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The American Art Sale – Sotheby’s

October 12, 2021
portrait of an Indian girl

Nicolai Fechin – Indian Girl (Portrait of Lolita)

On October 6th, Sotheby’s offered up a wide range of American paintings, spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. I will say that there wasn’t anything for us, but then again, we only deal in a handful of American artists’ work. (w/p = with the buyer’s premium)

landscape with trees

Albert Bierstadt’s Park at Vancouver

Taking the top spot was Indian Girl (Portrait of Lolita) by Nicolai Fechin (a Russian born artist who emigrated to the US in 1923, settled in New Mexico, and specialized in works featuring Native Americans). The Palm Springs Art Museum was selling the painting; it carried a $250-350K estimate and hammered at $240K ($302.4K w/p). Coming in second was Albert Bierstadt’s Park at Vancouver. The small, fresh-to-the-market oil was expected to bring between $25-35K, and when the bidding was over, it hammered for $85K ($107.1K w/p); I am sure the seller was thrilled. Taking third was a work by one of our favorite American artists, Guy Wiggins. Winter in New York carried a $30-50K estimate and hammered at $75K ($94.5K w/p)! Rounding out the top five were two paintings that did little for me. The first was Julian Onderdonk’s Untitled (Texas Hill Country Landscape) that carried a $50-70K estimate and sold for $70K (88.2K w/p), and a dark painting by William Merritt Chase titled Still Life – Fruit at $65K (81.9K w/p – est. $20-30K).

snow scene in New York

Guy Wiggins – Winter in New York

There were a handful of lots that performed well; these included Louis Stone’s 1938 Untitled (Abstract Composition) at $45K (56.7K w/p – est. $10-15K), Dwight William Tryon’s A Glimpse of the Sea (sold by the Brooklyn Museum) at $24K ($30.2K w/p – est. $5-7K), and Bouquet with Poppy, a small still life by William Glackens, that brought $32K (40.3K w/p – est. $12-18K). On the other side, too many of the higher-priced lots did not find buyers. In fact, of the ten highest estimated works in the sale, only three sold. Among the unsold works were Robert Henri’s Portrait of Mrs. Arthur Bond Cecil ($150-250K), Edward Redfield’s Frosty Morning (est. $120-180K), Milton Avery’s Dunes and Red Sea (eat. $100-150K), and Sanford R. Gifford’s The Arch of Nero at Tivoli (eat. $100-150K).

When the sale concluded, of the 109 works offered, 74 sold (67.9% sell-through rate), and the total hammer price was $1.93M ($2.44M w/p). The presale estimate range was $2.76-$4.08M, so they fell well short… even with the buyer’s premium added in, they did not make it. Of the sold works, 32 fell below, 16 within, and 26 above their presale estimate range, giving them an accuracy rate of just 14.7%. Next time you receive an auction estimate, realize that it is nothing more than a guesstimate.