DALLAS – While the auction of the Honorable Paul H. Buchanan Jr. Collection of American Art was taking place at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas on June 10, it was a strong core of top-notch Hudson River School paintings that was drawing the bidders in a Signature American Art Auction that finished the evening with a total exceeding more than $4.57 million. All prices include buyer’s premium.
“This auction contained paintings of high and, in some cases, true museum quality by some of the most significant innovators in 19th-century American art. Fine examples by many of these figures have become scarce on today’s market, and this built-up demand created tremendous enthusiasm among private collectors, dealers and museums alike, particularly with the works’ unimpeachable provenance,” said Marianne Berardi, Senior Fine Art Expert at Heritage.
“We competed against one of the major New York art auction houses for the Buchanan collection,” said Ed Jaster, Vice President of Heritage, “and were awarded the consignment by the family. We then realized $3.88 million for it versus an estimate range of $2.05 million to $3.25 million. To top it all off, more than 98 percent of the value sold, nearly all of it to private collectors.”
A group of paintings by the Pennsylvania-born painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) – whose intensely independent artistic career defies neat categorization with the Hudson River School – proved to be the most hotly contested, with three of them occupying spots in the top five lots of the auction, including the first and second slots, Sunset over the Marsh, circa 1876-82, and Cherokee Roses on a Purple Cloth, 1894, which realized $537,750 and $507,875, respectively.
Heade’s Hummingbirds and Their Nest, 1863, a delicate and moody painting in an oval format – punctuated with a splash of brilliant red on the male hummingbird’s throat – took the number five spot with final price realized of $310,700.
“In all three of these canvasses you can see how versatile Heade’s talent was, and how differently he approached the standard landscape and still life subjects,” said Berardi. “He had a great ability to take motifs no artist had paid any ‘heed’ to – many of them considered mundane before he painted them, especially the northeastern American salt marshes – and transform them into imagery that was entirely fresh, tender, and emotionally profound. More than the name of any associations or schools, collectors respond to that magic because it’s a rare gift in a painter. In Heade we see it in abundance.”
Relatively diminutive in size, roughly 1 foot high by 2 feet wide, Sunset over the Marsh carries a massive emotional impact with its bold coloring sweeping the horizon. American arts and letters never dealt seriously with the salt marshes of the northeastern United States before Heade, but under his lifelong study they would become the national treasures they are today. Heade was doing something new in American landscape painting with his marshscapes, and that newness was a direct violation of the standard practices of the Hudson River School formulas. His choice to paint an “anti-picturesque” landscape, with a flat uninterrupted expanse, an absence of framing devices such as a canopy of trees, a rocky wedge of foreground or a jutting precipice, and virtually no focal point at all, patently disregarded the rules for a successful (i.e., picturesque) landscape set forth in 1792 by the Reverend William Gilpin in Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty, On Picturesque Travel, and On Sketching Landscape.
The other pair of paintings that round out the top five offerings in the Heritage American Art event were George Henry Durrie’s (American, 1820-1863) bucolic and romantic oil painting Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning, circa 1863, which realized $448,125, and Henry Francois Farny’s (American, 1847-1916) Saddling Up, 1895, a gouache on paper painting that exquisitely portrays a quiet and authentic tableau of Native American life, as well as the sweeping grandeur of the Western American landscape, realized $334,600.
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Images courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries.