Earl Biss, Autumn Pass | Oil on Canvas | 60 x 84 inches | Sold: $78,750

Auction Block: Wild West Wonders

Works available for purchase during recent Western art auctions presented a dazzling array of masterpieces that captivated art enthusiasts and collectors alike. While traditional Western Realism continued to excite bidders, auctions at the tail end of 2023 also highlighted the appeal of more contemporary interpretations of life out West.

When it came to more expressive renditions, Phil Epp’s work made a strong impression during this year’s Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition & Sale, with the artist claiming awards in multiple categories. Works by artist Fritz Scholder continued to show broad and strong appeal during Hindman’s Western & Contemporary Native American Art Auction, which also set a new auction record for artist Earl Biss. Also achieving a top sales amount, a fiberglass sculpture by Luis Jiménez piqued interest during the Santa Fe Art Auction’s fall sale.

Western Realism captured the attention of bidders during the Lone Star Art Auction in Dallas, Texas, which reported a total sales figure of $5.1 million. It was also in no short supply at the Santa Fe Art Auction, with more than 400 lots exemplifying the best artists of the West, including Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington, E.I. Couse, and many others.

The work on display and available to purchase was a broad showcase of the Western experience in an ever-evolving genre of American art, and sales figures reflect its enduring appeal.

Hindman’s Western & Contemporary Native American Art Auction

November 1, 2023
Total: $2.7 million

Works by Fritz Scholder, Earl Biss, and Allan Houser were among the most sought-after during Hindman’s Western & Contemporary Native American Art Auction on November 1. The auction brought $2.7 million, with nearly 95 percent of the 220 lots sold.

Allan Houser, War Pony | Bronze | 24 x 33 x 7.25 inches | Sold: $44,100

As has been the case for the last several years during Hindman’s Western & Contemporary Native American Art auctions, Fritz Scholder [1937–2005] (Luiseño) was the star of the sale, claiming eight of the top 10 sales prices.

Ten works by Scholder were available to bid on, and eight of these sold above their high estimates. Seven of the artist’s paintings brought more than $100,000.

Scholder’s top-selling lot was the 1972 painting Sioux War Party, which sold for $264,000, above its high estimate of $200,000. The arresting painting in hues of three colors depicted a group of Sioux warriors in magenta amid an orange landscape and pink sky.

Also selling above its high estimate of $200,000, Snake Dancers and Shadows brought $233,100. Painted in 1977, the acrylic on canvas depicts four Hopi dancers performing a ceremonial dance while others observe. The dancers’ long teal shadows reach across a terracotta foreground.

Fritz Scholder, American Portrait with Onlooker | Acrylic on Canvas | 80 x 68 inches | Sold: $214,200

Scholder’s third highest-selling work was American Portrait with Onlooker, which brought $214,200. The painting conveys painful emotion in bold colors and has been exhibited at the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, the Oakland Museum in Oakland, California, and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, New York.

Scholder was not the only artist in demand during the auction. Earl Biss [1947–1998] (Apsáalooke) set a new auction record with Autumn Pass selling for $78,750, above a presale high estimate of $30,000. A pair of Allan Houser [1914–1994] (Chiricahua Apache) bronzes, War Pony and Acorn Harvest — were among the 15 top-selling lots, achieving $44,100 and $37,800 respectively. And the auction saw two works by John Nieto [1936–2018] surpass estimates, including Rancho de Taos Church, which sold for $34,650.

Living artists whose works set notable prices during the auction included Martin Grelle (b. 1954), with A Refuge from the Cold selling for $50,400, and Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish/Kootenai, b. 1940) with Kalispel Series bringing $23,940.

The auction also featured a selection of furniture from the iconic designer of Western American furniture, Thomas Molesworth [1890–1977]. A vibrant spindle-sided couch with leather and Chimayo weavings, circa 1945, was the top lot of the selection, selling for $21,420. Other highlights included a matching spindle-sided armchair and ottoman, which brought $20,160, and an original club chair with a custom-made ottoman that sold for $18,900.

Santa Fe Art Auction’s 2023 Signature Annual Live Auction, Sessions 1 – 3

November 10 – 11, 2023
Total: $2 million+

Luis Jiménez, El Filo | Cast Fiberglass and Automotive Paint with Epoxy Coating | 28 x 47 x 84 inches | Sold: $115,900

This year’s Santa Fe Art Auction in November saw lively bidding on a variety of works and a sales total of more than $2 million. The auction, which offered 401 lots by such notable artists as Albert Bierstadt, Frederic Remington, E.I. Couse, Luis Jiménez, and many others, had a sell-through rate of more than 90 percent, according to auction officials.

