This monumental work of Americana by Emanuel Leutze achieved $4.8m, double the previous auction record for the artist
Sotheby's American evening art sale on Friday (16 November) revealed how spotty the current market is—and how quirky the buyers. Perhaps the American Art Fair (10-13 November) a few blocks away or the epic sale of Barney Ebsworth's American collection at Christies earlier in the week exhausted spirits and wallets. The sale made $44.1m (with fees), well above the $19.4m it brought in last year, but with 25 of 82 lots failing to find buyers.
Edward Hopper's last painting, Two Comedians (1966), sold for $12.5m (with fees), below its $12-18m estimate before the buyer's premium and a mere fraction of the $91.9m paid for the artists Chop Suey (1929) at the Ebsworth sale. Where Chop Suey is iconic, Two Comedians is valedictory. They are both great pictures, but markets are funny things.
To wit: Horace Pippin's Holy Mountain I (1944) is a derivative painting by another artist in vogue right now, and it soared to $3.2m (with fees), which represented nearly double its high estimate. Meanwhile, Georgia O'Keeffe's Cottonwood Tree in Spring (1943) went in spirited bidding for $3.8m (with fees)—well above its $2.5m high estimate. It is big, pretty and unimportant, with the odd and unflattering distinction of having been deaccessioned not by one museum but by two.
The painting was one of three works by the artist up for sale from the Georgia OKeeffe Museum. Interestingly, the other two—A Street and Calla Lilies on Red, both included in Sothebys contemporary evening sale and more recognisably “OKeeffe”—hammered for well under their low estimates.
Georgia O'Keeffe's Cottonwood Tree in Spring, which sold for an unexpected $3.9m, has been deaccessioned by two museums
An undeniable stand-out sale from the evening was Emanuel Leutze's Western Emigrant Train Bound for California Across the Plains from 1863. The painting is pure, red-meat Americana—it has danger, heroics, horses and flags. It was fresh meat, too, having come to market after being in the same private collection since 1943, and it is beautifully painted to boot. As a fine American history painting, it is part of an undervalued genre. It sold for $4.8m (with fees), galloping past its $2.5-3.5m estimate and marking a new auction record for the artist.
There were plenty of other new finds for sale, but many did not fare nearly as well. The collection of William Benton, a Connecticut businessman, US Senator and diplomat, offered good works by Reginald Marsh and Thomas Hart Benton that went unsold. Portrait of Nan by Grant Wood, also from the Benton collection, was inexplicably pulled from the auction.
Despite the fact that a still life by Charles Sheeler nearly doubled its estimate at Christies Ebsworth sale, a beautiful farmhouse painting by the artist from 1946 went for $615,000 (with fees) at Sothebys sale, just below the low estimate. A duo of lovely Winslow Homer watercolours had mixed endings: The Life Brigade was bought in when it didnt reach its $1.5-2.5 million estimate, and the abstract Yacht in a Cove, Gloucester went for $325,000 (with fees), fetching just under high estimate.