ONLINE AUCTIONAmerican ArtBrowse sale
When considering 19th-century travel with contemporary eyes and sensibilities, it’s vital to imagine away a number of innovations — from relatively cheap, rapid and safe international flights accessed via mobile boarding passes to smartphones on which its owner can snap thousands of pictures and share them instantly with the world.
For George Inness (1825-1894), Winslow Homer (1836-1910), and Thomas Moran (1837-1926) travel represented something entirely different. In two cases, they journeyed far from home to produce these appealing works in our American Art sale (14–23 March).
In a literal sense, the paintings depict landscapes — a sunrise casting trees and a house in silhouette, a carriage navigating a curving mountain road and a castle looming over a boat-filled harbour, respectively — but the inspiration of travel and personal impressions of the landscape are supporting actors in each.
‘Before photography, artists’ paintings of faraway locations were the only way the public at home could ‘see’ foreign places,’ explains Christina de Gersdorff, Head of Midseason American Art sales. ‘By the late 19th century, artists were not only recording the look of a location, but also imbuing their paintings with atmosphere and their personal response to it, as we can see in these three striking examples from Inness, Homer and Moran.’
George Inness, Early Morning, Montclair, New Jersey, 1892
George Inness (1825-1894). Early Morning, Montclair, New Jersey, 1892. Signed and dated 'G. Inness 1892' (lower left). Oil on canvas. 30 1/8 x 45 1/8 in. (76.5 x 114.6 cm.). Estimate: $80,000 - $120,000. This work is offered in the American Art online auction, 14-23 March.
George Inness spent most of his life in Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey, but spent four years in Europe. In the last decade of his life, he explored the United States from the Adirondacks to Florida, and California to Virginia.
Early Morning, Montclair, New Jersey (lot 70) is a culmination of Inness’s career-long pursuit to capture the more elusive and spiritual aspects of nature on canvas. While the artist travelled far and wide, he also was deeply inspired by the quiet New Jersey countryside where he settled permanently in 1885.
In this work, previously owned by an IBM founder and prominent collector, purple, red, yellow, and blue accentuate the sunrise, and some of the same colours peek out from beneath the greens with which Inness rendered the grass and trees. Cows graze while a single figure stands eclipsed by the vast landscape — a relationship between nature and humanity’s tiny scale that Hudson River School artists often used.
Rather than simply transcribing nature, Inness believed artists ought to interpret it. Perhaps it was in front of a blazing sky like the one he depicted in this painting that Inness was said to have thrown his hands up and said, ‘My God! Oh, how beautiful!’ with one of his last breaths.
Winslow Homer, Volante on a Mountain Road, 1885
Winslow Homer (1836-1910). Volante on a Mountain Road, 1885. Signed and dated 'Winslow Homer 1885' (lower right). Watercolour and pencil on paper laid down on board. 13 1/8 x 20 1/8 in. (33.2 x 51 cm.). Estimate: $150,000 - $250,000. This work is offered in the American Art online auction, 14-23 March.
Winslow Homer was a pioneer among American artists for taking watercolour painting seriously as a medium. He sought a realistic portrayal of this landscape and like Inness, he left traces of himself in the work — in this case, a horse-drawn carriage, called a volante, in the foreground. The volante depicted is mostly likely the carriage in which Homer was riding through the countryside.
The painting, one of 18 watercolours that Homer created during a five-week visit to Cuba, is the only one not to depict the city of Santiago in urban terms. (He intentionally skipped touristy Havana; ‘He probably wanted to get to a more authentic version of Cuba than Havana,’ de Gersdorff says.)
As in many of his works, Homer was fascinated by nature’s force. In this painting, the human presence is little more than a picturesque detail restricted to the foreground, while the vastness of the wild landscape expands deep into the composition. Nature’s power is further indicated by the palm fronds bending to the right in an apparently strong wind and the advancing clouds suggesting an impending storm.
Thomas Moran, Castle of San Juan d’Ulloa, 1883
Thomas Moran (1837-1926). Castle of San Juan d'Ulloa, 1883. Signed with conjoined initials and dated 'TMoran. 1883' (lower left). Oil on canvas. 29 x 22 ¾ in. (73.6 x 57.7 cm.) Estimate: $70,000 - 100,000. This work is offered in the American Art online auction, 14-23 March.
Thomas Moran’s Castle of San Juan d’Ulloa derives from a trip that the artist took to Vera Cruz, Mexico, in 1882. William J. Palmer, who operated the Mexican National Railroad linking the Pacific and Atlantic trade routes, likely commissioned Moran to paint beautiful views of the region to stimulate commercial interest in the railroad.
Upon arriving in Vera Cruz, the artist appeared to be sold, writing in his letters that it was the ‘most picturesque city on the Western Continent.’ His pencil and watercolour sketches from the trip, which he used to create finished works when he returned to New York, attest further to his fascination with the Mexican landscape.
When looking at Castle of San Juan d’Ulloa, it is impossible not to be reminded of J.M.W. Turner’s views of Venice, as well as Moran’s own later views of the Venetian waterways. ‘Moran recorded not just the real scene in front of him, but the atmosphere,’ de Gersdorff notes, ‘The sky, the sun, the water — very much like Turner would have. This remarkable view of a fortress in the harbour of Vera Cruz is not only a document of a specific place but also a showpiece of Moran’s painterly talent.’
Discover these artists and more in the American Art online auction. Bidding begins 14 March through 23 March.