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June 22 Prints and Fine Art sale has international flavor

On Wednesday, June 22, starting at 11 am Eastern time, Jasper52 will conduct an auction of Prints and Fine Art. The tightly-curated lineup consists of just 60 lots. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

On offer is a wide-ranging span of works that includes artists from many nations, led by original illustration art by Ciruel Cabral for The Book of the Dragon; a Surrealist painting of clowns by Alfano Dardari; a masterfully colored oil on canvas by Gene Pressler, depicting a stylish woman with a parasol; a 19th-century portrait of Samuel Colt, inventor and entrepreneur behind the namesake firearms company, rendered by an unknown hand; and a circa-1900 French School Japonisme painting of a trio of geishas.

Itzchak Tarkay, ‘Two Women at a Table,’ est. $20,000-$24,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Manet or Monet: A Contrast in Styles

Manet and Monet are two highly important, similarly named French artists who deliberately moved away from the classical Old Masters to create their own individual styles. They were distinctly different in their approach, but even now, nearly a century after Monet’s passing, the artists are confusing to some, simply because of their surnames. There are ways to immediately tell them apart, however. It starts with their choice of subjects.

The art world of the early 19th century centered on expressive, lifelike formal portraits; colorful and realistic landscapes; and the charm of generic fruits and flowers, all reminiscent of the great Old Masters. They were wonderfully arranged in their composition, character, detail and style; and if a painter followed this approach, he or she could expect their paintings to be exhibited – the all-important first step toward garnering public and critical success.

This 1863 Manet painting is a clear departure from the Old Masters, as it depicts two nude women and two clothed men having lunch in a wooded field near a spring. The artwork caused quite the stir when it was exhibited in the year of its creation. Public domain image courtesy of Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons

By 1856, the French painter Édouard Manet moved away from the conventional approach and instead began painting real workaday people, without necessarily focusing on light, detail or abundant color. He used loose brush strokes in contrasting darker colors, particularly black. Luncheon on the Grass, for example, featured two nude women picnicking with two fully clothed men along a wooded stream. The subject matter was quite unconventional – even shocking – for its time. Manet would continue painting beggars and people along the street exactly as he saw them, not as the Old Masters wished them to be. The Spanish Singer, an 1860 oil portrait of a guitar-playing singer, was his first painting that drew acclaim. Its “slapdash,” avant-garde painting style appealed to a younger generation.

Edouard Manet’s signature on an ink and gouache on paper titled ‘The Old Musician’ appears in the lower righthand corner and reads, simply, ‘Manet.’ Image courtesy: Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

With his unconventional approach to painting in which he depicted real people in everyday situations, Manet was able to influence other artistic movements, especially Impressionism.

One of the leading Impressionists of the period was the Parisian-based artist Claude Monet. He took his inspiration from Manet, leaving behind the Old Masters’ obsession for detail, and instead placed an emphasis on natural color and light. In fact, many of Monet’s paintings repeat the same subject, such as The Haystack – there are 25 versions of it, each painted in different light from dusk to dawn, in different seasons reflecting their own shaded nuances.

Monet’s 1874 oil painting Impression, Sunrise was not well received, one art critic believing it unfinished who derisively called it impressionism for its broad strokes depicting rowboats in the port of La Havre either at dawn or dusk and Impressionism became the name of an entire new movement. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

One of the most important paintings by Monet was his Impression: Sunrise, painted in 1873. Executed in muted colors, it is described as a rather hazy image of several rowboats in the French port of La Havre, depicted either at dusk or dawn (it isn’t known which), with broad strokes and the light of an orange sun casting lighted shadows along the water. An art critic derisively named Monet’s “unfinished” painting as “impressionism,” and thus began a completely new art movement.

Claude Monet usually added his signature in full to the lower lefthand corner of his paintings. An example of his signature is shown here and comes from a handwritten letter dated 1908. Image courtesy: University Archives and LiveAuctioneers

While both Manet and Monet were contemporaries in the French painting community of the late 19th century, Manet was older by eight years and established as an artist by the time Monet began painting seriously by 1865.  Each widely exhibited their paintings in salons – even next to each other on such occasions where artworks were displayed alphabetically by the artist’s surname. If pressed, Manet preferred not to be considered an Impressionist, and some art scholars would agree. Given a choice, he would not participate in exhibitions with other Impressionist artists. Monet, on the other hand, enthusiastically embraced the new art movement and had no problem with his paintings being described as “impressions.”

