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Sotheby's American Art Auction totals $44.1 million
The auction was led by Edward Hopper’s autobiographical masterwork Two Comedians, which sold for $12.5 million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s marquee week of fine art auctions in New York concluded on Friday afternoon with the dedicated auction of American Art totaling $44.1 million – the highest total for a various-owner auction of American Art at Sotheby’s since the auction house sold Georgia O’Keeffe’s iconic Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1 in 2014. Over the course of the week’s flagship auctions in New York, Sotheby’s sales of American Art have raised $76.6 million.

Kayla Carlsen, Head of Sotheby’s American Art Department, New York, commented: “Friday’s results showed continued strength across the full scope of the American Art category, from auction record prices for 19th–century works by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze and Thomas Moran, to Modern and Contemporary masterworks by Georgia O’Keeffe and Edward Hopper. We were thrilled to see such success among a diverse and wide-ranging group of museum quality works drive one of our highest results in recent seasons.”

The auction was led by Edward Hopper’s autobiographical masterwork Two Comedians, which sold for $12.5 million. Formerly in the collection of Frank and Barbara Sinatra, the 1966 work represents the culmination of Hopper’s career, depicting the artist and his wife on stage taking a final bow before turning to walk into the unknown. Jo holds the artist’s hand, symbolizing their close bond and significant role she played in his life and career.

The strong selection of Western art on offer by iconic names including Thomas Moran, William Robinson Leigh and Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze performed well throughout Friday’s sale. The group was topped by Leutze's impressively-scaled Western Emigrant Train Bound for California Across the Plains, Alarmed by Approach of Hostile Indians, which fetched $4.8 million – well in excess of its $3.5 million high estimate, and more than double the previous world auction record for the artist. The work was sold to benefit the Dover Free Public Library in Dover, New Jersey, where it has resided since it was gifted to the institution in 1943. Though Leutze was born in Germany in 1816 and spent most of his life living and working there, his paintings of the significant figures and historical events of 18th and 19th century America rank as the most celebrated images of his oeuvre – including his iconic image of Washington Crossing the Delaware in the collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Works by Moran were led by Big Springs in Yellowstone Park, sold above estimate for $1.9 million. Showcasing his mastery of the medium, the watercolor was commissioned as part of the United States Congress’s geological survey of the Yellowstone Territories led by Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden in the 1870s.

Following Wednesday night’s sale of Georgia O’Keeffe’s A Street and Calla Lilies on Red, Friday’s American Art auction featured the artist’s Cottonwood Tree in Spring, which sold for $3.9 million – well above its $2.5 million high estimate. Painted in 1943, the work serves as a testament to the deep inspiration O’Keeffe found in the American Southwest. Each on offer from the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico and sold to benefit its Acquisitions Fund, the three paintings sold last week by O’Keeffe together achieved $23.3 million.

Horace Pippin’s Holy Mountain, I achieved $3.3 million, more than eight times the artist’s previous auction record of $385,000 which was set by the very same painting in a Sotheby’s New York auction in 1987. Following the artist’s honorable discharge from the United States army in WWII, the pastoral work presents an autobiographical scene, with a harmonious foreground contrasted by soldiers marching through the ominous forested background. Reflecting on his personal experiences in WWII and the cultural climate of the period, the work is dated to June 6, 1944, corresponding with D-Day, and further reinforcing the ideological dichotomy between war and peace.

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