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Midmarket American-Art Sales Fall from Year-Ago Levels

Totals for the midseason sales of American art fell at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in comparison with those for last year’s sales, as economic concerns dampened demand from U.S. buyers.

NEW YORK—Totals for the midseason sales of American art fell at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in comparison with those for last year’s sales, as economic concerns dampened demand from U.S. buyers. At Christie’s on Sept. 25, American paintings, drawings and sculpture realized $2.4 million, short of the presale estimate of $2.8 million/4.3 million and down from the $3.6 million realized at the comparable sale last September. Of 225 works on offer, 136, or 60 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 68 percent sold.

At Sotheby’s sale on Sept. 24, the total was $4 million, just clearing the low end of the $3.9 million/5.7 million presale estimate. The house offered 271 lots, of which 181, or 67 percent, were sold. On a value basis, the auction was 76.5 percent sold. Sotheby’s American-art sale last fall took in $4.8 million for about 280 lots.

Middle-Market Buyers Pull Back

New York dealer Debra Force, who specializes in American art, told ARTnewsletter that these sales are typically small compared with the major sales of American art in November and December. She noted, however, “a lot of material that was more mediocre than usual” in the latest round of midseason sales. Furthermore, she added, the buyers in this price range—$25,000 and under—“are not participating” given the current turmoil in the financial markets. “A year ago, some of that material would have sold,” Force said.

Still, several lots far exceeded their modest estimates, and Christie’s scored an artist record for Martha Walter (1875–1976) with its top lot, Pink Umbrella, which sold to a U.S. buyer for $266,500, more than doubling the estimate of $70,000/100,000. A U.S. dealer purchased Florida Everglades, an oil by David Burliuk (1882–1967), for $92,500, several times the $15,000/25,000 estimate. Preston Dickinson’s The Factory, 1920, a watercolor, gouache, pencil and charcoal on paper that had been owned by the same collector since 1943, sold for $68,500 (estimate: $15,000/25,000).

At Sotheby’s, the top price was the $146,500 paid for F. A. Wyman’s oil painting Corner of Dudley and Warren Streets, Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1879 (estimate: $20,000/40,000), followed by the $134,500 given for Harry Roseland’s 1931 painting The Beach at Coney Island (estimate: $30,000/50,000) and the $104,500 paid for William Merritt Chase’s 1895 portrait A Study in Pink (Mrs. Robert McDougal), which was estimated at $40,000/60,000. The Chase painting was sold to a buyer identified only as an “American Public Institution.”

Sotheby’s specialist Jennifer Roth noted strong prices for work by African American artists, Hawaiian artists and illustrators, as well as demand for works by artists from the Pennsylvania region, including Fern Coppedge (1888–1951), Bror Julius Olsson Nordfeldt (1878–1955) and Walter Schofield (1867–1944).

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