The differences were quite clear between the two Parisian-based artists. They were not necessarily spending time within the same artistic circles, since they painted differently. Manet worked primarily in a studio with models. Often he would choose black as the background color for his artworks.

Monet, like all Impressionist painters, primarily worked outdoors – en plein air – creating landscapes relatively quickly.  Brighter colors in quick brush strokes tended to blend well together, with rowboats or even people rendered as shadows or shapes rather than being clearly defined and detailed. Nearly 90% of all of Monet’s paintings were landscapes.

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926), Water Lilies, 1919. Oil on canvas; 39 3/4 x 78 3/4 in. (101 x 200 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Walter H and Leonore Annenberg Collection, Gift of Walter H and Leonore Annenberg, 1998, Bequest of Walter H Annenberg, 2002 (1998.325.2). Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

In short, Manet primarily painted everyday people while Monet painted natural landscapes with a diffusion of light and color. Of course, to quickly tell the difference, you could just as easily look at the painted signatures at the base of each painting, too.

The period of Impressionism lasted until about 1890 or so, when the movement gained more of an acceptance within the art world. Manet didn’t participate within the Impressionist movement itself, preferring to exhibit on his own with little recognition during his lifetime. He died at 51 in 1883 from syphilis. Monet, on the other hand, lived to the age of 86, with his paintings selling rather well until his death in 1926.

Other Impressionist artists who rose to prominence after Monet were Mary Cassatt, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro, Edgar Degas, Paul Cézanne, Alfred Sisley and others whose works embody the broad strokes and muted colors of everyday life, giving us an impression of what an artist sees and feels. It is the shifting light, the hazy unfinished reality that provide our own portrait of everyday life.

So, are the Impressionists still sought after at auction? Yes, but some observers opine that Impressionist artworks which haven’t already joined the collections of museums or institutions are the less-appealing examples, explaining why they haven’t reached the top tier of recent market sales. That’s not to say that there isn’t enthusiasm for early Impressionist works at auction – that would not be a fair comment – but as the pioneers of the movement were aware, there will always be new artists and genres to excite collectors.

Louisiana artists show strongly in May 4 auction

Works by Murrell Butler, Britney Penouilh and Franco Alessandrini will draw strong attention at Jasper52’s Fine Prints, Paintings, and Decorative Arts auction, which will be held on Wednesday, May 4 at 8 pm Eastern time. Other lots in the sale include a LeRoy Neiman serigraph of a Parisian outdoor cafe scene; a circa-1885 painting by Martin Coulaud of a girl tending geese; a photorealistic painting of a large, rusted steakhouse restaurant sign by Jim Thomson; a model of a clipper ship rendered in exceptionally high-quality silver by Japanese master silversmith Seki Takehiko; several depictions of nudes, both painted and sculpted, distinguished by Louis Braquet’s Nymph 2020; an original drawing by famed American modernist Joseph Stella; a well-observed pastel by Barbara Geldermann Hails, portraying horse harness racers; and a wealth of landscapes, ranging from a serene Lake Como scene by Deborah Newman, to a highly vertical oil on canvas on hardboard panel upon which John Hawkins liberally wielded his palette knife, to a panoramic sunset by Boris Garibyan, thick with impasto.

Britney Penouilh, ‘Providence Mountains,’ est. $4,500-$5,500

View the auction here.

Ukrainian artists stand out in European Fine Arts sale, April 2

Works by Viktor Makarov, Alexander Kudriavchenko and Orest Manetsky – all artists hailing from Ukraine – will appear in a Jasper52 sale of European Fine Arts scheduled for Saturday, April 2, starting at 7 pm Eastern time. Other artists whose works will be offered in the 64-lot auction of paintings, drawings, sculptures and photographs include Mikhail Kokin, Elena Pronkina, Mihail Shemyakin, Barbudaz Sh, Natasha Steshenko, Gennady Lesnichiy, Nikolay Chaliy, Vladimir Mukiy, Pavlo Bedzir, Maria Levitska, Andrey Chebotaru, Pavlo Makov, Dmitriy Shevchuk, Igor Taverovsky, Mykola Nechvoglod, Oleg Demko, Mikhail Kublik, Alexander Turanskiy, Andrii Kotliarchuk, Peter Kishenyuk, Pavlo Romanov, Peter Boyko, Tatiana Binovskaya, Oksana Stratiychuk, Irina Kurilko, Anton Basanets, Nikolay Peremyshlev and Igor Kapakaev. Part of the profits from this auction will support humanitarian aid to Ukrainians.

