" x 36" oil on canvas, signed and dated 1881, was authenticated by John Fowler, who is writing the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist’s work.

Master Robert Kelso Cassatt, oil on canvas, 19¾" x 24¼", by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) sold for $1.45 million to art advisor Nan Chisholm, who was bidding in the salesroom. She said she bought the portrait on behalf of a private collection. The subject is the artist’s nephew, son of her brother Alexander. The work descended in the artist’s family and then became part of the Elizabeth A. Keck collection.

Sugaring Time by Anna Mary Robertson “Grandma” Moses (1860-1961), signed, dated June 4, 1954, and numbered 1633, sold for $519,000 to a phone bidder. The oil and glitter on masonite, 18" x 24", was estimated at $100,000/150,000. Three phone buyers went after it. The work was fresh to market, having been acquired by the consignor in the 1970s.

The proposed sale of art from the Berkshire Museum attracted protestors. Adell photo.


Originally published in the February 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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