There were a good crowd at Christie’s in the first afternoon preview of American Painting Sale. Among the consignors, there are museums such as Delaware Art Museum, Corcoran Gallery and other art institutions. Geo commented that one hundred years ago the first generation of collectors and philanthropists such as Cargenie, Frick, Morgan and Mellon, conglomerated great art into single hands and then handled them to public institutions, now the trend is to reverse the ownership. Yet once they are dispersed into different private hands, they would seldom resurface back to the public view, not at least in the near future. Thus, the preview of such to-be-deaccesssioned paintings is like a farewell party.
I have overheard the discussion between customers and staff. The most brought-up topic from the auction houses is always what are the most inquired about lots. Auctioning is about confidence and nothing is better than introducing others’ interests. The top TEN lots in the sale include the still life painting by Raphaelle Peale, the portrait by John Singer Sargent and one of the Joseph Stellar.
Based on the catalog “Raphaelle Peale still lifes“, Peale probably only painted 150 or so still lifes in total, and only 50 or so survived. Most are probably in public institutions, including the one now for sale, which is being deaccessioned from Atwater Kent Museum of Philadelphia and was listed in the catalog on page 45. Peale wrote down a specific date, Feb 22, 1815 on this painting, as he did for several other still lifes, although it would be certain he could not finish a painting within a day. 1815 for Peale was not a good year– when he traveled back and forth between the south and Philadelphia. It is noticeable that the dried fish in the painting, which may come stocked from the Schuylkill to a small pond into Charles Wilson Peale’s country estate outside of Germantown. As much as I love still life paintings and the art of Raphaelle Peale, I would not hang a painting of a dead fish on the wall. But perhaps because it is the rare among the rare, dried fish won’t scare bidders away.
Among a few paintings from Corcoran Gallery, I was curious of the painting by Alexander Wyant. If it is understandable that the painting by Inness and Eastman Johnson are for sale because the painters are better represented in the museum with other paintings, Early Autumn, Adirondacks by Alexander Wyant is one of his most important and largest works. It was included in Clark, Sixty Paintings by Alexander H. Wyant with a different name – passing shower in the early of the 20th century. A late style of Wyant and a familiar scene of Adirondacks, everything from foreground to background in the scenery is shrouded in a state of fogginess, yet the brightening sky seems to indicate the beauty only reside in a fleeting moment as the dampened decadent leafy scenes would soon lose the delicacy as the sun comes out of the cloud. At one moment, I thought it is worth another museum’s acquisition, yet the idea is absurd. Why should public institution pay again for something within the public domain? And which one would spend THAT amount of money on something deserted from another one?
Other paintings that we have enjoyed include the Montclair Autumn by George Inness, Lincoln’s Birthday New York by Guy C. Wiggins, Still Life by Levi Wells Prentice. My personal favorite is River at Saugerties by George Bellows, which strangely was signed twice by the artist. It is a strong image that features bold jewelry colors and architectural forms through confident strokes. The painting will be included in the upcoming catalog raisonne.
Lastly, a great number of N. C. Wyeth paintings of Robinison Crusoe series were consigned from the Wilmington Institute Library although the frame are provided from another company for separate purchase. Will the whole illustration series find another place to show the story? We will know on the night of Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009.