Spanning movements from Modernism to Impressionism, the works being presented in Freeman's December 6 auction of American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists define the scope and diversity that is great American Art. Represented in this sale are three generations of the iconic Wyeth family, with works from N.C., Andrew, and Jamie on offer. The distinctive genre of American illustrative art as characterized by Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish are a feature of the sale, as are early American painters like Gilbert Stuart. Artists and subjects of special significance to Philadelphia society (like the subject of Stuart's "Portrait of Anne (Nancy) Lee") and its rich artistic community (including Thomas Eakins) are also peppered throughout the sale.
Barely known and rarely seen, the undisputed star of the sale is Andrew Wyeth's "Winter Corn Fields" (Lot 81, Estimate $600,000-800,000) The work comes to auction from The Estate of Nancy duPont Reynolds Cooch, who had been a childhood friend of Wyeth's. "Every so often a painting comes along that resonates deeply, and for me, this is one," said Vice Chairman Alasdair Nichol of the work. He went on to remark that "Personally, I consider this to be the most exciting period of Wyeth's career - he's just coming into his own and escaping his father's influence. This is six years before his masterpiece 'Christina's World,' and already we're seeing the symbolism he would become known for - that ominous, brooding sense of uncertainty."
Once dismissed as merely commercial work unworthy of serious consideration, Illustration Art is now enjoys a reputation as a vital and highly influential genre, with collectors clamoring for works by icons of the American "Golden Age of Illustration." Two pillars of the style, Norman Rockwell and Maxfield Parrish, are represented in this auction. Arguably one of the most beloved of American artists, Norman Rockwell worked in opposition to the avant garde style of his contemporaries. Lots 36-39 (Estimated at $60,000-$100,000 each) in Freeman's December auction is a series of four pencil drawings, studies for oil paintings which appeared in Brown & Bigelow's Four Seasons calendar in 1950. The illustrations depict the seasonal adventures of "Two Old Men and Dog." From the private Collection of Charles T. & Cornelia Chapin, these drawings have never before been offered for sale.
Philadelphia native Maxfield Parrish is another celebrated illustration artist featured in the sale. His oil on board work, "Blue Fountain" (Study for Reveries), is an excellent example of the artist's fantastical landscapes. Lot 35 (Estimate $150,000-250,000) is dream-like and alluring, the rich hues drawing the viewer in.
Also highlighted in the auction are Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Eakins, two early American artists with ties to Philadelphia. Stuart's "Portrait of Anne (Nancy) Lee" (Lot 6, Estimate $30,000-60,000) is sure draw attention from collectors of fine early American art and historical portraiture. A favorite of Philadelphia society and a great beauty of her time, Anne Lee is depicted by Gilbert wearing a bonnet in the height of fashion. The portrait is unfinished; it's bare, unfinished edges add to the overall charm of the work. In a letter to the editor of Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly in 1896, an admirer of the painting remarked that rather than finishing the work, Stuart "flung away his brush, exclaiming 'It breaks my heart to paint loveliness that must fade so soon!'" Whether or not this incident actually happened cannot be determined, but the story adds romance to an already enchanting painting.
Lot 7 is "Study of a Spectator for 'Taking the Count'" by Thomas Eakins, arguably one of the greatest of the nineteenth-century American artists. The painting being offered by Freeman's is an intimate study of an onlooker in Eakins large-scale masterpiece "Taking the Count." While the boxing match's spectators aren't the intended focus of the painting, they are no less important to the impact of the work. The great detail and effort Eakins places in this small subject are representative of the artist's meticulous nature.
Other notable works in this auction include paintings by preeminent Pennsylvania Impressionists Daniel Garber and Edward Willis Redfield. Freeman's is the only auction house with a specialty category dedicated to this collecting genre, and the proven results from past sales of works by these and other Pennsylvania artists has served to reinforce the popularity of the group.
• Lot 108 Daniel Garber "The Mary Maxwell House" (The Milk Wagon) Estimate $150,000-250,000
• Lot 119 Edward Willis Redfield "The South Window" Estimate $100,000-150,000
• Lot 106 Robert Spencer "Waterside" Estimate $80,000-120,000
• Lot 125 Roy Cleveland Nuse "Three Boys at the Sheephole" Estimate $60,000-100,000
• Lot 85 Jamie Wyeth "We've Got Your Pickle" Estimate $40,000-60,000
Images: Andrew Wyeth "Winter Corn Fields" Estimate $600,000-800,000; Maxfield Parrish "Blue Fountain" (Study for Reveries) Estimate $150,000-250,000; Thomas Eakins "Study of a Spectator for 'Taking the Count'" Estimate $15,000-25,000