Sales of American Art in New York: Hopper and Rockwell at their peaks



While Miami and its multitude of art fairs attracted all the elite of the Contemporary art scene, the Big Apple held its winter American Art sales*. On 4 and 5 December, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonham’s dispersed over 300 lots and recorded some historical records. Here is an overview of the sales’ highlights.

On the morning of December 4, Sotheby’s opened the ball and generated its second best sales total on this section with over $72.7 million. However, although this total is less than its May 2008 total (approx. $75m), it was generated with just one third of the number of lots (68 in 2013 vs. 214 in 2008). The presence of seven major works by the painter and illustrator Norman Perceval ROCKWELL rom the Stuart Family Collection played a major role in the success of the sale. The collector, Kenetth Stuart, was none other than the artistic director of the Saturday Evening Post magazine for which Rockwell created the covers that made ​​him famous. The star lot of the sale was Saying Grace, and is considered his masterpiece.It fetched more than $41 million, i.e. more than half of the sale’s total turnover. An iconic image of America in the 1950s, this oil on canvas (1951) demolished the artist’s previous record which had not been revised since Breaking Home Ties fetched $13.7 million at Sotheby’s New York on 29 November 2006. Two other paintings by Rockwell also fetched excellent results: The gossip sold for $7.4 million and Walking to Church fetched $2.75 million, further proof of the sale’s dependence on the Stuart Family collection.

At a more modest price level, a few hours later Bonhams generated a total of $4.27 million from the sale of 123 lots. Again, the sale was dominated by Norman Perceval ROCKWELL: Girl Choosing Hat fetched $1 million, i.e. $400,000 more than his high estimate, and Study for ‘The Facts of life’ sold for $780,000. A small early portrait by Edward Hopper entitled Seated Gentleman with Red Tie (1901, 45 x 25 cm) also found a buyer at $45,000.

On 5 December, Christie’s closed the two days of American Art sales in style with the sale of another masterpiece of American painting: Edward HOPPER‘s East Wind Over Weehawken. If the presence of any Hopper painting in a sale provokes serious acquisitive passions, it is essentially because one is more likely to see Hopper’s work in museums than in auctions. In fact, since his auction debut in 1991, only 20 of his oil paintings have been to auction. East Wind Over Weehawken was put up for sale by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. An urban landscape painted in 1934, it includes many of the ingredients that made Hopper famous including the atmosphere of solitude and mystery. The last work of this quality sold in 2006 for $24 million (Hotel Window) at Sotheby’s New York(29 November 2006). It was therefore no surprise that East Wind Over Weehawken went beyond $36 million setting a strong new record for the artist. The proceeds from the sale of this oil on canvas will allow the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to make lots of new acquisitions! For its part, Christie’s generated its best sales total from this segment (American Art) at more than $66 million.

While the best result for an American artist (all periods combined) is still the $94 million generated by Andy WARHOL‘s Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster) at Sotheby’s New York on 13 November 2013, Saying Grace and East Wind Over Weehawken set two new records for works presented at American Art sales*. Witnesses to American history, these sales also reflect the buoyancy of the high-end market and the dynamism of the U.S. market.

* The term « American Art sale » includes paintings, sculptures and works on paper made ​​in the United States since the colonial period until the 1950s.