It’s a festival of Norman Rockwell works at Sotheby’s American Art sale tomorrow with 13 works by Rockwell along with more than 100 other works—by Frederic Edwin Church, N.C. Wyeth, Milton Avery, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran — estimated at around $40 million. Sotheby’s placed the most valuable of the Rockwells from the Berkshire museum privately late last year. Here is their press release on the works for sale this week:
Leading the selection of works by Norman Rockwell is Blacksmith’s Boy – Heel and Toe (Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop), sold to benefit the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts (below, estimate $7/10 million). Commissioned for a 1940 The Saturday Evening Post story by Edward W. O’Brien, this monumental painting – measuring nearly six feet across – illustrates a horseshoe-forging contest, which O’Brien captured from the point of view of the local blacksmith’s son.
Another exceptional example by Norman Rockwell is The Little Model from 1919 (estimate $1/1.5 million). A gift from the artist to his aunt that has remained in the family collection for nearly a century, the work was completed for the 29 March 1919 cover of Collier’s, making it one of Rockwell’s earliest images executed on commission for a prominent American publication. Rendered in the artist’s early style and technique, The Little Model brilliantly captures a young girl’s wistfulness and longing to transform into a beautiful adult, a detail highlighted when it appeared on Antiques Road Show in 2011.
Rockwell’s Boy Playing Flute Surrounded by Animals (Springtime) is another major highlight of the auction, carrying an estimate of $1.5/2.5 million. Appearing on the 16 April 1927 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the painting captures the artist’s pivotal transition from his early aesthetic to his most iconic style; the white background evokes his earlier vignette-style format while the near-photographic likeness of the animated animals dancing around the young boy’s feet foreshadows his mature works. Spirited and cheerful, the painting comes to auction for the first time from the collection of Jack and Bonita Granville Wrather – he the producer of films such as The Lone Ranger and Lassie, she the Hollywood actress who brought Nancy Drew to life.
Nearly forty years after the completion of Springtime comes Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party, one of Rockwell’s most recognizable images. Painted for the cover of the December 1964 issue of McCall’s, the work depicts a forlorn young girl looking from the top of the stairs at the merry cocktail party taking place downstairs that she cannot join. A gift from the artist and being offered for the first time, this beloved image will be presented with a pre-sale estimate of $1/1.5 million.
Also appearing at auction for the very first time is N.C. Wyeth’s Portrait of a Farmer (Pennsylvania Farmer) from 1943, which was formerly in the collection of the artist’s wife. Wyeth created this striking portrait by synthesizing his memories and experiences of his Pennsylvania home: the architectural elements are common to the Chadds Ford area, while the subject is based upon a local farmer whom Wyeth encountered carrying a pig under his arm. The artist discussedPortrait of a Farmer in a 21 January 1943 letter to his daughter Henriette, writing: “In spite of all, my present large panel of the squealing pig is vastly superior to anything to date.” In keeping with the true quality of this work, the painting will be offered this May with an estimate of $2.5/3.5 million.
Also sold to benefit the Berkshire Museum is Frederic Edwin Church’s Valley of Santa Isabel, New Granada (estimate $5/7 million). One of the finest panoramic landscapes of his oeuvre, this rare and extraordinary painting showcases Church’s incredible attention to naturalistic detail, romantic sentiment and unmatched ability to capture light. Completed in 1875 after he achieved broad critical and popular success with works such as Heart of the Andes and The Icebergs, held by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Dallas Museum of Art respectively, the work is one of Church’s final paintings.
Albert Bierstadt, another master of the Hudson Valley School, is represented this season with a View of Nassau, The Bahamas (estimate $700/1,000,000). One of a small series of works inspired by his visits to this tropical paradise – a location also frequented by American artists including Louis Comfort Tiffany and Winslow Homer – in the mid-1870s and through the early 1890s, the work is distinguished by its impressive scale, vivid hues, saturated sunlight and attention to architectural detail.
A Showery Day, Grand Canyon by Thomas Moran is another significant landscape by a major 19th century artist presented in the May sale. The painting depicts the terracotta peaks of the canyon shrouded in silvery clouds, capturing the majesty of one of the Unites States’ greatest natural treasures. Offered by a private American collection with a pre-sale estimate of $800/1.2 million, the work last appeared at auction nearly twenty years ago at Sotheby’s New York.
American modernism is highlighted by Milton Avery’s spectacular The Seamstress (estimate $2/3 million). The vibrant work from 1944 captures the artist’s embrace of color as his primary expression of emotion. Last offered at auction in 1998, the painting belongs to a group of 17 works from The Collection of Patrick & Carlyn Duffy – Patrick Duffy who unforgettably portrayed Bobby Ewing on the hit show Dallas 40 years ago. Lovingly curated by the couple over 45 years, the works from their collection will be offered at Sotheby’s over three auctions this May and October, the last of which will be led by Andrew Wyeth’s 1964 watercolorThe Bachelor.
American realism is represented by two Edward Hopper drawings from the collection of Steve Martin. Study for ‘A Woman in the Sun’, a charcoal drawing executed in 1961, was the foundation for the painting of the same name in the collection of The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Estimated at $150/250,000, the work was purchased in 2005 along with Study for ‘Summer Evening’, another preparatory study for a major oil painting of the same title, which carries an estimate of $200/300,000.
The Western Art offerings this season are highlighted by works by Charles Marion Russell, Frederic Remington and Olaf Carl Seltzer from the Jack and Bonita Granville Wrather Collection. Russell’s When Guns were the Locks of the Treasure Box is a spectacular watercolor, gouache and pencil on paper that conveys the sense of excitement and adventure that the American West inspired (estimate $150/250,000).
Frederic Remington’s Western Stage Managers is also a noteworthy addition from the Wrather Collection. A striking scene with a pre-sale estimate of $60/80,000, this work has been exhibited extensively across the Midwest, including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Sterling and Francine Clark ArtInstitute in Williamstown, Massachusetts.