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Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Westervelt Property Sees Mixed Results at Christie's American Art Sale

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A Rhode Island view by W.T. Richards soared to $1.65 million but other property sagged at Christie’s. A Rhode Island view by W.T. Richards soared to $1.65 million but other property sagged at Christie’s.
NEW YORK CITY – “The auction market for American art continued its climb back today,” said Christie’s American art chief Eric P. Widing, characterizing the mixed results of the auction house’s May 18 sale of paintings, drawings and sculpture.
 
The morning session at Rockefeller Plaza generated $22.2 million on 88 lots, leaving another 50 lots unsold. The sale was projected to exceed $29 million. Christie’s slightly surpassed its December 2010 sale of American art, which garnered $21.2 million on 96 lots.
 
Westervelt Company
The centerpiece of Christie’s sale was 29 lots consigned by the Westervelt Company, formerly the Gulf Paper Corporation.  The works were assembled over four decades by the noted Alabama collector and retired paper executive Jonathan “Jack” Westervelt Warner, who  started buying Audubon prints in the 1950s and over four decades amassed one of the nation’s finest holdings of American paintings, sculpture, furniture and decorative arts produced between the late 18th century and the early 20th century.  A decade ago, Warner opened the Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art in Tuscaloosa.
 
Predicted to surpass $10 million, the Warner group tallied only $6.7 million including premium. Christie’s passed 16 of the 29 lots, roughly 55 percent. The group represented only a small fraction of Warner’s extensive holdings.
 
“The Westervelt material was terribly overestimated. It just wasn’t competitive,” said one insider, echoing widespread opinion in the trade.
 
“Auction houses often get pushed to be too strong with the estimates. A lot of these works were just average. Most of the things that have sold privately from the Warner collection have been well over $1 million. They have been a whole different level of work.  But Christie’s was successful with the major pieces,” said New York dealer Debra Force, an active participant at Christie’s and again at Sotheby’s the following day.
 
Leading the Westervelt group was William Trost Richard’s “Mackerel Cove, Jamestown, Rhode Island.” Painted in 1894, the panoramic view sold to Caldwell Gallery for $1,650,500 against an estimate of $700/$1,000,000, tripling the record at auction for the artist.
 
“I personally feel that there is no finer Richards,” said Manlius, N.Y., dealer Joe Caldwell. “It is late but great.  Most people think that Richard’s early work is his best but this is an example of how wonderful his painting was later in his career.”
 
A masterpiece from Frederick Carl Frieseke’s Giverny years, “Sunspots,” surpassed estimate to sell to a European buyer for $1,022,500 (est. $800/1,000,000). The circa 1915 oil on canvas depicts a nude in a dappled landscape.
 
Three Bierstadts also performed well.  From the Westervelt group, “Seal Rock, California,” a circa 1872 oil on paper laid down on canvas, made $794,500 (est. $500/700,000). From other consignors, “Rocky Mountain Sheep” fetched $542500 from a European bidder. “The Falls of St. Anthony” made $362,500.
 
Various Owners
“It’s likely to be the largest work I ever sell,” Eric Widing said of Maxfield Parrish’s monumental “North Wall Panel,” which brought the day’s top price, $2,882,500 (est. $2/3,000,000). Commissioned by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and consigned by her granddaughter, the 221 ½ inch long oil on canvas frieze of 1928 depicts revelers in renaissance dress against a colonnaded backdrop at twilight.  The mural was originally commissioned by Whitney for her Fifth Avenue apartment but was installed in her studio on Long Island. A subsequent lot, the “Du Pont Mural,” brought $158,500. Christie’s holds four of the top five prices at auction for Parrish.
 
Small in scale, California painter Guy Rose’s oil on canvas landscape “Martin’s Point, Carmel” left the room at $890,500 (est. $350/500,000). The painting once hung in a Greene and Green house in Pasadena that was built for Cordelia Culbertson in 1911.
 
A 1947 oil on canvas self-portrait by Milton Avery left the room at $602,500 (est. $300/500,000). The following day, Sotheby’s auctioned “March Playing the Cello,” an Avery portrait of his daughter, for $1,426,500.
 
John Singer Sargent’s “Ladies in the Shade: Abies” went to Michael Altman Fine Art of New York for $566,600 (est. $500/700,000). Completed in the French Alps, the watercolor and pencil on paper descended in the family of Philadelphian George D. Widener. The same price was paid for Norman Rockwell’s “Milkmaid” (est. $300/500,000), an oil on canvas of 1931.
 
Christie’s passed its cover lot, “Eleanor and Benny,” an Impressionist work by Boston painter Frank W. Benson of his daughter and grandson in the family garden in Maine. The 1916 oil on canvas was estimated at $3/5,000,000.
 
Said Widing, “We saw very nice prices on individual lots but we had hoped to see more things selling, and selling well. The American market has historically been the last to pull out of recession because, unlike Impressionist and Modern art, it is almost entirely domestic. If the art-market recession of the 1990s is any guide, we are about half way through this one.”

Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium.
 
Write to Laura Beach at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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