10 Remarkable Highlights of American Art

21 May | New York
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Sotheby's American Art sale on 21 May features some of the most remarkable paintings, sculpture, and works on paper dating from the past 150 years – including Edward Hopper's Shakespeare at Dusk, Sanford Robinson Glifford's A Lake Twilight, and several other exceptional paintings from artists of the Hudson River School. In all, the sale is a celebration of America's greatest landscapes, led by some of the country's most renowned creative minds. The auction will take place in New York at 10:00 AM EDT; registration is now open.

10 Remarkable Highlights of American Art

  • Edward Hopper, Shakespeare at Dusk, 1935. Estimate $7,000,000–10,000,000.
    Painted in 1935, Shakespeare at Dusk captures the visual poetry of twilight in a large city, when the cacophonous noise of streetcars and elevated trains begins to acquiesce to the stillness of night. This Central Park scene belongs to Edward Hopper’s celebrated series of New York cityscapes—subject matter he explored early in his career while studying under Robert Henri and continued until his death in 1967. A lifelong lover of poetry and prose, Shakespeare at Dusk is among the only major works in Hopper’s oeuvre that overtly references the profound influence of literature on his emotional response to specific times of day, particularly the evening. The poems that he quoted, often as explanations for his own art, frequently focus on the mood of dusk—its sense of mystery, anxiety, and eros born out of the varying effects of light and shadow.
  • Georgia O'Keeffe, Waterfall, No. 2, Īao Valley, 1939. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    Georgia O’Keeffe first traveled to the Hawaiian Islands in 1939, by which time she had firmly established herself as a prominent voice in modern art in America through her deeply personal images of magnified plants and flowers, as well as the sun-bleached animal bones of the deserts in the American Southwest.

    The present work is one of four images O’Keeffe painted of the spectacular waterfalls in the Īao Valley on Maui. Though her subject here is entirely unique within her celebrated oeuvre of natural scenery, the lens through which she interprets it evokes her profound, almost spiritual reaction to the landscape, the quality that pervades the entirety of her body of work.
  • Mary Cassatt, Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress With Her Child Outdoors, 1914. Estimate $1,500,000–2,500,000.
    In Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress with Her Child Outdoors, a young girl perches casually on her mother’s lap, leaning into her supportive embrace. Both figures gaze into the distance, avoiding eye contact with the viewer and creating the impression that Cassatt has caught them in a natural state rather than in a scene she has composed. Through the artist’s thoughtful positioning of the figures, she captures the psychological nuances that characterize familial relationships. Cassatt renders both figures’ facial features with careful attention and accuracy, while depicting their dresses and the background with dynamic strokes of paint that imbue the canvas with a sense of movement.
  • John Singer Sargent, Lancelot Allen, 1894. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    The present portrait depicts (Richard) Lancelot Baugh Allen (1887-1918), the only son of Wilfred Baugh Allen (1849-1922) and his wife, Anne Sophia, (1856-1946), daughter of the Rev. Robert Wedgwood. The Allens of Cilrhiw were a junior branch of a landed family from Pembrokeshire, South Wales.

    In his portraits of children, Sargent avoids the sentimentality associated with Victorian imagery of childhood. He respects the integrity of his young sitters and Lancelot, wearing a sober dark blue velvet jacket with silver buttons and darker trousers, does not ingratiate himself with the spectator, but looks directly out at him meeting his fictive gaze. The simple, narrow format emphasizes the quiet reserve of the composition, the restrained tones relieved only by spare red highlights at the collar and cuff of the jacket, a color echoed in the red inscription and date. The boy’s self-contained demeanor is disarming, and knowledge of his tragically brief life introduces a retrospective poignancy to Sargent’s portrayal.
  • Jacob Lawrence, The Carpenters, 1946. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    Jacob Lawrence executed The Carpenters in 1946, soon after he completed his military service during the Second World War. The body of work executed by the artist upon his return home demonstrates his profound interest in the depiction of African American workers and labor, subjects that would preoccupy him for nearly the entirety of his career.

    In the present work, Lawrence depicts an industrious carpentry shop, its employees all busily engaged in the tasks of the day. The work aptly exemplifies Lawrence’s signature Cubist-based style, demonstrated in the compressed pictorial space, his reductive color palette and use of angular planes and fractured forms.
  • Francis Augustus Silva, Sailing on the Hudson Near Nyack, 1872. Estimate $700,000–1,000,000.
    The eastern seaboard, specifically the Hudson River Valley, was a favored subject of Luminist painters, who were attracted to the region’s clear light and relatively undeveloped shores. In Sailing on the Hudson, Nyack, Silva deliberately heightened the atmospheric effects of sunlight to convey the transcendent qualities of the natural world and man’s spiritual relationship to the physical environment.
  • Milton Avery, Two Figures on Beach, 1950. Estimate $1,200,000–1,800,000.
    Painted in 1950, Two Figures on Beach belongs to a remarkably innovative and productive period of Milton Avery’s celebrated career. In the present work, Avery reinvents the traditional art historical motif of the reclining female form through his distinctive and thoroughly modern vision. With their bodies positioned closely together, the two women are depicted relaxing outdoors in a scene that emanates leisure and tranquility.
  • N. C. Wyeth, "I've Promised You I Would. I Will Promise Every Time You Ask Me," 1915. Estimate $300,000–500,000.
    "I've promised you I would. I will promise every time you ask me." is one of three images N.C. Wyeth painted as an illustration for Nan of Music Mountain, a 1916 book by Frank H. Spearman, a well-known author of Western novels. Wyeth executed the present work at the height of the period known as the Golden Age of Illustration. By this time, he had achieved commercial success after studying at Howard Pyle’s eponymous school and selling his first drawing to The Saturday Evening Post in 1903.

    Nan of Music Mountain tells the story of an intrepid mountaineer named Henry de Spain, who falls in love with Nan, the daughter of the area’s most notorious outlaw, Duke Morgan. Ultimately overcoming the obstacles engendered by a family feud marked by violent gun battles and kidnapping, the young lovers reunite in the middle of a ferocious snowstorm. Nan’s father finally gives his consent, and an impromptu wedding ceremony is performed on the spot, the event depicted in the present work.
  • Sanford Robinson Gifford, A Lake Twilight, 1861. Estimate $1,200,000 – 1,800,000.
    An abrupt change of mood—dark, even menacing—invades some of Sanford Robinson Gifford's paintings of the early 1860s, including A Lake Twilight. This was interpreted in retrospect by George W. Sheldon as a conscious rejection by the artist of earlier stereotyping (“How One Landscape Painter Paints,”Art Journal, no. 3, 1877, pp. 284–285). In fact, many American landscape painters embraced twilight subjects during the anguished time leading up to and during the Civil War. For Gifford, whose patriotic as well as abolitionist proclivities had been expressed in his European Journals of 1855-57, the turmoil of this period, compounded by constant awareness of the suffering from severe depression of his brother Charles—his kindred spirit in love of art and wilderness—imagery of sunny effulgence was no longer adequate (Sanford R. Gifford, “European Letters,” 3 vols., Archives of American Art, microfilm D21).
  • Niles Spencer, In Fairmont, 1951. Estimate $250,000 – 350,000.
    Painted in 1951 at the height of his career and technical mastery, In Fairmont exemplifies Niles Spencer's lifelong fascination with industrial imagery. Based on sketches and studies of a large ventilator at the glass works in Fairmont, West Virginia, this is the larger of two canvases dedicated to the subject. Noted for its highly-refined geometric aesthetic with a focus on simplification of form, flattened perspective, and muted tones, the present oil is among the masterworks of the artist's oeuvre.
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