MILFORD, CONN. — “It was a happy day in a lot of respects,” stated auction house principal Gene Shannon in the aftermath of Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers fine American and European paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture auction conducted on April 25. “There were more people in the gallery than we have ever had, and the Internet activity was off the charts.” The auctioneer noted, a “great demand,” for the works of art offered, however, the thing that pleased Shannon the most — “The middle market is back to a large degree — and that is certainly encouraging.”
The auction house reported a great deal of activity from private collectors as they competed with the trade from around the world. Bidders were on the telephones from Lithuania, Germany, France and “all over Europe,” commented the auctioneer, as well as active bidders from England and across the United States.
While there is always a decent-sized crowd in the gallery at Shannon’s, the auction house reported more than 100 people packing into the room for this most recent sale. Bidding from the floor was brisk, with several private collectors outgunning the telephones and Internet as they claimed special lots. The auction went just under 75 percent sold with a gross of $2.1 million realized.
Material offered at the sale was more diverse than offerings from past sales, perhaps a trend being forged by the hand of Shannon’s daughter, and co-principal, Sandra Germain. Pop Art, Modern art, Abstractionist, Chinese art — even stuff from the New York Graffiti School crossed the auction block, alongside the stellar Hudson River School art, Orientalist and European mainstream works for which the gallery is so well known for.
It was still the mainstream material that stole the show, with “The East Hampton Elms in May,” a large American Impressionist work from 1920 by Childe Hassam, topping the auction at $288,000. Not far behind, however, was Nicholas Krushenick’s colorful Pop Art acrylic on canvas titled “Honeysuckle” that nearly doubled estimates, selling at $132,000. Krushenick was born in New York City in 1929, attended the Art Students League and was shown in upscale galleries in the 1960s. “He was a contemporary of the Pop artists,” notes the catalog, “but took Pop to a different level, closer to the Op movement” with strong use of primary colors incorporated with hard-edged geometric shapes.
The auction got off to a quick start with two trompe l’oeil works by Otis Kaye with the opening offering of “Three Bills and a Theatre Stub,” surpassing estimates on its way to a selling price of $28,800, going to a private collector on the phones.
A selection of middle-line Rolph Scarlett works were up next, and they brought middle-line prices ranging from $14,400 to $16,800. A nice Tom Yost realism painting of a dramatic pink sky sunset did well at $9,600. An Alexander Calder gouache in less than pristine condition was up next, and it still attracted a great deal of interest, surpassing estimates to sell at $31,200.
“Roy and Liz did really well,” commented Shannon in regards to the next couple of lots; Andy Warhol’s “Liz” Taylor and two Lichtenstein lithographs. While many of Warhol’s red “Liz” lithos have faded over the years to a dull orange, this one, along with a Lichtenstein, had remained rolled up in the tube since they were originally purchased from the Leo Castelli Gallery in the 1960s. “This ‘Liz’ is on total red, as good a red as you can get,” commented Shannon as he noted a price in excess of triple the high estimate at $43,200. Lichtenstein’s “Crying Girl” litho, from the same consignor, more than doubled estimates at $50,400.
“They were all over the Martha Walter,” stated the auctioneer of the small oil on board titled “Tea Party.” Measuring 14 by 18 inches, the small, attractive work had come from a corporate collection and sold above estimates to a private collector bidding by telephone for $90,000.
A good early Dale Nichols oil on canvas titled “The Sentinel” depicted a dog barking at a sleigh being driven through a snow-covered farmscape. Described by the auction house as a “very good example,” the painting sold at $45,600. A later Nichols oil, “Silent Morning” also depicted a winter farm scene, and it sold reasonably at $11,600.
“She is not a major figure in the art world,” commented Shannon in regards to the painting he used on the catalog cover by Ruth Anderson, “but the image is very compelling.” Somewhat “Wiggins-esque,” the oil on canvas titled “Frenzied Finance” depicted an Impressionist toned scene of Manhattan’s financial district with American flags flying from the buildings and crowds rushing about the sidewalks. Estimated at $10/15,000, the painting had been previously exhibited at the Association of Women Painters and Sculptors and had descended in the family of a private Connecticut collector. Bidding on the lot was brisk, with it hammering down at $26,400.
Hudson River School fans found favor with a Jasper Cropsey landscape with cows titled “Greenwood Lake in Autumn” that sold for $72,000. An earlier and less refined landscape, “Autumn Landscape with Bridge,” went out at $22,800. The Cropsey painting that brought the least amount provided the greatest number of smiles from fans of the artist. Titled “Four Deadheads” and with that inscription painted in the upper left corner, the painting depicted four empty whiskey bottles on a table. The term “deadhead” usually refers to a train car or trailer making its return trip empty after delivering its payload. The catalog notes “Maurice C Huerstel [Cropsey’s lawyer and close friend] wrote to M.R. Schweitezer regarding this painting that it ‘was done as a gift to my grandfather,’ to commemorate a big evening spent together. The signature reads J.D.F. Cropsey, which adds to the amusing incident surrounding the empty whiskey bottles. Apparently Mr Cropsey was not a habitual drinker and the D.F. (damn fool) is testimony to how he felt the morning after.” The rare Cropsey sold at $14,400. All three paintings will be included in the catalogue raisonné being compiled by the Newington Cropsey Foundation.
A David Johnson was another bright spot for the Hudson River artists with “Spring — A Study on the Bronx at Mt Vernon,” still retaining the original shadow-box frame, selling at $50,400.
“Symbolism can be limiting and dangerous, but I don’t care for art without it,” George Tooker expressed to an interviewer in 1957. Symbolism was deep in his untitled egg tempera picture of a grieving lady, head held up by her hands, with a sparse arrangement of flowers in a glass to her left and with a human skull hidden in plain view behind it. The rare painting, underbid by a major American museum, sold to a private collector for $66,000.
A Guy Wiggins winter Manhattan street scene titled “Winter Storm at the Library, New York,” depicted his usual flags, huddled pedestrians and yellow cabs on the snow covered street. Estimated at $40/60,000, the 16-by-12-inch painting brought $45,600.
“There is an old rule in the art world,” stated Shannon, “you don’t buy a painting of a horse’s ass. But in this one, you have two of them staring at you.” The auctioneer was referring to an Orientalist painting by Henri Rousseau that depicted the backside of two horses tethered outside of an Arabian style building with a key-shaped entranceway. Throwing caution to the wind, the auctioneer reported almost a dozen phone bidders on the line, all from Europe, and the brisk action pushed the lot past the $12/18,000 estimates to a selling price of $31,200.
A Henri Lebasque oil on board titled “Fillettes Saurant A La Corde” did well at $55,200; while an Edouard Cortes Parisian street scene went out at $36,000.
The Chinese art in the auction was by a listed artist that is popular in China, but apparently not so in the United States. Estimates for Cao Dali’s work reflected prices achieved for her work elsewhere, yet “Volcano,” done in a Dali-esque style, fell short of the $30/50,000 estimates, selling at $15,990. The two New York Graffiti School pieces, despite their Basquiat similarities, sold on par with the Chinese works, as they found extremely limited appreciation.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium charged. Shannon’s Fine Art Auctioneers’ next auction is scheduled for Thursday, October 24, consignments are currently being accepted. For more information, www.shannons.com or 203-877-1711.