The story of American art, from its wild frontiers to its wild things, unfolds at Heritage Auctions

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The story of American art, from its wild frontiers to its wild things, unfolds at Heritage Auctions
Albert Bierstadt (American, 1830-1902), Sentinel Falls and Cathedral Peaks in the Yosemite Valley, 1864. Oil on board, 9-1/2 x 12-3/4 inches.. Estimate: $300,000 - $500,000.

DALLAS, TX.- Three weeks before Thanksgiving, Norman Rockwell's Home for Thanksgiving serves as the centerpiece of Heritage Auctions' Nov. 5 American Art Signature® Auction.

But the mother and her son peeling potatoes in the iconic illustration sit among myriad major works that make up the season's most significant auction of American masters, ranging from Golden Age illustrators to Hudson River School landscape painters to the makers of beloved children's stories to the leader of the progressive Ashcan School, Cincinnati-born Robert Henri, whose 1926 portrait Sarah Burke is one of his masterful love letters to Ireland.

"I want to tell the complete story of American art," says Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions' Director of American Art. "Our catalog tells an extraordinary story. We have important material in this sale from so many influential artists. And it's a story that needs to be told."

How Do You Follow Up a $4.1 Million Leyendecker?

In May, Heritage Auctions became the first auction house in the world to sell a Joseph Christian Leyendecker for seven figures — $4,121,250, to be exact, the price realized for the 1914 Saturday Evening Post cover known as Beat Up Boy, Football Hero. And the only thing better than one J.C. Leyendecker is ... nine J.C. Leyendeckers.

That's right: Heritage is proud — and quite thrilled — to present original covers, oil paintings and studies by "the most popular illustrator of his day [who] was published in the most popular magazines," as Judy and Laurence Cutler of the National Museum of Illustration wrote in their 2008 book about the American Imagist. Among them are three original works that graced the cover of The Saturday Evening Post: the somber Croix de Guerre, which appeared June 29, 1918, painted in the months before World War I would come to its end; the playful Circus Dog from July 29, 1922; and Summer from Aug. 27, 1927, which looks almost like a fashion ad starring The Great Gatsby (or, in this case, Charles Beach, Leyendecker's longtime model and partner).

At the Post, the Cutlers wrote, Leyendecker was among the magazine's "most coveted properties," a chief reason for the magazine's success. Not only are these exceptional examples of his work, but all three have never before been to auction. Will history be made again?

An Albert Bierstadt Masterpiece That Hid in Plain Sight

Known for his sweeping landscapes of the rugged American West, 19th century artist Albert Bierstadt created majestic depictions of a pristine region still untouched by tourism.

One such painting,Sentinel Falls and Cathedral Peaks in the Yosemite Valley, 1864 — which ranks among the earliest paintings Bierstadt produced of this natural wonder-turned-national park — offers a luminous view of the Yosemite Valley at sunset. In the piece, golden light pours down on the towering mountain range and across the deer-dotted landscape, creating a mesmerizing glow. The result is a scene that is simultaneously dramatic and serene.

The historically significant work — whose $300,000-500,000 estimate makes it one of the auction's top lots — has been hiding in plain sight for the past half century, high on the wall of a period room at the Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to its donation to the museum in 1968, it belonged to Clevelander Kathleen Morton, one of three children of a successful hardware store owner. The family had amassed a small estate through their business endeavors, enabling them to acquire fine and decorative arts. Now the oil-on-board work is being sold to benefit the management and care of the museum collections.

Where Maurice Sendak's Wild Things Are

No less an authority than Justin Schiller, the beloved collector of children's literature, says Maurice Sendak stands alone in the world of illustrated books for young audiences. Of course every child will say the same thing; so, too, every adult for whom Where the Wild Things Are remains what Roger Ebert described as "the flirting up of anger at a parent, the defiant escape into fantasy, the tough talk in a tight situation, the exuberance and then the fundamental need to return home and be loved and reassured." It's less a story than a collection of emotions bound between two covers.

This rendering of the Wild Things is a special thing indeed: a watercolor (estimate: $100,000-150,000) commissioned by the Chicago Art Institute for their Junior Museum. And until now, it has never been offered for public sale.

