A painting of a Native American crouched down on one knee holding a bow in his hand was among several lots that sparked decent competition during the July 3 art auction at Roseberys (25/20/12% buyer’s premium).
Watching Game, a signed 13 x 17in (33 x 43cm) oil on canvas, was painted in c.1906 by Eanger Irving Couse (1866-1936), a North American artist whose depictions of Native Americans are rarely seen this side of the Atlantic.
Indeed, according to the saleroom in West Norwood, south London, this was the first time a work by Couse had been offered in a UK auction.
Brought up in Michigan near a Native American reservation, Couse made his name attempting to convey the rich culture of America’s indigenous peoples on canvas along with other painters of the Taos Society of Artists in New Mexico. Reproduced on the calendars of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company, Couse’s pictures lamented the apparent loss of Native American culture and fed into the stereotypes emerging among white Americans at the time with their romanticised views of the ‘noble savage’.
The canvas at Roseberys had never been offered on the market before and had passed by descent from the collection of Bion Hall Barnett (1857- 1958), an American banker who founded the Bank of Florida. Prior to that it had been owned by the art dealer L Lehamier, who purchased it for $150 from the artist in 1906.
A century on – and included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné published in January – it drew multiple bids against a £10,000-15,000 estimate and was knocked down for £27,000. After it sold, Roseberys’ Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary art specialist Tess O’Brien said: “It was with great pleasure to see a work, so long admired by one family, be appreciated by the cognoscenti and sell so well.”
The price is in line with the sums paid for other pictures by the artist of a similar size and composition such as The Setting Sun, which sold at Christie’s New York in May 2005 for $33,600 (with fees).
Couse’s most expensive works on the secondary market are the large-scale depictions of Native American ceremonies and rituals. The Harvest Song – impressive in its scale and apparently displayed in Couse’s own home – sold for an auction-record $937,000 (with fees) at Christie’s New York in May 2008.
Another classic Couse Native American work is on offer at Bonhams in Los Angeles on August 9. The Belt Maker, a 12 x 16in (30.5 x 40.5cm) work, is estimated at $30,000- 50,000 in the California and Western Paintings and Sculpture auction.
Women made their mark at Roseberys with three noteworthy pieces being offered at a time when international female artists are increasingly receiving recognition for their presence within male-dominated artistic circles.
Keen bidding between five phone lines and international online bidders resulted in a buyer walking away with a work by Yvette Achkar (b.1928) – a pioneer at the forefront of the Lebanese Modern art scene noted for her experimentation of colour and abstraction.
The 2ft x 2ft 11in (60 x 90cm) oil on canvas, dated 1969 and bearing a signature with the addition of Hampartzoumian (her second husband’s name which she only used for short duration in the 1960s), had not been seen in circulation in recent memory.
Privately consigned, Untitled Composition VI was secured by the winning bidder at £27,000, well above the £12,000-18,000 guide.
Only a clutch of Achkar’s works have made it on to the market so far but more are likely to emerge encouraged by recent results, including a record price at Christie’s for a large 1980s canvas earlier this year at $125,000 (with fees).
More prevalent at auction are the sculptures of Argentine artist Alicia Penalba (1913-82), whose rigid vertical creations regularly sell for five-figure sums. An early bronze made in a small edition of just nine came from her so-called ‘Doubles’ series of the late 1950s – sculptures which are split into distinct elements allowing light to emerge between them.
Less than 12 months after Christie’s sold another from the series for $22,500 (with fees), this example achieved £27,000 against a £12,000-15,000 estimate. The price at Roseberys is a new high for a piece from the series at auction, according to the Art Sales Index.
Polish Cubist painter Alice Halicka (1894-1975) is another whose prices are rising, with an auction record set for the artist last November at Paris saleroom Millon & Associés where Le Dîner En Famille (1920) sold for €75,400 (with fees).
On offer at Roseberys was Nature morte avec pichet, pomme, bougie (c.1912), a Cubist period still-life from a private collection which was exhibited in London in 2005 at the Ben Uri Gallery show, Chagall and his Circle. The signed oil on paper of a pitcher, apple and candle sold for £5500.
The offering followed the auction house’s studio dispersal of Marie ‘Marevna’ Vorobieff, often credited as the first female Cubist, which was offered in a single-owner sale towards the end of last year.
While fresh-to-market pictures were in demand, as one would expect, ‘seen’ works with sensibly pitched estimates also found buyers in this sale.
Two works by the pioneering Greek Impressionist Pericles Pantazis (1849-84) sold for a combined £21,000 a decade after being brought in at Sotheby’s against substantially higher guides in the five figures. A river scene, Barques sur l’Escaut, made £11,000 – nearly four times the guide – while a rare self-portrait also took a multi-estimate £10,000.
“These were fought over on the phone, online and in the room. In the end both were knocked down to the same buyer, who did not waiver in their commitment to win them,” said O’Brien.
Another top sale price was André Lanskoy’s (1902-76) Terrain précis, an abstract work painted by the Russian artist in 1953. The 1950s was a high point in the artist’s career when he achieved international recognition and had developed his abstract depictions, abandoning his earlier figurative pieces.
It failed to get away at Sotheby’s last year against a £30,000-50,000 estimate but found a buyer at Roseberys towards the lower end of a revised £25,000-30,000 guide for £26,000.