Private collectors dominated the salesroom buying the top ten lots at Sotheby's Dec. 1 American Paintings auction which totaled $24.6 million. Even with 32 of 111 lots going unsold, the hefty sale total was bolstered by competitive bidding for several marquee works offered freshly from institutions and private collections.
Garnering a strong $3.2 million, the top lot was modernist Marsden Hartley's vibrant Untitled (Still Life), 1919. This deaccession from Bethany College's Birger Sandzen Memorial Gallery was estimated conservatively at $700,000-$900,000 and elicited a struggle between five bidders.
Seven lots in all went for seven-figure prices, including a signature Martin Johnson Heade oil titled Orchids and Hummingbirds, circa 1875-90, which brought $1.9 million from a low estimate of $500,000.
John La Farge's 1863 oil Red Hollyhocks hammered down to $1.8 million (est. $500,000-700,000); a Norman Rockwell classic of 1935, Couple with Milkman, fetched $1.4 million (est. $1.2 - $1.8 million) and an 1885 Winslow Homer watercolor, Orange Trees and Gate seized $1.3 million (est. $500,000-700,000).
Four works of Native Americans by 19th century artist George Catlin, offered from The Field Museum in Chicago and originally in the collection of Benjamin O’Fallon, a nephew of William Clark and the ‘United States Indian Agent’ for the Missouri River Tribes, brought a combined $4,576,000. Interior of a Mandan Lodge sold for $1,538,500 above a high estimate of $1.2 million.
Also of note, Leon Kroll's Good Harbor, Gloucester fetched $170,500 from a low estimate of $70,000; a Grandma Moses painting titled No School Today went for $374,500 (est. $150,000-200,000); and a Nicolai Fechin portrait of a girl, Marsha, soared to $218,500 (est. $40,000-60,000).
Among the major lots that failed to sell were Winslow Homer's Reverie (est. $1.2-$1.8 million); Edward Hopper's Construction in Mexico (est. $800,000-$1.2 million); Albert Bierstadt's vertical oil Light in the Forest ($1.2 million-$1.8 million); and Milton Avery's Crucifixion (est. $1 million-$1.5 million).
Pre-sale estimates do not include buyer’s premium, but final prices do.