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How big is your wall?

6 Jun

Custer’s Last Rally, 1881, John Mulvany ‘s epic 11 x 20 foot oil painting will sell at auction on June 10 at Heritage Auctions, part of the company’s Legends of The Wild West Signature® Auction. The painting, a truly blockbuster achievement, represents one of the great “One-Hit Wonders” of American painting and a cultural phenomenon in its time. The painting is expected to bring $200,000+ and is part of a special Custer grouping in the auction.

That’s right 11 x 20 feet!  It’s a monster artwork.

For some years Mulvany scratched out a living as an artist, mainly doing portraits. In 1879, he was inspired to paint a definitive scene of the Little Bighorn battle, in which George Armstrong Custer perished with his entire command.  Custer is strong and determined as the focal point with all of his adjutants, facing death bravely, with defiance, and hopeless surrounded by scores of attacking Indians.  It took two years to complete and immediately achieved wide recognition. The first major exhibition of the work occurred in New York City, where it created a sensation.

As Tom Slater notes:  There were no movies back then, certainly, and no pictures of the battle, and yet Little Bighorn loomed huge in the recent memory of the nation. People were simply clambering to see this painting as it brought to life all the frantic combat which the public had envisioned at Little Bighorn.

Large crowds paid an admission price of 50 cents (25 cents for children) – no small sum in its day – to gaze, mesmerized, at the painting. Walt Whitman waxed poetic about it in a published review; Custer’s widow, Libbie, was said to have swooned at the sight of it. A popular print of the painting was made and sold and, for a decade, periodic additional exhibitions helped provide Mulvany with a livelihood.

Over the years it has had periods of exhibition interspersed with long years in storage. In 1926, it was on display at the Heinz Ocean City Pier in Ocean City, New Jersey. In the 1950s it was shown for several years at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum and, most notably, in 1967 at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. In recent years it has been intermittently on the market, though, always with a seven-figure price tag.

In 2009, eminent art appraiser Paul Rossi, former director of the Gilcrease Museum, declared the work to be “an invaluable collector’s piece in American Western art and a true national treasure.”

Custer’s Last Stand made the front page of the Dallas Morning News online version!  Click HERE to read on.

SOLD for $239,000 including buyer’s premium.


American & European Art Auction Recap

16 May

Yesterday’s American & European Art Auctions were a mixed bag.  Some big hits and more than a few misses peppered the three sessions.  Overall, the sale total was just north of $5million including buyer’s premium, which fell below the agressive $8million low estimate expected for the auctions.

65.5% by lot
58% by value
$5,007,313 total sales


The highlight of the day was William Adolphe Bouguereau’s lovely Fishing for Frogs, a large oil on canvas from 1882.  Three bidders tried to take this work home, with the winning client spending $1.5million hammer, $1,762,500 with premium, to make it his.

Throughout the day, there was quite alot of chatter around that clients were saving their pennies for the last session of the night.  The Jean and Graham Devoe Williford Charitable Trust Collection was a resounding success, with 164 of 188 lots selling for just over $1million.  We were very pleased with the results, as multiples bidders were spending freely to obtain an artwork from the collection.  The top lot in this session was Sanford Robinson Gifford’s glorious View from Above, Kaaterskill Cove from 1860.  Estimated at $5,000-7,000, the bidding soared quickly to the final price of $68,500.  Throughout the 3-1/2 hour session, I was bidding with many clients who knew Graham Williford and shared their thoughts and stories with me while waiting for their turn to bid.  It seems like he was very well beloved by his friends, though one client mentioned that Williford was great, but don’t get in his way while he was trying to buy a painting!  I know the family is pleased with the results of this auction and knowing that the works are now being shipped off around the country to other great homes and collections.

American & European Art Auctions

14 May

Heritage’s Spring 2012 Fine American & European Art auctions are finally here!  Sales start tomorrow, May 15, at 10am with European Art, followed by American Art at 2pm and the Graham Williford Collection at 6pm.  It will be an exciting day for the fine art team, as the pre-sale interest in the artworks has been tremendous.

Here’s the scoop:
3                            catalogues
459                       total lots
$8-11 million   total estimate

Top lot in the sale:

Fishing For Frogs, 1882
Oil on canvas
54 x 42 inches (137.2 x 106.7 cm)
Signed and dated and lower right: W. Bouguereau 1882

Estimate: $1,500,000 – $2,000,000

The cover lot of the European Art Auction is stunning, sentimental, spectacular – an absolutely lovely work that a private collector should snap up without hesitation. 

SOLD! $1,762,500 including buyer’s premium.


One to watch:

CHARLES ALLEN WINTER (American, 1869-1942)
Portrait of a Woman
Oil on canvas
12 x 10 inches (30.5 x 25.4 cm)
Signed lower left: Charles A. Winter

Estimate: $1,500 – $2,500

The cover lot of the Williford Collection is hypnotizing.  And many, many, many clients have been hypnotized in the days leading up to the sale.  Expect this piece to sail past the high estimate multiple times.

SOLD! $10,000 to a lucky bidder (includes buyer’s premium)


Big Maybe:

PIERRE-AUGUSTE RENOIR (French, 1841-1919)
Portrait d’une jeune femme, circa 1868-70
Pastel on paper
17-3/4 x 14-1/2 inches (45.1 x 36.8 cm)
Signed lower left and indistinctly dated: Renoir

Estimate: $650,000 – $950,000

Although the sitter is not named, it is very possible that Renoir is depicting Lise Tréhot, his model and mistress whom he painted around 20 times between 1865 and 1872.  It’s very nice, but perhaps a little pricey….we’ll see….

