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Perspectives

How will American masterpieces fare in this fall’s auctions?

Fotini Xydas

By Fotini Xydas

Art Advisor, Art Advisory & Finance

October 24, 2018Posted InWealth Advisory

The art market is set for another potentially record-breaking sales season this fall. The spring 2018 auctions generated much excitement when Christie’s sold the Rockefeller collection for US$832 million, the highest total price ever achieved for a single-owner collection at auction.

The market is showing no signs of slowing down. Christie’s has announced two major collections for its New York auction rooms in November: that of travel entrepreneur and American art collector Barney A. Ebsworth, and legendary dealer Eugene Thaw1. Sotheby’s has said that it will auction a brilliant Marsden Hartley from the collection of Ed and Deborah Shein, and a rare German expressionist painting by Ludwig Meidner. Phillips too will offer a landmark Joan Miró painting for $12-18 million.

Courtesy: Sotheby's

It promises to be an especially significant season for American art, with a long overdue focus on American modernism. The Ebsworth collection has over eighty-five works of American art spanning the twentieth century. It will be presented in a single-owner day and evening sale of works on 13 and 14 November, and is estimated to sell for over US$300 million.  Reports suggest that Christie’s has guaranteed the family trust will receive that amount.  

Among the highlights are Edward Hopper’s 1929 Chop Suey, considered the most important work by the artist still in private hands and estimated to sell in the range of US $70 million. Other highlights include two significant postwar, Abstract Expressionist paintings—Woman as Landscape, 1954-55 by Willem de Kooning, and Composition with Red Strokes, 1950 by Jackson Pollock.  It is estimated  that they may realize US$60 and US$50 million, respectively. Woman as Landscape measures over five-and-a-half feet(1.68m) tall and is one of the only Woman paintings by de Kooning still in private hands.

The Ebsworth collection, with works priced upwards of $100,000, features several members of the Stieglitz circle of American modernists. These include Georgia O’Keeffe, with whom Ebsworth  had a long friendship, Marsden Hartley, Stuart Davis, and Charles Sheeler, as well as postwar artists Joan Mitchell, Franz Kline, and Jasper Johns.2

Sotheby’s, in turn, will feature its American modernist masterpiece, Marsden Hartley’s exceptionally rare and beautiful Pre-War Pageant of 1913, which will be a star lot of the Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale in New York on 12 November and is expected to realize US$30 million.3 The painting, from the collection of Ed and Deborah Shein, is one of few works from Hartley’s groundbreaking, Berlin-period remaining in private hands. The Hartley work, still in its original artist-painted frame, is considered one of the first abstract works created by an American artist. The painting is guaranteed, meaning the auction house has already confirmed a buyer at a minimum price.

It remains to be seen whether the fall auctions will exceed the staggering $1.9 billion combined total achieved by Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art auctions in May 2018; nevertheless, the upcoming sales are surely events not to be missed.

1Marion Maneker, “Barney Ebsworth’s $300m Collection of American Art Debuts at Christie’s Paris,” Art Market Monitor, September 5, 2018 (https://www.artmarketmonitor.com/2018/09/05/barney-ebsworths-300m-collection-of-american-art-debuts-at-christies-paris/).

2“An American Place: The Barney A. Ebsworth Collection comes to Christie’s,” Christie’s, September 5, 2018 (https://www.christies.com/features/An-American-Place-The-Barney-A-Ebsworth-Collection-comes-to-Christies-9363-1.aspx).

3Marion Maneker, “Sotheby’s Unveils $30m Marsden Hartley Berlin Abstract,” Art Market Monitor, September 14, 2018 (https://www.artmarketmonitor.com/2018/09/14/sothebys-unveils-30m-marsden-hartley-berlin-abstract/).

The views expressed herein are for informational purposes only and are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citigroup Inc. All opinions are subject to change without notice.