Sotheby's to debut live auction of American Art

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Sotheby's to debut live auction of American Art
Thomas Hart Benton, Noon. Estimate: $700,000/1 Million. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s shared highlights from their upcoming live auction of American Art, taking place in New York on 26 June 2020. The June auction features an exceptional group of paintings, sculpture and works on paper by some of the most celebrated American artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, including two works from the Collection of Marylou Whitney and a curated selection American Illustration, anchored with works by Maxfield Parrish, Joseph Christian Leyendecker and N.C. Wyeth.

This June marks the return of live auctions to Sotheby’s New York, following the state’s Stay-at-Home order due to the spread of COVID-19. Remote bidding will be available in advance and during the auction via and on Sotheby’s app, as well as by phone with Sotheby’s specialists in the salesroom. All works are now on exhibition in our New York galleries, which are open by appointment only.


Executed in 1886 over a period of six months, Dennis Miller Bunker’s A Winter’s Tale of Sprites and Goblins is the artist’s largest-known composition, and stands among his most successful figurative works (estimate $700,000/1 million). Of the 225 pictures Bunker painted during his career, only about 100 are presently known, many of which are located in the permanent collections of institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. A Winter’s Tale of Sprites and Goblins was shown shortly after its completion at the 8th annual Society of American Artists exhibition at The Met, where it was praised by critics for its arrangement, coloring, and scale. It is believed that the work was offered for sale by the artist at the Society’s show and presumably sold to the Cabot family of Boston.


The sale features two works from the Collection of Marylou Whitney, a generous philanthropist, arts patron and thoroughbred breeder. Through her marriage to Cornelius Vanderbilt “Sonny” Whitney, Mrs. Whitney developed a lifelong passion for thoroughbred horse racing, and the couple produced over 175 stakes winners on the C.V. Whitney farm in Lexington, Kentucky (now Gainesway Farm). After Sonny’s death in 1992, Marylou established her own eponymous stables, and enjoyed enormous success with Bird Town, who won the Kentucky Oaks in 2003 and Birdstone, who won the Belmont Stakes and the Travers Stakes in 2004.

The couple’s passion for horses is highlighted throughout their collection, including Thomas Hart Benton’s Noon – a dynamic painting executed in 1939, which was featured in Benton’s first major retrospective in New York later that year (estimate $700,000/1 million). Praised as a resounding success, the exhibition garnered significant attention from a variety of New York collectors, including Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. Whitney purchased Noon from the retrospective, and it has remained in the family’s collection ever since. Enchanted by America and its offerings, Benton began traveling through the South and the Midwest in the late 1920s and immersing himself in the culture of rural America. In celebrating the American way of life, Benton was sympathetic in his portrayal of farmers and field workers, favoring the themes of dedication and hard work. Noon exemplifies Benton’s ability to capture what he saw as the simplicity and dignity of everyday life.


The most celebrated American sculptor of his day, Augustus Saint-Gaudens originally created Abraham Lincoln: The Man (Standing Lincoln) (estimate $600/900,000) as a larger-than-life work to adorn Chicago’s Lincoln Park. Saint-Gaudens was awarded the commission in 1883, largely due to the success and popularity of his earlier Civil War-related projects such as the Farragut Monument in Madison Square Park and the Sherman Monument in Grand Army Plaza, both in New York. The Lincoln Park monument was formally dedicated in October 1887 to great critical and popular acclaim.

Beginning in 1910, the artist’s widow, Augusta, authorized the casting of commercial-sized reductions of the original monument. The reductions of Lincoln: The Man, of which the present work is one, stand at 40 ½ inches high and were cast in an edition of approximately 17. Other examples are found in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut, the Detroit Institute of Art and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


The auction features an exceptional group of Impressionist works on offer from a private Pennsylvania collection, including Mary Cassatt’s Mother in Purple Holding Her Child from 1909, a pastel on paper portraying motherhood – the artist’s favored subject (estimate $400/600,000). The carefully defined figures’ faces in the composition contrasts with the expressive application of pigment Cassatt uses in the background, instilling the work with an air of immediacy and spontaneity that suggests it was conceived from direct observation.

The collection also features Childe Hassam’s Promenade – Winter, New York from 1895, which depicts an elegant woman navigating a Manhattan sidewalk on a blustery and grey wintry day (estimate $400/600,000). In December 1889, after returning home from a three year stay in Paris, Hassam left his hometown of Boston where he had previously established himself as an artist and settled with his wife in New York City, considered at that time to be America’s burgeoning artistic and cultural epicenter. Fascinated by the energy and unique character of the bustling metropolis, Hassam utilized the city’s streets, parks and people as subjects for his oil paintings, watercolors, and pastels.


The June auction will feature a curated section of American Illustration, anchored with works by Maxfield Parrish, Joseph Christian Leyendecker and more. Entitled Tell Me a Story: The Art of American Illustration, the group seeks to explore the critical importance illustration played in 19th and 20th century American Art, and in the careers of these beloved artists whose imaginative voices defined a generation of American advertising and material culture, and who continue to resonate with audiences today. The group features N.C. Wyeth’s Ayrton’s Fight with the Pirates from 1918 – the height of the period known as the Golden Age of Illustration (estimate $200/300,000). The present work is one of 17 examples by Wyeth painted to illustrate a 1918 edition of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island), a cross-over sequel to Verne’s famous Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Ayrton’s Fight with the Pirates depicts a climactic moment in the tale when Tom Ayrton – having just been found also shipwrecked on a nearby island by the protagonists – is kidnapped by pirates.

On offer in The Ginny Williams Collection Evening Sale on 29 June @ 6:30PM EDT

Georgia O’Keeffe’s New Mexico Landscape and Sand Hills from 1930 will be presented in The Ginny Williams Collection Evening Sale on 29 June. The work examines the rolling hills that prominently feature in O’Keeffe’s first depictions of New Mexico, and documents the artist’s distinctive approach to landscape painting (estimate $800,000/1.2 million). The summer of 1929 marked a turning point in O’Keeffe’s life and work when she visited Taos, New Mexico for the first time. O’Keeffe embraced the western sojourn as a welcome reprieve after living in New York in the preceding period, and her work that followed instantly shifted from the linear, metropolitan compositions of the late 1920s to the natural forms of the Southwestern desert. O’Keeffe was profoundly inspired by the region, which can be measured by the volume of paintings she executed in Taos and Ghost Ranch, and through her ability to capture the spirit of this unique environment.

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