A bout of spring cleaning in America's museums brought sales of $6,397,600 in 19th- and 20th-century American paintings and sculpture at Christie's auction house yesterday, but the process provoked expressions of dismay from the former director of Washington's Hirshhorn Museum.
Pursuing its policy of streamlining the mammoth Joseph Hirshhorn collection, the museum sold 17 works, from a small oil-on-panel Winslow Homer portrait of a boy in the woods that went for $99,000 to Frederick (MISSING COPY) "It's a terrible thing for a museum to sell such masters as Homer and Hassam, because they cannot be replaced. This policy is subverting the collection."
Lerner, in a telephone interview from his home in Southampton on Long Island, said he "fully approved of the process of 'deaccession' in order to obtain better works," but added: "They should get rid of the fourth-rate things, not those of first quality. The best course is to deaccession things that everyone would agree are unimportant."
Bidding for Homer's "Capital Boy Holding Logs" reached $90,000 and the mandatory 10 percent buyer's premium boosted the price to $99,000. Presale estimates provided by Christie's ranged from $140,000 to $180,000. "It's a little early to elucidate," said James Demetrion, director of the Hirshhorn, "but apparently no one got excited about the picture."
In all, 17 of the Hirshhorn's consigned lots sold for a total of $322,530. The only nonseller was a small oil by early 20th-century landscapist Ernest Lawson. Presale estimates of the 18 Hirshhorn lots had valued them at between $286,300 and $398,400.
Considerable excitement over a privately owner Homer watercolor, "Schooners at Anchor, Key West," pushed bidding of the tall-masted and tranquil image of $440,000, top lot of the day. (A much acclaimed Homer watercolor exhibition at the National Gallery of Art just finished its run in Washington.)
The owner of the work was identified only as "a northeastern foundation."
Fervent bidding took Martin Johnson Heade's whitecapped "Seascape: Sunset," offered by the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, to a heady $330,000, doubling its presale high estimate. Heade, famour for his paintings of exotic flowers and hummingbirds, is well represented at the Whelburne. "It's a good picture," sais Ben Mason, director of the museum, "but it's very similar to others we have on display. If you have a comprehensive collection like we do, you lighten up and redeploy those resources."
"A museum stays green at the tips," said Mason, "by maintaining acquisitions. Nobody needs that many Heades."
At archrival Sotheby's Thursday, results in the same categories were stronger with sales of $9,612,075 and an individual auction record set for 23 artists. The star lot of the sale, "Mrs. Cecil Wade," by John Singer Sargent, fetched $1,485,000. "From the Upper Terrace," an oil by the American impressionist John Twachtman, sold for a record $181,500. The Art Institute of Chicago deaccessioned the work.