By Bonnie Gangelhoff
This story was featured in the February 2016 issue of Southwest Art magazine. Get the Southwest Art February 2016 print issue or digital download now–then subscribe to Southwest Art and never miss another story.
The fine-art auction scene in the western United States is thriving, to be sure. New auctions have popped up on the calendar, existing auctions have expanded their offerings, and records continue to be broken, both for total sales and for individual artists. Excellent artworks are coming to market by deceased as well as living artists. With this in mind, we’ve profiled some of the top auctions of the year. You’ll learn what distinguishes each auction house and also see some of the highlights from recent and upcoming sales. Welcome to the wonderful world of auctions.
Santa Fe Art Auction
Santa Fe, NM – November 12
Sunny New Mexico is home to the annual Santa Fe Art Auction, which is billed as the Southwest’s largest auction of classic western art. Presented by Gerald Peters Gallery, this year marks the auction’s 23rd anniversary. About 225 to 250 lots are up for bid when the auction takes place on November 12 at Peters Projects. “The Santa Fe Art Auction strives to offer a broad cross-section of western and southwestern paintings, works on paper, and sculpture, with an eye towards rarity and exceptional quality,” says Jenna Kloeppel, auction coordinator.
As this story was going to press, auction organizers had just finished tabulating sales for the November 2015 auction, which totaled about $5.7 million. Among the highlights was Robert Henri’s PORTRAIT OF PO TSE (WATER EAGLE), which sold for $2.2 million, the second-highest price ever paid for the artist’s work at auction. According to Kloeppel, the work was first exhibited at the 1915-16 Panama-California Exposition. “It’s a sensitive depiction of Julian Martinez, husband of renowned San Ildefonso Pueblo potter Maria Martinez,” she says. “It’s considered one of Henri’s most important early Indian portraits, portraying a confident use of color and generally a keen attention to Native American dress and accoutrements.”
The 2015 auction also featured a number of other top-notch artists, both living and deceased, such as Albert Bierstadt, George Bellows, John Marin, Gustave Baumann, Len Chmiel, Gary Ernest Smith, and Nelson Boren. Kloeppel expects the 2016 auction to present “works of comparable strength and importance.”
Los Angeles, CA – April 12, August 2, November 21
The venerable auction house of Bonhams was founded in 1793, has a network of offices, and is one of the largest auctioneers of fine art worldwide. Bonhams here in the United States hosts three annual California & Western Paintings & Sculpture auctions. Each features about 140 lots and focuses on 19th- and 20th-century works by artists associated with California and the West. “In addition, these auctions always include a perennially popular section of Hawaiian paintings,” says Kristin Guiter, head of U.S. press and public relations. “Bonhams routinely offers works from important single-owner collections within this format. Last year we had works from the collection of Jane Fonda.”
This year’s auctions take place on April 12, August 2, and November 21 in Los Angeles with a simulcast in San Francisco. Artworks in the 2016 auctions had not been photographed at press time, but Guiter notes that the April auction features a number of highlights. “The sale will include a John Marshall Gamble [painting] that is among his best work and an important William Wendt painting depicting California wildflowers, which is, to our knowledge, his only known work that features a blooming field of lupine,” Guiter says.
Sales for the April 2015 auction totaled about $5.2 million. Highlights of that auction included two paintings that sold for over $1 million on the auction block—William Wendt’s OLD COAST ROAD went for $1,565,000 and Walter Ufer’s INDIAN ENTERTAINER sold for $1,025,000.
Coeur d’Alene Art Auction
Reno, NV – July 23
In 1986 two art dealers joined forces to create the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction, which was held in the resort town of Coeur d’Alene, ID. This year Stuart Johnson, owner of Settlers West Galleries in Tucson, AZ, and Peter Stremmel, owner of Stremmel Gallery in Reno, NV, celebrate the 30th anniversary of their brainchild, which has long since outgrown its original venue and now takes place in Reno. The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction is today considered one of country’s largest auctions that specialize in historic western art while also showcasing wildlife and sporting art and works by contemporary master artists. Sales have totaled more than $240 million over the last 10 years.
This year’s auction kicks off on July 23 at the Peppermill Resort. About 300 lots are up for bid, including works by William R. Leigh, Albert Bierstadt, E. William Gollings, Victor Higgins, and Bob Kuhn. One of the highlights this year is SPIRIT OF WINTER, a bronze by western artist Charles M. Russell, which is estimated to sell for $300,000 to $500,000. “We have a lifetime casting of Russell’s SPIRIT OF WINTER, considered one of the rarest of his works,” says auction partner Mike Overby. A lifetime casting is one that’s made during the artist’s life. Such pieces are often preferred by collectors because they find exceptional beauty in the older patinas; in addition, because of its age, such a casting may have an interesting provenance, or history of ownership. An auction preview takes place on July 22 and is accompanied by a gala cocktail party and dinner. A second brunch preview takes place the following morning, prior to the auction.
