Scottsdale Art Auction

Susan Emerson Nutter | April 5th, 2014

Blue Bonnet Landscape, a 24″ x 33½” oil on board by Jose Arpa (1858-1952), signed lower right and inscribed “San Antonio, Texas,” sold for $322,000 (est. $30,000/60,000). This impressionistic image exemplifies why Arpa was known as the “Sunshine Man.” His love of and skill at handling bright light in his works is a trademark.

The Thermometer from Ten to Thirty-Three Degrees Below Zero, a 27″ x 40″ oil on canvas by Frederic Remington (1861-1909), was the top lot of the sale, bringing $920,000 (est. $500,000/700,000).

Good Times All Gone, a 34″ x 22″ mixed media by Howard Terpning (b. 1927), far exceeded its presale high estimate of $75,000, bringing $230,000. The image was signed at lower left, marked “CA” (for Cowboy Artists of America), and dated 1985.

Man of Many Honors, a 36″ x 24″ oil on canvas, signed at lower right by Martin Grelle (b. 1954), more than doubled its presale high estimate of $45,000 when it sold for $103,500.

This portrait of Mrs. Dean Cornwell, 1925, a 24″ x 20″ oil on canvas by Nicolai Fechin (Russian, 1881-1955), sold strong at $207,000 (est. $100,000/150,000). Though Fechin was Russian born, his talents brought him to New York where he was celebrated for his portraits, such as this image. The catalog states, “Fechin’s signature style, combining soft and hard lines and forms, spikes and curves, slashing flicks and sensual pauses, is brilliantly manifest in this canvas.” After developing tuberculosis in 1926, Fechin moved to Taos for the drier climes and found the countryside reminiscent of the Siberian woods and mountains of his youth.

Watering the Horses, 1913, a 32″ x 25″ oil on canvas by William H. Dunton (1878-1936), made $345,000 (est. $200,000/300,000). Though Dunton’s hometown was Augusta, Maine, he was drawn to the American West. By 1896, he began to travel in the West in the summers, illustrating articles and books, including many of Zane Grey’s classic Westerns.

Nobleman of the Plains, a 15″ x 11″ watercolor, signed at lower left with a skull and dated 1899 by Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), was small but exquisite in its execution. Russell wished to record the vanishing West. This image at first glance appears to be a portrait of a mounted warrior. Instead, it is Russell’s successful attempt at a study in confidence. Nobleman of the Plains realized $241,500 (est. $175,000/225,000).

Dust in the Distance, a 48″ x 64″ oil on canvas dated 2006 by Martin Grelle (b. 1954), sold strong, making $575,000 (est. $200,000/300,000).

Oasis, an 18″ x 26″ acrylic by Bob Kuhn (1920-2007), was dated ’93 and brought $161,000 (est. $80,000/120,000). Kuhn captures the majesty of three Cape buffalo at a watering hole; their power and strength contrast with the delicate and light white egrets.

Mystic Warrior, a 74″ x 30″ oil on canvas by Kyle Polzin (b. 1974), destroyed its presale high estimate of $40,000 when it was taken to $287,500. This artwork was awarded the Scottsdale Art Auction Award of Merit.

Scottsdale, Arizona

Photos courtesy Scottsdale Art Auction

Record-setting sales were almost commonplace at the tenth annual Scottsdale Art Auction, held Saturday, April 5, featuring both paintings and sculpture. An event that features the work of both living and deceased Western artists, this auction was not only the scene for some fantastic selling, but the sale’s total at just over $12.6 million pushed the Scottsdale Art Auction’s ten-year sales total beyond the $100 million mark.

The top lot of the event was Frederic Remington’s The Thermometer from Ten to Thirty-Three Degrees Below Zero, an oil on canvas work that went to $920,000 (with buyer’s premium). The image done in black, white, and shades of gray is of a large group of riders on horseback wrapped in their coats being buffeted by the wind as they travel in a wintry storm.

It is thought that this painting may have been the inspiration for one of Remington’s finest bronzes, The Norther, executed in 1900. The Norther was his first using the lost wax process (which enables the artist to produce fine detail work) and the first of his bronzes cast at the Roman Bronze Works.

Records were being set throughout this tenth edition of the Scottsdale Art Auction. Spellbound by contemporary artist Joe Beelers (1931-2006) earned a new world record when it sold for $69,000. A simple composition, this image shows Indians seated in a longhouse against a backdrop of skins, watching and listening as a medicine man chants and dances.

Another Beeler that surprised was the bronze Quiet Passage. Estimated at $6000/9000, this 12″ high x 33″ wide sculpture of a Native American paddling a canoe soared to $40,250.

