Led by the sale of New Hope impressionist Daniel Garber's "Quarries at Byram," which realized $229,000 (estimate $200,000-300,000), Freeman's
December 6th Fine American & European Painting and Sculpture sale was a great success, with 91 percent of the lots finding buyers (95 percent by value) and realized a sale total of $2,230,000. A traditional highlight of the auction season at Freeman's and in Philadelphia, the annual December 'Fine' sale, as commonly referred to, is not only one of the best and most eagerly anticipate auctions Freeman's conducts year after year, but has become a barometer of the health of the American and European picture markets.
Fresh off the highly successful November 1st Modern & Contemporary Works of Art sale featuring works from the Lehman Brothers Collection, this sale was characterized by a nearly fully occupied sales room and hundreds of telephone bids secured from bidders throughout the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
"We worked quite diligently to put together an auction that was larger in size than many of our traditional December 'fine' sales, but I would point out that the breadth and quality of the items on offer were not lacking, including, though not limited to, the interesting fresh to market artworks consigned from an important Wellesley, Massachusetts private collection," remarked Alasdair Nichol, specialist in charge for this sale, and Freeman's Vice-Chairman.
The aforementioned lots were highlighted by two rare, exquisite paintings by first generation abstract expressionist Richard Pousette-Dart. The object of much interest, each sold to a telephone bidder, with the smaller of the two works, "Untitled", coasting to $85,000, over double its projected low auction estimate. A second, larger Pousette-Dart oil, "Radiance", also sold well at $67,000.
Another important consignor to this sale was Lehman Brothers, works from whom provided the core of the aforementioned 'Modern & Contemporary' sale. This time, the Lehman contribution was in the form of more traditional, albeit no less desirable blue-chip late 19th-early 20th-century paintings, apart from the more modernist lot 60, the first of the Lehman offerings in this sale: a visually intriguing, large bronze sculpture with gold patina by the Northern Irish sculptor Frederick Edward McWilliam. Its appearance at auction somewhat of a rarity on this side of the Atlantic, the McWilliam bronze brought nearly triple its high estimate, a testament to the continuing interest in post-war art from the UK, as well as a nod to the strategic marketing alliance that Freeman's shares with its sister auctioneer, Edinburgh's Lyon & Turnbull.
Interest generated in that lot appears to have been a catalyst for the next 33 Lehman lots, all of which sold, with a number of the artworks from this estimable collection selling for far in excess of their respective estimates. An example of the latter included lot 69, "Wooded Landscape" by Robert Emmett Owen - a picture whose oaks graced by seasonal foliage seemed the very picture of Philadelphia in December. Priced at $2,500-4,000, this lot realized $15,000.
The next lot was also the object of fierce bidding. While featuring an ominous oncoming storm, "A Cloudy Day" by William Merritt Post was anything but, with determined bidders driving the price up to $11,250, against an estimate of $2,000-3,000. Three lots later, Edmund Darch Lewis' "Yachts off Ochre Point, Newport", a favorite site of many 19th-century American landscapists, brought $11,250, and was one of six works by Lewis on offer in this auction, all of which sold.
Another standout from the Lehman Collection was lot 90, a watercolor on paper by John Costigan. Arguably better known for many of his etchings published by the Associated American Artists, "Industry 1942" was characterized by its mural-like design glorifying the industrial age, this work sold for $15,000, over seven times its low estimate.
Rounding out the Collection, and a testament to the ever popular scenes of Manhattan in the snow, lot 92, Johann Berthelsen's "Wall Street - Trinity Church", and lot 93, Guy Wiggins' "The Plaza in Winter", 1959 each sold well in excess of their respective estimates, with the former realizing $15,000, and the latter hammering down at $35,800.
Highlights in the area of American paintings included two fine oils by the California landscape painter and illustrator John (Jack) Frost. "A Huntsman and His Dog", and "Fly Fisherman on a River" sold for $23,750 and $17,500, respectively. Those oils were consigned from a Western Pennsylvania collector - related, at least geographically, was the "Pittsburgh Night Scene" by Aaron Harry Gorson, lot 218. A classic industrial scene depicting the steel city in all its glory, and graced with important gallery and museum exhibition provenance, it brought $49,000.
Returning to the California theme, this sale included nine oils by the ever popular Robert Wood. Consigned from a private Las Vegas collection, each easily found buyers, with the Texas-inspired "Bluebonnet Time", lot 130, selling for $8,125 - the top price of the group. "That Freeman's is now consistently finding good private sellers from across the U.S. and frankly the world, speaks well of our growth as a company and our marketing prowess since the start of the decade" said Nichol, referring not only to the Wood paintings, but to many of the other lots in this sale which were not only offered on behalf of consignors outside of the greater metropolitan Philadelphia area, but which also found an array of national and international buyers.