Orest Manetsky, ‘Event in a Vacuum,’ est. $3,000-$3,500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 hosts Fashion Fights Cancer benefit auction, March 8

Jasper52 will host a benefit auction titled Fashion Fights Cancer on Tuesday, March 8 to raise funds for the charity of the same name. The start time is 6pm Eastern. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

Founded in 2004, Fashion Fights Cancer (FFC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that offers innovative and therapeutic programs in fashion and design. FFC also acts as a sanctuary for cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones, and seeks to empower those who have been affected by cancer in the United States and internationally. The 118-lot benefit auction features artworks by Idris Habib, Patrick Hughes, Lisa Whittington, Kelly Bernard, Victor Ekpuk, Andy Dass, Ruth Owens, Marco Gallota, Sabrina Coleman-Pinheiro, Nkechi Ebubedike, Clara Fialho, Donald Thomas Earley, Lauren Dana Smith, Angela Costanzo Paris, Sean Sarafin, David Olatoye, Molly Brocklehurst and many others.

Idris Habib, ‘Globetrotter W,’ est. $25,000-$30,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 offers original Modern lithographs and etchings, Nov. 3

Prints might be the perfect medium for launching an art-collecting career. Seemingly countless beautiful and compelling works by well-known artists are available in this two-dimensional form; the variety of choices can be startling in its breadth and scope. On Wednesday, November 3, starting at 7 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will conduct a sale of Original Modern Art Lithographs and Etchings in New York. The 67-lot sale features many works by 20th century Pop Art legend Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) as well as creations by the peerless master of multiple media, Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973); Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976), who possessed an almost wizardly command of color; contemporary French artist Michel Delacroix (b. 1933-), whose work focuses on street scenes of Paris; and the beguiling contemporary Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (b. 1929-).

Alexander Calder, ‘Braniff Airlines Flying Colors Suite,’ est. $4,000-$5,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Frescoes: noble art for hallowed walls

Madonna with Child secco fresco sold for €600 ($712) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020 at A10 by Artmark in Bucharest, Romania. Image courtesy of A10 by Artmark and LiveAuctioneers

Painting on walls goes back to prehistory, when humans sketched animals, hunts, daily scenes and even their own handprints directly onto the interiors of their cave dwellings. Crude pigments made from plants, blood, red and yellow ochre (clay), charcoal, and other powdered minerals were used to render the images. Some wall art dates to 64,000 years ago.

Wall painting persists in the form of frescoes – the art of painting murals directly onto wet plaster with brushes dipped in colorful pigments. Like the works in paleolithic caves, as long as the plaster lasted, the painting did, too.

Ancient Greeks and Romans routinely used frescoes for decorating private homes, public buildings, palaces and temples. Frescoes from Pompeii continue to be excavated from the volcanic ash that buried the city in the year 79 A.D., and emerge looking as bright and colorful as they were when they were new. Frescoes became prominent in churches, cathedrals, and even in mosques and temples from the medieval period through the late Renaissance era.

Frescoes are created in two distinct techniques known as buon fresco and secco fresco. While the methods appear similar, the final results are distinctively different.

A 13th- to 16th-century Chinese polychrome fresco painting of a celestial deity with a Buddhist banner sold for €9,000 ($10,616) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Galerie Zacke in Vienna. Image courtesy of Galerie Zacke and LiveAuctioneers

Buon Fresco

Buon fresco (Italian for “true fresh”) calls for mural imagery to be painted directly onto a specially-prepared three-layer wet plaster compound called intonico (Italian for “plaster”). As it dries, the plaster absorbs the pigments and the mural becomes part of the wall or ceiling itself. Buon fresco is durable as long as the plaster remains intact.

Tiziano Lucchesi, an instructor in fresco painting at the Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy, explains the process of painting buon frescoes in three steps: “The background is laid out with a basic primer color while plaster is still wet … once the water is evaporated more, other colors can be added … before evaporation occurs … [and] … the last phase is where the evaporation is near complete and only retouches are possible.” Once the surface is ready, a charcoal or painted drawing, known as a cartoon, is laid over the top to provide the outline for the finished fresco.

