Freeman's Vice Chairman and fine art specialist Alasdair Nichol chooses some of his favorite pieces in our December 6 auction American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists. Exhibition for this sale opens to the public on Thursday, December 3 at 10am. We invite you to join us to view these, and the many other fine examples of American art being offered.
Martin Lewis exemplifies that wonderful combination of artistry and technique that typifies the master printmaker. Dry point - the medium employed here - has always appealed to me and I well remember scratching away into a copper plate late into the evening in my student apartment. The striking tonality of this image, the play of light and shadow and the dramatic sense of movement makes this a classic New York image. And for me, the fact that it depicts a scene not so very far from where I live in Manhattan just adds to its luster.
"Shadow Dance" (detail)
As the catalogue note tells us, the subject of this painting 'Mrs Charles Lee was a favorite in Philadelphia society' and one can easily see why. This is a perfectly charming portrait of a lady renowned for her beauty rendered with great delicacy and warmth. The informality and freshness of the painting is reinforced by the fact that it is clearly a sketch with much of the canvas left bare. Curiously enough this makes it more appealing to the modern gaze lending it an immediacy that a finished work would likely have lacked. There's letter to the editor of a monthly magazine from 1896, which describes an incident where rather than finishing the work, Stuart "flung away his brush, exclaiming 'It breaks my heart to paint loveliness that must fade so soon!'"
"Portrait of Anne (Nancy) Lee" (detail)
In my view Eakins and Homer are the two greats of American nineteenth century painting, they succeeded in creating some of the most indelible images of their time. This small, intense oil by Eakins is a gutsy, 'meat and potatoes' painting used as a study for one of his renowned boxing compositions, 'Taking The Count' (Yale University Art Gallery). His passion for sport is evident throughout his oeuvre and, like the subject of this painting, he was a frequent spectator at boxing bouts in Philadelphia. His deep knowledge of the sport and the electric atmosphere of the arena gives this work its compelling authenticity. Look at those hands!
"Study of a Spectator for 'Taking the Count'" (detail)
'Winter Corn Fields' by Andrew Wyeth is for me the highlight of the December auction. Rarely seen and now reproduced for the first time in our catalog, it was painted in 1942 the same year, and featuring the same house, as his celebrated work 'Winter Fields' (Whitney Museum of American Art). Space precludes me from citing the numerous reasons why this haunting and enigmatic work resonates so strongly with me and so I urge you to read Anne Knutson's insightful essay in our catalog. Like much of the best art it succeeds in both being of its time as well as transcending it.
"Winter Corn Fields"
Amongst several works by Garber in the auction, this is,to my eye, the stand-out. It bears all the hallmarks of his mature style - the energetic, stippled brushwork, the dappled color and light and a complex composition with its dramatic interplay of verticals, horizontals and diagonals which engage and lead the eye around the canvas. The location would certainly be well known to the artist as it depicts a house across the road from his idyllic home in Cuttalossa. His palpable love of the landscape -literally on his doorstep - is all too apparent. And for Garber purists it has the added plus of retaining a frame by the master frame-maker to the Pennsylvania Impressionists, Frederick Harer.
"The Mary Maxwell House" (The Milk Wagon) (detail)