Bannister At the Top

Edward Mitchell Bannister's painting was sold at Swann Galleries for $21600
Edward Mitchell Bannister's painting was sold at Swann Galleries for $21,600

Back in February, A large painting by Edward Mitchell Bannister was for sale in the Swann Auction Galleries. It was, according to the auction catalog, the largest painting by the renowned African American painter of Barbizon school came to auction, although Renwick Gallery (a branch of the Smithsonian American Art Museum near the White House) is showing several his paintings in the Grand Salon, all of which feature stunning size that devours viewers into his pastoral scenes.

When Geo and I went to examine the painting in person then, we noticed a few condition problems: discoloration, abrasion, craquelures and paint-loss. Had it in a better condition, it could have set a new auction record. Still, the painting fetched $33,600, a signal which disagreed with Mrs Straub’s remark that market availability is a key for growth as Bannister’s paintings rarely come to market.

Today, another painting went under the hammer in the  Swann Galleries. Signed and dated in 1883, this painting is less about pastoral than American wilderness. Yet the nostalgia dusk clouds and the dark color pallet are undoubtedly the artistic language of Bannister’s era.

I have found the painting particularly charming. The sky is still lit by the setting sun, the glorious golden light can be felt from the colors of the  tops of the trees; yet the tree trunks and pond speak of the evening shades. Viewed from a perspective that one can neither walk into it, nor walk out of the ephemeral moment, the picture is an eerie combination of cold and warm, familiar and unknown, nostalgia and presentiment. Moving to Texas recently and living right by a lake, the wilderness in nature and geographical lonesomeness are brought up to me by a painter from Northeast.

Even with Charles G. Calder’s provenance, the auction house gave the medium-sized painting a conservative estimation, between $8000 to $12,000. Today it was sold for $21,600  (with 20% buyer’s premium).

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.