Swann Galleries opened 2022 with The Artists of the WPA on Thursday, January 27. The follow-up to an inaugural 2021 sale proved the staying power of this special offering with the auction bringing $647,891, compared to last year’s total of $478,990.
Of the auction, Harold Porcher, specialist for the sale, noted, “Six of our departments contributed to make this an informative, diverse, and curatorial assessment of an important part of American art history. The New Deal was groundbreaking in its scale and vision, giving employment to many who in turn gave us lasting riches in art, architecture, and engineering that has endured.”
With themes showcasing both urban and rural Americans, paintings of the era saw rapid-fire bidding drive prices past their high estimates with eager collectors vying for the works. Leading the sale was Daniel Celentano’s scene of a crowded subway car—”Pelham Bay,” oil on canvas, which brought $55,000, a record for the artist.
Additional highlights included commissions from the American Tobacco Company: Aaron Bohrod’s “Getting Ready for Auction,” oil on Masonite, 1942, at $21,250; and Arnold Blanch’s “A Stick of Tobacco After Curing,” oil on canvas, 1942, at $12,500. Also of note was Isaac Soyer, “The Refugee,” oil on canvas, which realized $7,250.
Blanche Lazzell’s 1936 double-sided carved woodblock “Cape Cod Cottage” and “The Coffee Pot” brought $23,750—Lazzell only created two impressions of “Cape Cod Cottage” and three of “Coffee Pot,” which have not been seen at auction in the past 30 years.
Among the print offerings American stalwarts shined: “Stacking Hay,” an early Jackson Pollock lithograph, circa 1935, sold for $16,250; a run of works by Martin Lewis found buyers, most notably R.F.D., a 1933 drypoint of a view in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, at $12,500; and Louis Lozowick’s “57th Street,” a 1929 lithograph of New York City at night, at $11,250. Also of note were prints by Peggy Bacon, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood.
Documentary photography from FSA favorites was on offer with a portfolio of 10 iconic images printed under the supervision of Arthur Rothstein, including those by Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Ben Shahn, earned $8,125; Carl Mydans’ “Manhattan From Brooklyn Heights,” silver print, 1937, brought $9,375, a record for the artist; and Marion Post Wolcott’s 1939 silver prints “Barn and Silos, York County, Pennsylvania,” and “City Jail, Mississippi Delta,” sold together for $6,000. Works by Peter Sekaer, Jack Delano, Berenice Abbott, and Russell Lee rounded out the offering.
Mural studies, vintage posters and flyers, and political cartoons were among sought-after items, including those by James Daugherty, Joseph Binder, and Leslie Ragan.
Swann is currently accepting quality consignments for the winter/spring 2022 season. For more details and the house’s auction schedule please visit swanngalleries.com.
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What happened to the government confiscating WPA paintings .?