Edward Hopper at Christie’s: Sale Results, 5 December 2013

The two paintings I wrote about in yesterday’s post came up for auction today in Christie’s American Art sale, and I’m watching the live sale, online.  Hopper’s East Wind Over Weehawken is the star of the sale (so far, at least); it was just sold for a hammer price of $36,000,000 ($36 million!) to a bidder on the phone. (The final price, to be announced, will be higher, as it will include the buyer’s premium.)  Hopper’s Vermont watercolor, Sugar Maple, was less popular among potential buyers. The bids reached $250,000 — less than
Sugar Maple at Christie's-page-001 the low estimate of $300,000 (which was probably the seller’s “reserve’ price) — and so the auctioneer declared a “pass,” i.e., Sugar Maple did not sell.  I feel a bit sad about this lovely little painting being rejected in its bid to find a new home, but it has company in being passed by. So far a George Bellows, a Rockwell Kent, and a Winslow Homer, among some beautiful works by other eminent artists, have not sold.

I do wonder what the future holds for Hopper’s Sugar Maple, whether the owners will take it home and hang it back up on the wall — and enjoy it! — or sell it privately, or consign it to Christie’s for a future sale.  This simple watercolor has had a series of owners since it left the galleries of Hopper’s dealer, Frank K. M. Rehn, in the 1950s, where it languished for some 13 years after Hopper painted it.  Sugar Maple was first assigned to the loan collection of the Museum of Modern Art, and for a reasonable fee you or I would have been able to borrow it — rather like a library book — to hang over the couch in the living room.  In 1955 it was purchased by William Zierler, a New York art dealer and collector, and since then it’s been sold and bought perhaps half a dozen times.

One owner, Lila Harnett, truly loved this painting, and in my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, I quote what she wrote about her experience of owning Sugar Maple. If you’re curious, as I was, about who bought Hopper’s Vermont watercolors, and why, read my last chapter, “Where Are All the Children?” (the title reflects Jo Hopper’s referring to Edward’s paintings as the couple’s “children”). I included information and anecdotes about all the owners I was able to identify and trace — and in several cases, to speak with or communicate by email.

Sugar Maple, alas, has been rather like a child who is bounced from one foster family to another while failing to find a permanent home. I would gladly give it one…were the cost of adopting it not so high!


Hoppers for Your Christmas Wish List?

This week we have three chances* to buy an original Edward Hopper, including one of his rare watercolors of Vermont. On Thursday, 5 December, two Hopper paintings will be on the auction block in the American Art sale at Christie’sChristie's December 2013 225Sugar Maple, a watercolor that Hopper made during his 1938 stay on the Slaters’ farm in South Royalton, Vermont, and a major oil, an urban scene called East Wind Over Weehawken (1934) that has been deaccessioned by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and is being “sold to support the acquisition endowment” (much to my consternation and that of some other Philadelphians!).

I’d seen both of these paintings “in person” before — Sugar Maple in last summer’s exhibition of Hopper’s Vermont works at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, and East Wind Over Weehawken at PAFA and in various Hopper retrospectives at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  But I couldn’t resist the unique opportunity to see both of these paintings at the same time, so yesterday I went to New York City with my friend Valerie for the pre-sale viewing at Christie’s in Rockefeller Center.

We wChristie's December 2013 221ere delighted to find Sugar Maple immediately, at the entrance to the first gallery. East Wind Over Weehawken was just beyond — occupying its own room, as befits a painting with an estimated price of  $22,000,000 – 28,000,000 (yes, this is indeed the correct number of zeros!).

Christie's December 2013 222
Christie’s clever arrangement allowed the simultaneous viewing of two extremes of Hopper’s work, two paintings that are dramatically different in every way — in subject, medium, size, and style. This placement also allowed the small (14 x 20 in.) and modest watercolor of Hopper’s Vermont to loom large in the foreground without being totally eclipsed by the monumental oil (34 x 50 in.) of Hopper’s New Jersey.

