Auction Brief: At Freeman’s and eBay

Gray Sky by Theophile De Bock at Freeman's, 11 1/2 x 15 1/4 in. Esitmated $1000- $1500, Unsold
"Gray Sky" by Theophile De Bock at Freeman's, 11 1/2 x 15 1/4 in. Esitmated $1000- $1500, Unsold

The Freeman’s auction today “Friday: Paintings and Prints” proved the low to medium art market is holding well. Only a few were unsold and most were sold within the estimation. The artworks that are valued between a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars would probably not see as a huge profit margin as modern or contemporary hot spots enjoyed before the economy went down; but nevertheless their values will not drop significantly like some of the contemporary artworks. The paintings and prints offered today have the appeal to serious collectors who do not want to get trapped by riskier investments. Plus they are beautiful.

One of the surprising lots, however, is a painting by Theophile De Bock. Two months ago a painting by him fetched twice as much as it was estimated at Doyle. Before the Freeman’s auction, the ArtFact showed there are four watchers online. But the painting with the title “Gray Sky” didn’t sell. Since I only watched the auction online, I could not tell what happened to the lot on the floor. For me, it has all the charms of the Hague School and the composition of incorporating water pond to reflect the sky and harmonize the whole picture preluded the American tonalism painters such as Arthur Parton or Charles Appel. The one sold at Doyle was a fairly large painting and has an unusual vertical composition that strengthens the middle ground trees against the river, bank and bridge. This one has more traces of French Barbizon Corotian feels except quite often De Bock would eliminate the human activity from the civilized landscapes to emphasize the sombre feelings. I would probably be happy to place the initial bid of $500 if I had known earlier that no one seemed to be interested.

"Morris Canal, Newark, NJ" by Gustave Wolff, 16 x 20 in., at Freeman's
"Morris Canal, Newark, NJ" by Gustave Wolff, 16 x 20 in., at Freeman's

On the other hand, a painting of similar style by American painter Gustave Wolff with exact estimation went for $2600. Despite some inpaint in the picture, the title of the painting which was shown on the stretcher “Morris Canal, Newark, NJ” must attract some collectors because of its regional appeal. Gustave Wolff traveled extensively (such as Brooklyn, St. Louis, etc) and his urban landscapes often reminded me the solitude feeling from the Hague School. The picture depicted a winter scene of the canal with houses and factories gloomily aligned along the banks. Quite possibly the locale can be pinpointed, but would I be happy to have this painting if I happened to live near the canal? I am not sure.  The unrelenting plainness of the back walls of the building and the unsympathetic of the cloudy sky over snow at least didn’t make the scene inviting.

A pastel by Eugene Higgins at eBay (Item Number 150355956161) Sold for more than $500
A pastel by Eugene Higgins at eBay (Item Number 150355956161) Sold for more than $500

Just as I wrote this blog, a pastel painting by Eugene Higgins was sold at eBay for $514.78. (Check the item number 150355956161) Even though the seller mistakenly ascribed the painter to Ashcan School, the characteristic monumental forms of ordinary people depicted in this solemn painting must strike a lot of people. It is rare to find Higgin’s pastels in the market and this one, despite all the neural and dark colors, does have more liviness than his paintings of similar subjects. (Paintings with dogs seem to be more popular on eBay.)  In my mind, it was slightly overpriced based on the market demand for the artist; but I always think the most difficult thing is to value how much an artwork is worth while the easiest thing is to tell how much one likes a work. For things truly valued in heart, the price tag matters less.

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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