The sale from Constantine And Pletcher Auctions went very well that one would suspect that the spring of the art market has finally arrived. In particular, Albert F. King’s still life fetched high prices that defied the market downturn.
The highlight was Lot 27 (18 by 24 inches), a still life with a watermelon, grapes and cantaloupes. The hammer price was $22,500. On Sept 24, 2008, Sotheby’s auctioned a similar painting of the same size and realized $28,125 (with premium). Both painting show a near pornographic type of visual enjoyment under tight brush control. The lure of fresh food under a dramatic light setting reveals an amazing layer of textural beauty that human beings seldom bother to look.
For me, those sill life images of melons and peaches by A. F. King represent a striking paradox: a sombre, frugal, formalistic aesthetic attitude against the lush relish of consumption splendor which need no more than a healthy appetite for appreciation. In other words, the more realistic he painted, the more ceremonial and ritual those pictures look. Are we human beings incapable of apprecaiting the ornamental and decorous beauty of fruits because they are just too tasteful?
Another still life (12 by 18 inches) by A. F. King (Lot 48) reached $5500. In comparison, King’s landscape didn’t win the same amount of market appreciation based on the results of the auction. Lot 63, a possible Scalp Level landscape (14 by 20 inches) was sold for $3000. The painting appeared to be too contriving to me because the painter had as much strength in simplified highlighted objects as weakness in an overall atmospheric naturalism in landscape. I would have been much happier to own a small charming seascape painting by another Pittsburgh painter Joseph Woodwell. The painting (Lot 57 10.5 by 14 inches) went for $3500 at the hammer price. Geo, who has done research on Pittsburgh furniture, is always interested in the Woodwell family and told me Joseph’s father was a premium carver. (He even pointed out the location of his store in downtown Pittsburgh!)
The strong performance of the auction shows a relatively healthy economy of Pittsburgh region. A. F. King, and Joseph Woodwell are mostly known in the Ohio Valley and Western Pennsylvania area. Westmoreland Museum of American Art, which dedicats their efforts to promoting the art of Southwest Pennsylvania, has through years of exhibition of both permanent collection and temporary shows, curated a group of regional collectors and ignited their fever in appreciating the regional art, in particular Scalp Level School.