Hell With The Lid Off — Paintings At Concept Art Gallery Reveals Real Beauty of Western Pennsylvania

The Winding Road by George Hetzel Lot 557 at Concept Art Gallery upcoming auction
The Winding Road by George Hetzel Lot 557 at Concept Art Gallery upcoming auction

In 1868 Boston writer James Parton called Pittsburgh “hell with the lid off.”  The “black” town, however, has never been short of talented artists. For some, the smoke and dirt pushed them to find pastoral retreat nearby; for others like Christian Walter, “no other place in the world has the wealth of material that can be found right” in Pittsburgh environ. On June 6, 2009, Concept Art Gallery is auctioning fine art works which reflect both attitudes.

Among the four paintings by George Hetzel, the dean of the Scalp level school, my favorite is lot 557. “The Winding Road”, a relative smaller painting on board, is moodier and more painterly-looking compared to other paintings by Hetzel in the same auction. Maybe it was painted in his later career when his style evolved with the trend that favored a more intimate and personal approach, maybe the barren cloudy landscape dictates a more suggestive touch, or maybe it was simply a more elaborated study; nevertheless I have found this unusual landscape particularly charming: The autonomous unidentifiable locale, the cool light on top of a variety of greens, the sharp edged leaves out of the general form of bushes, and the gentle curves and tilt of the road and shrubs that add the tension and dynamics into the  quietude —- all demonstrate the versatile faculty of the painter.

Moonlight Nocturne by Christian Walter, the Top Lot at Concert Art Gallery auction
Moonlight Nocturne by Christian Walter, the Top Lot at Concert Art Gallery auction

The top lot (lot 571) “Moonlight Nocturne” by Christian Walter is a spectacular image. Nearly two years ago when Carnegie Museum of Art had the show of  “Popular Salon of the People: Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Annuals at Carnegie Museum of Art, 1910-2006”, I was amazed by  a similar nocturnal painting by Walter. In these paintings, Walter neither applied high or medium keyed color palette and loose brush strokes like his contemporary impressionists, not did he chose to paint “dark toned harmony over troubled sky”, once popular at the turn of the century; instead in his realistic rendering of the nature he picked up the unusual purplish blue as the key and lowered both the horizon and the moon, thus engulfing the viewers with the visual subtly of harmonic night sky, ranging from azure to pink with infinite transitional hues. I remember the first time I saw the painting in the museum which was slightly darker toned: I was struck by how correct and bold it was at the same time. Its correctness told me that scene is how it has to be and how I would feel if I were there. Its boldness cast a puzzle with a surprising and overwhelming realization: what I had though impossible becomes true.

An Pen and Ink Drawing by John Beaty, A Rare Finding at Concert Art Gallery Auction
An Pen and Ink Drawing by John Beaty, A Rare Finding at Concert Art Gallery Auction

The surprise and a true rarity is a painting and two drawings by John Beatty, the first director of Carnegie Museum of Art. I had seen some horse paintings before, but this expansive landscape (lot 552) gives collectors some clue of the artistic style of the curator and artist who participated with much of the early acquisition of CMOA and shaped the direction of the museum. One of the portrait drawing by Beatty features sensual lines on the face with an elusive expression that challenges the viewer to decipher. Beatty’s fondness of works on paper is evident in the vast collection at CMOA, many of which were acquired during his tenure. Among them, “My Jew Boy” by Eastman Johnson was bought from his window for almost nothing. (I roughly remember it was sold for $5.) Compared to the marvelous craftsmanship of Eastman Johnson, this portrait makes up the lack of highest order of consummate skills with an ambiguity between staged and casual. The sitter, who is simply avoiding any eye contact (in fact, eyes are totally covered by upper eyelids), at once looks as if caught when he is falling into his own thought; yet the scarf, perfectly lined up his chest, seems to indicate it is a staged pose.

Other interesting lots include a portrait by Samuel Rosenberg, Edouard Cortes’ street scene painting, and Geo’s favorite objects: some glass decanters.

Auction begins Saturday, June 6th, 2009 at 10 am

Preview at our Regent Square Auction Gallery, 1031 S. Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15218

  • Wednesday, June 3rd, 10am-5:30pm
  • Thursday, June 4th, 10am-8pm
  • Friday, June 5th, 10am-5pm

Visit www.conceptgallery.com for catalog and bidding.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 - 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that "his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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