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Modern masters lead Sotheby's New York Sale of American Art
Oscar Bluemner, Violet Tones, signed Florianus (lower right); also signed, titled, dated and inscribed 28 1/2 x 38 1/2 Tempera - Varnish Painting/on Paper/1934 Record #370/"Violet Tones"/Oscar F. Bluemner/102 Plain St. S. Braintree/Mass on the reverse, casein on Fabriano paper mounted on board by the artist, 28 ½ by 38 ½ inches (72.4 by 97.8 cm). Estimate $2/3 million. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s announced their American Art auction, taking place on 23 May in New York City. Led by Norman Rockwell’s Two Plumbers, which was featured on the cover of the 2 June 1951 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, the sale is particularly well represented by 20th century masters, including Marsden Hartley, Thomas Hart Benton and Oscar Bluemner. In addition to the 120+ lots offered on the 23rd, American Art Online is now open for bidding 4-24 May at The exhibitions open to the public this Saturday, 20 May, and will remain open until 12pm on the 23rd.

Two Plumbers from 1951 is Norman Rockwell at his best. Created at the height of his career, the painting brilliantly demonstrates the artist’s talent for depicting everyday life with a dose of humor. To produce the current work, Rockwell employed two of his studio assistants – Don Winslow and Gene Pelham – as models, posing them in front of a dresser owned by his wife, Mary. By combining real-life models, who were often friends and neighbors of the artist, and photography, Rockwell was able to meticulously account for each and every detail, which is in part what brings his paintings to life. In his own words: “Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors. I don’t fake it anymore”. Sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1996, and having remained in the same private collection since, Two Plumbers returns to the market this season with a pre-sale estimate of $5/7 million.

John Alfred Parsons Millet is an exceptional example of John Singer Sargent’s celebrated portraiture, which earned him international renown by the 1880s (estimate $2.5/3.5 million). Depicting his godson, a member of the Millet family, who were patrons of the artist, the painting was a gift from the artist to the sitter’s mother, and is inscribed to my friend Mrs. Millet. Included widely in major exhibitions, including in London, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Tokyo, the work has been off the market since 1980.

Acquired by the present owner in 1971, Church by the Barrens, Indian Harbor, Maine is a bold example from Marsden Hartley’s mature period, during which the landscape and people of the artist’s home state of Maine became the primary focus of his work (estimate $800,000/1.2 million). Here he captures the splendid effects of the Maine sunset, imparting an undeniably romantic view of his home and revealing the deep inspiration he gleaned from it. This important period of Hartley’s career is also the focus of the exhibition Marsden Hartley’s Maine, currently on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thomas Hart Benton based Across the Curve of the Road on a sketch he executed during a trip he took through the South in 1938 to immerse himself in the culture of rural America. Belonging to a distinguished Southern collection – along with nine other works in the sale including strong examples by Andrew Wyeth and Charles Ephraim Burchfield – Across the Curve of the Road, expresses the clear dynamism with which Benton captured the unique yet familiar quality of the southern landscape (estimate $1/1.5 million).

Violet Tones is a rare work by Oscar Bluemner from the 1934 (estimate $2/3 million). A dynamic interpretation of a darkened street in Elizabeth, New Jersey, Violet Tones highlights Bluemner’s command of color and form. His meticulous arrangement of hues, rooted in color theory, and subtle repetition of forms bring forth tremendous visual impact. Violet Tones was included in an important exhibition of Bluemner’s work organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art from 2005 to 2006.

Georgia O’Keeffe was inspired by imagery of the American Southwest for much of her career. Painted in 1941, Turkey Feathers and Indian Pot demonstrates the appeal that the indigenous culture of the region held for the artist, in addition to its stark and expansive landscape (estimate $1/1.5 million). O’Keeffe’s disregard for traditional scale and spatial depth here results in a modern interpretation of still-life, and displays the synthesis of realism and abstraction that has become her signature aesthetic.

New Mexico also served as a point of inspiration for Marsden Hartley, who once wrote that New Mexico is “the perfect place to regain one’s body and soul”. Landscape, New Mexico is one of his most dramatic depictions of the region (estimate $800,000/1.2 million). This 1923 work belongs to Hartley’s deeply significant New Mexico Recollections series, a group of approximately two dozen works painted in Berlin that embodies the artist’s respect for and embrace of the American landscape as subject matter.

Six months after establishing an auction record for the artist with Gray Day, Sotheby’s presents its highly important pendant, Blue Day, Greenland (estimate $400/600,000). Painted during the artist’s third and final trip to Greenland, Blue Day, Greenland was illustrated on the cover of Kent’s autobiography – a statement of its importance within the artist’s oeuvre. Exhibited widely across the United States, and in Russia, the painting has been held in a private collection since its purchase at Sotheby’s in 2003.

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