Christie's December 2013 250

I’ll be glued to Christie’s web site tomorrow, watching the live stream of the auction, curious to see what prices these two Hoppers fetch — and who buys them, if that’s revealed.  And if you, as I, can only dream about getting an original Hopper for Christmas, this is a reminder that my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, includes color reproductions of Sugar Maple and 20 other paintings at an affordable price. It’s an excellent gift for yourself or anyone who loves Hopper and/or Vermont.

I’m also pleased to report that Christie’s cites Edward Hopper in Vermont in the catalog notes for Sugar Maple. You can read the lot notes online and view the entire e-catalog for Christie’s American Art sale by clicking here.

I splurged and bought the print catalog, and Valerie and I topped off our wonderful NYC day with a visit to The Frick Collection.  There we saw Vermeer’s luminous Girl With a Peal Earring and other incomparable works from the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.  What a fabulous art-filled day!

Thanksgiving 2013 085
*Oops…those chances are going, going, gone! The third Hopper, Spindley Locusts (watercolor, 1936, Wellfleet, Massachusetts) was sold at Sotheby’s as I was writing this piece. The new owner paid $305,000 (hammer price plus buyer’s premium).

Hopper’s “Horse and Vermont Barn”: Where is it now?

Horse and Vermont Barn-page-001 One of Edward Hopper’s watercolors from 1927, Horse and Vermont Barn, alternatively titled Near the Connecticut River, Bellows Falls, Vermont, has gone missing – or, perhaps more accurately stated, I haven’t been able to locate it.  This painting was last seen in the late 1970s, when it was purchased by a private collector from the Kennedy Galleries in New York, and neither Kennedy’s Martha Fleischman nor any of the other dealers or museum personnel I spoke with during the course of writing my book have been able to tell me who the buyer was, or, more important, who owns it now.  The image that appears as plate 5 in my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, was scanned from the Kennedy Galleries catalog for their 1979 exhibition, The Eyes of America: Art from 1792 to 1979.  The painting was also reproduced in black-and-white in the New Yorker magazine for May 7, 1979, advertising the exhibition and sale.
The New Yorker, May 07, 1979-page-001


We do know the identity of the original owner of Horse and Vermont Barn, thanks to Jo Hopper’s notes in the Ledger Book. She recorded that this watercolor was purchased in 1960 by William H. Bender, Jr., from Hopper’s dealer, the Rehn Galleries, some 33 years after Hopper painted it.  At that point the Hoppers were apparently having some difficulty remembering exactly where, and when, Hopper made this watercolor, as evidenced by the changes and corrections in the record.  See my book for a transcription of the Ledger Book notes and more details about this transaction and the subsequent correspondence between William Bender and Edward Hopper.

Horse and Vermont Barn
is reproduced in the Catalogue Raisonné of Hopper’s works, and so it is possible that Gail Levin had contact with the owner in the 1980s during the course of her work at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The files in the Whitney archives relating to ownership are restricted, however, and thus I did not have access to this information, nor did I otherwise find any clues about the painting’s whereabouts since its sale from the Kennedy Galleries.

Last winter, when Hopper’s Vermont works were being gathered for the exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art, the Whitney turned up an unexpected treasure:  Hopper’s preparatory drawing for Horse and Vermont Barn.  This fascinating drawing was identified among the thousands of items that the Whitney acquired through the Josephine N. Hopper Bequest.  Not previously published or exhibited, this preliminary study provides a clear record of Hopper’s process in developing the composition of the corresponding watercolor. The drawing shows two horses, as opposed to the single equine that Hopper placed as a dominant feature in the foreground of the painting. The long horizontal line of barns has been shortened and simplified in the watercolor, while still extending beyond the frame of the image, and the background profile of the hills has been modified so that the rooflines are silhouetted against the sky. The long vertical pole has been entirely eliminated.  You can view the drawing juxtaposed with the painting in my article, “Finding Edward Hopper’s Vermont,” in the Spring  2013 issue of Antiques & Fine Art Magazine.  Click here to see the article and reproductions online on the AFA web site.

In my next post I’ll write more about this drawing and the others that Hopper made in Vermont — the five that were in the Middlebury exhibition and two more that are in private hands. In the meantime, please keep your eyes peeled for Hopper’s Horse and Vermont Barn, and be sure to let me know if you find it!