Ed Mell, Storm behind The Sun | Oil on Canvas | 40 x 50 inches | Sold: $48,800

The top-selling item was an important fiberglass sculpture by artist Luis Jiménez [1940–2006], titled El Filo from the Cycle series. Jiménez’s large fiberglass sculptures capture the stories and experiences of Hispanic-American women and men. El Filo is a figure crouched on a green motorcycle, wearing a jacket painted with the words el filo (“the edge”) and adorned with a skull, heart, and cross. The sculpture was cast in 1977 and sold for $115,900, amid estimates of $100,000 to $150,000.

Fremont Ellis, Tesuque Mission | Oil on Board | 22 x 30 inches | Sold: $51,850

The second top-selling item was a 1914 painting by E.I. Couse [1866–1936], titled Moonlight Campfire. The oil depicted two Native American men warming themselves beside a campfire in a moonlit forest and brought $103,700, amid estimates of $100,000 to $150,000.

David Barbero’s Grande Canyon was the third top-selling item. Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Barbero [1938–1999] became a noted contemporary painter after relocating permanently to Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the early 1970s. The artist’s bright landscape in pink, orange, and turquoise sold for $73,200, above its high estimate of $20,000.

David Barbero, Grande Canyon | Acrylic on Canvas | 48 x 60 inches | Sold: $73,200

The fourth top-selling lot was an oil on board by Fremont Ellis [1897–1985]. Tesuque Mission brought $51,850, above its high estimate of $12,000.

The fifth item was Ed Mell’s 2017 painting Storm Behind the Sun, which sold for $48,800 (estimate: $40,000 to $60,000) to edge out Frederic Remington [1861–1909] for the fifth top-selling work. Remington’s A Moose Bull Fight (The Fighting Moose) sold for $39,650, amid estimates of $40,000 to $80,000.

Kim Douglas Wiggins, Full Moon Over Ranchos | Oil on Canvas | 29.5 x 39.5 inches | Sold: $24,400

An additional highlight of the auction was a collection of nine Gustave Baumann [1881–1971] colored woodcuts that achieved some of the highest sales figures during the auction’s first session, with five of the nine works selling above their high estimates. The greatest of these was Baumann’s Apple Blossoms, which sold for $30,500 above its high estimate of $15,000.

Cowboy Artists of America Exhibition & Sale

November 3 – 4, 2023
Total: $1.2 million

During the 57th annual Cowboy Artists of America (CAA) Exhibition & Sale, more than 100 artworks created by members of the esteemed artist group were available for purchase, and awards were given for outstanding works. Presented by the Joe Beeler Foundation in partnership with the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, the art show fosters the CAA’s mission “to authentically preserve and perpetuate the culture of Western life in fine art.” Sales from this year’s event totaled $1.2 million and about 80 percent of the available artwork sold.

Phil Epp, Black Sunday | Acrylic | 40 x 40 inches | Sold: $13,000

Newton, Kansas, artist Phil Epp captured the admiration of many during the event. A CAA member since 2016, Epp earned the Anne Marion Best in Show Award for Black Sunday, a 40-by-40-inch acrylic painting dramatically depicting three horses fleeing a roiling, dark dust cloud. The painting’s title references the severe dust storm on April 14, 1935, during the Dust Bowl. The painting, which sold for $13,000, also won the gold medal in the Water Solubles category. Despite the feeling of impending danger in the work, it remains a breathtaking addition to Epp’s collection of Western skies.

Phil Epp, Fence Builder | Acrylic | 40 x 40 inches | Price: $13,000

In addition, Epp won the silver medal in the Water Solubles category for Fence Builder (price: $13,000), and he also earned the American Hat Award for the best overall exhibition of works as chosen by active CAA members for his seven acrylics and one pen-and-ink drawing in the show.

Michael Dudash’s oil painting of Native Americans camped at an inlet as three men guide their horses through quiet water saturated with autumn’s brilliance won the Ray Swanson Memorial Award for best communicating a moment in time and its emotional impact. The Warm Reflections of an Autumn Camp sold for $31,000.