Artists using the buon fresco technique must grapple with an unforgiving deadline to complete the work before the plaster dries completely. If it does, the buon fresco itself will be difficult to correct. Michelangelo’s images on the walls of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican might be the finest and best-known examples of buon fresco.

‘Dance,’ a 1939 Yannis Moralis study for a fresco, achieved €13,000 ($15,334) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Vergos Auctions P.C. in Athens. Image courtesy of Vergos Auctions P.C. and LiveAuctioneers

Secco Fresco

Secco fresco (Italian for “dry fresh”) requires painting mural scenes directly onto existing dry plaster. The target surface must be soaked with lime water before painting can begin. While the palette of paints for a buon fresco are made from a mix of dry pigment and water, those readied for a secco fresco require binders such as egg yolk, oil or glue.

Because the plaster is relatively dry, the artist has more time to complete a secco fresco than a buon fresco, but the technique has a significant disadvantage: the colors aren’t readily absorbed into the plaster and thus aren’t as durable. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is the best-known example of the secco fresco technique. The religious masterpiece has weathered the centuries poorly, demanding endless maintenance.

A sort of in-between technique, known as mezzo fresco (“medium fresh”), attempts to preserve the looser time schedule granted by secco fresco while strengthening the durability of the image it produces. Artists relying on mezzo fresco add lime water to their pigments in order to bind them more securely to the almost-dry plaster.

How to Tell the Difference Between the Two

According to experts, a quick way to spot the technique used to create a fresco is to assess its surface. Buon fresco is smoother overall; secco fresco is painted on existing dry plaster, which has a rougher appearance. Also, secco frescoes will noticeably craze, split and flake off, requiring constant attention and upkeep.

Schools of Fresco Painting

Painting on fresh plaster as a deliberate artistic style can be traced back at least 4,000 years, to the Minoan civilization near Crete. Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Roman and Northern African fresco paintings are prevalent on tombs, private homes, peristyles and public buildings from the ancient world. Catacombs in Rome feature buon fresco murals from the early Christian era. Even caves in the Indus Valley have examples of fresco murals from at least 1100 B.C., such as in the Brihadisvara Temple in India. These are all examples of very early fresco painting. Such works tend to head straight to national museums and are not usually made available at auction.

13th-century Chinese stucco fresco depicting a procession of female immortals, sold for €3,800 ($4,482) plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Capitoliumart s.r.l. in Brescia, Italy. Image courtesy of Capitoliumart s.r.l. and LiveAuctioneers

Churches, cathedrals and houses of worship all relied on fresco murals to teach the lessons of the Bible in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many medieval fresco murals enliven the structures of the Eastern Orthodox community, such as Andrei Rublev’s frescoes in several prominent Moscow cathedrals. Giotto’s Betrayal of Christ, painted in 1305, is a celebrated medieval fresco that graces the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy.

The Italian Renaissance period was something of a golden age for fresco, with works rendered by Botticelli, Coreggio, and Massacio, as well as Michelangelo, whose Sistine Chapel frescoes became part of the very fabric of the ceiling of the Vatican. The painter known as Raphael created The School of Athens, one of the highest forms of fresco painting in the Vatican, completing it in 1511. Artists routinely painted frescoes until the early 16th century, when the medium’s use slowed considerably in favor of small and large oil paintings, which were far more portable.

The Baroque period, which spanned the late-16th to mid-18th century, marks the last great era for the fresco. Artists such as Pietro da Cortana, Carlo Miratta, and Tiepolo, whose frescoes featured in the Wurzburg Residences series of the 1750s, represented the last of the Italian Grand Manner painters of fresco art along with the Bolognese School.

After the Baroque Period, the use of fresco for enlivening interiors declined as an art form, although some artists, includingTheodore Chasseriau and Puvis de Chavannes, did work in the medium into the late 19th century.

A fresco ‘cartoon’ – a work laid over the target surface to provide an outline for the scene – created by Ben Long for his 2004 ‘Beheading of John the Baptist’ fresco sold for $350 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2014 at Tory Hill Auctions in Raleigh, N.C. Image courtesy of Tory Hill Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A few early 20th-century artists such as Diego Rivera, Francesco Clemente, David Siqueros and Jose Orozco, embraced the fresco technique as they led Mexican Muralism into prominence as part of a public art movement. Some projects commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the United States during the Great Depression featured secco frescoes by local artists that are still displayed in public buildings such as city halls, post offices and state capitals.

