Eugene Higgins on eBay

Left: The Hungry by Eugene Higgins, Right: Woman Sewing by Jean-Francois Millet
Left: "The Hungry" by Eugene Higgins, Right: "Woman Sewing" by Jean-Francois Millet

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.

"Midnight A.M." by Eugene Higgins, an unusual urban scene sold at eBay for $770
"Midnight A.M." by Eugene Higgins, an unusual urban scene sold at eBay for $770

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.

"Pioneers Resting", a small etching was sold for more than $1000 in an auction house in 2004
"Pioneers Resting", a small etching was sold for more than $1000 in an auction house in 2004

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?)

One of the more than 200 etchings offered on eBay (180390114270), similar to "Pioneers Resting"
One of the more than 200 etchings offered on eBay (180390114270), similar to "Pioneers Resting"

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.

"Early Settlers Entering Mount Pleasant", Tempera and oil, 1942. (12'6"x 5'3"), Mount Pleasant, TN, picture courtesy of Jimmy Emerson 2004
"Early Settlers Entering Mount Pleasant", Tempera and oil, 1942. (12'6"x 5'3"), Mount Pleasant, TN, picture courtesy of Jimmy Emerson 2004
"The First Settlers", Oil on Canvas, 1939, Shwano, WI, picture courtesy of Agnes Weidemeier
"The First Settlers", Oil on Canvas, 1939, Shwano, WI, picture courtesy of Agnes Weidemeier
"The Armistice Letter", Oil on Canvas, 1940, Beaver Fall, PA
"The Armistice Letter", Oil study, 1940, the original mural is at the post office of Beaver Fall, PA

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.

8 comments

From the eBay seller:

Nice article. Indeed, I wish had the time to explain and picture every etching. They range in size from very small Renoir like images, all the way up to 9×12 inch social realist images. All signed, all small editions I believe and there are a few that have never been seen by anyone but Higgins. During my cursory examiniation there were not many duplicates and the actual number of etchings I think is something on the order of 210-220 as I found a few more last night. For those seriously interested I would be happy to let them review the entire collection in person. – Geoff

The lot (item number 180390114270) was unsold. If you are interested in this wonderful collection of Higgin’s etching, contact with the dealer. Contact the dealer gkwfleming

I have not heard or mentioned “En Route To The First Continental Congres” signed by Eugene Hiigins. I am trying to find out what year this was printed. I have had this one for years. Thanks,robert

Bob,

I do not own the etching. You can try to contact the ebay dealer. Or you can try Archive of American Art. I tried Library of Congress, but it looks like this particular one was not included in the whole set bought by the Library of Congress. But you can try it again in case I missed the title. (Every etching was recorded with the year of creation in this case.)

Nice to see the article on E. Higgins – recently read that he was “all but forgotten”. I am both enjoying my Higgins oil painting more than ever – although I am also seeking to sell it. I am also seeking a new home for the pastel as well. Does anyone have any suggestions? The painting is on a panel, of a burdened man encased in amber light. The pastel is of two huddled women sitting at the waterside. Would welcome any thoughts.

Dear Judith or others owning works by E. Higgins,

I am interesting in purchasing workd by Higgins. Please email photos and particulars.

Thanks,
Ken

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