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American Art – Sotheby’s

December 17, 2020
two women on the beach


The best way I can describe Sotheby’s New York American Art sale is – better luck next time. (unless otherwise noted, all dollar amounts are the hammer price)

Prior to the sale opening on December 11th, two lots were withdrawn, leaving just 54 works to be auctioned off over the course of a boring hour and a half. Withdrawn from the sale were Columbus’ First Landing in America by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, which held an estimate of $600,000 – $800,000 (a work that seemed to be an important highlight in the sale as it claimed four catalog pages), and a piece by Thomas Hart Benton, Navajo Sand, estimated between $400K – $600K.

mother and children


The result of the sale fell considerably shy of their $13,610,000 – $19,180,000 pre-sale estimate, bringing in just $7,232,500 – that is, until one lot was reopened moments before the sale was to close.  The mic cut off, and a young lady approached the auctioneer. Once she stepped out of view, lot 16, Two Girls on the Beach, Tynemouth by Winslow Homer (which BI’ed earlier at $1.2M on a $2.5M – $3.5M estimate) reopened at $1.8M, selling just a moment later for $2M… the watercolor last sold in 1997 for $1.65M. That brought the final tally up to $9,232,500 ($11.4M with the buyer’s premium), still well short of the low-end estimate.

blue house on the shore


Overall 15 sold under, 11 fell within, and just 9 above their estimates, with another 19 failing all together (a 20.4% accuracy rate).  Winslow Homer’s Two Girls on the Beach, Tynemouth, snagged the gold medal at $2M after it was reoffered (under the low-end of its estimate). The silver medal was awarded to Mary Cassatt’s  Children Playing with a Cat, which garnered $1.8M (also falling under its $2-3M estimate) – this same painting sold back in 2006 for $3.38M… ouch! Taking the bronze medal at $700K, was Edward Hopper’s Gloucester Factory and House (this too went below estimate – $800K-$1.2M).

Among the works that did not sell were Homer’s In the Rapids (est. $1-1.5M), Avery’s Mender (est. $800K-1.2M), Frieseke’s The Apple Tree (est. $400-600K), Avery’s Pink Cock (est. $350-550K), Predergast’s Gray Day, Venice ($300-500K), and Henry Koerner’s The Rosebush (est. $300-500k).

cowboys and indians


There was only one work in the sale to blow its estimate out of the water, lot 26, Attack by John F. Clymer (a chaotic scene of Native American Indians attacking the caravans of frontiersmen; a popular scene amongst the artist’s Western works).  With an estimate of $100k – $150K, the hammer came down at $710K… making this the fourth most expensive lot in the sale.

…and that is all she wrote.