As Schiller notes, Sendak considered it amongst his best poster designs and only released it from his personal collection in 1994 in partial exchange for a set of original William Blake etchings from 1794's first printing of Songs of Innocence and of Experience. We will soon find out what it's worth to its next owner.

A "Smoky" Sandzén

Born in Sweden, prolific painter Birger Sandzén studied in Stockholm and later in Paris, but it was the tiny town of Lindsborg, Kansas, that stole his heart. As a professor at Bethany College, the artist found his muse in the Midwest locale and other American sites, including the Rocky Mountains.

During his lifetime, Sandzén produced more than 2,600 oil paintings, including the nine lots featured in this event. Leading the pack is Twilight on the Smoky, 1953 (estimate: $300,000-500,000). The massive piece, measuring 4 feet high and 12 feet across, demands attention not only for its size, but also for its captivating use of color. Commissioned by a Kansas couple, the richly hued panoramic painting features a frequent motif for Sandzén, the Smoky Hill River, which flowed near his Lindsborg home. Here the river is flanked by vibrant green trees and silver boulders reflected in the water, while overhead a twilight sky holds pink- and purple-tinged puffs of clouds.

Completed in 1953, the signed work, painted on Masonite, has the distinction of being one of the final pieces Sandzén completed before his death in 1954.

Gone Scouting With Charles Marion Russell

Forever fascinated with the American frontier, Missouri-born Charles Marion Russell lit out for the Montana Territory as a teen. He never looked back.

Out West, young Russell earned his keep as a cowhand, but he always held his watercolors and brushes nearby. Largely self-taught, the artist developed a great sensitivity to the vanishing culture and land of the Native Americans, and he eventually dedicated his career to documenting their way of life.

Nicknamed "The Cowboy Artist," Russell produced striking watercolors like The Lone Scout (estimate: $150,000-250,000) and Scouting Party (estimate: $70,000-100,000), both making their auction debut. Produced in 1898, the pieces are fresh to market, having never been seen until their recent discovery in an old trunk that belonged to the current owner's grandmother.

Both of the newly unearthed masterworks feature Native American men on horseback, traversing the dusty terrain and wide-open spaces of the American West. Weapons in hand and faces steeled by determination, the men are on a mission. What exactly it is the viewer can't know, but Russell's engaging visual storytelling makes us happy to be along for the ride nonetheless.

Jessie Willcox Smith's "Christmas" Present to America

Christmas will come early for one lucky bidder when Jessie Willcox Smith's 1912 book illustration'Twas the Night Before Christmasheads to auction for the first time. Part of a private collection for almost 60 years, the imagery by Smith for this iconic Clement C. Moore poem helped shape our modern views of Christmas in America.

In this double-page image, we see a white-bearded St. Nick commanding his fleet of hardworking reindeer from atop a snow-capped roof. Depicting Dasher, Dancer, Prancer and crew on the precipice of flight — pulling Santa and his toy-laden sleigh behind them — Smith's illustration immediately conjures the words of Moore's classic yuletide rhyme.

Besides books — including Little Red Riding Hood, Heidi and, of course, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas —Smith's artwork appeared in numerous calendars, advertisements andperiodicals such as Ladies' Home Journal, Harper's, Century and Leslie's Weekly. This special piece, a watercolor and ink on board bearing Smith's signature, carries an estimate of $100,000-$150,000. It's a gift waiting to be unwrapped.

A Page Straight Out of Madeline

Thanks to his sophisticated but quirky verse and simplistic but much adored watercolor illustrations, Ludwig Bemelmans' beloved Madeline book series has been delighting young readers for more than 80 years. Now one fan of the spunky heroine can own a piece of Madeline history.

And Brushed Their Teeth — a signed watercolor and ink on paper with an estimate of $40,000-$60,000 — first appeared on page 6 of Bemelmans' debut Madeline book, which was published by Simon & Schuster in 1939 and follows the adventures of the spirited Parisian schoolgirl. This original illustration, depicting teacher Miss Clavel overseeing as Madeline and her schoolmates dutifully brush their teeth, is representative of the multitude of charming images created by Bemelmans, who considered himself more of an artist than an author.

In addition to designing a Broadway set and illustrating covers for The New Yorker, Bemelmans' art can be found at New York's Carlyle Hotel, the Musée National d'Art in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. But it's sweet Madeline, of course, that remains his most admired creation.

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