If Edward Hopper Had Been in Australia…

Australia 2012 168Architect Louis Kahn wrote a wonderful tribute to Jørn Utzon, architect of  the Sydney Opera House: “The sun did not know how beautiful its light was, until it was reflected off this building.”

I photographed the plaque with Kahn’s words in the Sydney Opera House last spring, when we visited Australia and New Zealand. The quote was an unexpected reminder of Edward Hopper, who famously said that all he wanted to do was to “paint sunlight on the side of a house.”

This got me wondering:  If Hopper had ever gotten to Australia, what would he have painted?  I think that he would have liked the Sydney Opera House, not only for its reflective surfaces but also because of the sail-like roofs and its location — seemingly floating in Sydney Harbor. And he would have been able to get the magnificent Sydney Harbor Bridge in the same frame!

And Jo would have loved the koalas, the wallabies, and the kangaroos….

New Zealand 2013 069

Hopper’s White River Places: Autumn Version

This week I roamed along the White River with my camera, in my ongoing quest to match the perspective in Edward Hopper’s watercolors and drawings. My focus this time was Hopper’s Windy Day, which shows an area of the river with rocky ledges, probably near Sylvester’s Rocks or Pinch Rock, along Route 14 just outside of South Royalton.

273209_01In the summer these rocks are a jumping-off place for swimmers and a launching pad for tubing — and for stretching out in the sun to warm up after a dip in the always-cold water.  This area has now been conserved, through an innovative program of the White River Partnership and the generosity of a local landowner, Peg Elmer. A crew from the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps recently set stone steps into the river bank so that the sprawling ledges are easily accessible to everyone. You can read all about the wonderful community project in our local paper, the Randolph Herald.

Sylvester's Rocks 048Thanks to the new steps, I was able to climb down to the river without worrying about my aging knees or how to keep my balance carrying  camera, book, and backpack. Standing on the ledge in the river, I took the shot looking back toward Route 14 and the steps in the river bank. The electrical wires crossing the scene are an unfortunate intrusion, evidencing Hopper’s good judgment in leaving such lines out of his paintings. His wireless poles give a nod to reality but don’t interfere with the picture.

Sylvester's Rocks 019









We’ve had very little rain this month, and so the water’s low in the White River and the rocks are fully exposed. If this is the place in Hopper’s painting, the water level was much higher when he was here. I shot lots of photos, trying to capture Hopper’s perspective and puzzling over whether this was indeed where he painted Windy Day.  That goal became secondary, however, as I reveled in the gorgeous fall colors. The autumn hues were just beginning to appear when Hopper made his paintings, so his palette is much cooler than mine.

Sylvester's Rocks 023Sylvester's Rocks 026

The next day I explored another area of the river where there are more rock ledges, along the edge of the  Vermont Law School campus and below the Chelsea Street bridge, which leads into downtown South Royalton. This is the area where the First Branch enters the White River. The Hopper watercolor that’s reproduced on the cover of my book shows the First Branch just a bit to the north. Looking at the profile of the mountains to the southeast, toward Sharon, I realized that this may actually have been the place where Hopper stood on a windy day in 1938, painting the White River.  I’ll just have to keep looking — and taking more pictures.

White River, Autumn, 2013 012




Autumn in Vermont: Hopper Was Here

From the window of the upstairs guest room — my writing place — in our hillside home in South Royalton, Vermont, I look out over our field and trees to the rolling hills on the horizon.  The view constantly changes, light and shadows flowing  with the movement of sun and clouds across the sky as the day progresses from twilight to dusk. 

From the window of the upstairs guest room on Wagon Wheels Farm, Edward and Jo Hopper looked out over another South Royalton hill — Jigger Hill, or “Bob Slater’s Hill,” as Edward dubbed it.  He recorded his fascination with the changing light and shadows in a watercolor, a striking study of contrasting views, near and far.


Edward Hopper, Bob Slater’s Hill, 1938. Watercolor on paper, 13-1/2 x 19-1/2″. Huntington Museum of Art, West Virginia. Gift of Ruth Woods Dayton, 11967.1.132.



