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Works by Hopper, O'Keeffe, Bierstadt, and Sully lead Christie's Sale of American Art
Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Sun Water Maine. Pastel on paper laid down on board, 19 x 25¼ in. (48.3 x 64.1 cm.), Executed in 1922. Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000. Photo: Christie's Images Ltd 2012.

NEW YORK, NY.- Christie’s announced the sale of American Art on 28 November, which will showcase a superb selection of 19th and 20th century American art. The sale is comprised of works ranging from early historical portraiture to the daring work of American Modernists. Highlights from the sale include masterpieces by Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Frederic Edwin Church, Everett Shinn, Paul Manship, and Childe Hassam. Comprised of 140 lots, the sale of American Art is expected to realize in excess of $33 million.

The sale is led by Edward Hopper’s October on Cape Cod, which presents a view of a house and small barn from across a deserted road, permeated by profound silence and stillness (estimate: $8,000,000-12,000,000). Gone is the clear blue, summer sky, replaced by the subtle, gray-tinged autumn light. The artist frequently drove around the Cape in search of subject matter, often drawing and painting from his car, a practice that he undertook in various locations throughout his career as far away as the Oregon coast. This imbues his works with a sense of distance, often making the viewer feel like a voyeur, rather than a participant in the scene. Executed in 1946, this work is one of only a few of Hopper’s paintings that have remained in private hands.

Christie's will be offering two works by Georgia O’Keeffe from the Slick Family Collection. Tom Slick was a successful businessman, rancher, and entrepreneur who, in addition to his accomplishments in architecture, agriculture and oil exploration, amassed an important collection of American and European Modern art, a portion of which was gifted to the McNay Art Museum in Texas in 1973. While many Modernists in the 1920s turned to the industrial sector for inspiration, Georgia O’Keeffe embraced the spiritual power of nature. Executed in 1922, Sun Water Maine is a fantastic and rare example of O’Keeffe’s early work that reinterprets the tradition of the American landscape (estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000). She returned to the sun motif throughout her career, having first been employed in her 1917 Evening Star series. In Sun Water Maine, O’Keeffe displays her mastery of the pastel medium, creating a complex and visually striking surface as she varies the application and saturation of the pigments and juxtaposes rich surface with bare paper, heightening the effect of each. In addition to Sun Water Maine, Georgia O’Keeffe’s The Black Place III will also be offered from the Slick Family Collection (estimate: $1,500,000-2,500,000). Executed in 1945, The Black Place III is a rare and impressive large-scale pastel that depicts the hilly terrain of New Mexico in a wonderful synthesis of form and color.

William Herbert Dunton’s Across the Intervening Desert the Eyes of the Two Men Met in Grim Defiance was painted in 1910 when Dunton was at the peak of his career as a commercial illustrator, but draws its authenticity from the artist’s personal experiences as a cowboy (estimate: $300,000-500,000). The present example is one of four works by Dunton painted as illustrations for Randall Parrish’s novel Keith of the Border: A Tale of the Plains. A true demonstration of the artist’s ability to capture the drama of the Wild West, the scene depicts the climactic final confrontation of the protagonist, Captain Keith, with the depraved man who had framed him for murder. There is a fantastic selection of other Western artworks in the sale, including another work by Dunton entitled Going In, The Bear Hunters (estimate: $300,000-500,000), Frederic Remington’s sculpture The Mountain Man (estimate: $200,000-300,000), and The Wampum Traders, a magnificent early depiction of Native Americans by Victor Higgins (estimate: $300,000-500,000).

Seals on the Rocks, executed by Albert Bierstadt circa 1872-1873, is one of only five large-scale oils of the subject and one of three in this series that depict the rock formation known as Muir Bridge, located off the coast of San Francisco (estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000). Bierstadt made multiple journeys from the East Coast to the far reaches of the Western frontier in search of a pure landscape as untouched by human presence. Among the diverse topography that inspired him during his travels was the coast of California. Bierstadt splendidly portrays the rugged coast and turbulent sea in Seals on the Rocks while imbuing the canvas with a celestial light, juxtaposing the power and sublimity of the natural world, emblematic of his greatest works.

A portrait of General George Washington, painted in 1842 by Thomas Sully, is a stunning masterpiece of the artist’s famed portraiture (estimate: $700,000-1,000,000). In the mid-19th century, Sully was America’s leading portraitist and included amongst his most eminent sitters were Presidents Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson, as well as English nobility, such as Lord Byron and even the young Queen Victoria. Over the course of his near-seventy-year career, Sully painted twenty-one images of George Washington. This particular likeness of George Washington, atop his steed and nobly surveying the battlefield, is an iconic representation of a national hero and a moving symbol of America’s past and present glory. Sully was insistent on historical accuracy in his works and scholars have determined that the present scene is likely the Whiskey Riots of 1794, when Pennsylvania farmers protested an alcohol tax that lowered their profits. This event is of particular note as it was the only time in which a sitting president of the United States has personally led troops into battle, thus underscoring Washington’s status as a national hero.

A highlight among the illustrations in the sale is Maxfield Parrish’s The Manager Draws the Curtain, the last of twenty-five paintings the artist made for Louise Saunder’s 1925 book, The Knave of Hearts (estimate: $400,000-600,000). Parrish posed for the whimsical work and acts as the master of ceremonies, dressed as a thespian and welcoming the viewer into the story by dramatically drawing back the stage curtain. Influenced by the Old Master painters, Parrish often painted with glazes, a meticulous process that resulted in magnificent luminosity and intensity of color. After its completion, The Manager Draws the Curtain was gifted to Louise Saunders by Parrish and has remained in the author’s family since the late 1920s.

Deer Santy Claus by Norman Rockwell was believed to have been lost or discarded over eighty years ago, but was unexpectedly found in a closet in California this past May. (estimate: $300,000-500,000). Commissioned for the Western Newspaper Union syndicate in 1921, the painting depicts a young girl fast-asleep in her bed under a patchwork quilt in the foreground, with a letter addressed “Deer Santy Claus” tied to her bedpost. Santa Claus, dressed in his traditional red suit and hat, peers over the child, his hand is placed on his bearded chin as he contemplates what gift he should give her for the holiday. The painting evokes the sense of innocence nostalgia with which Norman Rockwell is so closely associated.

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November 12, 2012

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