Thursday, October 17, 2013


Masterworks of American Modernism are the cornerstones for the stellar line-up of paintings and sculpture to be offered at Christie’s sale of American Art on December 5 in New York. Early confirmed highlights of the sale include Edward Hopper’s masterpiece East Wind Over Weehawken, Charles Demuth’s In the Key of Blue, Oscar Bluemner’s Surprise (May Moon), and Milton Avery’s Mandolin with Pears.

EDWARD HOPPER | East Wind Over Weehawken
Estimate: $22,000,000-28,000,000

As the star lot of the sale, Christie’s will offer East Wind Over Weehawken by Edward Hopper (1882-1967), a 1934 streetscape of a New Jersey suburb. The work was created shortly after Hopper’s fall 1933 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at a pivotal moment in the artist’s career. With his studio based in New York City, Hopper would occasionally travel across the Hudson River to New Jersey in search of subject matter. He carried out eight preparatory sketches of the sleepy suburb of New York, along with extensive notes about color in the area, which all contributed to the finished streetscape. The perspective is as if one is looking through a car window, having come to an intersection in the residential neighborhood. The work, which sought to capture the realities of Depression-era America, is permeated by a sense of melancholy and loneliness, underscored by the gray sky and brooding colors of the buildings. This, combined with the sense of suspended narrative, is what differentiated Hopper from his Ashcan School contemporaries.

This painting hails from the prestigious collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) and has not been on the market since having been acquired by PAFA in 1952. Since its creation, the painting has been exhibited at such renowned institutions as the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, São Paulo’s Museum of Modern Art, the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid and the Grand Palais in Paris. As announced by PAFA, proceeds from the sale of East Wind Over Weehawken will be used to support the creation of a new endowment for the purchase of artworks to expand the renowned collection of the museum and school.

CHARLES DEMUTH | In the Key of Blue
Estimate: $1,800,000-2,400,000

Painted circa 1919-1920, In the Key of Blue was part of a new series of paintings that Charles Demuth had executed in tempera, all of which were much larger in scale than his previous watercolors. In the Key of Blue is a tour-de-force that demonstrates Charles Demuth at the height of his abilities. Here Demuth depicts buildings in a landscape set against planes of subtly modulated color in a composition that is simultaneously refined and dynamic. Most likely influenced by John Addington Symons’ 1893 essay on aesthetics, it is a dynamic Precisionist composition and meditation on light, form and color. Demuth juxtaposes the strong outlines of the planar forms with the softness of the tempera medium to create depth and suggest the effects of light on the scene. The influence of Cezanne is evident in the areas of exposed board, which Demuth has deliberately left bare and incorporated into the composition to add further texture and complexity. Executed circa 1920, In the Key of Blue is an important and rare tempera that is a direct precursor of masterworks such as My Egypt (1927, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York).

OSCAR BLUEMNER | Surprise (May Moon)
Estimate: $400,000-600,000

Surprise (May Moon) was executed by Oscar Bluemner in 1927, a key moment in the artist’s career, as he was experiencing an important shift in his style. Following the passing of his wife the previous year, Bluemner moved his family from Elizabeth, New Jersey, to South Braintree, Massachusetts. His artworks reflected this emotionally turbulent time and he focused on motifs of suns and moons, seeing them as symbols of God or a universal creator. Surprise (May Moon) is one of a series of eighteen extraordinary works known as Oscar Bluemner’s Sun and Moon series that offer a life affirming depiction of nature and its spiritual force. Here Bluemner masterfully utilizes color to shape and stimulate mood and to convey a range of powerful emotions in a single image. These important watercolors were the successors to Georgia O’Keeffe’s Evening Star series and a precursor to Arthur Dove’s exploration of similar iconography in the 1930s.

MILTON AVERY | Mandolin with Pears
Estimate: $600,000-800,000

An important figure in the American Modernist movement, Avery was largely self-taught and experimented with color planes and patterns, bridging the gap between Matisse’s vivaciously outlined canvases and the American color field artists of the 1950s. Mandolin with Pears was executed in 1945, after Avery had aligned himself with gallerist Paul Rosenberg. Rosenberg had encouraged Avery to replace his painterly techniques with denser areas of flat colors and delineated forms, resulting in visually striking abstract works, such as the present example. Mandolin with Pears exemplifies Avery’s unique ability to simplify a scene to its broadest possible forms while retaining tension and balance through color and shape.