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$111M American Art Sales Reflect Market Vibrancy

Records fell, 22 works fetched $1 million or more, and over 80 percent of the lots found buyers as Christie’s and Sotheby’s made $111.2 million in sales of American paintings, drawings and sculpture in New York from May 23-24—$15 million past a year-ago May’s $95.9 million total. Christie’s took $55.4 million, up from $35.9 million

NEW YORK—Records fell, 22 works fetched $1 million or more, and over 80 percent of the lots found buyers as Christie’s and Sotheby’s made $111.2 million in sales of American paintings, drawings and sculpture in New York from May 23-24—$15 million past a year-ago May’s $95.9 million total. Christie’s took $55.4 million, up from $35.9 million last year, while Sotheby’s earned $55.8 million—down from $60 million last year but high nonetheless when Sotheby’s year-ago take of $9.2 million for Norman Rockwell’s Homecoming Marine, 1945, is factored in (ANL, 6/6/06).

“My overall impression was that people were scrambling for the handful of really good things that were up for sale, and those did quite well,” Meredith Ward, of Meredith Ward Fine Art, New York, told ARTnewsletter. The star attraction at Christie’s was a 42-by-38-inch portrait by Andrew Wyeth—Ericksons, 1973, in tempera on panel; estimated at $4/6 million, it won $10.34 million from Michael Altman Art Advisory, New York, and set an auction record for Wyeth. (Richard L. Feigen told ARTnewsletter that his Manhattan gallery of the same name had handled the Wyeth painting nearly two decades earlier, selling it for $1.3 million in March 1989.)

Five other lots in the top ten at Christie’s also set records. These included Mary Cassatt’s Children Playing with a Dog, a 1907 oil that had been owned by the artist’s descendants, which sold to a collector for $6.2 million; and an early 1916 watercolor by Georgia O’Keeffe, Blue I, which realized $3 million, about five times its high estimate, setting a record for an O’Keeffe work on paper.

Jacob Lawrence’s 1947 tempera The Builders, consigned by the estate of Bernard Heineman Jr., took $2.5 million, about four times its high estimate and an auction record. Records among the top ten lots also were set for Edward Potthast, at $1.4 million, and for Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, at $1.1 million. Christie’s said that 19 auction records fell overall.

Sargent Paintings Among Top Ten

Among other highlights, two paintings by John Singer Sargent sold among the top ten at Christie’s: His portrait William Marshall Cazalet, 1902, realized $1.83 million (estimate: $2/3 million); and A Tyrolese Crucifix, 1915, took $1.16 from an American dealer, against a $1.5/2 million estimate.

The American Impressionist Theodore Robinson’s A Normandy Garden, October, circa 1891, took $1.5 million from Avery Galleries, Philadelphia, over the estimated $400,000/600,000.

“We bought with a client in mind,” Richard Rossello, the managing director at Avery, told ARTnewsletter. “Really well-composed Robinsons have been scarce on the ground lately, and we felt the estimate was unrealistically low.” New York dealer Ira Spanierman told ARTnewsletter that while some sale prices seemed “surprisingly high,” others were in line with the market: “I thought the Wyeth was magnificent, the best picture in the sale, and the Cassatt sold for what it should have.”

At Sotheby’s the top lot was a 36-by-52-inch Albert Bierstadt landscape, Mountain Lake, which was being deaccessioned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and sold well above its $3 million high estimate for $4.9 million. Norman Rockwell’s Home on Leave (Sailor in Hammock), 1945, was sold by the Perot Foundation, Texas, for $4.52 million (estimate: of $2/3 million).

A Potthast oil, Beach at Far Rockaway, bested the record set earlier at Christie’s when it doubled estimates to sell for $1.4 million. The Sotheby’s sale also included a circa 1801-02 portrait by Gilbert Stuart—depicting Dr. William Smith, a Pennsylvania educator—which sold above estimates to a museum for $1.9 million. Further topping estimates were works by American Impressionists Frank W. Benson and Childe Hassam.

The Benson picture, Wooster Farm, 1912, had been in the artist’s family, and the Hassam, Rainy Day, on the Avenue, 1893, was consigned by the estate of Hollywood collector Sidney Sheldon. Each sold for $1.3 million, with like estimates of $500,000/700,000. As at Christie’s, a portrait by Sargent was among the top lots: His oil Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr., 1903, took a mid-estimate $2.16 million (estimate: $2/3 million).

Sotheby’s director of American paintings Dara Mitchell points to “competitive bidding at all price levels. We noticed a very strong market, specifically for American Impressionism, 19th-century landscapes and American illustration.”

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