John Singer Sargent rocks! Liz Sterling, Head of Sotheby’s American Art Department, commented: “Last night we saw the continuation of the ‘masterpiece market’ that we have witnessed in recent seasons, with top-quality works inspiring competition and commanding strong prices.
We were encouraged by international participation as well as bidding across categories, including senior members of both our Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art teams fielding bids from their clients. It was a particular privilege to offer not one but two oil paintings by John Singer Sargent last night, and collectors recognized and responded enthusiastically to the rarity of this occasion in the auction market.”
Four works by John Singer Sargent totaled $11.2 million last night, surpassing their combined high estimate of $8.7 million. The sale was led by Poppies, which Sargent completed while at work on his masterpiece Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose. Three bidders competed for the oil on canvas, which outperformed pre-sale expectations, selling for $6.9 million (estimate $4–6 million). The painting was most recently included in the museum exhibition Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse, co-organized by the Royal Academy of Arts and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Four bidders sought Sargent’s Stairway in Capri, driving the work to a final price of $4.1 million – well in excess of its $2.5 million high estimate. The painting was previously in the collections of Auguste Hirsch, a French artist and friend of John Sargent Sargent, as well as Pamela Harriman, the United States Ambassador to France in the mid-1990s.
Jamie Wyeth’s surreal self-portrait, Pumpkinhead, from 1972 was one of the night’s most eagerly sought-after pieces. A prolonged battle between four determined bidders drove the final price of the work to $1.7 million – more than triple its high estimate of $500,000, and three times the previous auction record for the artist. In addition to Jamie Wyeth, new artist records were established last night for: David Brega, Gloria Engelhard, John George Brown and Gregorio Prestopino.
Embodying Norman Rockwell’s all-American appeal, Road Block fetched $4,730,000 (estimate $4–6 million). One of his most ambitious covers for the widely-read The Saturday Evneing Post, Road Block features no less than 25 figures, including a self-portrait and a depiction of his son, Peter. Other highlights of American Illustration included Maxfield Parrish’s Winter Sunshinefrom 1955, sold for $850,000 against an estimate of $400–600,000.