Other notable American artworks sold in this auction included lot 217, a rare, fresh to market double-sided watercolor by the important modernist Charles Demuth, entitled "Trees" which brought $67,000, selling to a private collector. Rockport based Harry Aiken Vincent's "Tuna Fisherman" was reeled in at $26,200, and Emile Gruppe, himself no stranger to Rockport, was well represented in this sale, with four Gruppe oils finding buyers, highlighted by "Naples Bay", a lovely Florida scene that realized $13,750 - well above its high estimate.
Subjects depicting cowboys, Native Americans and hunt parties all found favor with buyers, highlighted by two Karl Andre Jean Reille oils filled with foxhounds and traditionally clad hunters - one realized $10,000, the other, $8,750 and "Before the Race", a joint effort by William H. Hopkins and Edmund Havell selling for $15,000. Finally, notable American sculptors were represented by lot 108, Augustus Saint-Gaudens' Robert Louis Stevenson, which sold for $23,750, and the following lot 109, Harriet Whitney Frishmuth's "Laughing Waters", a somewhat rare model by one of the more important early 20th-century American female sculptors.
European paintings were well represented in this auction, beginning with lot 1, an usually large gold-ground picture depicting "The Pieta with Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene". It last appeared on the market back in 1941, where it realized $100. The object of much speculation relative to authorship, Freeman's catalogued this oil on panel with architectural engaged frame as being by a Follower of Leonardo Da Vinci. After much competitive bidding both nationally and internationally, a telephone bidder won the lot for $58,000, or nearly three times its low estimate.
Capturing bidder interest of a decidedly non-religious sort, the late 19th-century Swiss painter Otto Pilny's "Dancing Odalisque" oil, lot 48, replete with all manner of Orientalist-themed accoutrement brought $58,000, despite its somewhat poor condition, having braved an ill-fated trip from Europe before settling for decades in a Maryland home.
Also popular was Cesar Lagar's Harlequin with "Guitar and Monkey", lot 59. Picasso-esque in depiction, it was the object of much interest from the artist's native Spain, and realized $46,000, easily eclipsing its high estimate. Fellow Spaniard Carlos Nadal's "Columbus Circle", New York, lot 59-A brought its high estimate of $15,000.
More traditional 19th-century Continental pictures also proved popular in this sale, including works by Henri Manguin, "Paysage", lot 56, which brought $26,200, Francesco Bergamini, "Choir Practice", lot 26, which, at $23,750 hardly sold for a song.
Finally, a small, traditional work of Venice by Rubens Santoro, "On the Venetian Lagoon", lot 57, sold for $13,750, and seven oils by the female French animalier painter Rosa Bonheur sold in this auction, with lot "Oxen Plowing", lot 41, leading the way at $11,875.
Traditionally, a select group of lots in Freeman's December 'Fine Painting' sale has been reserved for artists who, while not all Pennsylvania based, exhibited at The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This sale was no exception, with bidder enthusiasm particularly on display for New Hope master Daniel Garber, whose "Quarries at Byram", lot 221, discovered by the present owner in the 1980s in the artist's studio, realized $229,000.
The following lot, "A Winter Landscape", was the first of three oils on offer by New Hope stalwart Fern Isabel Coppedge. It sold for $52,000, just above high estimate, with the next two Coppedge oils following suit: Neeley's "Mill Near New Hope" sold for $37,000, and "Cornelia Gleed Thompson Farm Home", a very small early work, brought $11,875.
Five lots later, "Lime-Kiln Pike, PA" by Edward Willis Redfield, a winter scene acquired by the present owner's grandfather in the 1930s and has remained in private collection ever since, realized $32,200. Other lots of note contained within the 'PAFA' portion of the auction included a series of works by Violet Oakley, revered locally as a muralist and illustrator. These were lots 211 through 215, with each work bringing strong prices, highlighted by the first of this group, "A Roadside Encounter", lot 211, a sun-dappled impressionist inspired work depicting a suitor and the smartly attired object of his desire in a landscape. The following lot, an academic interior scene of William L. Lathrop in "His Studio at New Hope" realized $17,500, over four times its low estimate.
Other local late 19th- early 20th-century favorites, although not PAFA-affiliated, represented in this sale, included Henry Bayley Snell, a close friend of William L. Lathrop. Freeman's offered 19 lots of Snell's work, and all sold well, including an unusual assortment of sketchbooks and photographs, all consigned by a descendant of the artist, and each the object of much interest amongst dedicated Snell collectors seeking fine examples of his skills as a draftsman and watercolorist, on a very small, intimate scale. Two oils by the aforementioned Lathrop were included in this sale: lot 202, "After the Storm", realizing $15,000, and lot 203, "Martha's Vineyard Pasture", realizing $12,500. Another local favorite, Harry Leith-Ross was represented in this sale by lot 204. "Epting Farm", an interesting agrarian scene privately consigned from an upstate New York collection. Never before offered at auction, it brought $15,000.
Freeman's next 'Fine American & European Paintings & Sculpture' sale will be held in June 2010, and suitable consignments are already being accepted for that sale.