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Russell Leads Coeur d’Alene’s Record $37M Western Art Sale

The annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, held July 26 at the Silver Legacy Resort and Casino, Reno, Nevada, took in a record $37 million, $2 million more than last year’s record total (ANL, 9/4/07).

NEW YORK—The annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, held July 26 at the Silver Legacy Resort and Casino, Reno, Nevada, took in a record $37 million, $2 million more than last year’s record total (ANL, 9/4/07). Of the 278 lots on offer, just 17 were unsold, and the crowd of about 900 visitors was on par with that at last year’s sale, auction partner Mike Overby told ARTnewsletter.

Overby says that in the weeks leading up to the sale, the only signs of concern about the effect of the economy on the market for Western art came from consignors, whose worry proved to be largely unfounded as demand for most works turned out to be robust. Overby pointed out that many of the auction’s top clients are “directly in the oil business,” and therefore may be somewhat insulated from broader economic concerns. New buyers also continue to appear, he says, noting a few active bidders at this year’s sale who were previously unknown to Coeur d’Alene organizers.

The top lot was Charles M. Russell’s large oil painting The Hold Up, 1899, which depicts a stagecoach robbery and was sold from the Amon G. Carter Foundation, Fort Worth, Texas, to benefit the Amon Carter Museum’s acquisition fund. The work had hung above the bar in a saloon in Great Falls, Montana, for 50 years, and was exhibited extensively after Carter acquired the work from Knoedler & Company, New York, in 1952. After intense bidding, the painting brought $5.2 million from a New York dealer (estimate: $4 million/6 million).

The same dealer also purchased the largest bronze sculpture Russell made, Meat for Wild Men, modeled in 1924. Only four casts were made, three of which are in museum collections. The sculpture of Native Americans rounding up a herd of buffalo brought $4.05 million, within the estimate of $3 million/5 million.

Another top seller was Gerard Curtis Delano’s oil painting Navajo, which had been in a private Colorado collection for over 20 years. Estimated at $300,000/500,000, it ignited a bidding war and eventually sold for $1.25 million. The painting was the one work that Delano (1890–1972) had refused to sell during his lifetime, deeming it his “masterpiece” and saying that it “guaranteed his retirement,” according to the catalogue. Delano bequeathed the work to his wife, Blanche, who passed away in 1985.

Although the auction was dominated by U.S. buyers, Russian collectors turned out in force on the phone lines when a work by Russian-born Taos painter Nicolai Fechin (1881–1955) came up for bid. The estimate on Still Life–Kettle #2 was $80,000/120,000, and the auctioneer opened the bidding at around $50,000. Overby says the Moscow-based bidder he was on the phone with—who wound up winning the painting—took him by surprise when he instructed him to jump in with a starting bid of $200,000. “At first I thought he meant he was going to go up to $200,000, but the bidder wanted to start there to scare everyone off immediately,” Overby says. “The whole crowd went silent. It almost worked. All the phone lines dropped out except one—another Russian bidder—who went to $225,000 and $250,000” before dropping out. The painting, which eventually sold for $431,250, is bound for Moscow. Overby says Russian bidders from around the world participated, phoning in bids from Hong Kong, Germany and other European locales.

Other Taos artists were in strong demand. Streamside, an oil by E. Martin Hennings (1886–1956), the catalogue cover lot, sold for $1.36 million (estimate: $800,000/1.2 million), and The Pueblos Await the Dancers, a dramatic scene of Native Americans gathered in front of a Taos landscape by Oscar E. Berninghaus (1874–1952), sold for $1.47 million, a new record for the artist.

A 1906 Russell watercolor, Return of the Warriors, showing one of the artist’s favorite scenes—a party of Indians moving across the open country—brought $1.36 million, above the estimate of $800,000/1.2 million. A large nighttime scene painted by Frank Tenney Johnson (1874–1939), The Sheriff’s Posse, 1926, sold for $1.08 million (estimate: $600,000/900,000).

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