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American Art At Bonhams Los Angeles

February 12, 2023
A landscape painting of a wooded area, with a mountain draped in mist rising off in the distance. At the top of the mountain, a rocky outcropping resembling a person's face in profile stands out as New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain

Old Man of the Mountain by David Johnson

On Tuesday February 7th, Bonhams Los Angeles hosted an American art sale called Coast to Coast. The auction featured a wide variety of affordable work from across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including pieces by William Clapp, Mary DeNeale Morgan, and Charles Pabst. Most of the offerings were American landscapes or wildlife scenes, of which the most expensive paintings were very representative. All three top lots were works that exceeded their estimates and achieved $15K each (or $19.1K w/p). Old Man of the Mountain by David Johnson is a small, 16-by-22-inch landscape created in 1875, showing the titular New Hampshire rock formation off in the distance. Bonhams specialists only expected the Johnson landscape to make $3.5K at most, meaning it exceeded its high estimate more than four times over. The actual Old Man of the Mountain rock formation held great significance to indigenous people and became a symbol for the state of New Hampshire, making its collapse in 2003 an even more disheartening event.

A group of three pintail birds flying out of misty marshlands with muted brown tall grasses and grayish-blue waters.

Four Canes, Three Pintails, A Marsh in the Mist by Francis Lee Jaques

Next, Francis Lee Jaques’s Four Canes, Three Pintails, A Marsh in the Mist was expected to make it to the top of the sale with an $8K to $12K estimate range. The contrast between the well-defined birds in the foreground and the muted browns and grays of the background is somewhat reminiscent of Japanese panel paintings. While this painting also exceeded its estimate range, it did not do so to the extent that the Johnson painting did. And finally, more birds from Harry Curieux Adamson with his Quail Covey Rising from Grasses. Adamson was a California painter who passed away in 2012 and was known primarily for his wildlife paintings, particularly those of waterfowl and other birds. The Adamson painting nearly reached double its $8K assigned high estimate.

A flock of quails dispersing and flying from a patch of tall, brown grass, with wooded hills and an overcast sky in the background.

Quail Covey Rising from Grasses by Harry Curieux Adamson

Bonhams advertised that a good deal of the sale came from the collection of Gail Feingarten Oppenheimer, a prominent collector from California and widow of Charles Feingarten, and art dealer who at one time was considered the premier dealer of works by Auguste Rodin in the United States. Thirty-five of the sale’s 260 lots came from Gail’s collection, twelve of which were works by the San Francisco artist Arthur Okamura. The closest a piece from the group got to the top was Aaron Gunn Pyle’s tempera-on-board Harvest Scene, which sold for $13K (or $16.5K w/p). The Feingarten Oppenheimer collection brought in $39.2K, about 10% of the auction’s total. The Feingarten Oppenheimer collection did, however, manage to get one of the sale’s biggest surprises. An unsigned ink-on-paper drawing by Augustus Edwin John called Meeting in the Park was only predicted by Bonhams specialists to achieve $600 at most, yet went on to bring in $3.2K (or $4.1K w/p), over five times the high estimate. Additionally, the Edith Cook painting Birch Tree Landscape created in 1866 ended up selling for $5K (or $6.3K w/p), over six times its $800 high estimate. Birch Tree Landscape is actually one of five works from the Coast to Coast sale that was previously in the collection of Soloman Grossman, a collector who, in the 1970s, donated some of his antique furniture to the White House Preservation Committee to help furnish the presidential residence.

Even though 107 of the total 260 lots sold under estimate, the fact that they sold at all means that the sale as a whole did not do too badly. Coast to Coast ended up with a sell-through rate of 90%, with only twenty-five lots going unsold. With fifty-eight lots (22%) selling within estimate and seventy lots (27%) selling above, the sale brought in a total of $393.7K against a minimum total estimate of $319.6K.