Till Goodan [1896-1958], Untitled (‘Roping Trouble’) | Oil on Canvas | 24 x 32 inches | Sold: $24,000

Auction Block: Quintessential American Style

Works by contemporary and historical Western artists prompted robust responses from collectors during the dawn of 2024. Auction houses and events that offered masterpieces with historical significance or contemporary importance reached millions of dollars.

Sotheby’s presented a collection of Western art and design from the Bar Cross Ranch in Wyoming, including works by Thomas Moran, Joseph Henry Sharp, Charles M. Russell, ledger art by Etahdleuh Doanmoe, and Thomas Molesworth furnishings, among other notable lots, for a total of $4 million. And Christie’s annual sale of 19th Century American & Western Art achieved record-breaking results with more than $13 million in sales.

“Largely driven by a diverse audience of both established Western art collectors and clients new to the category, such success points to notable health in this especially American genre,” says Tylee Abbott, the Vice President and Head of the American Art department at Christie’s.

The turnout suggests that Western American art remains steadfast in the hearts and minds of collectors, and demonstrates that the diversity and depth of the genre’s expression underscores its enduring appeal.

Morphy Auctions and Brian Lebel’s Old West Events

January 26
Total: $2.2 million+

Morphy’s and Brian Lebel’s Old West Events’ Western relics and memorabilia auction took place at the Westgate Casino & Resort in Las Vegas, drawing a spirited roomful of bidders in late January. The auction offered 473 lots and coincided with Brian Lebel’s 34th Old West Show  and the Las Vegas Antique Arms Show over the two days. The auction brought $2.2 million this year.

Edward H. Bohlin, Untitled (‘Roping Trouble’) | Leather, Silver, and Gold | Sold: $307,500

On January 26, Morphy Auctions conducted Brian Lebel’s 34th Annual Old West Auction of important and historical Western antiques. “More than 200 people attended the auction, making it one of the largest auction audiences Morphy’s has hosted since conducting Part I of the Bobby Knudsen petroliana collection in the fall of 2022. Also, the phone lines and Internet were active from start to finish,” says Morphy’s co-founder, president, and presiding auctioneer Dan Morphy. “The feedback we received throughout our time in Las Vegas was very positive. While the two shows were taking place, we accepted consignments valued at well over a million dollars. Some of those items are unbelievably rare and important and will be highlighting [during] our future firearms and Western sales.”

The top-selling lot was the personal gun belt of artist Edward H. Bohlin [1895-1980]. The silver-mounted gunbeltlt with gold repoussé was an integral part of Bohlin’s celebrated “Big Saddle” equestrian parade ensemble, which took 14 years to complete. The belt was accompanied by a letter from historian and Bohlin scholar James Nottage, who noted, “It is not going too far to state that, at least from this point of view, this is the most artistic and richly embellished Western-styled gunbelt and holster set ever made.” The unique item attracted 17 bids before settling at $307,500, above its high estimate of $250,000.

Bohlin treasures continued to charm bidders as the auction progressed. Also selling above its high estimate was a child-sized pony silver parade saddle with matching bridle, bit, breast collar, and original black-and-white wool corona. It was one of two pony-size parade saddles Bohlin offered in its catalogs from 1927 through the 1960s. The pony saddle brought $79,950, above its high estimate of $40,000.

A pair of lavish parade spurs made for Bohlin’s then-CEO and president David Samuels around 1999 also excited bidders. The motif chosen for the pair combined the most dazzling and detailed historical patterns, many cast from the original dies. Engraved with Samuels’ name on a rose gold Bohlin seat plate, the lot sold above estimates for $22,140.

Topping the marked spurs selection was a pair of extremely rare circa-1920s double-mounted G.S. Garcia “Rabbit” spurs — so named because they feature engraved images of bunnies. They were maker-marked G S GARCIA on one spur and ELKO NEV on the other, and Morphy’s experts described them as being one of only two such pairs known to exist. The spurs sold for $41,820, near their high estimate.