While it is not as dominant an art form as it once was, fresco painting continues to be taught online and at art schools. Budding and experienced art collectors will find examples at all levels with which to start, or enhance, any collection, and range from cartoons, studies and preparatory works to actual fragments or panels recovered from a building.

Emile Gruppe, Artist-King of Gloucester

An undated Emile Gruppe canvas titled ‘Old Dartmouth’ sold for $1,270 in March 2021 at DuMouchelles Fine Art Auctioneers & Appraisers in Detroit, Michigan.

Mention the name Emile Gruppe to just about anyone in Massachusetts art circles and their eyes instantly brighten. Gruppe (1896-1978) was born in Rochester, New York, raised in the Netherlands, and in the early 1930s made his way to the picturesque fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts. There, he embarked on a long and prolific career, first as a tonalist painter and later as a Monet-inspired impressionist, a hallmark style for which he became famous. Gruppe’s vivid depictions of life on the water, especially fishing boat scenes, earned him a nice living.

A signed, untitled Emile Gruppe painting from the estate of Diana H. Douglas of Southern Pines, N.C., sold for $24,200 in September 2014 at Leland Little Auction Gallery in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

You could say Emile Gruppe had a head start in life. His father, Charles P. Gruppe, painted with the Hague School of art in Holland and served as a dealer for Dutch painters in the United States. He actively encouraged Emile’s artistic interests (as well as those of siblings Karl, a sculptor; Virginia, a watercolorist; and Paul, a cellist). Emile would watch his father create Barbizon-inspired landscapes and in so doing learn the rudiments of painting and drawing.

The family moved to the United States permanently in 1913 because of growing tensions in Europe. Young Emile’s formal training, such as it was, began in Rochester, where his parents apprenticed him to a sign painter. But he had larger ambitions for himself. He enrolled at the National Academy in New York City and later the Grande Chaumiere in Paris. He also attended classes at the Art Students League. In Provincetown, Massachusetts, he learned from the landscape painter Charles Hawthorne at the Cape Cod School of Art. But his most influential teacher was John Carlson, whom he met at the Art Student League’s summer school in Woodstock, New York.

This Emile Gruppe painting Early Morning Gloucester sold for $13,310 in May 2016 at the Rockport Art Association in Rockport, Mass.

“John Carlson turned me into a painter,” Gruppe once said. “He taught me to see all the pictorial possibilities of a subject.” By the time he arrived in Gloucester, his style had been pretty well cemented. He was a bold, robust Impressionist, one who earned places in gallery shows and exhibitions throughout the United States. While based in Gloucester, Gruppe also maintained a studio in Carnegie Hall in New York and had vacation retreats in Jeffersonville, Vermont and Naples, Florida. He painted every day, completing around 200 paintings a year for 60 years.

An oil-on-canvas winter harbor scene by Emile Gruppe sold for $14,400 in March 2013 at Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, New York.

Mary Westcott of Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts, said Emile Gruppe is revered in the New England area for his outstanding contribution as a local artist who taught and mentored many other artists. “Whenever one of his paintings comes to auction, it is given prominent advertising and always photographed,” she said. “Although he painted other subjects and locations, he is best known for his ‘Ships in Harbor’ scenes.  He’s often compared to William Lester Stevens, Aldro Hibbard and Anthony Thieme, and his work is most easily recognized. He is a giant among giants and continues to be sought by collectors and museums.”

Alexa Malvino of Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California, said Emile Gruppe benefited from being able to create art alongside a collection of other talented American artists, adapting and experimenting with impressionistic plein air painting. “The California artist Armin Hansen comes to mind first,” Malvino said. “Not only is their subject matter very similar, but even the color palettes of their works align. Small details like the execution of the hats on their fishermen make you wonder how familiar they were with each other’s work, despite working on separate sides of the country.”

The Emile Gruppe work titled ‘Morning Light at East Gloucester’ sold for $10,240 in August 2020 at Clars Auction Galley in Oakland, California.

The American Impressionist landscape was a subject often seen coming out of California from painters such as the Society of Six, Mary DeNeale Morgan and William Ritschel, the latter of whom spent much time in New York but created many of his great works after his move to Carmel in 1918. “Gruppe’s work also had a similar feel to the paintings coming out of Canada during that time,” Malvino observed. “The Group of Seven included artists like A.Y. Jackson and Tom Thomson – who passed before the creation of the group but whose work greatly influenced it – were also capturing the fantastic fall landscapes of the East Coast.”