Leslie Hindman Auctioneers
Denver, CO – November 16
Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, with headquarters in Chicago, has carved out a niche in the marketplace. The auction house has regional offices in cities such as Denver, St. Louis, Milwaukee, and Palm Beach and Naples, FL, and presents about 50 auctions a year around the country. The Denver office opened in 2012 and hosts an annual auction titled Arts of the American West. This year’s event takes place on November 16 with “no more than 600 lots” up for bid, according to Maron Hindman, managing director for the West and Southwest. “Arts of the American West—which includes western art, American Indian art and artifacts, and southwestern jewelry—is a fast-growing collector category for us,” Hindman says. “We feel we are uniquely positioned, both in the auction market and geographically in our Denver regional office, to handle important collections and to cultivate new collectors nationwide.”
This year, the auctioneers plan to launch educational gallery talks in conjunction with the auction previews. Among the highlights from the 2015 Arts of the American West auction, Hindman cites WINTER SUNSET, 1978 by Colorado artist William Sanderson, who died in 1990 and is considered by some to be a major contributor to the development of modern art in Colorado. The work depicts a single house in a snowy landscape, suggesting the beauty of winter but also the austerity—a “Hopperesque” sensibility. “We have handled a number of Sanderson paintings over the last few years, and we are always excited to see how they do,” Hindman says. “Sanderson has a unique style—simple and elegant.”
Great Falls, MT – March 18-19 | Santa Fe, NM – August
There’s something for every artistic taste at the annual March in Montana auction in Great Falls, MT. Art lovers can expect to find an eclectic array of sporting, wildlife, and western paintings and sculptures, as well as cowboy and Indian collectibles. This year’s auction takes place March 18-19 at the Townhouse Inn.
Founded in 1987, the auction is presented by Manitou Auctions and the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction. Charla Nelson, co-owner of Manitou Galleries, is enthusiastic about the 700 items up for bid, including a number of highlights, such as works by members of the Cowboy Artists of America, Indian artifacts and weaponry from the Dr. Delwin and Karen Bokelman Collection, and more than 50 high-quality Navajo weavings. But Nelson says that undoubtedly, one star of the show is Clyde Aspevig’s painting WHITE LIMESTONE. “It’s magical,” she says. “Clyde has been inspired by everyday scenes of Wyoming and Montana for nearly all his professional art career. His works predictably represent ‘the cream of the crop’ when it comes to any show, exhibition, or sale.”
March in Montana is a four-day event. An auction preview is held on Wednesday, March 16. An art dealer show runs March 17-18, in tandem with an auction preview. Manitou Galleries also hosts the Auction in Santa Fe, held in early August at the Hilton of Santa Fe Historic Plaza. That event also features approximately 700 items, including two collections of Indian materials, such as dresses, war shirts, weavings, basketry, and pottery from the early 20th century.
Scottsdale Art Auction
Scottsdale, AZ – April 2
For collectors who enjoy perusing their purchases without feeling rushed, the Scottsdale Art Auction offers the perfect venue. The auction takes place at Legacy Gallery in its sprawling second-floor showroom, where the western, wildlife, and sporting art is displayed for four weeks prior to the sale. This year’s auction happens on April 2 with about 300 paintings and sculptures up for bid—120 in the morning and the rest in the afternoon.
According to Brad Richardson, gallery owner and auction partner, this year’s event offers several highlights, including Victor Higgins’ painting THE RED DOOR, estimated to sell for $200,000-$300,000. “THE RED DOOR is a fabulous addition to our auction because Victor Higgins is one of the highly sought-after Taos founders,” Richardson says. “His work rarely comes available for sale, especially one of such high quality.”
Richardson adds that Martin Grelle’s OFFERING TO THE RIVER SPIRIT is another important highlight. “I had the opportunity to speak to the artist about this painting, and he said it was one of his favorites,” Richardson says. “We are excited to be able to offer such an exceptional painting by one of the top contemporary western artists.”
Other artists with works in the auction include Frederic Remington, G. Harvey, Howard Terpning, and Bob Kuhn. A preview party takes place at the gallery on Friday, April 1. Legacy Gallery presents the auction in partnership with J.N. Bartfield Galleries of New York and Morris & Whiteside Galleries of Hilton Head, SC.