A pair of McCabe silver and gold repoussé parade chaps formerly owned and exhibited by legendary film cowboy Roy Rogers also drew interest. The chaps came from a complete parade saddle ensemble originally commissioned in 1931 for wealthy horsewoman H.L. Musick and her champion horse, Diamond. After many Rose Bowl appearances, the ensemble was acquired by Rogers for use in photos and at promotional appearances. The chaps commanded a winning bid of $184,500, far exceeding their high estimate of $90,000.

Among fine-art lots, sculptor Dave McGary’s [1958 – 2013] polychrome bronze titled Last Stand Hill garnered interest and sold above its high estimate of $25,000. The sculpture depicts three braves on galloping horses as though charging into battle. Artist-signed and numbered 16/40, the artwork sold for $28,160. Another popular lot was an untitled oil painting by Till Goodan [1896–1958]. The work is known as Roping Trouble and brought $24,000 against a high estimate of $9,000.

Sotheby’s Western Art and Design from Bar Cross Ranch, Wyoming

January 19
Total: $4 million+

In January, Sotheby’s offered a collection of works from the Bar Cross Ranch, Wyoming, a historic cattle ranch on more than 30,000 acres in Sublette County that was previously owned by Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The auction, which included examples of American Western painting, drawing, photography, craftsmanship, and design, brought more than $4 million, with 96.5 percent of the 57 lots sold.

Thomas Moran, Green River, Wyoming | Oil on Canvas | 13 x 20 inches | Sold: $1.4 million

The top-selling lot was Thomas Moran’s Green River, Wyoming, selling for more than $1.4 million, above the high estimate of $1.2 million. According to the auction catalog, during Dr. Ferdinand Hayden’s 1871 geological survey to discover and document the region of Yellowstone in Wyoming, the expedition of 50 men briefly stopped in Green River, Wyoming. An evolving industrial town, Green River was strategically located along its namesake river and the Cherokee Trail, serving as a crucial point for travelers heading West. Upon stepping out of the train, Moran was instantly mesmerized by scenery that was unlike anything he had ever seen. At that moment, he completed his first sketch of the trip.

Moran continued on to Yellowstone, which became one of his defining subjects, and his art served as crucial visual documentation that led to declaring the area America’s first national park in 1872. Yet surprisingly, Yellowstone isn’t the artist’s most common subject. Rather, it’s the Green River buttes that truly obsessed Moran. After his first sketch in 1871, he went on to complete more than 40 canvases of this subject over the course of 30 years. Executed in 1883, Green River, Wyoming, is one of those works.

The second top-selling lot was A Sketchbook of Drawings by Etahdleuh Doanmoe [1856–1888], which sold for $825,500, above the high estimate of $300,000. The 24 drawings were created at Fort Marion, St. Augustine, Florida, circa 1876. Doanmoe, a 20-year-old Kiowa warrior, drew them on 33 pages of a commercial sketchbook. Doanmoe numbered among the 72 men and one woman from the Southern Plains imprisoned at Fort Marion, in St. Augustine as a part of the collective punishment of the Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, Arapaho, Comanche, and a single Caddo, by the U.S. government after the Red River War of 1874 to 1875.

Kiowa artist Etahdleuh Doanmoe created this drawing circa 1876 while imprisoned by the U.S. government at Fort Marion, Florida. It is one of 24 drawings in a sketchbook that recently sold at Sotheby’s for $825,500.

Another item that garnered interest and achieved top sums during the auction was Arapaho Child’s Robe with Incised and Painted Box-and-Border Design, 19th Century. The hide robe earned a winning bid of $317,500, above the high estimate of $35,000. Despite the garment’s age, the red, green, and black geometric patterns remain vivid.

Among other top-selling items, two works by Joseph Henry Sharp, Blackfeet Sun Dance and Autumnal Teepees sold for $114,300 (estimate: $120,000 – $180,000) and $101,600 (estimate: $120,000 – $180,00) respectively. George Catlin’s Stampede of a Buffalo Herd sold for $82,550, above its high estimate of $80,000.

