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American Art achieves $43.3 million at Sotheby's NY; PAFA privately acquires Frederic Edwin Church masterpiece
NC Wyeth, Portrait of a Farmer, 1943, tempera on Renaissance panel. Estimate: $2,500,000 - 3,500,000. Sold for: $5,985,900. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Yesterday’s auction of American Art at Sotheby’s New York totaled $43.3 million*, with 9 lots achieving prices over $1 million. Among the 120 lots offered were 12 works by Norman Rockwell, all of which sold, realizing a combined total of $19.8 million. The group was led by Blacksmiths’ Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop) – a monumental painting by the artist – which sold for $8.1 million. Auction highlights also included N.C. Wyeth’s Portrait of a Farmer (Pennsylvania Farmer), which set a new record for the artist at auction with a final price of $6 million.

Following yesterday’s auction, The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) acquired Frederic Edwin Church’s masterpiece, Valley of Santa Isabel, New Granada, from the collection of the Berkshire Museum through a private sale arranged by Sotheby’s. Church is arguably one of the artists most integral to the history of American art, and this will be the first work by Church (1826 – 1900) to enter the Museum’s permanent collection. “PAFA is thrilled that this important American artwork will allow us to tell the sweeping story of American art,” said Brooke Davis Anderson, Edna S. Tuttleman Director of the Museum. “We are honored to become the custodians of this important painting.”

Kayla Carlsen, Head of Sotheby’s American Art Department, New York, commented: “With prices over a million for works by Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth, Milton Avery, and George Luks, we were pleased to see interest yesterday across genres – a sign of confidence in this market. Collectors respond with enthusiasm for works fresh to the market, and our auction of American Art was a great testament to this.”

The American Art auction was dominated by Norman Rockwell, with 6 of the top 10 prices in the sale realized for works by the artist. Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop) was the top offering, sold to benefit the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Commissioned for a 2 November 1940 The Saturday Evening Post story by Edward W. O’Brien, the large-scale painting illustrating a horseshoe-forging contest sold for $8.1 million (estimate $7/10 million). Boy Playing Flute Surrounded by Animals (Springtime) from the Jack & Bonita Granville Wrather Collection also achieved a significant price. An early work by the artist that appeared on the 16 April 1927 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the painting ignited a bidding war between two potential buyers before selling for $4.1 million (estimate $1.5/2.5 million).

Formerly in the collection of the artist’s wife, N.C. Wyeth’s Portrait of a Farmer (Pennsylvania Farmer) set a new record for the artist at auction. Described in a 1943 letter to his daughter Henriette as “vastly superior to anything to date”, the painting, in its auction debut, attracted three determined phone bidders who drove the final price to $6 million, far surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $2.5/3.5 million. In addition to N.C., works by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth found substantial interest in yesterday’s salesroom; Snow in April by Jamie Wyeth attained a final price of $75,000 (estimate $60/80,000) while Andrew Wyeth’s Perpetual Care from the Collection of Patrick and Carlyn Duffy and The Trophy from a private St. Louis Collection realized $591,000 and $435,000, respectively.

Milton Avery’s The Seamstress was another major highlight of the American Art sale. Also emerging from the Collection of Patrick & Carlyn Duffy, who purchased the work at auction 20 years ago, the vibrant work from 1944 sold for a final price of $2,175,000. Nearly a hundred lots later, Setting Sun, a luminous oil on paper mounted on Masonite from 1958, achieved $687,000, a new record for a work on paper by the artist at auction.

Yesterday’s results followed exceptional prices for American Art offered in last week’s weeks of Impressionist & Modern Art. Georgia O’Keeffe’s Lake George with White Birch, held in the same private collector for over 50 years and appearing at auction for the first time, sold to applause for $11.3 million, nearly double its high estimate of $6 million. Several minutes later, Mary Cassatt’s A Goodnight Hug from the Collection of Bunny Adler, a champion for women artists, realized $4.5 million – multiples of its high estimate of $1 million, and a record for a work on paper by the artist.

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