As for the current demand for paintings by Gruppe, Alexa Malvino said the painter’s auction market has been fairly consistent for the past 10 to f15 years, with works selling for a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, contingent on the provenance, subject matter and condition of the works. “Despite the current demand for contemporary and Pop Art,” she added, “I don’t see his market softening in the coming years. His themes and beautiful execution of the Impressionist style seem to be timeless. The Impressionist era was such an important part of American art history and given his talent and many contributions to the movement, it’s likely the demand for his works will remain steady.”

Emile Gruppe’s ‘The Old Timer’ sold for $42,500 in November 2018 at Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Mary Westcott said there continues to be a demand for Gruppe’s work. “The prices realized are on a broad spectrum and depend mostly on subject matter, early or late work and quality. Rarely are any of his paintings not sold. The demand for his work is still here and likely to continue.” Matt Cottone of Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, New York, concurred, remarking, “There has been a recent resurgence in the Gruppe market, with new interest on a national level.”

Emile Gruppe was as much a teacher as he was a painter. He founded the Gloucester School of Painting in 1942, operating it until his death, with a faculty that not only included himself but many of his own teachers, including Carlson. He wrote books for artists on brushwork, color and technique. His paintings can be found in major auction galleries, such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Skinner. His son, Robert Gruppe, a painter, maintains the Gruppe Gallery at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, while his daughter, Emilie, maintains the Emile A. Gruppe Gallery in Jericho, Vermont.

Jasper52 offers fine art, prints & multiples, Apr 28

On April 28, Jasper52 will offer a sale of fine art, prints, and multiples which will kick off at 5 pm Eastern time. The auction features precisely 210 lots that will tempt you to seriously reorganize your walls. Prints Specialist Mary Battaglia curated the sale.

Erik Lovko, ‘Tango,’ estimated at $2,000-$2,500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Market for horse portraits keeps trotting along

What would you prefer: a great portrait of a horse, or a great portrait of a car? Andrew Jones, founder of the eponymous Los Angeles auction house, suggests that 90 percent of people would choose the horse, which may seem surprising to some.

More than 100 years have passed since the automobile displaced the horse as our main form of transportation. Admittedly, there are some truly spectacular cars out there. But a painted portrait of a car? Even a magnificently rendered image of a Murphy-bodied Duesenberg, or a Bugatti Type 55? No. The horse wins, and by far more than a nose. But why?

An 1879 Herbert Kittredge portrait of the stallion Bonnie Scotland and chief groom Robert Green sold for $40,000 at Case Antiques Inc Auctions and Appraisals in January 2018.

Well, the mammal has a long head start. Horses have appeared in art pretty much since human beings began creating images as art. The walls of the caves at Lascaux, France, are famously adorned with images of galloping equines rendered in charcoal and ocher. According to current scholarship, the cave paintings are about 17,000 years old. Horses star in other pivotal works of art. Two of the three paintings in Paolo Uccello’s 15th-century trio of tempera-on-wood panels dubbed the Battle of San Romano, showing the artist’s understanding of linear perspective, place white horses front and center. Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 images of Sallie Gardner galloping with a rider identified as “G. Domm” on her back literally changed the way horses are portrayed. The photographs proved that at some point, however brief, all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground when it runs.

But the biggest difference is an insurmountable one: cars don’t have personalities, but horses do. Great portrait artists don’t just capture the facts of the sitter, they also capture the intangibles known only to those who love them best, and fix them to the canvas for all to see. In the case of equine portraits, the sitter just happens to be a horse.

A set of 12 equine portrait prints, based on the work of 18th-century British artist Thomas Spencer, sold for £4,600, or roughly $6,300, at Cheffins in September 2015.

“Sitter” also happens to be a contradictory term in this context, as the horses are never shown sitting. Many picture the subject in profile, standing perfectly still, which presents the viewer with another contradiction. We seem to love horses best when they’re moving; Uccello, Muybridge, and the Lascaux artists agree on that. But painting a horse that’s standing still allows us to appreciate the horse at rest, and to admire the skill of the portraitist. “If you’ll Google paintings of horses, you’ll be shocked at how many don’t look like a horse should,” Jones said.