Four works by Charles M. Russell made up the remaining top 10 works, each selling for below their anticipated estimate: Indians Herding Horses Across River (sold: $88,900; estimate: $120,000 – $180,000); With a Good Hoss Under Him, It was Easy for an Injun to get Meat (sold: $76,200; estimate: $100,000 – $150,000); Preparation for the Buffalo Hunt (sold: $69,850; estimate: $80,000 – $120,000); and The Proposal (sold: $69,850; estimate: $80,000 – $120,000).

Christie’s 19th Century American & Western Art

January 18
Total: $13 million+

Christie’s annual auction of 19th Century American & Western Art brought a record $13 million this year. According to officials, the event demonstrated a strong interest in Western art and single-owner collections with important results from the Morton and Norma Lee Funger Collection.

Martin Johnson Heade, Cattleya Orchid with Two Brazilian | Hummingbirds | Oil on Panel | 13.75 x 18 inches | Sold: $3.4 million

The top-selling auction item came from the Funger collection, Martin Johnson Heade’s Cattleya Orchid with Two Brazilian Hummingbirds. The painting brought more than $3.4 million, well above its high estimate of $1.8 million. It was an important work by the celebrated artist, who traveled to South America in 1863 following in the footsteps of fellow painter Frederic Edwin Church and inspired by the successful publications of artist-ornithologists John James Audubon and John Gould. Heade studied and painted hummingbirds in Brazil between 1863 and 1865, according to the auction catalog.

Painted in 1918, Thomas Moran’s Afterglow, Green River, Wyoming brought more than $2.2 million, above estimates of $1.2 to $1.8 million. When Moran visited the area, Green River City was burgeoning with people and industry, and the landscape was becoming scarred by train tracks, buildings, and bridges. Moran, however, chose to exclude these elements from Afterglow, Green River Wyoming and limit human presence to only a small group of explorers at center right. The figures both indicate the monumental scale of the majestic landforms and imbue the work with the romantic nostalgia of the untamed New World. Moran’s Green River works are considered cornerstones of his canon, with examples located in the White House Historical Association and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas; and the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington, among others.

Thomas Moran, Afterglow, Green River | Oil on Canvas | 20 x 30 inches | Sold: $2.2 million

The third top-selling lot was James Earl Fraser’s sculpture The End of the Trail, which sold for $1.3 million, above its high estimate of $700,000. The rare sculpture is one of the most famous Western American images ever conceived. First modeled in plaster in 1894, Fraser’s vision for the sculpture was initially cast in monumental scale as a central fixture of the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, where it won a gold medal. The image’s popularity there likely resulted in Fraser’s reducing his heroic plaster monument into two smaller sculptures. Reductions in two sizes were cast concurrently at the Gorham foundry through the “plaster-mold” technique and at Roman Bronze Works via lost-wax in the late 1910s and 1920s.

The next highly sought-after artwork was by E.I. Couse, a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. His striking masterwork Thunder Birds epitomizes this sense of spirituality omnipresent throughout the daily life of the Taos Indians, with depictions of the venerated Thunderbird repeated on the pottery, drum, moccasins, and wall decoration, according to Christie’s. Couse carefully positioned these meaningful artifacts alongside a posed model and photographed the scene. The model was Ben Lujan, who Couse met on his first visit to Taos in 1902, when Lujan was 10 years old. The painting sold for $819,000, just above its high estimate.

Rounding out some of the top-selling items were two works by Albert Bierstadt. Woodland Pool, depicting the brilliant splendor of autumn, sold for $693,000, within its expected range. The painting may depict New Hampshire, a locale that Bierstadt often painted following his first visit to the White Mountains as early as 1852. The artist’s South Dome, Yosemite Valley, California brought $655,000, amid anticipated prices. The painting exhibits a particularly high level of detail among the oil-on-paper depictions Bierstadt created of Yosemite, according to the auction catalog. The painting is two inches taller than his typical sheet size of 24 by 20 inches.

