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Sunday, September 24, 2023

The American Painting Sales

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Elie Nadelman, TWO FEMALE NUDES (CIRCUS PERFORMERS), sold for $176,500 (est $30,000-$50,000) at Sotheby’s Elie Nadelman, TWO FEMALE NUDES (CIRCUS PERFORMERS), sold for $176,500 (est $30,000-$50,000) at Sotheby’s

The action is starting up and late this past month both of the main auction rooms in New York put their toes in the water with mid-level American painting sales. I viewed both sales and while a majority of the items offered fell into the 'stuff' category there were some interesting pieces.

The first sale took place on the 27th at Christie's and taking top honors here was a small Milton Avery titled Porch View that made $158,500 (est. $60-$80K). Coming in second were Norman Rockwell's Girl in Spanish Costume (est. $80-$120K) and Thomas Eakins rather unattractive portrait of Mrs. Samuel Hall Williams (est. $8-$12K - yes $8-$12K) at $134,500 and rounding out the top three was Guy Wiggins' New York (est. $60-$80K and not a snow scene) at $128,500 - one of the nicer paintings in the sale, at least in my opinion.

There were also a few other works which I liked and most performed pretty well; these included an early J.G. Brown (est. $40-$60K) that brought $104,500; a small A.F. Tait of chicks (est. $12-$18K) that made $10,625; a large E.A. Payne titled Breton Boats ($50-$70K) that brought $92,500; Jack Gray's action packed On Deck of Medway in High Seas (est. $30-$50K) which commanded $80,500 and a very nice, but small, Jacobsen from 1876 (est. $7-$10K) that settled in at $18,750.

When the sale was done, of the 208 items offered, 133 sold and 75 were returned to their owners (64% sell-through rate) for a total take of $3.5M - the low end of the presale estimate was $3.1M so they beat it with the buyer's commissions added in.

On the 28th, Sotheby's presented their offerings in a two part sale. The first session was comprised of Folk Art, Silver and Furniture ... not one I will cover here. The second session featured their mid-level American paintings and had a similar make-up to their competition - some good and then a lot of stuff.

Taking top honors here was an Elie Nadelman sculpture titled Two Female Nudes (est. $30-$50K) that brought $176,500; in second was a Gaston Lachaise sculpture titled Breasts at $104,500 (est. $12-$18K) and in third was Birger Sandzen's Autumn Symphony (est. $40-$60K) that made $74,500.

Among the other interesting works (at least those I liked) were 2 paintings by Dunbar Beck that each made $40,625 (est. $30-$40K); a small Francis C. Jones titled Classical Maiden (est. $15-$25K) that brought $28,125; and early Wiggins painting (est. $40-$60K - snow, but no flags) that sold for $62,500 and a Warner Friedman, from his Open Ended Cube series (est. $5-$7K), that fetched $9,375.

When all was said and done, of the 223 works offered, 126 sold and 97 failed creating a 56.5% sell-through rate and a total take of about $1.85M - the low end of the presale estimate was $2.25M; so even with the buyer's premium added in, they fell far short of their goal.

What these sales continue to show is that the really good paintings, those that are classic examples, in good condition and from the right periods, are still highly sought after and will perform well.

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