Sarah Campbell Drury, vice president of Fine and Decorative Arts at Case Antiques Auctions & Appraisals in Knoxville, Tennessee, points out that the noted equestrian artist Henry Stull “credited part of his success to actually having studied horse anatomy at veterinary school.”

Commissioning a painted portrait is expensive; horse portraits, in and of themselves, are luxury goods, not unlike a Patek Philippe chronograph or a Ferrari 599 Manual. Horse portraits represent the fact that decades or centuries ago, someone was rich enough to pay an artist to immortalize a favorite horse. “There is the emotional connection and desire to have a portrait as a remembrance and keepsake. But we must also remember that many horses were in fact the livelihoods of their owners. They were raced and bred for large sums of money,” Campbell Drury says. “They were extremely important financial assets. So equine portraits could be used almost as marketing or promotional materials to represent this asset in situations where the horse itself could not be present, not to mention as status symbols.”

An 1895 horse portrait by John Chester Mathews sold for $1,600 at Case Antiques Inc Auctions and Appraisals in January 2017.

British demand for these images during the 18th- and 19th centuries was strong enough to sustain dedicated specialists. “During the period when equine portraiture was at its peak, it was common for the wealthiest of racehorse owners to commission portraits of their most important animals, allowing a handful of artists to earn a living solely from those types of picture,” says Patricia Durdikova, an associate in the Paintings department at Cheffins auction house in Cambridge, England. “Portraits of the horses which defined the development of British horse racing, known as the Foundation Sires, are as sought after in the current market as they were at the time of painting.”

Some horse portraits present the animal as a supreme luxury object. An 18th-century English canvas of an unknown equine with a manor house in the background sold for $9,750 against an estimate of $800-$1,200 in February 2018 at Litchfield Auctions.

In September 2015, Cheffins offered a set of 12 equine portrait prints based on the work of British artist Thomas Spencer, one of the few who made his living by depicting elite horses. He portrayed the animals in profile, attended by riders and grooms and surrounded by text that recounted their accomplishments. Estimated at £1,000 to £2,000, or about $1,300 to $2,700, the mid-18th-century group sold for £4,600, or roughly $6,300.

Horse portraits become more interesting to collectors with each proven fact they can claim. An anonymous artist painting of an anonymous horse in a nondescript field can sell well if it’s competently rendered. If we know the name of the artist, that’s good; if we know the name of the horse, that’s equally good, and sometimes better. If the horse has a confirmed racing history, better still. If human beings appear with the horse, collectors prefer to know who they are and why they’re there. If the backdrop contains details that support and confirm what we know about the horse, e.g., buildings belonging to specific horse farms, or a glimpse of the country house of its owner in the distance, that’s beneficial, too.

Lucy Kemp-Welsh might be best known as the illustrator of the 1915 edition of Black Beauty. Andrew Jones Auctions sold an undated horse portrait of hers for $550 in December 2019.

Most desirable of all, obviously, is a portrait of a horse whose name appears in the bloodlines of winners of the Kentucky Derby and other high-stakes races. A painting that sold at Case in January 2018 featured just such an animal. The work depicted the stallion Bonnie Scotland with chief groom Robert “Uncle Bob” Green. The horse’s descendants include Man-O-War, Sea Biscuit, Secretariat, and several other immortal champions.

The 1879 painting had even more going for it. Robert Green is outstanding in his own right. He was born into slavery and, after gaining his freedom through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, rose to become the highest-paid employee of Bonnie Scotland’s home farm. The work was painted by Herbert Kittredge, who distinguished himself as a master of equestrian art before dying at the shockingly young age of 28. The painting sold at the top of its estimate range for $40,000 to Belle Meade Plantation, the Nashville farm where Bonnie Scotland lived and Green worked.

In June 2016, an undated painting by French 19th-century artist Rosa Bonheur made $6,500 at Wiederseim Associates.

Drury acknowledges that the 1879 Kittredge painting was something of a unicorn. A horse portrait with a wealth of information behind it is, in her words, “pretty rare.” Most collectors must make do with less. However, when asked how the painting would perform if it were re-consigned to Case today, Drury replied, “Actually, about the same. The market for equestrian portraits seems to be fairly stable – pardon the pun.”

Jones says horse portraits continue to hold our attention because they give us something we need. “Horses in motion, horses standing still, it’s a very peaceful form of art,” he says. “Even before COVID-19, it was a lovely thing to hang on a wall.”