NEW YORK—The rebound in American art sales seen at last spring’s auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s (ANL, 6/1/10) appeared to slow at the most recent round of sales, as the overall total dropped to $49.3 million from $66.9 million. Despite offering fewer lots this time around, buy-in rates were roughly even with year-ago levels, indicating somewhat tepid demand.
Sotheby’s sale on May 19 realized $27.1 million for 121 lots offered, meeting the low estimate of $25.3 million. Eighty-four lots, or 69 percent of the total, were sold. Last May, Sotheby’s sale took in $31.9 million for 112 lots offered.
Christie’s 2011 sale, May 18, posted a total of $22.2 million for 138 lots offered. Of these, 88, or 64 percent were sold. The house’s year-ago total was $35 million for 179 lots offered, generating a lower sell-through rate of 60 percent.
Private buyers accounted for all the top lots at Sotheby’s, including the highest lot, George Bellows’s Dock Builders, 1916, which exceeded the $2 million/3 million estimate to realize $3.9 million. It was followed by Childe Hassam’s Quai St. Michel, 1888, which realized $2.1 million, falling short of the estimate of $2.5 million/3.5 million.
On the other hand, Thomas Hart Benton’s Flood Disaster (Homecoming—Kaw Valley), 1951, cleared the high end of the $800,000/1.2 million estimate to sell for $1.9 million, becoming the second-highest price for the artist at auction. A record was realized for Ernest Leonard Blumenschein when his portrait painting, White Blanket and Blue Spruce, 1919, sold for $1.5 million, against an estimate of $700,000/900,000.
Also an artist record was the $782,500 given for William J. McCloskey’s painting Wrapped Oranges on a Tabletop, 1897 (estimate: $250,000/350,000).
Christie’s sale was led by a painting by Maxfield Parrish, North Wall Panel, 1928, which had long been in the collection of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and now sold to an anonymous buyer for $2.9 million, nearing the high end of the $2 million/3 million estimate.
The second highest lot marked a new artist record for William Trost Richards when his landscape painting Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island, 1894, exceeded the $700,000/1 million estimate to sell for $1.65 million to the Caldwell Gallery, located in Manlius, New York.
Also clearing the $1 million mark was Frederick Carl Frieseke’s painting Sunspots, ca. 1915, which fell within the estimate of $800,000/1.2 million, selling for $1.02 million to a European private buyer.
Christie’s specialist Eric Widing noted that the results marked a slight improvement on the December auctions (ANL, 12/14/10) and added that the new record for Richards was triple the previous mark of $520,000. “The sale also saw the return of many private American collectors to the saleroom in addition to a few foreign buyers.”