Wednesday, July 31, 2019


The Coeur d’Alene Art Auction   is showing the results of their most recent auction.  Their specialty is art of the American West and they handled the auction of Bob Scriver's most important collection after his death.  Two artists in this show brought in the top prices of their work so far.

The first, a landscape of "Taos in Winter" by Victor Higgins (1884-1949) is particularly striking near-abstract with a stormy sky.  23X30 inches, the amount was $833,000,

The second, the front edge of a herd of bison in snow, is by Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899), done in an unusual combination of tempera and pastel on canvas, 33X74 inches.  Called "Emigration de Bisons (Amérique)", 1887, it is also surprising since Bonheur usually portrayed domestic animals.  Neither of these canvases is by the pop cowboy artist figures. 

Bob dearly loved one of Bonheur's bronze sculptures of a bull and bought it after I was gone.  It was auctioned when Bob's estate was auctioned, the most valuable or "known" pieces going through Coeur d"Alene Art Auction. A casting of the same figure, probably not the same one, is currently for sale on ebay for less than $4000, if you wanted to put a bet on it, or see if you fall in love with it -- which is about the same thing.  Demand an accounting of where that casting has been since it was made.  This is the secret for preserving the value of bronzes.  

For comparison, the conventional and well-known bronze by Remington called "The Rattlesnake" sold for $257,750.  These prices are irrational, unregulated, strictly gambling in terms of money.  They are about status and embrace.  The way to get rich is to buy a little known piece, create a flurry of smoke-and-mirror praise and excitement, then sell high.

There are several other "highest price so far" notes in this post.  One is Howard Terpning's "Soldier Chief" (made in 1978 -- the artist was born in 1927).  It's a charcoal on paper for $154,700.  Terpning is slick to the point of being industrial.  Note that he's capitalizing here on the trope of power, violence, accoutrement and individuality that so dominate American thought about the West for white people.  Also in the auction was "Mixed Company," two mounted Indian men, evidently sign-talking so maybe not from the same tribe -- a happier thought.  (1978, $297,500, 24x30 inches, oil on canvas)

Don Oelze was said to be born the same year as Terpning and paints very much like him, but a published photo shows a younger man.  There are no dates that I saw.  His painting is called "Strangers in the Valley" (2019, 38x49 inches, $166,600)  His life started in New Zealand and most recently included a decade in Japan where he found a Japanese wife.  Japan is also the source of some of the most remarkable paintings of the American West, like Mian Situ's big paintings of his own people building railroad and so on.  (Situ's painting in the auction is called "Golden Spike Ceremony, Promontory Summit, Utah, May 10, 1869".  It brought $386,750 but he has sold work for more money.  He was born in 1953.)

Oelze is derivative but international, which is interesting.  The American West myth appears to be universal.  Oelze appears to be from a missionary family, and there is much symmetry between Christian patterns and the American West.  I'd be interested whether he pictured missions to the indigenous.

Carl Rungius (1869-1959) is one of the three Big R's:  Remington, Russell and Rungius (born in Germany to a family of hunters), but he concentrated on the indigenous animals rather than people.  Auctioned was a small etching (8x11 inches) that sold for $95,200, called "Over the Pass" which demonstrates that he spent much of his life on the east slope of the Rockies.  It shows a rider and two pack animals on the trail.  There is also an iconic oil painting of mountain goals, "Near Summit Lake, British Columbia" (1947, 30x40, $357,000)

Charlie Beil (another artist not in the auction) was our link with Rungius because Charlie and his wife took care of Rungius' studio in Banff.  Rungius was a key hero of Bob, who owned several of his paintings.  In fact, the Rungius portrait of a moose was the first "real" painting he bought.  We looked at it for an hour at a time, finding the X of the composition, the way he always put in a fleck of red.

Walter Ufer (1876-1936) is in the auction.  "The Song of the Olla" was painted in 1926 and sold for $178,500.  (12.25 x 10.76 oil on canvas on board.)  He was a member of the Taos Society of Art, a marketing group.  In 1917 Ufer served as president of Chicago's Palette and Chisel, Academy of Fine Arts.  He was socially conscious, responding the the Spanish Flu plague with help.  For a while no one paid attention to these Taos people because the "Indians" they portrayed were peaceful, domestic sorts.  In a time when war is dreaded and denied, Ufer and Rungius are more popular.

Theodore Van Soelen (1890-1964) "Adobe, Snow and Sunshine" (1926, oil on canvas, 36x40. $101,150)  reinforces my comparison with the south of France, but he connects to Santa Fe rather than Taos and is a bit too young to be a Taos artist anyway.  He is one of a group of fine artists who painted gorgeous murals destined to be ignored in train stations and major post offices.  He is a good example of a forgotten person found again, now that Western art is increasing in value.  A portrait of him in the Smithsonian was taken by Paul Juley, who also came to Browning in 1965 to photograph Bob's work for "American Artist" magazine.  Those snaps are also in the Smithsonian in the Juley collection.

John Clymer (1907-1975) had a painting in this auction.  His work was most often historical and illustrated stories.  This one is "John Colter Visits the Crows 1807" painted in 1975.  You might remember that Colter is the mountain man who ran for his life naked.  Clymer gave Bob and I a huge illustration of a James Willard Schultz story in which a group of buffalo ran through a Blackfeet camp with disastrous damage.  It was a wedding present for our marriage that didn't turn out well either, though the friendship remained.

So these paintings are connected to my life in the Sixties when I was naive but energetic and madly in love.  It says a lot about those times, which are gone for all concerned except through art.  But it wasn't really like that.

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