Great Falls, MT – March 19
Painter, sculptor, author, and storyteller, Charles M. Russell was a legendary figure in his era and remains so today. Settling in Montana’s Great Falls area around 1892, Russell created works that captured the cowboys, Indians, and landscapes of the West. These days Great Falls is home to The Russell: An Exhibition and Sale to Benefit the C.M. Russell Museum, which occurs annually in March.
A live auction is the highlight of the festivities. This year’s auction features about 145 lots and takes place on March 19 at the Mansfield Convention Center. Collectors can preview the works in an exhibition opening on February 19 at the museum. A preview party takes place on March 17, and for the first time, the Rocky Mountain Ballet Theatre is performing a dance interpretation of a Russell painting.
There are several auction highlights, but excitement is building around one painting in particular, Thomas Moran’s CASTLE ROCK, GREEN RIVER, WYOMING. Estimated to sell for $3,500,000 to $4,500,000, it has the potential to garner the highest value for a single artwork in The Russell’s history. “Castle Rock was one of Thomas Moran’s favorite subjects to paint,” says Michael Duchemin, the museum’s executive director. “This was a rendezvous site during the fur-trapper era. In this painting, Moran deftly combined the spectacular landscape of the Green River with figures that reflected a nostalgic view of an earlier time in the history of the American West. It is an extraordinary work.”
Works by members of the Russell Skull Society of Artists are also up for bid. The society is a cadre of 22 distinguished contemporary artists recognized by the museum for their dedication to keeping alive the traditions of Russell’s work.
Jackson Hole Art Auction
Jackson, WY – September 17
The arrival of September in Jackson, WY, means it’s time for the Fall Arts Festival in this picturesque mountain town. The annual Jackson Hole Art Auction, which takes place on September 17 at the Center for the Arts, is always a highly anticipated part of the festival. This year’s auction, presented by Trailside Galleries in Jackson and Gerald Peters Gallery in Santa Fe, features about 300 artworks. “The auction has established a niche for offering the best in wildlife art and new works by leading contemporary artists,” says Jill Callahan, auction coordinator. “Last year sales exceeded $6.5 million. We are celebrating 10 years in business, and we are anticipating a very strong auction again.”
Among the 2016 auction highlights are important works by John Clymer, Bob Kuhn, Robert Lougheed, and Frank McCarthy, all fresh to the market. Roxanne Hofmann, a partner at Trailside Galleries, notes that Clymer’s MOVING CAMP is considered an auction high-light because it depicts a major historical subject—the importance of the horse to nomadic North American tribes. “This painting was also the recipient of the Gold Medal in oil in the 1972 Cowboy Artists of America show and has been in one collection for decades,” Hofmann adds.
A Robert Lougheed painting, OPEN RANGE ENCOUNTER, is from the same Arizona collection and is another highlight. “It is very rare to come across a Lougheed of this size and importance, and his collectors are sure to have interest in bidding on the painting,” Hofmann says. An auction preview is held on Friday, September 16, at the Center for the Arts.
Dallas, TX – May 7 | New York, NY – Fall
Heritage Auctions is the largest auction house founded in the United States, with headquarters in Dallas and offices in New York City, Beverly Hills, and San Francisco. The company hosts two auctions each year titled American Art including Western & California Art. This year the first one happens on May 7 at the Dallas offices with previews in both Dallas and New York City. The second auction takes place in New York City in the fall.
Aviva Lehmann, director of American Art, expects 180 to 200 lots in the May auction, with artworks ranging in price from $5,000 to $1 million. Lehmann says bidders can expect to see examples from various areas of western art—including works by 19th-century artists, the Taos School, wildlife artists, and contemporary painters. One of the highlights of the May auction is Thomas Hill’s masterwork titled VIEW OF YOSEMITE. “Few artists so perfectly capture the awe of Yosemite like Thomas Hill,” Lehmann says. “His work in the mountains, especially on this large scale, is among the most sought-after within the artist’s oeuvre, and we’re excited to see how collectors react to seeing this masterpiece for the first time in decades.”
Last year the May auction totaled $7.8 million in sales. One of the top lots, Rockwell Kent’s POLAR EXPEDITION, sold for $605,000. The fall 2015 auction rang up $4.2 million in sales and featured Maxfield Parrish’s JASON AND HIS TEACHER, which sold for $1,025,000, among the top lots. Heritage Auctions also presents an American Indian Art & Texas Art auction May 20-21 in Dallas with a second similar auction scheduled for the fall. E
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