Martin Grelle, Apsaalooke Storm Racers | Oil on Linen | 42 x 60 inches | Sold: $170,000

Martin Grelle won the gold medal in Oil Painting for Apsaalooke Storm Racers. The work depicts an action-packed drama of Apsaalooke men on horseback chasing down a herd of horses with a lightning storm striking distant purple mesas. The painting sold for $170,000.

The silver medal in Oil Painting was awarded to Teal Blake for The Norther, which sold for $5,800.

Bruce Greene won the gold medal in Sculpture for The Bell On Old Blue (sold: $24,500), a bronze relief sculpture depicting a cattle drive. Greene also earned the silver medal in Drawing for his charcoal Mesteñeros, which sold for $38,000.

Michael Dudash, The Warm Reflections of an Autumn Camp | Oil on Linen | 36 x 46 inches | Sold: $31,000

Tyler Crow won the gold medal in that category for his charcoal work The Wrangler, which sold for $11,500. And Dustin Payne won the silver medal for Lone Star Legacy, a bronze longhorn sculpture that sold for $8,900.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, artist Mikel Donahue won the gold and silver medals in Mixed Media for his acrylic and gouache works Pick of the Remuda (sold: $19,500) and Summer Relief (sold: $13,500).

Heritage Auctions: Views and Visions: Important Works by American Masters Signature Auction

November 17, 2023
Total: Undisclosed

Heritage Auctions presented significant works by notable artists of the 19th and 20th centuries during Views and Visions: Important Works by American Masters Signature Auction.

Albert Bierstadt, Evening, Owens Lake, California | Oil on Paper Laid on Canvas | 13.75 x 19 inches | Sold: $212,500

The auction showcased American art from classic American Hudson River School painters, such as Albert Bierstadt, Sanford Robinson Gifford, and William Bradford, to the burgeoning inventiveness of Ashcan School greats, such as George Bellows and Ernest Lawson, moving into early and late Modernism, and finding a clear voice and American definition via great illustration.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Hettie Anderson | Bronze | 12.75 inches | Sold: $200,000

Created in the artist’s prime as the country’s most prominent illustrator, N.C. Wyeth’s [1882-1945] Good-bye, Mistress Friendly-Soul! for the cover of Mary Johnston’s 1914 book The Witch is subtle yet emotional in hewing to the novel’s themes and struggling protagonists. The painting sold for $567,000 and became the top-selling item during the auction.

A work by Albert Bierstadt [1830–1902] Evening, Owens Lake, California sold for $212,500 to earn the second slot. Painted during the 1870s, the work exemplifies Bierstadt’s gift for capturing the raw beauty of America’s West and his desire for land conservation.

George Tooker, Tree | Tempera on Panel | 20 x 20 inches | Sold: $193,750

An 1897 bronze study by American artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens titled Hettie Anderson, first study for the Head of Victory was the third top-selling item at $200,000. The bronze, made in 1897, is of Hettie Anderson, the artist’s favorite model, who appears on the U.S. ten- and twenty-dollar gold coins.

George Tooker is among the artists considered a triumvirate of Magic Realism. His tempera on panel Tree, from 1965, evokes something of the ambivalence Tooker felt toward nature once he’d moved with his partner William Christopher from Brooklyn to Vermont. The painting sold for $193,750.

N.C. Wyeth, Good-bye, Mistress Friendly-Soul! | Oil on canvas | 44 x 31.75 inches | Sold: $567,000

The fifth top-seller at the auction was American John Ford Clymer’s [1907-1989] Recess at Pine Creek School, Montana. The original oil on board for a Saturday Evening Post cover from 1960 sold for $187,500.

Lone Star Art Auction

October 27 – 28, 2023
Total: $5.1 million

The Lone Star Art Auction, specializing in American, Western, wildlife, sporting, and Texas fine art of the 19th to 21st centuries, is the largest live art auction held annually in Texas. Presented by Great American West LLC and Phil Berkebile Jr., the auction brings art patrons together in Dallas, Texas, each fall for a highly entertaining two-day event. This year’s auction generated $5.1 million in sales with a sell-through rate of 92 percent for the 218 lots offered.

Frank Tenney Johnson, The Lawless Frontier | Oil on Canvas | 25 x 30 inches | Sold: $270,000

The top-selling artist was William Aiken Walker [1838–1921], whose 1881 painting The Cotton Plantation sold for $330,000, amid its estimate of $300,000 to $400,000.

