$5m Wyeth painting leads NY auction

Prominent private and institutional collections are the source for a stellar line-up of works to be offered at Christie's sale of Important American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture on December 2, 2009 in New York.

Highlights of the sale include a significant and deeply personal work by the late Andrew Wyeth that has not been available on the market in nearly 50 years, and a celebrated series of paintings by family patriarch Newell Convers (NC) Wyeth that has never before been offered at auction.

Wyeth's Above the Narrows ($3-5m)
Wyeth's Above the Narrows ($3-5m)

In all, over 135 exceptional works by the leading American masters of the 19th and 20th century will be offered, with expected totals in excess of $30m.

Leading the sale is Above the Narrows by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), an exceptional work by the celebrated master of American Realism. Executed with the precise detail and refined surface that is the hallmark of Wyeth's greatest works, the painting depicts the artist's then-teenaged son Nicky as a lone figure standing on the bluff at Bradford's Point, overlooking the St George River in Maine.

The painting stands as one of Wyeth's most profound and personal meditations on the passage of time, a recurring theme in his body of work. Offered to the market for the first time in nearly 50 years, the painting is estimated at $3-5m.

In recent years, Christie's has achieved exceptional prices for works by Andrew Wyeth, including the world auction record price of $10.3m for Ericksons, 1973, sold in May 2007.

Distance Thunder by Wyeth was art collector Bill Gates's first major purchase at $7m. We focussed on Bill Gates's collection in a recent newsletter.

Among the great American illustrators, N.C. Wyeth is perhaps best known for his brilliance in illustrating many beloved adventure novels, including Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Last of the Mohicans, among others.

Ufer's A Pueblo Well Scene ($1.5-2.5m)
Ufer's A Pueblo Well Scene ($1.5-2.5m)

At the upcoming sale, Christie's will present for the first time ever at auction the iconic series of images used to illustrate Daniel Defoe's classic novel Robinson Crusoe. This extraordinary suite of full-size oil paintings will be sold to benefit the Wilmington Institute Library in Wilmington, DE, which has owned and displayed the works since the 1920's.

The 14 paintings each depict a pivotal scene from the novel, from Crusoe adrift at sea on his raft ("For a mile, or thereabouts, my raft went very well," estimated at $300,000-500,000) to his landing on the seemingly deserted island ("Making it a great cross, I set it up on the shore where I first landed," estimated at $250,000-350,000), to the dramatic moment when Crusoe discovers the human footprint in the sand that signals he is not alone ("I stood like one thunderstruck, or as if I had seen an apparition," estimated at $300,000-500,000).

Rounding out the offerings of Wyeth works in the sale is a 1982 work on paper by Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), the grandson of N.C. Wyeth and son of Andrew Wyeth. A Couple of Chairs Sitting Around the Coast of Maine depicts the abandoned yard of a summer beach house on a blustery, cloudy day (estimated at $120,000-180,000).

Fresh-to-market works with exceptional provenance continue to drive strong prices in the art market, and this could be proven by a masterful work by Walter Ufer (1876-1936), a leading member of the Taos Society of Artists. Entitled A Pueblo Well Scene, it is estimated at $1.5-2.5m.

With its saturated colours and closely-cropped, pared-down composition, Ufer's A Pueblo Well Scene is a strikingly modern depiction of three Taos Indians engaged in their daily chores. Never before offered at auction, the painting was handed down from Mayer to his son, who kept the painting within the family's private collection.

Exceedingly rare, Three-Panel Screen by the renowned frame-maker and painter Charles Prendergast (1863-1948) is likely the first of only three screens that the artist created during his prolific career (estimated at $1-1.5m).

Mademoiselle Suzanne Poirson ( $700,000-1m)
Mademoiselle Suzanne Poirson ($700k-1m)

Painted circa 1916-17, the panels are a virtual playground for the eyes, with a rich, imagined landscape of sky, land, and water populated with figures, trees and animals. The reverse of each screen is decorated by a trio of stylized angels, and gold leaf and delicate punchwork enlivens the surface throughout.

The screen has descended in the family of Duncan and Marjorie Phillips, founders of the esteemed Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. A luminous portrait by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Mademoiselle Suzanne Poirson, (estimated at $700,000-1m) comes from the Estate of Thomas J Carroll, a prominent American collector.

Painted in 1884, in the period following the scandalous debut of his infamous Portrait of Madame X, Sargent was faced with a dearth of lucrative portrait commissions. In lieu of paying rent for his studio, it is believed that Sargent painted this elegant portrait of his landlord's daughter Suzanne, portraying her in a classic three-quarter pose and with a dark coat and bright red bow. A second portrait Sargent painted of the girl's mother, Seymourina Poirson, is in the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Highlighting the Western Art section of the sale is Albert Bierstadt's Mountainous Landscape by Moonlight from 1871, a dramatic, naturalistic night-time scene lit by a combination of reflected moon light and a lone camp fire (estimate: $1.2-1.8m).

Among the artists who made expeditions throughout the American West, Bierstadt (1830-1902) excelled with his profound ability to convey the grandeur of this wondrous region to the American public. Widely exhibited in museums around the US, this superb painting is consigned to sale from the Corcoran Gallery of Art to benefit the museum's Acquisitions Fund.

Another excellent example of American Modernism in the sale is Milton Avery's Hills by the Sea (estimated at $400,000-600,000). Painted in 1960, the work exemplifies Avery's unique ability to simplify a scene to its broadest possible forms while retaining tension and balance through colour and shape.

Exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the painting comes fresh to the market from an important private New York collection, where it has remained since 1975.

Additional works from this exceptional collection include Avery's Orange Hat, a gouache (opaque watercolor) and pencil on paper work from 1944 (estimated at $150,000-250,000); Stuart Davis's Study for "Men Without Women" ($70,000-100,000) and Still ($40,000-60,000); and Ralston Crawford's Wharf Objects at Santa Barbara #2 ($30,000-50,000) and Net ($30,000-50,000).

The auction will take place at Christie's, New York, between November 28 and December 1.

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