UPDATE – bought-in.

Munch Sells for Record Price!

3 May

Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale was held last night in New York.  So many people were trying to watch the sale online that the server crashed……reminds me of the first Victoria’s Secret fashion show held online that also crashed from all the interested viewers.

The highlight of the sale was Edvard Munch’s The Scream.  We’ve been waiting for months to see this fantastic piece sell.  Will it or will it not be the new world record for an artwork sold at auction?  Yes it will!

Lot #20 Edvard Munch estimate on request, reported to be around $80 million.
The bidding started at $40 million and quickly went up to $50 million, then steadily on to $80 million, then $91 million where it slowed and hit $100 million and at $107 million it hammered,  $119,922,500 with buyer’s premium.

The New York Times reports:  “As soon as the hammer fell, rumors began circulating about who the buyer could be. Among the names floated were the financier Leonard Blavatnik, the Microsoft tycoon Paul Allen and members of the Qatari royal family.”  My bet is the buyer’s identity will not remain a secret for long…..

Carol Vogel has the full story HERE.


Vanity Fair Takes on Knoedler

24 Apr




In the May issue, Vanity Fair reports on “The Knoedler Gallery Forgery Scandals and Shuttering“.  It’s an insightful article by Michael Shnayerson on Ann Freedman and the scandal involving the “David Herbert Collection” treasure trove, including works by Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Clyfford Still, Franz Kline, and Jackson Pollock,  now thought to be complete fakes. 

After 165 years, the Knoedler Gallery shut its doors last November amid allegations it sold forgeries, though Knoedler has said that the closing was a business decision unrelated to the lawsuits that have been filed against them.  Knoedler, at 19 East 70th Street, had been rattled by a series of changes over the past four years, including the recession in 2008.  In October 2009, Ann Freedman, the gallery’s president and an employee of 31 years, resigned.  Two months later, the gallery put the landmark Italian Renaissance-style town house that it has occupied for the past 41 years on sale for $59.9 million.  In February 2011, the building was sold for $31 million.  In November 2011, the gallery announced it was closing.

Once thought to be one of the most respected galleries of fine art, there is a big cloud hanging over Knoedler’s head.  When I saw old Knoedler gallery labels on the back of paintings, I got excited.  I knew that they handled the best and that the work was authentic almost without question.  Now, I need to re-think.  Knowing now that it’s very likely that Knoedler sold forgeries at times, I cannot make the assumption that works with a Knoedler label must be right.   

Nobody’s perfect.  Galleries and auction houses can make mistakes.  But the best companies will correct their mistakes immediately….reputation saved.  It’s more difficult though, when your mistakes are worth tens of millions.  That’s alot money to refund at a moment’s notice.  It will be interesting to see how the court cases proceed over the next few years.

“Munch” Madness

17 Apr

I’m so excited about Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” coming up for auction at Sotheby’s New York in May.  It’s going to be an amazing event.

Before it heads to auction in New York, the last version of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” in private hands is currently on view at Sotheby’s London, where it has attracted an unheard-of 5,200 visitors in four days.  Munch executed four versions of his most famous work.  The other three are currently in museums.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for collectors with very deep pockets.  Word-of-mouth says that the painting is expected to sell upwards of $80 million.

So tight was the security that bags were searched at the door, and visitors had to undergo body and screen searches watched constantly by security guards before entering a darkened room where the icon, protected by layers of invisible glass, was stage-lit with almost ecclesiastical reverence.  No wonder; two other versions of the painting have been stolen from Norwegian museums in recent years.


Property from the Olsen Collection
Edvard Munch (1863-1944)
The Scream
Signed E. Munch and dated 1895 (lower left)
Pastel on board in the original frame
32 x 23-1/4 inches
Executed in 1895.
Estimate upon Request

In Memoriam: Thomas Kincade

10 Apr

Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” passed away on Friday at the age of 54.  The NY Times reports he died of natural causes at his home in Los Gatos, California.

Excerpt from NY Times:
Though often disdained by the fine art establishment, Mr. Kinkade built a decorative art empire by creating sentimental paintings that were, for the most part, relatively inexpensive and resonated with the desires of homeowners who did not ordinarily buy art. He sold his work directly, through his own franchise galleries or on cable television home shopping networks, and eventually online.

Much of his work reflected Christian themes or visions of a traditional, rustic America residing in comforting solitude. The paintings — of homey cottages and rural churches and rivers flowing gently through brilliant foliage — rarely included people, which allowed the owners to project themselves into the scenes.

Mr. Kinkade referred to himself as the “painter of light,” usually with a trademark symbol, for naturalistic scenes with highlights that appeared to glow. Often his canvases were mass-produced prints to which he added small, brightly toned details. He made no apologies for commercializing the art field, comparing himself to million-sellers in, say, music and literature.

For the complete obituary, click HERE.

Though the Thomas Kincade name is often accompanied by a series of groans around the fine art world, he was a marketing genius.  He created a demand for his works among the masses and charged them thousands of dollars for prints with additional “highlights” in applied paint.  His works inspired books, made-for-television movies, and dozens of collectibles (i.e. Bradford Exchange plates, figurines, and snow globes). 

It will be interesting to see what happens to the values of these items now that he has passed.  I think the very first original paintings will hold value – those pieces painted entirely by his hand.  His prints and collectible items inspired by his prints will not retain their retail value, as the current supply of these works will likely outweigh the future demand.