More than 500 lots comprising paintings, sculpture, photographs, and works on paper and representing a wide range of periods, styles, and subject matter were offered in Skinner’s May 19 auction. Robin S. R. Starr, Director of American and European Works of Art, notes that the stand-out successes of the auction were major works by renowned artists. Their enduring appeal and well-documented provenance resulted in prices that, in many cases, exceeded pre-auction estimates.
Auction highlights included:
Alexander Calder’s Standing Mobile brought the highest price of the sale. The work is small—at less than 6 inches across, about half the size of the Calder standing mobile that headlined Skinner’s January Fine Art auction. But the diminutive sculpture has all the wit, energy and originality that are hallmarks of Calder’s works of any size. As Starr puts it, this small but mighty creation was “full of spunk and whimsy; the red curl of a tail made it sing.” Lot 525 brought $267,000 on a pre-auction estimate of $100,000-150,000.
Henry Moret’s large, colorful canvas Harvesting Kelp proved the enduring appeal of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Moret worked with Gauguin, Emile Bernard and the other artists of the colony at Pont-Aven, although his style remained less expressionistic. Throughout a long and productive career, Moret most often painted landscapes like this of the Brittany coast. In a catalog of a posthumous exhibition, he is praised as “able to fuse together two fundamentally opposing styles: the Syntheticism of Pont-Aven and Impressionism.” Lot 360, with a pre-auction estimate of $35,000-50,000, achieved $159,000.
Auguste Rodin’s Grande Main Crispée Gauche, one of two Rodin sculptures in the auction, is a quintessential work by the iconic French master. Originally modeled around 1885, the sculpture was a preliminary study for the monumental Burghers of Calais. This cast is one of eleven made for the Musée Rodin. Lot 301 sold for $147,000.
Two prints exemplified the strength of works and artists that Robin Starr calls “quintessential” giants of 20th century art.
Matisse’s large and colorful aquatint Marie-José en robe jaune, sold for $98,400 on an estimate of $50,000-80,000, the highest price ever realized at Skinner for a 20th century fine art print. The energetic portrait is considered one of the artist’s best aquatints, and this example is notable for the vividness of its greens, which tended to be very fugitive in this print.
Jasper Johns’ Target with Four Faces, a large color etching and aquatint, is similarly an iconic piece by a blue-chip artist, and similarly is notable for its freshness of color. Johns was as innovative in his print-making as in his painting, with an extraordinary ability to make familiar two-dimensional objects as targets, flags, and maps into thought-provoking art. Lot 87 brought $29,520 on an estimate of $15,000-25,000.
Elizabeth Haff, American & European Works of Art Specialist, noted that several traditional works did extremely well in a market which is increasingly hyper-focused on post-World War II art.
One notable success was the late 19th century American painter De Scott Evans’ A New Variety. A small 12 by 10-inch panel in the trompe l’oeil style so popular in its day, the strikingly photorealistic depiction of almonds in a box achieved a price of $19,680 over an estimate of $8,000-12,000.
Another highlight of pre-20th century art was Lot 200, Two Village Battle Scenes, attributed to 17th century Dutch painter Hendrick (Henri) Ambrosius Pacx (Packx). The pair sold for $18,450, far exceeding their pre-auction estimate of $800-1,200. Skinner’s research through RKD in the Netherlands (Nederlands Instituut voor Kunstgeschiedenis) will help to establish the artist’s signature, which is rarely found on his work. Haff notes “It is gratifying to find works like these and help bring them to light.”
Top lots among the photographs featured in this auction:
Ansel Adams, Leaves and Raindrops. One of a number of mural-size black-and-white nature photographs that Adams started to create in the 1930s, this example sold for $13,530.
Edward Burtynsky, Oxford Tire Pile #5. The chromogenic print on the photographer’s recurring theme of environmental degradation sold for $10,455 on an estimate of $7,000-9,000.
John Coplans, Self-portrait, Back and Hands. The stark gelatin silver print, with a pre-auction estimate of $2,000-3,000, sold for $7,995.
It is always tempting to ask if the results of an auction point to a clear theme or trend. Robin Starr re-iterates that quality, beauty, provenance, and freshness to market (to which may be added Skinner’s broad market experience and in-depth research) are the ingredients for success.
Skinner auctions draw international interest from buyers and consignors alike, with material regularly achieving record prices. The company’s auction and appraisal services focus on fine art, jewelry, furniture, and decorative arts from around the globe, as well as wine, fine musical instruments, rare books, Asian art, clocks, Judaica, and more. Monthly Skinner Discovery auctions feature a breadth of estate material.
Widely regarded as one of the most trusted names in the business, Skinner appraisers have appeared on PBS-TV’s Antiques Roadshow since the show’s inception.
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