Both Geo and I feel connected with the artworks of Eugene Higgins. At the dawn of social realism, his works are neither modern nor urban; nevertheless he instilled the Millet’s sympathy and respect into American peasantry with the deftness of printmaking reminiscent of Honoré Daumier. Quite often, one can find his etching on eBay and occasionally there were a few pastel paintings which always caught my eyes.
In the previous post, a pastel painting featuring a stooped female in front of the door step with a tight cropping of door frame and wall resembles a crayon and chalk drawing –“Woman Sewing” — by Jean-François Millet. Both female bodies lack the details (in the case of Millet, it is probably one of his several studies). Instead, the mass planes with succinct touches of line drawing freeze moments of human in labor against an austere background, engendering the pictures a transcendental quality.
A recent watercolor and pastel painting on eBay (eBay number: 230357757877) was one of the rare urban scenes by Higgins if it is authentic. Although the background tower was described as empire state building by the seller which I cannot confirm, the overall atmosphere can be related to any metros during the depression period: When the whole city goes under darkness, the lonely street light seems so bright that devours a figure into textureless mass. In the majority of Higgin’s paintings or etchings, the figures regardless of their social status, always feel monumental and dignified. Yet the two anonymous persons in the picture were more of the anecdotes of the despair urban scene. It attracted 42 bids and was sold for $770.
Another once-in-a-lifetime lot now available is a collection of over 200 etchings by Higgins (eBay number 180390114270). Higgins mastered the art of printmaking during his study in France. In 1957, the year before his death, the Library of Congress purchased 240 of his etchings. According to the seller, “the collection was squirrreled away by his dealer, Leonard Clayton Gallery of New York City, following Higgins’s death in 1958”, which “documents Higgin’s etching and printmaking career nearly completely with a few duplicates.”
The listed price is $18,000 which makes an average of $90 for each piece of etching (assuming that there are 200 pieces altogether). A quick search of auction records shows that his etchings are usually estimated between $100 to $200 a piece in major auction houses although occasionally they were sold much less. For example, on June 20, 2009, Stair Gallries sold 3 of his small etchings from the collection of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden for $58 despite of the estimated price between $400 to $600. Yet in 2004 Altermann Galleries at Santa Fe, NM sold one small etching “Pioneers Resting” (6 by 7.5 inches) for $1035 including premium. I would say the whole lot is priced fair plus the seller is willing to accept other offers. However for such amount of money, it would be beneficial if more pictures and specification can be provided. (How many are duplicates? What is the size for the majority of them? Or more simply are they all signed or numbered?)
I would also be interested in knowing whether there are etchings for some of his famous works, among them “The Black Cloud” now in Smithsonian American Art Museum and three canvas murals in three post-offices as WPA works: Shawano, Wisconsin (“The First Settlers”, 1939), Mount Pleasant, Tennessee (“Early Settlers Entering Mount Pleasant”, 1942) and Beaver Fall, Pennsylvania(“The Armistice Letter”, 1938).
Below are the three mural pictures. Note the last one is a study for the mural. If you have a picture of the canvas mural of “The Armistice Letter” inside the actual building and can send me one, I will appreciate it.