Sotheby’s American Art auction in New York on 21 May 2019 is led by Edward Hopper’s Central Park scene, Shakespeare at Dusk (estimate $7/10 million), as well as significant examples by American icons such as Norman Rockwell, Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Mary Cassatt. Highlights from the auction are now on view in Sotheby’s newly expanded and re-imagined New York galleries, with the full exhibition of all works opening on the 17th.
EDWARD HOPPER’S SHAKESPEARE AT DUSK
Following the sale of Edward Hopper’s seminal Two Comedians last November, Sotheby’s is offering yet another outstanding work by the artist: Shakespeare at Dusk (estimate $7/10 million). Set in Central Park, this scene belongs to Hopper’s celebrated series of New York cityscapes—a subject matter he explored early in his career while studying under Robert Henri and continued until his death in 1967. Painted in 1935, the work was previously held in the collection of John J. Astor VI, prominent socialite and son of Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, who tragically died in the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.
A lifelong lover of poetry and prose, Hopper overtly references the profound influence of literature on his emotional response to specific times of day, particularly the evening in Shakespeare at Dusk. The poems that he quoted, often as explanations for his own art, frequently focus on the mood of dusk—its sense of mystery, anxiety, and eros born out of the varying effects of light and shadow.
Shakespeare at Dusk depicts two statues cloaked in shadow near a deserted southern end of the Central Park Mall, which is illuminated by the vibrant afterglow of sunset on the horizon. In the foreground, Hopper presents John Quincy Adams Ward’s full-standing sculptural portrait of the celebrated playwright William Shakespeare, with his head bowed in contemplative thought. The inclusion of identifiable modern skyscrapers beyond the park is exceedingly rare in Hopper’s oeuvre and the present work is one of only a few New York scenes where the exact physical location is clearly apparent.
MILTON AVERY’S TWO FIGURES ON BEACH
Painted in 1950, Two Figures on Beach belongs to a remarkably innovative and productive period of Milton Avery’s celebrated career, and exemplifies the distinctive blend of realism and abstraction that defines his most admired aesthetic (estimate $1.2/1.8 million). Here, Avery reinvents the traditional art historical motif of the reclining female form through his distinctive and thoroughly modern vision, in a scene that emanates leisure and tranquility.
JACOB LAWRENCE’S THE CARPENTERS
Recently discovered by Jacob Lawrence scholars, The Carpenters will appear at auction for the first time after being held in the family of its original owners, who purchased it from The Downtown Gallery soon after it was completed in 1946 (estimate $500/700,000). Executed following Lawrence’s military service during the Second World War, the work demonstrates the artist’s profound interest in the depiction of African American workers and labor, particularly in the post-war years. Lawrence would return to the subject of carpenters again in the late 1960s, placing it among the most persistent themes in his body of work.
MARY CASSATT’S DEPICTION OF MOTHERHOOD
Painted in 1914, Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress with Her Child Outdoors epitomizes Mary Cassatt’s unmatched ability to capture the timeless bond between a mother and her child, a subject that accounts for one-third of her oeuvre (estimate $1.5/2.5 million). While Cassatt’s work from the 1870s reflected her interest in the experience of modern women in Parisian society, by the 1880s, her emphasis began to shift from the public to the private domains of women’s lives. In Young Mother in a Floppy Hat and Green Dress with Her Child Outdoors, Cassatt embraces a new visual language in order to convey the quiet, intimate moments spent within the domestic realm – including simple, daily interactions between mothers and their children.
ALL THAT IS GLORIOUS AROUND US: PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT AMERICAN COLLECTOR
A stunning selection of ten 19th century landscapes emerging from a private American collection are led by Sanford Robinson Gifford’s A Lake Twilight (estimate $1.2/1.8 million). Painted in 1861, the work is a dramatic depiction of the nation’s landscape at the brink of the Civil War.
Additional highlights from the group include
Frederic Edwin Church’s Ruins at Baalbek (estimate $1/1.5 million),
and Thomas Cole’s Sunset on the Arno (estimate $600/800,000).
NORMAN ROCKWELL’S CHRISTMAS HOMECOMING
A selection of three works by Norman Rockwell on offer include his preliminary study for the painting Christmas Homecoming, which appeared on the cover of the 25 December 1948 edition of The Saturday Evening Post (estimate $400/600,000). The work is the only image in the artist’s oeuvre in which all members of his immediate family appear and are portrayed as themselves. Rockwell's wife, Mary, embraces their eldest son, Jarvis, as he arrives home for the holidays with Christmas presents in hand, while the artist, his middle son Tom, and youngest son Peter appear in the background. Rockwell’s friends and fellow artists, Grandma Moses and Mead Schaeffer, are also rendered as family members. One of Rockwell's favorite models, Sharon O'Neil, appears twice as a set of twins in the immediate foreground.