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
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!