Beeler and fellow Cowboy Artists of America founders George Phippen (1915-1966), Johnny Hampton (1918-1999), and Charlie Dye (1906-1972) all had works that sold strong. Strenuous Moments, an oil on canvas of a cattle-roping mishap by George Phippen, came in at $34,500, while Charlie Dye’s Spring Roundup sold within estimate at $63,250.

Dye’s work is especially appreciated as he was actually a working cowboy before he became an artist. The catalog listing gives details. “Of his own art, Dye said, ‘I have always tried to paint what I can remember of a life I led before I became dishonest and studied art. My old man could have forgiven me if I had turned out playing piano in a whorehouse, but artists rated one step below pimps in his book.’ Whatever Charlie Dye depicted of cowboy life is something he experienced, not as an observer, but as an active participant.”

Contemporary artist Martin Grelle (b. 1954) set a new world auction record when his Dust in the Distance, a 48″ x 64″ oil, sold for $575,000 (est. $200,000/300,000). The image shows two mounted warriors watching as a third brave peers through a telescope to see what is kicking up dust on the horizon. Here Grelle shows how these Indians are adapting and taking advantage of the white man’s technology. To them, this is not a piece of wizardry but a tool to be used to protect them from what could be coming their way. A total of six oils by Grelle sold, resulting in a grand total of $988,200 for the work of this Cowboy Artist of America.

A work by 40-year-old Texas artist Kyle Polzin made a statement at $287,500. His oil titled Mystic Warrior (est. $30,000/40,000) caused a stir, with in-house, telephone, and on-line bidders (through iCollector and Proxibid) all having a say. Another of Polzin’s oils on canvas, titled Favorite Pastime, also sold strong at $74,750 (est. $8000/12,000).

The strength of the contemporary market was evident throughout the auction. A new auction record was set by American still-life master David Leffel (b. 1931) when his Anasazi Vase with Mayan Plate Chinese Lanterns sold for $69,000 (est. $35,000/55,000). The images in this 18″ x 22″ oil glowed, compliments of Leffel’s talents.

Works by Howard Terpning (b. 1927) were in demand. Four paintings by this artist crossed the auction block, bringing a total of $1,552,500. The oil on canvas Calling the Buffalo sold within estimate at $632,500. Terpning was very exact when painting Native Americans. In this image, the Blackfoot holds an ancient fossil known as an iniskim—today called an ammonite—in the shape of a buffalo. This fossil was used in prayers to call for the buffalo herds to come.

Terpning’s oil on canvas The River’s Gift sold within estimate, bringing $575,000, while the mixed-media Good Times All Gone greatly surpassed its high estimate of $75,000 when it realized $230,000.

With 91% of all lots sold, this 2014 edition of the Scottsdale Art Auction can only be deemed a success. Though the auction has an extensive clientele, a great deal of interest seems to be from collectors hailing from the West Coast and Texas. Regardless, Western art continues to draw those interested in the lifestyle and cultures that helped form America west of the Mississippi and the beauty found there.

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What is the Scottsdale Art Auction?

What auction organization can possibly survive by hosting only a single auction every year? The Scottsdale Art Auction does by bringing together some of the largest, most experienced art dealers in the country.

According to the organization’s Web site, a consortium of leading American art dealers got together and organized a Western art auction to be held in Scottsdale, Arizona, in the spring of each year. Calling the group the Scottsdale Art Auction, dealers Mike Frost of J.M. Bartfield Galleries, New York City; Jack A. Morris, Jr. of Morris Whiteside Galleries, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; and Brad Richardson of Legacy Gallery, Scottsdale, Arizona, Jackson, Wyoming, and Bozeman, Montana, presented their first auction on April 2, 2005, at Richardson’s Legacy Gallery in Scottsdale.

With Morris being a licensed auctioneer and art dealer in Texas, New Mexico, and South Carolina for 20 years; Frost being known for building significant public and private collections of historically important Western art; and Richardson’s Legacy Gallery being a national leader representing several members of the Cowboy Artists of America, National Academy of Western Art, the consortium has a stellar background.

“Combining our various fields of expertise,” Richardson commented on the Web site, “and taking advantage of our geographic diversity, we should be able to provide a valuable service to collectors and artists throughout the United States. Mike Frost is highly regarded for his knowledge of significant Western American masters, and Morris and Whiteside are established veterans in the field of art auctions.”

“Art auctions are fundamental to the art market,” according to Frost. “They are the trading floor for the secondary market and, in most cases, help to establish collector confidence and set the market for an artist’s work.”

Richardson added, “I have noted, over the past few years, that premium works from major collections and artists’ studios have tended to gravitate to the auctions, and we believe that we are ideally situated to serve that process.”

Originally published in the July 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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