Sotheby’s December American Paintings Sale

. November 24, 2009

Sotheby’s auction of American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture on 3 December 2009 will offer collectors a rich array of works by American artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. The auction includes a number of major paintings and sculptures almost entirely unknown to the market, many of which have been in private collections for the last several decades. Works from the sale will be exhibited at Sotheby’s New York galleries beginning November 28.

Childe HassamFeatured on the cover of the sale catalogue is Childe Hassam’s 1895 painting, The White Dory, Gloucester from the collection of Winthrop L. and Margaret Carter of Portsmouth, New Hampshire (est. $2.5/3.5 million). In 1895, Hassam was at the height of his powers as an Impressionist. Hassam likely started The White Dory during his 1894 visit to Gloucester, and completed it in his studio during the winter months of 1895, finally exhibiting it at the National Academy of Design the following spring. Critics responded with enthusiasm; The New York Times declared at the time, “Agreeable in composition, charmingly drawn and painted, Mr. Hassam has invested this canvas with a brilliancy and realism of sunlight.” The canvas features a central figure, most likely the artist’s wife Maud, as the focal point of the composition and showcases Hassam’s impressionist staccato brushwork, which suggests the effects of the shimmering sun on both the water and the folds of the figures dress. Hassam would continue to paint Gloucester throughout the rest of his life, bringing the vibrancy and clarity of his Impressionist vision to this quintessentially American setting.

Sotheby’s will also offer six works from the Collection of Mary Schiller Myers and Louis S. Myers, noted collectors and arts benefactors from Akron, Ohio, including Marsden Hartley’s Mountain #22 and Milton Avery’s Mountain Landscape. After returning from an extended sojourn in Europe and unable to face either his critics in New York or bitter memories from his childhood in Maine, Marsden Hartley spent the summer of 1930 in the mountains of New Hampshire. While there, he painted a series of works, including Mountain No. 22 (est. $800,000/1.2 million), that depicted views of the American wilderness reminiscent of Cezanne’s views of the French countryside. Mountain No. 22 creates a bold visual effect in which the viewer’s focus is drawn to the imposing mountain and is considered one of the artist’s best works from this series.

Milton Avery’s 1947 Mountain Landscape (est. $500/700,000), also from the MyersCollection, is one of seven works by the artist offered this season. In the summer of 1947 Avery and his family escaped the heat of New York City and travelled to Northwest Canada, where he filled his sketchbooks daily with views of the countryside. Avery pushed his landscapes to the farthest limits of pure abstraction using simplified shapes and flat planes of color. He never abandoned the traditional convention of working from nature, always including some small detail to keep his pictures from becoming pure color-fields. In Mountain Landscape, Avery depicts the rolling green hills and distant snowy peaks of Canada as one flat plane whose layers magically convey a sense of the spaciousness and depth of an actual panoramic view.

Avery is perhaps best-known for his figural works, in which he depicts the human form with a minimum of lines to create a structural simplicity rooted in design rather than reality. Avery often based his large figural works, such as Woman at Telephone, 1948, (est. $700,000/1 million) on his many figural drawings he did as preparatory sketches. In Woman at Telephone, Avery constructed his design using flat, boldly colored interlocking shapes. Avery completed Hen and Cock in 1951 (est. $400/600,000) using his solidly established compositional format of using flat planes of color carefully juxtaposed to each other. In Hen and Cock we see the same deceptively simple composition infused with his characteristic whimsy.

Arthur Dove painted Arrangement (est. $600/800,000) in 1944, two years before his death, during a period in which he was approaching his work with a new intensity and focus. Following a heart attack, Dove was diagnosed with a kidney disorder that left the artist housebound for the rest of his life. Ironically, this setback yielded the most fully-developed and forward-looking work of his career. Arrangement, like other works from this fruitful period, represents the culmination of Dove’s unique synthesis of nature and abstraction and comprises sculptural, biomorphic, three-dimensional and overlapping shapes.

In contrast to Avery and Dove’s modernist works of the 1940s is Thomas Hart Benton’s Little Brown Jug, circa 1941 (est. $600/800,000), which draws inspiration from Glen Miller’s 1939 recording of a song of the same name. Music became was great passion for Benton, and scenes incorporating musicians, dancing and vignettes based on popular folk songs were often subjects of his canvases.

Norman Rockwell’s Under the Mistletoe was painted in 1936 for the December 19th cover of The Saturday Evening Post (est. $600/800,000). Though Rockwell painted over 300 covers illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post during his forty-seven year career with the publication, his most beloved works were his holiday-themed covers. Under the Mistletoe captures an intimate but playful moment between a travelling gentleman and a barmaid as he bends forward for a kiss under the mistletoe.

Two works by the late Andrew Wyeth will also be featured. Bikini (est. $300/500,000), which was executed in 1968, was the first work Andrew Wyeth painted featuring Siri Erickson. After the death of Christina Olson, the subject of Wyeth’s famed painting Christina’s World, Siri filled the void left by Christina and assumed the role as Wyeth’s model for the next ten years. In 1982, after summering in Maine for almost sixty years, Andrew Wyeth painted Sea Level (est. $300/500,000), which depicts the worn, slatted wood siding of a schoolhouse owned by the Wyeths on Bradford Point. For Wyeth, watercolor allowed him to instantaneously record the world around him as he saw it. As Wyeth’s career progressed, the bold, fluid watercolors he had painted in his youth gave way to starker, more tightly executed works like Sea Level.

Painted circa 1852, Fitz Henry Lane’s View of Camden Mountains from Penobscot Bay (est. $600/800,000), presents a different view of Maine. Between 1848 and his death in 1865, Lane made regular visits to Maine, where he stayed with the family of a close friend. Lane’s intimate knowledge of the state’s landscape led him to complete detailed compositions of the state’s myriad bays, islands, and peninsulas that dotted the coast, manipulating the striking atmospheric light of the summer months, especially during the sunrise and sunset. Lane based his finished oils such as View of Camden Mountains on sketches and studies completed while touring the area; the lack of foreground in many of his drawings suggests he completed them while on board a boat. View of Camden Mountains displays Lane’s careful draftsmanship, control of color values and strong silhouettes.

Mary Cassatt’s Mathilde Holding a Baby Who Reaches Out to Right was acquired by the present owner in 1964 and is also among the 19th century highlights in the sale (est. $700/900,000). Executed in 1890, the work is one of only a few depictions of Cassatt’s loyal maid, Mathilde Valet. Cassatt discovered pastel with the help of her colleague Edgar Degas, and with the medium she was able to demonstrate her skills as an accomplished draftsman and colorist. In Mathilde Holding a Baby, the artist deftly renders the flesh tones with layered pigments to create volume.

Among the highlights of the sculpture on offer is Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ Amor Caritas (est. $150/200,000). Saint-Gaudens first exhibited the life-size plaster of Amor Caritas to great fanfare at the Paris Salon of 1898. It was case in bronze upon commission from the French Government soon after the show, and represents the culmination of the sculptor’s address of the frontal classic female figure. In response to the work’s enthusiastic reception, Saint-Gaudens cast approximately twenty forty-inch bronze reductions, including the present work.

Image: Childe Hassam, “The White Dory”, Gloucester, 1895. Oil on canvas, 26 x 21 inches. Est. $2.5/3.5 million. Photo: Sotheby’s

Category: Auction News

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