DALLAS – Heritage Auctions is having what it's calling "one of the most thoughtful, comprehensive and bountiful American art events in recent memory" – an American Art Signature Auction that reads like a syllabus, a history and a love letter to the men and women who have defined and defied the American landscape for centuries.
The more than 190 works available in the auction on Friday, May 7, features such names as Norman Rockwell, Albert Bierstadt, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Moran, Thomas Hart Benton, Grandma Moses, and offers a journey across myriad landscapes and experiences, through time and space, from roiling seas to snowy plains, from the playful to the poignant. Collectors will find the makers of mountains and seasides, the masters of magazine illustration, the visual storytellers who reflect and recount, the sculptors of powerful beasts, the painters of the people who have populated this land and told its tales.
“Clients and curators who have seen these collected works have told me our forthcoming auction overflows with quality material, the likes of which has not been seen since in one place since the auctions of the 1980s,” says Aviva Lehmann, Heritage Auctions’ New York City-based Director of American Art. “As someone who has been devoted solely to the study and love of American Art for decades, these words are music to my ears.”
Befitting such an event, Rockwell’s first cover for Judge magazine is marking its first public sale in more than century. Excuse Me! appeared on the front of the July 7, 1917, issue. This rich, playful piece features a young woman in pink ruffles declaring her independence from one man to link arms with another, a soldier clearly delighted by his good fortune. This work, also known as Soldier Escorting Woman, was first sold at a Liberty War Bonds auction during World War I; from there it found its way into private collections. The work is expected to sell in excess of $400,000.
“It embodies all the hallmarks one loves to see in a great Rockwell masterwork,” Lehmann says. “There is an engaging and timeless story being told, executed in Rockwell’s unmatched painting style. Above all else, Rockwell is one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th century.”
So, too, was his mentor and influence Joseph Christian Leyendecker, whose Beat-up Boy, Football Hero, which appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on Nov. 21, 1914, is estimated between $150,000-$250,000. This extraordinary portrait of a bruised, bandaged, scuffed-up but proudly defiant young boy has never before been to auction. The Beat-up Boy joins another Leyendecker illustration in this sale, a Saturday Evening Post cover study from 1932 that likewise has never been available at auction: Easter Promenade, estimated at $15,000-$25,000.
Thomas Moran likewise began his career as a magazine illustrator, at Scribner's Monthly, where he was hired by editor Richard Watson Gilder to document the wonders of the American West. Moran’s 1898’s A Mountain of Loadstone-Arabian Nights, which almost seems lit from within by the sunset reflected upon the snow-capped peaks and choppy waters below, is estimated at $150,000-$250,000.
A Mountain of Loadstone is but one of many works starring Mother Earth offered in this event. Here, too, is Albert Bierstadt’s 1889 oil on canvas Mount St. Helens, Columbia River, Oregon (estimate: $120,000-$180,000), painted at the height of his fame and as representative of any of his works depicting his love affair with the snow-covered peaks of the American Northwest. Also offered are Birger Sandzén’s 1919 Cathedral Spires (No. 2) (estimate: $70,000-$100,000) and the 1930 work Aspens, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado (estimate: $100,000-$150,000), both of which are playful, almost proto-psychedelic works by the art professor who was seemingly years ahead of his time.
Andrew Wyeth’s St. George, estimated at $150,000-$250,000, is a far more still and serene work, an homage to the coastal Maine where he found his inspiration. This undated work, never before to auction, depicts one of the historic architectural landmarks of coastal Maine, the Finnish Congregational Church and Parsonage on St. George Road in South Thomaston.
A lovely tale is told in the work of Anna Mary Robertson Moses, best known as Grandma Moses, the Smithsonian-collected folk artist from Greenwich, N.Y., beloved for the “simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which [she] portrayed simple farm life and rural countryside,” as The New York Times once wrote. That’s evident in the two works of hers offered in this event, among them On the Lake in Summer from the summer of 1942, a worsted wool presented as an anniversary gift to her cousins that, until now, has remained in the family. Estimated at $10,000-$15,000, it’s also a priceless family heirloom – and, per the homemade label on the reverse, Moses’ 300th work.
And finally, another work with Smithsonian ties is The Wounded Comrade (estimate: $40,000-$60,000), a bronze of two African elephants made by taxidermist, conservationist, biologist, photographer and sculptor Carl Akeley. This work, made at the suggestion of fellow sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor, was conceived in 1913 and cast 14 years later by his widow Mary, at the request of Tiffany & Company, where The Wounded Comrade remained until it was acquired by a Massachusetts family with whom this has remained ever since.
“Even as the art world flirts with a digital future, I would venture to say American art is experiencing a renaissance,” Lehmann says. “And I am so honored and delighted to be part of it.”
The auction will start at 11 a.m. CT. For more information and to see more lots, visit Heritage Auctions.