Artist Philip Koch wrote a wonderful blog piece about this painting. I’m convinced that Philip is able to channel Hopper, and so I urge you to read his insightful observations; click here and scroll down to “Hopper the Activist.”   (Also take this opportunity to look at Philip’s own extraordinary work, Hopper-related and otherwise.)

In Bob Slater’s Hill and others of the Vermont watercolors, Hopper captured the particular shade of yellowish-green that’s a harbinger of fall in Vermont. It’s a fleeting hue, and I’ve not yet been able to get it with my camera, despite many autumn treks to Hopper’s viewpoint. I’m always a bit too early (the hillside’s still green) or a bit too late (the hue is moving toward full-fledged-fall color).  My latest attempt is close, though. This was taken on September 23, just about 75 years to the day since Hopper last gazed upon Bob Slater’s hill.

Vermont & New Hampshire, Sept 2013 097


Jigger Hill, South Royalton, Vermont. Photo by
Bonnie Tocher Clause, September 2013.




 Vermont & New Hampshire, Sept 2013 010


This time of year the nights are cool and frosty.  When we wake up we’re inside a cloud, but the fog burns off by midday, and then it’s warm enough to bask in the sun on the deck.  The skies have been a deep, bright blue, a Maxfield-Parrish-like backdrop for the colors of the changing leaves, which have now almost reached their zenith of brilliance.



At the end of the day, as the sun dips low on the horizon and the shadows lengthen, the colors intensify — a last hurrah before darkness sets in.  I can’t stop looking — and, apparently, neither could Mr. Hopper.

Vermont & New Hampshire, Sept 2013 105View from Ducker Road, looking south toward Rte 110, South Royalton, Vermont.
The curving road mimics the bend in the First Branch of the White River,
hidden by the trees. Photo by Bonnie Tocher Clause, September 2013.




Hopper in Vermont: Next Stops, Manchester and South Burlington

I’ll be talking about my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont, and showing slides of Hopper’s works in two Vermont locations in October:

Sunday, October 6, MANCHESTER, VT
Southern Vermont Arts Center, 2:00 p.m.

Monday, October 7, SOUTH BURLINGTON, VT
Elder Education Enrichment Program, Variety Series #1, 2:00 p.m.

Clause_FNL_web.jpgI’ll be happy to sign copies of the book that readers bring to these events. Edward Hopper in Vermont is available through your preferred vendor — and of course I urge you to patronize your nearest independent bookseller!

Bonnie Tocher Clause, Edward Hopper in Vermont
University Press of New England, 2012


Cover image: Edward Hopper (1882-1967) painted First Branch of the White River in 1938 while staying on a farm in South Royalton, Vermont. This painting (watercolor over graphite, 55.2 x 68.3 cm) is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

224 pp., 47 illus. (21 color), 6 x 9″
Hardcover, $35.00 • 978-1-61168-328-8
Ebook, $29.99 • 978-1-61168-329-5

Edward Hopper in New Hampshire

On Thursday, 26 September, Edward Hopper and I will cross the Connecticut River into New Hampshire.  I’m giving a special lecture and slide presentation for ILEAD — the Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth — on the campus in Hanover.  It’s at 3:00 p.m. in Room 100 of Dartmouth’s Life Sciences Center, and all are welcome. You can find further details and a flyer with a location map on the ILEAD website.

250-sota-bookCopies of my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont (University Press of New England, 2012), will be available for purchase, thanks to the Norwich Bookstore, and I’ll be happy to sign and inscribe a copy for you (or for your friends…the book is a great gift who anyone who loves Hopper and / or the New England landscape!).

I’ll be speaking about Hopper’s time in Vermont, of course, and for the Hanover audience I’ll also talk about his connections with New Hampshire. Yes, there are some…although Hopper did not do any paintings in the Granite State.  With that, I’ll leave you in suspense, with the hope that you will come to hear my talk next Thursday!

Edward Hopper at Sea, on the Queen Mary 2

9781611683288 (3)No, Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas any more…or in Vermont, for that matter.  Edward Hopper — in ebook form, on my Kindle — went with us for a transatlantic crossing on the ocean liner Queen Mary 2, from Southampton, England, to the Cunard pier in Brooklyn, New York.