G. Harvey, Enough Till Spring | Oil on Canvas | 30 x 50 inches | Sold: $180,000

Frank Tenney Johnson’s [1874–1939] oil painting The Lawless Frontier was featured as the auction catalog’s cover and was the second top-selling work. The painting, depicting two men on horseback with one about to be lassoed, is a rare daytime action scene by the artist and sold for $270,000, amid estimates of $250,000 to $300,000.

Howard Terpning, Proud Men | Oil on Board | 12 x13 inches | Sold: $216,000

Proud Men by Howard Terpning (b. 1927) was the third top-selling artwork. The 12-by-13 inch painting appeared as the cover art for Don Hedgpeth’s book Howard Terpning: Spirit of the Plains People. The painting sold for $216,000, above its high estimate of $200,000.

Oscar Berninghaus, A Camp in the Aspen Forest | Oil on Board | 20 x 16 inches | Sold: $210,000

A nocturne by Joseph Henry Sharp [1859–1953], Evening Council sold for $210,000, above its high estimate of $200,000, to tie with another Taos Society Artist for the fourth top-selling lot. Oscar Berninghaus’ [1874–1952] A Camp in the Aspen Forest also sold for $210,000.

Joseph Henry Sharp, Evening Council | Oil on Canvas | 25.25 x 30.25 inches | Sold: $210,000

A moody painting of cowboys riding through a snow-covered Western town at night by G. Harvey [1933–2017], Enough Till Spring, rounded out the top five sellers at $180,000, amid its pre-sale estimate of $170,000 
to $225,000.

Traditional Cowboy Arts Exhibition & Sale

October 6, 2023 – January 2, 2024
Total: N/A

Each year, the Traditional Cowboy Arts Association (TCAA) allows collectors and Western art aficionados to take part in observing and preserving the legacy of cowboy crafts. Thirteen artists exhibited more than 50 pieces of original work during the TCAA’s 24th annual exhibition and sale at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The museum has partnered with the arts organization to host its annual event since 1999, showcasing one-of-a-kind, handcrafted works that exemplify the finest skills in saddle making, bit and spur making, silversmithing, and rawhide braiding.

Cary Schwarz, TCAA Saddle | Tanned Beaver Tail Leather and Sterling Silver | Sold: $29,200

Beau Compton’s silver and gold stein was the top-selling item as of press time, a few days before the exhibition ended, bringing $32,500. In ornate detail, a cowboy ropes a steer between bands of sculptural scrollwork. The horse’s mane and tail are detailed in gold, as well as the flowers throughout the filigree. The stop is adorned with a longhorn, and the bottom includes the TCAA logo. Tyin’ One Down refers to either roping a steer or filling the stein with a favorite beverage to “tie one on.”

John C. Ennis, Ladies | Spanish Colonial Spurs
Sterling Silver and Steel

The second top-selling item was Scott Hardy’s The Flask at $29,500. Designed by the artist as “the ultimate cowboy flask,” the work is enveloped in hand-sculpted flowers with 14-karat gold faces, and a longhorn emerges from the center foliage with its golden gaze.

Cary Schwarz’s 2023 TCAA Saddle was the third top-selling item, bringing $29,200. Schwarz said this saddle was an elevated example of what he would ride on his ranch in Salmon, Idaho. The hardware was designed and made by Schwarz, and the breast collar dee ring was hand-forged by Wilson Capron.

Ernie Marsh, Santa Barbara Spade Bit | 14k gold, Sterling Silver, Hand Forged Metal | Sold: $20,500

Another expertly tooled saddle, displaying historic detailing and technical mastery, was the fourth top-selling item. John Willemsma’s TCAA Saddle sold for $23,395. The saddle was created in a Wade style, which was first used in 1937. It features wild roses and California oak leaves, popular leather decorations from the mid-20th century. The silverware is by Scott Hardy.

The fifth top-selling item was Wilson Capron’s sterling silver and 14-karat gold Santa Susanna Bit. The bit sold for $20,500, and its shank style is Capron’s favorite. The artist grew up in far West Texas with a family background in ranching.

Pedro Pedrini, Saddle Scabbard | Leather and Sterling Silver | Sold: $29,200

“Each Traditional Cowboy Arts Association member is a master of their discipline,” says Scott Hardy, silversmith and TCAA President. He also noted that these works “break the barrier between function and art.”

Christine Rogel is the editor in chief of Western Art & Architecture.

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