Another notable result was David Gilmour Blythe’s Family Prayers and The Sequel: A Pair of Works, which brought $252,000, above its high estimate of $60,000.

Sotheby’s The Hudson River School in Focus Property from the Friedman Collection

January 11
Total: $1.6 million+

Sotheby’s offered a collection of works by artists from the Hudson River School from the Friedman Collection. The 37 lots brought $1.6 million, with a sell-through rate of nearly 95 percent.

Maryann and Al Friedman were first introduced to Hudson River School paintings in 1983, inspired by an exhibition at the Vassar Art Gallery. They began their decades-long collecting journey in 1986, with a keen focus on Hudson River School artists and American 19th-century paintings and drawings. Their collection expresses an admiration for the painters who pioneered the tradition of American landscape painting.

Martin Johnson Heade, Northern Marsh Sunset | Oil on Canvas | 8 x 16 inches | Sold: $381,000

Works by artist Martin Johnson Heade were the first and second top lots, with Northern Marsh: Sunset selling for $381,000, above its high estimate of $150,000, and Florida Marsh: Dawn bringing $279,400, above its high estimate of $150,000.

Andean Sketch by Frederic Edwin Church (sold: $177,800, below its low estimate of $200,000); William Trost Richards’ Brigantine Beach, New Jersey (sold: $88,900, below its low estimate of $100,000); and Jasper Francis Cropsey’s Lake Near Mount Chocorua (sold: $88,900, estimate: $50,000 – $70,000) rounded out the top five best-selling lots.

Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale

January 3
Total: $800,000+

The 2024 Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale opened on January 3 with the Red Carpet Gala Reception, where VIP patrons gathered for the first chance to view and purchase artwork. The show features contemporary artists from North America who capture the Western way of life.

Works by 73 artists were available for purchase, and the evening led to more than $800,000 in sales. The artwork was on display to the public through January 21, coinciding with the National Western Stock Show. The sale is one of the largest fundraisers for the National Western Scholarship Trust, formed in 1983 to provide scholarships to students studying agriculture, rural medicine, and veterinary sciences.

Joseph McGurl, Morning Light on a Western Landscape | Oil on Linen | 18 x 24 inches

Joseph McGurl was named the 2024 featured artist, and his painting Morning Light on a Western Landscape, depicting a covered wagon traveling across a sandstone landscape, now resides in the National Western Stock Show’s permanent collection.

Awards were presented to standout artists on January 2. Raj Chaudhuri earned Best of Show for Colorado Daybreak. The Western Art Advisory Committee chose the painting of a snowy barn and saddled horses at a trough for the $2,500 prize.

Whitney Gardner’s Love Song won the Artists’ Choice Award. The painting’s moody purple flowers meet the drama of the high-desert landscape and soft cloudburst in the background. Gardner has lived in the Mojave Desert for more than a decade and seeks to capture its rugged scenery in her landscape works — what the artist describes as “an ode to the remarkable facets of the desert.”

Valerie Gobeil, Moment of Grace | Oil | 30 x 30 inches | People’s Choice Award

Valerie Gobeil from Chandler, Arizona, won the People’s Choice Award for Moment of Grace, a 30-by-30-inch oil painting of a white horse kicking up dust against a black background. The show included four of her works that featured equine or bison subjects.

Awards given to artists on behalf of publications include Ezra Tucker, Western Art & Architecture Award, S.M. Chavez, Southwest Art Award, and Brad Overton, Western Art Collector Award.

The Mary Belle Grant Award was given to Ann Daley, the first curator of the Coors Western Art Exhibit & Sale and a former curator at the Denver Art Museum. Since her first curatorial duties in 1995, Daley remained an integral part of the National Western Stock Show, serving on the Coors Western Art Committee until her death in 2023.

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