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Sotheby's Sale of American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture to be Held May 21, 2009
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, Country Fair, 1950 (est. $700/900,000). Photo: Sotheby´s.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s spring sale of American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture will take place on May 21, 2009. The sale will feature a selection of works from private collections by prominent American artists spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, and will be exhibited to the public at Sotheby’s New York galleries beginning May 16.

The preeminent figure in one of America’s most renowned artistic families, Andrew Wyeth died in January at the age of 91. His widely exhibited tempera painting Buzzard’s Glory, from 1968, will be one of nine works by the artist offered this May (est. $600/800,000). The picture is among a selection of works included this season from a Private Minnesota Collection. Wyeth drew most of his subjects from his immediate surroundings, mainly Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he was raised and Cushing, Maine, where he spent his summers. Buzzard’s Glory depicts Johnny Lynch, a Chadds Ford neighbor. Wyeth wrote in his autobiography, “I, frankly, was intrigued by his jet-black hair. Often my interest in a subject comes from apparently insignificant detail. […] The title is the section of Chadds Ford – the Italian part of town – where his family lived for some time. Why Buzzard’s Glory? Well, this is where people lived who used to shoot buzzards to eat, and the place was always called Buzzard’s Glory. I can’t imagine how anyone could live after eating a buzzard.”

Also among the works on offer by Andrew Wyeth is Independence Day, from 1961 (est. $300/500,000). In the picture, Wyeth portrays his longtime friend and neighbor Tom Clark sitting on his porch alongside a billowing American flag. Clark lived in a small African American community in Chadds Ford known as “Little Africa,” which had originated as a Quaker stop on the Underground Railroad. Beginning in 1957, Wyeth produced numerous drawings and watercolors of Clark, whose physical features captivated the artist. Other works by Andrew Wyeth, as well as his son Jamie, will be offered as part of the Estate of Isaac Moinester.

The cover lot of the sale is Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses’s Country Fair, from 1950 (est. $700/900,000). Though Grandma Moses enjoyed painting as a small child, as an adult the demands of daily farm life and raising children prevented her from devoting her time to studying art. Not until she reached the age of 70 was Moses – or Grandma as she then preferred to be known – able to devote her attention to painting. She became a prolific artist, painting over 1,600 pictures, many of which depict her family’s happiest moments in the countryside. Without any formal artistic training, Grandma Moses’s subjects were drawn from her life as a mother and farmer’s wife both in the Shenandoah Valley and in Hoosick Falls, New York.

Walt Kuhn’s The White Rider (Rider With Blue Sash), dated 1946 (est. 400/600,000), also from the Private Minnesota Collection, is one of many modernist highlights. Kuhn’s career is almost exclusively identified with his poignant portrayals of circus and vaudeville performers. From 1941 to 1948, the artist was granted a press pass to Madison Square Garden, which allowed him to view performers not only on stage but behind the scenes as they prepared for their acts. Kuhn created a series of drawings during this time, some of which were developed into finished portraits such as this depiction of The White Rider, which presents his subject outside of the circus spectacle and grants the viewer access to the human character beneath the performer’s public persona.

Thomas Hart Benton’s Sea Phantasy I (est. $400/600,000) was painted for a sports den commissioned around 1925 by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Briggs. Briggs was an avid fisherman, and recruited Benton to create a room filled with sea motifs to compliment his trophy fish. Sea Phantasy I was one of four large wall panels the artist created, in addition to a three-part rug and a decorative folding screen. The abstracted forms and brightly colored compositions from this commission are a reflection of Benton’s continued interest in the structure and composition of Japanese prints as well as the Synchromist movement, which was based on the belief that the colors in a painting can be orchestrated in the same harmonious way that a composer arranges notes in a symphony.

Sotheby’s will offer a variety of works by American Impressionists. In 1906, John Singer Sargent painted Mrs. George Mosenthal, the wife of a wealthy merchant with a vast empire in South Africa (est. $900,000/1.2 million). Though Mrs. Mosenthal did not commission this portrait – she was most likely invited to sit for Sargent after the two met at a dinner party – a portrait by the esteemed artist would have been an ideal asset to her well-appointed home and a mark of her place in the upper echelons of British society. The elegant trappings of her portrait, such as the fashionable evening gown, jeweled ring and diamond hairpin, reveal the artist’s interest in presenting his affluent subjects as reflections of the rarefied world of London’s elite.