We were at sea for eight days, and while most of our time was out on the deck, walking briskly or lazing in steamer chairs (and oh yes…in various dining rooms, eating!), I did spend a bit of time in the ship’s library. The QM2 is decorated in the classy art deco style that characterized the fabulous ocean liners of the 1920s and ’30s, and the Library is a reader’s haven, with lots of comfy chairs and big windows overlooking the ocean, the prow of the ship, and the spare propeller blades that are mounted there. Made of burnished steel, they resemble abstract sculptures and are far and away the best “artwork” on the ship.
QM2 Sept 2013 161 Of course I navigated first to the Fine Arts section, interested to see what the QM2 had about Edward Hopper.  I found only the 2002 edition of Ivo Kranzfelder’s Hopper, published by Taschen in Germany, a nicely illustrated overview with some interesting commentary but — harumpft! — it makes no mention of Hopper’s time in Vermont.  Of course I wanted to fill in this gap for future QM2 passenger-readers, so I wrote a note on one of my business cards and tucked it into the center of the book, adjacent to the page where Kranzfelder refers briefly to Hopper’s “rural landscapes.”  My card carries the cover image for Edward Hopper in Vermont as well as my contact info. It will be interesting to see if anyone picks up my note, set afloat in a book on the QM2 — rather like a message in a bottle — now on its way to Halifax, Canada, before crossing the Atlantic again, sailing eastward back to Southampton.

The Library’s wooden bookcases have glass doors that can be closed and locked when seas are rough, to keep the books from flying off the shelves.  During our trip the ocean was calm, and the gentle rocking was actually more conducive to snoozing than to reading! Nevertheless, I found a real page-turner in Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a complete departure from art history and a return to my old love — history of science and medicine.  This is a wonderful and important book that covers some of the most significant social and ethical issues of our time.  It’s serious, but totally absorbing and utterly worthwhile — and I was glad to be able to read it in long stretches on the cruise, without the usual distractions. 

Note that I did some frivolous reading too, a British book about fashion (helpful in putting together my “costumes” for dinners in the Britannia Restaurant!). Once I recover from all that relaxation, reading, and eating, I’ll post more about my upcoming Hopper activities.  Meanwhile, enjoy these shots of my traveling companion, at sea and among friends.

QM2 Sept 2013 179

More Hopper Talks Coming Up!

VT and LBI July 2013 084The Edward Hopper exhibition at the Middlebury College Museum of Art is now closed (alas!), and the original watercolors and drawings that Hopper made in Vermont are now on their way back to their permanent homes in other museums and private collections. 

Fortunately, you can still see full color reproductions of Hopper’s watercolors, including five that were not in the Middlebury exhibition, in my book, Edward Hopper in Vermont (University Press of New England, 2012).

In addition, this fall you can hear me talk about Hopper’s time in Vermont and my adventures in researching and writing the book, Edward Hopper in Vermont.  I have presentations, with slides of Hopper’s works and book signings, scheduled for the following dates and locations:

Thursday, September 26, HANOVER, NH
*  Institute for Lifelong Education at Dartmouth (ILEAD), 3:00 P.M.

Sunday, October 6, MANCHESTER, VT
Southern Vermont Arts Center, 2:00 p.m.

Monday, October 7, SOUTH BURLINGTON, VT
Elder Education Enrichment Program, Variety Series #1, 2:00 p.m.

I’ll post the details about each of these presentations in September.  In the meantime, the book is available through your preferred vendor — and of course I urge you to patronize your nearest independent bookseller! 

Bonnie Tocher Clause, Edward Hopper in VermontClause_FNL_web.jpg
University Press of New England, 2012

Cover image: Edward Hopper (1882-1967) painted First Branch of the White River in 1938 while staying on a farm in South Royalton, Vermont. This painting (watercolor over graphite, 55.2 x 68.3 cm) is in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

224 pp., 47 illus. (21 color), 6 x 9″
Hardcover, $35.00 • 978-1-61168-328-8
Ebook, $29.99 • 978-1-61168-329-5