Was Christie’s $46 Million American Art Auction a Flop?

Only 68 percent of the works on offer found buyers

Georgia O'Keeffe Hills and Mesa to the West (1945) oil on canvas, sold for $3.7 million (estimate: $2.5–3.5 million)

Only 106, or 68 percent, of the artworks on offer found buyers though the sale was a healthier 80 percent sold, on a value basis. Works by American art stars Norman Rockwell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, and Thomas Hart Benton were the leaders at Christie’s fall sale of American art yesterday (November 19) in New York.

The top lot was Rockwell’s oil on canvas Willie Gillis: Hometown News (1942), which sold for $4.2 million, clearing the high $3 million estimate. The painting is part of a series of 11 covers Rockwell created for The Saturday Evening Post, showing the fictional character he created (Willie Gillis, Jr.) in various scenarios from enlisting in the army to attending college on the G.I. Bill.

It was followed by a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, Hills and Mesa to the West (1945), which also sold above its estimate of $2.5–3.5 million, taking in $3.7 million. The work, which has never appeared at auction before, was offered from an unnamed private collection and is part of an important group depicting the red hills near the artist’s home at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

Oscar Bluemner

Oscar Florianus Bluemner Jersey Silkmills (1867-1938).
Courtesy Christie’s

Numerous other works by O’Keeffe appeared in the sale’s top lots including Calla Lillies (1924) an oil on canvas that sold for $3.3 million (it was estimated to sell for $2.5–3.5 million); and one of her rarely seen sculptures, Abstraction (modeled in 1946, and cast ca. 1979), a white lacquered bronze that set a record for an O’Keeffe sculpture at $1 million (it was estimated to sell for $600–800,000).

Edward Hopper’s Railroad Embankment (1932), a gouache and watercolor on paper, sold for $1.4 million on an estimate of $1.2–$1.8 million.

Also among the top lots was Grant Wood’s Study for Dinner for Threshers, charcoal, pencil and chalk on brown paper (1934), that sold for $1.6 million (its estimate was $1.5–2.5 million), setting a record for a work on paper by the artist.

Prices for O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and Milton Avery show the continued crossover appeal in American art from postwar and modern collectors,” said Elizabeth Beaman, Christie’s head of American art.

Sotheby’s holds its American art sale today at 10 AM. Stay tuned for results.

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