Western art is not a commodity easily definable. We may think of it as depicting cowboys, cactus and cattle. The most notable Western Art by Frederic Remington and Charles Russell depicts just that. One of the points made in a talk at Heritage Auction Galleries last night by Art of the American West Director Michael Duty was that Western Art has much greater boundaries than those defined by these conceptions.
The lecture coincides with an exhibit Art of the American West & Texas Art, which, while including works featuring cowboys and Indians, seems to weigh heavily on the western landscape. It’s these landscapes that have brought me in to the world of Western Art in a way that Remington and Russell works have not so far been able to do.
A prominently featured lot by Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922), Bluebonnets at Sunrise, 1917 (lot 67018) relates the most to the tonalism of eastern counterparts like Bruce Crane painting around the same time. Bluebonnets at Sunrise was at once familiar, having seen a similar, but much larger work in the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth.
A San Antonio native, Onderdonk studied in New York under William Merritt Chase. The Bluebonnets seem to embrace the landscape, rather than the conquest of it or the activities of man in it. To me, this painting has a southern, rather than southwestern feel but then I’ve heard that Dallas is the farthest outpost of the old south. Estimated at $80,000 to $120,000, Onderdonk is valued out of reach for many collectors.
A small landscape on wood (lot 67020) doesn’t feature bluebonnets and has a mood more like a Ralph Blakelock than William Merritt Chase does provide an opportunity to own an Onderdonk for less than $10,000.
If it’s bluebonnets you want, there are several other options including Bluebonnets by Palmer Chrisman 1913-1984 (lot 67076). Chrisman’s paintings were apparently given out as gifts by President Lyndon Johnson during his presidency. The estimate of $4,000-$6,000 seems slightly higher than what many of his paintings sell for, probably because of the bluebonnet effect. Another painting in the auction, Autumn Landscape by Chrisman is the same size and with red trees values at $3,000-$5,000.
Other notable lots (or at least my favorites) include a pair of Charles Bird King prints (lot 67093) and Land of His Fathers by William Robinson Leigh (lot 67121). The exhibit runs through Friday in Dallas and the auction takes place on Saturday, May 15.