NEW YORK—Morris Graves (1910–2001) “has always been difficult to categorize; there has never been any one ‘ism’ where critics and historians can easily place him,” said Halley Harrisburg, director of New York’s Michael Rosenfeld Gallery. However, his artworks are in the permanent collections of museums including the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Prices for watercolor and gouache paintings range from $32,000/180,000, and brass sculptures, which are more rare to the market, sell for $65,000.
Still, Harrisburg noted that Graves is never at the top of anyone’s list, which may explain why the artist’s prices have been largely stagnant over the past decade or more. To mark the centennial of Graves’s birth, the Michael Rosenfeld Gallery has been exhibiting 27 paintings (oil, watercolor, gouache, tempera) on paper and three brass sculptures (Sept. 8–Oct. 30).
This is the second exhibition that the gallery has produced of his work, the last one was in 1999. All of the works in this exhibit are from the secondary market. Most of the works in the artist’s estate were turned over to what became the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka, California, which displays his work, as well as that of other artists associated with the Pacific Northwest.
The Rosenfeld Gallery is one of a number of art galleries around the country that periodically exhibit Graves’s work. The Greg Kucera Gallery in Seattle has staged two such exhibitions over the years, one in 1996 and the most recent in 2003. “Both shows did really well,” Kucera said, noting that sketches and minor works are priced at $10,000/30,000 while more important paintings sell for $40,000/85,000 at his gallery.
Buyers should deal cautiously with this artist’s secondary-market offerings, Kucera said. “Things that end up at auction are often damaged works. Prices are often held back by condition issues.” Among the reasons for the condition problems are the fact that so many paintings are on paper and that “the people who bought these works originally paid very little for them . . . so they didn’t take as much care of them as they should have.”
Graves’s paintings come up at public sales periodically, with the highest price, $141,900, reached in 2003 at Christie’s for the 1938–39 gouache and watercolor Bird Singing in the Moonlight, which far exceeded the $20,000/30,000 estimate. The second-highest auction price is $96,000 (estimate: $20,000/30,000) for the 1980 tempera Red Powder of Puja #1, which sold at Christie’s in 1993.