Geo and I have seen a few paintings in the past by John Enneking (1841-1916), a painter more associated with impressionism than tonalism. At Eldred’s or James D Julia, his paintings (some even with the Vose Galleries sale record) didn’t fetch high numbers. In those tonalism paintings, he employed masses of darkness in contrast to the last glory twilight. The compositions are simplified but also unconventional because the masses of brown and black pigments take over most of the canvases while the gorgeous light is either “shuttered” behind the tree branches or squeezed into a horizontal strip near the top. Perhaps by eliminating details of r, Enneking forced the viewers to give up identifying what is painted, instead to focus on what can be “felt”.
The lot 520 at Stair Galleries auctioned on Sept 12, 2009 was a surprising one. A coastal scene with a fishing boat, painted on a panel approximately 6 inches by 10 inches, is quite different from his other dark-toned pictures. The golden late afternoon sun-light, diffused in the moist, reminded me soft atmospheric effects from the paintings by Sanford Gifford. If there witnesses a quiet yet fleeting fanfare-wise beauty in Gifford’s Catskill pictures where the radiant afternoon sun hovers over an idyllic mountain gorge, Enneking rendered a mundane fishing scene with ephemeral charms: the wet air with the sea smell, the soft and hard sand harmonizing the sky, the glittering water surface, the sound of seagulls and the crushing waves.
We both thought the estimation ($200-$300) was too low for the gem. This morning, a call to the auction house proved that we were not the only persons who were captivated. It was sold for $6500. Small it is, gradiose the image and its market value.