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Welliver’s ‘Leafy’ Maine Landscapes Are Potent Draw

The first show of paintings by artist Neil Welliver since his death, at 75, in April is being hosted (through Oct. 22) by the Alexandre Gallery, Manhattan. The retrospective features 18 pieces, primarily from the late 1970s and early ’80s, when “his work began to receive great critical acclaim,” says gallery owner Philippe Alexandre. Half

NEW YORK—The first show of paintings by artist Neil Welliver since his death, at 75, in April is being hosted (through Oct. 22) by the Alexandre Gallery, Manhattan. The retrospective features 18 pieces, primarily from the late 1970s and early ’80s, when “his work began to receive great critical acclaim,” says gallery owner Philippe Alexandre. Half the paintings on display are borrowed from collectors; the rest are from the artist’s estate.

A few oil studies, measuring 24-by-24 inches and priced at $24,000, are also on view. Many of the pictures are 96-by-96 inches in size and priced at $95,000, while one of the larger ones, on loan for the exhibit, is valued at $120,000, says Alexandre, who has represented the artist since 1998 and now handles his estate.

Welliver, who moved from the Philadelphia area to Lincolnville, Maine, in 1970, is associated with landscapes of the Maine woods. His work combines traditional representation and abstract style.

Prices of paintings in the current exhibition are not wholly representative of the artist’s work from the 1970s on, the dealer told ARTnewsletter, noting that Welliver “painted 12 months a year, and not all 12 months in Maine are beautiful.” He explains that the “mud season” pictures, painted between February and May, tend to be full of browns, while “people prefer leafy birch trees and crisp snow” and pay more for those.

In the estate there are “more than 75 paintings dating from the mid-1970s on,” Alexandre reports, and an even larger supply of paintings on canvas and on paper from the 1950s and ’60s that were created at smaller sizes. These are priced at $20,000/30,000.

Earlier works are usually figure studies, depicting groups, single models (nude or in costume) and friends (Red Grooms, for instance), which have not been as sought-after by collectors as the later Maine landscapes. “We had a show in 2001 of his figurative works,” Alexandre recalls. “It was a tough show in terms of sales, although it got great critical response.” In this earlier period Welliver created drawings and watercolors that are currently valued from $800/4,500.

The secondary market for the artist’s works has been “increasing,” Alexandre says. Nonetheless he describes the auction market for his paintings as not “fully developed; things seldom come up, maybe once a year, and we generally buy them.”

The highest public-sale price to date for Welliver’s work is $40,250, for an oil on canvas, Thaw at Pond Pass, auctioned at Barridoff Galleries, Portland, Maine, in 1998, well surpassing the high estimate of $30,000.

Other top auction prices include $38,500 (estimate: $35,000/45,000) for the 1974 oil Beaver House at Sotheby’s in 1988; and $36,800 (estimate: $20,000/30,000) for the oil Approaching Storm at Barridoff in 1995.

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