RENO—The annual Coeur d’Alene Art Auction of Western art once again reached a new high and set several records for individual artists. The auction, held July 28 at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno, Nev., fetched a total of $35.1 million for 307 lots offered, against a presale high estimate of just under $29.8 million. Only seven lots went unsold. This tops last year’s record total of more than $27.4 million for 275 lots sold and far exceeds the 2005 and 2004 totals of $21 million and $18.1 million, respectively.
A crowd of roughly 900 people, including many of the 250 registered bidders, spurred the activity. On hand were top Western art collectors, along with dealers from London and Paris. Phone bidding came from as far afield as Japan and Tel Aviv, organizers report. “This was the first time we had bidders from Japan,” auction co-owner Mike Overby told ARTnewsletter.
Besides the usual offering of Western-themed art, the auction also featured 37 works from a private trust in Southern California that included European and American Impressionist pieces.
These brought in bidders new to the auction, and many of the prices flew past their estimates. Charles M. Russell and Paul Signac tied for first place: Russell’s watercolor-on-paper Blackfeet Burning Crow Buffalo Range, 1905, and Signac’s oil-on-canvas Le ponton de la félicité, Asnières, 1886, each won $2.9 million, far surpassing their mutual estimates of $1/1.5 million.
Other top Impressionist sellers included: the pastel Baby Bill Standing on His Mother’s Lap, by Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), which sold for $784,000 (estimate $400,000/600,000); the 1886 painting Still Life with Pewter Candlestick and Clarinet, by William Michael Harnett, which took $1 million (estimate: $150,000/250,000); and The Passing Shower, circa 1865, an oil on canvas by George Inness, which realized $235,200 (estimate: $75,000/125,000).
The sale of N.C. Wyeth’s Wild Bill Hickok at Cards, 1916, for $2.4 million (estimate: $600,000/900,000) set a record for the artist. Of note as well is that last year no works sold for over $2 million; this year there were three such sales.
Another record was set this year with the $1.1 million sale of Silent Night (also known as The Canopy of Night) against an estimate of $300,000/$500,000, by Frank Tenney Johnson (1874-1939). It marked the first time the sale of this artist’s work topped $1 million.
Auctioneers expressed surprise at the high prices garnered for four Russell lifetime-cast bronzes on the block: Weapons of the Weak, $224,000 (estimate: $60,000/90,000); Nature’s Cattle, $336,000 (estimate: $100,000/200,000); Scalp Dance, $952,000, more than three times its $300,000 high estimate; and Bronc Twister, $1 million, also more than tripling its $300,000 high estimate. Additionally, a hard-fought bidding war saw Russell’s smaller, 1918 oil painting Joshing Moon bring $1.68 million (estimate: $200,000/300,000).
As in years past, contemporary artists were invited to produce work specifically for this auction. Overby notes that roughly 30 established Western-genre artists are invited each year.
To that end The River’s Gift, an oil on canvas by Martin Grelle (b. 1954), brought $246,400 (estimate: $75,000/125,000); and Rumbling Thunder, by Tim Cox (b. 1957), sold for $179,200 (estimate: $50,000/75,000). Bonnie Marris’ Contemplating the Dragonfly fell for $30,800 (estimate: $15,000/25,000).
“The Coeur d’Alene serves as the barometer for the coming season,” observed Peter Stremmel, the sale’s auctioneer and event co-owner.
After the final drop of the hammer, Stremmel hailed the event as an unqualified success. “We didn’t expect this,” he said. “I don’t think it could have gone any better.”
CHERIE LOUISE TURNER