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Uneven Demand at Midseason American-Art Sales

Sale totals from midseason auctions of American art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s Sept. 29–30 dropped from the levels of a year ago amid selective demand from buyers.

NEW YORK—Sale totals from midseason auctions of American art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s Sept. 29–30 dropped from the levels of a year ago amid selective demand from buyers.

Christie’s sale on Sept. 29 realized $2million for 188 lots offered, compared with the $2.4million achieved last September for 225 lots (ANL, 10/14/08). Of the 188 offered this year, 123 lots, or 65 percent, found buyers. By value the auction was 79 percent sold. Sotheby’s sale on Sept. 30 realized a total of $2.2million for 192 lots, a drop from last year’s total of $4million for 271 lots. Of the 192 offered, 126 lots, or 66 percent, were sold. By value the auction was 78 percent sold.

Each of Christie’s top three lots brought an identical price of $80,500: Summer Mist, 1882, a painting by Soren Emil Carlsen (1853–1932), was bought by a U.S. collector on an estimate of $30,000/50,000. The same price set a record for a work by Edward Kemeys (1843–1907), when a bronze sculpture of a howling coyote sold to a U.S. collector for well above the $10,000/15,000 estimate. And that same price, paid for Forest Silence, 1917, an oil on canvas by John Fabian Carlson (1874–1947), also set an artist record and cleared the $60,000 high estimate. Forest Silence had fetched $61,400 in May 2001, when it was sold at Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg (now Phillips, de Pury & Company) in New York. Fifth Avenue in the Snow, n.d., an oil on board by Guy Wiggins (1883–1962) estimated at $30,000/50,000, was sold for $64,900. Aviva Itzkowitz, Christie’s head of sale, noted a great number of “private collectors competing aggressively for the top works.”

Sotheby’s sale was led by Sailing at Twilight, 1877, a painting by Francis A. Silva, which sold for $86,500 (estimate: $40,000/60,000), followed by Henry Inman’s The Children of Henry Livingston, 1827, which realized $62,500, far above the estimate of $12,000/18,000. Soaring Eagle, 1993, by Robert Bateman (b. 1930) was sold for $56,250 to a New York collector, clearing the $30,000/50,000 estimate.

Among modestly estimated works that sold well above expectations were Indian Attack, a bronze sculpture by Carl Kauba (1865–1922), which brought in a total of $40,625 against an estimate of $8,000/12,000, and Boats on a River, a painting by Joseph Floch (1895–1977), which sold for $37,500 against the same $8,000/12,000 estimate. After the sale, Sotheby’s specialist Jennifer Roth said that “as always, quality works that are fresh to the market perform well, as evidenced by the excellent price achieved for the Francis Silva.” Roth said the sale yielded strong prices for 19th-century works, a “shift from the last few years when we saw modernist works dominating the lists of top lots.”

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