Childe Hassam’s Newport (est. $500/700,000) is one of only seven paintings he did of this affluent New England town, most of which are in public collections. Each spring, Hassam made plans to leave his New York studio and spend the summer months visiting resorts along the New England coast. Despite his regular travels, Hassam had only one extended stay in Newport, Rhode Island, in September and October 1901. Newport was, at the time, at the height of its Golden Age, with wealthy American families flocking there in the summer. Like many of Hassam’s New England works, the church steeple is featured on the horizon, echoed by the tall masts of the boats in the foreground.

Sotheby’s will offer five works by Winslow Homer, including his 1886 watercolor Spanish Moss at Tampa (est. $600/800,000). Between 1884 and 1905, Homer made several trips from Maine to the tropics, visiting the Bahamas, Florida, Cuba and Bermuda. In these new climates, Homer found both new challenges and new inspiration, and his Florida watercolors are notable for a wide range of techniques that he employed to portray the exotic landscape, from complex layers of color to delicate transparent washes. These scenes have a spontaneity and freshness that is strikingly different from earlier works.

Homer’s Three Figures in an Interior from 1885 (est. $150/250,000) is one of only a handful of works that the artist painted during his travels to Cuba. The previously unknown watercolor was discovered by a man visiting Southern Ireland on a fishing trip. He found the work lying near his favourite fishing spot and took it home. In May of last year, he brought it to the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow valuation day at Althorp House in Northamptonshire. The fine art dealer Philip Mould identified the watercolor as the work of Winslow Homer, and pointed out that it was signed. Mould commented, “[Homer] was an amazing painter, he was an impressionist, he was an illustrator, he travelled on the Continent, but basically he’s claimed by the Americans; he’s one of the great artists who define American heritage.”

Among the works of sculpture included in the sale is a monumental example of Harriet Whitney Frishmuth’s iconic sculpture The Vine, which measures 83 1/2 inches (est. $400/600,000). First modeled in 1921 and cast as a statuette, The Vine quickly became one of Frishmuth’s best-selling bronzes. During the forty-five years that the 11 1/4 inch sculpture was produced, 396 editions were cast, making it one of the largest authorized editions of American bronzes of the period. The small sculpture was modeled after a pose struck by one of Frishmuth’s students in a sculpting class, who later explained it was a position from her dancing. Two years later, in 1923, Frishmuth produced a larger-than-life version for a special exhibition to be held at the National Sculpture Society. The present work is one of only five large-scale bronze editions of The Vine and is from the collection of the Regents of the University of California.

Sotheby’s will also offer a strong selection of Western works, including paintings and sculpture by Frederic Remington being sold by the Art Institute of Chicago. Several of the sale’s top Western works come from the aforementioned Minnesota Private Collection, among them Walter Ufer’s The Red Moccasins, from 1917 (est. $500/700,000). Ufer travelled to New Mexico in 1914 with the sponsorship of the Chicago Mayor, who encouraged young artists to visit Taos. In Taos, Ufer was struck by both the landscape and the declining native culture of the Pueblo Indians in the face of modernization. The artist’s depiction of the moccasin mender carefully preparing the traditional Taos footwear amidst broken boards, rough clay walls and a damaged blackware pot reveals his compassion for the plight of the Indian people, who were forced to adjust to a transforming world.

Charles Marion Russell’s Buffalo Hunting, dated 1894, will also be offered from the Private Minnesota Collection (est. $400/600,000). For Russell, who travelled to Montana one summer at the age of fifteen and never returned home, the buffalo hunt was a central image that the artist explored throughout his career. While Buffalo herds were frequently decimated by Anglos hunting hides, for the Native American population with which Russell was closely linked, the buffalo hunt was a source of great pride. Russell depicted such hunts with reverence and admiration for the pre-reservation Indians he so respected. Henry François Farny’s The Toilers of the Plains (est. $250/350,000) and Oscar E. Berninghaus’s Cottonwood River Ranch (est. $250/350,000) will also be included from the same collection.

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