International auctioneers, Bonhams & Butterfields, is pleased to announce a stellar result for its first California and Western Paintings and Sculpture auction of 2011. Held on April 6th, the sale offered a wide array of important early 19th century landscapes, Western scenes, Impressionist and Modernist compositions, including a rare-to-market still life by Joseph Kleitsch titled Highlights.
Probably one of the most freely painted of Kleitsch's works, Highlights abounds with vigorous gestural brushstrokes, rapidly applied to sculpt both the three-dimensional forms and the decorative patterning. Amid the profusion of objects piled and strewn on the table are the artist's violin, flute, accordion, and sheet music. Painted canvases are propped against the wall, one of a landscape and the other a Matisse-like subject, and there are, of course, his palette and pigments. Remnants of wine and fruit can also be seen, as well as his studio window, which looks out on to the Laguna Beach, California landscape. Kleitsch's homage to modernism with cubist-like painted masks suggests the direction he was taking his art, which can be seen in the abstract qualities of his later work.
Recognized for his amazing portraits and colorful impressionist landscapes of Laguna Beach, California, Kleitsch became a consummate artistic explorer, who also produced extraordinary still lifes, such as Highlights. The work has been exhibited throughout California and published in numerous books and exhibition catalogues, as well as the Los Angeles Times in 1928 and 1933. Rarely has a painting of this quality come on the market - it can be considered at the top of his oeuvre. Highlights brought $506,000 on April 6th.
During his two years abroad from 1926 to 1927, Kleitsch's exposure to the European masters and to the visual complexity of their work began to show itself in several compositions he completed after his return. In the most astounding of Kleitsch's still lifes, the autobiographical Highlights, the artist extends his artistic skills in a complex composition that brings to mind the traditions of 17th century European still-life painting. Highlights is exuberantly baroque in its use of color and light.
Scot Levitt, Bonhams & Butterfields' Vice President and Fine Arts Department Director, said: "The works Kleitsch created following his time abroad, such as Highlights, are highly sought after at public auction. The painting is considered by many to be one of his masterworks. Bonhams & Butterfields was delighted to present Kleitsch during the spring auction."
Following Highlights, the second highest price paid was for Pink and white roses in vases on a table by Franz A. Bischoff (est. $70,000-100,000, sold for $152,000). The oil on canvas work depicted muted-hued blossoms artfully arranged against a backdrop of muted earthtones. Throughout the painting, Bischoff expertly used color and vivid composition to emphasize his reverence for nature. He was known for his depiction of roses, many of which he grew in his own garden. Bonhams & Butterfields continues to hold the world record for the artist at auction, which was established in August 2009 for $798,000 - the highest price ever paid for a Bischoff work at auction.
Throughout the evening, California impressionist works continued to perform well. Among the noteworthy paintings were Cypress Point, Monterey by Albert Bierstadt (est. $50,000-70,000, sold for $91,500); a portrait of two horses titled Molly and Rex by William Ritschel, 1923 (est. $60,000-80,000, sold for $67,100); Winter's gold by Hanson Puthuff (est. $50,000-70,000, sold for $54,900); and E. Charlton Fortune's St. Tropez Harbour (est. $50,000-70,000, sold for $67,100). Bonhams & Butterfields sold a Fortune painting with a similar subject matter titled Late Afternoon, Monterey for $1,832,000 in December 2007 - the highest price ever paid for a Fortune work at public auction. Late Afternoon, Monterey continues to hold the world record for the artist at auction.
Simulcast to the firm's San Francisco gallery, the April sale also featured a strong selection of Western paintings. The section was marked by Taos Indians beneath the clouds by Ernest Martin Hennings (est. $120,000-180,000, sold for $134,000) and Maynard Dixon's Storm shadows, on Coso Range, 1919 (est. $30,000-50,000, sold for $73,200).
Also on offer during the Western section of the auction was an unusual four painting allegory titled The Gold Rush, 1938; The Mining Camp, 1938; The Mining Town, 1938; and The Ghost Town, 1943. These four paintings were featured as cover illustrations for consecutive monthly publications of Desert Magazine from June to September of 1960. Along with them were articles describing their creation and the history of the Wahmonie, Nevada gold strike of 1926. There were several similar gold rush stories in other towns as well, such as American Canyon, Atwood, Aurora, Aurum, and Bannock. All of the towns quickly became ghost towns as depicted in the series of paintings.