While the auction of the Honorable Paul H. Buchanan Jr. Collection of American Art was taking place at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, TX, on Wednesday night, June 10, it was New York State’s luminous Hudson River School of Painting that was drawing the bidders in a Signature American Art Auction that finished the evening with a total exceeding more than $4.4 million.
It was Hudson River School painter Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904) – though his complete association with the group is a subject of consistent scholarly debate – that proved the most hotly contested, with three of his paintings occupying spots in the top five lots of the auction, including the first and second slots, Sunset over the Marsh, c. 1876-82, and Cherokee Roses on a Purple Cloth, 1894, which realized $537,750 and $507, 875, respectively.
Heade’s Hummingbirds and Their Nest, 1863, a delicate and moody painting on an oval – punctuated with a splash of brilliant red on the male hummingbird’s throat – took the number five spot with final price realized of $310, 700.
Relatively diminutive in size, roughly 1-foot high 2-feet wide, Sunset over the Marsh carries a massive emotional impact with its bold coloring sweeping horizon. American arts and letters never dealt with the salt marshes of the northeastern United States before Heade, but under his lifelong study they would become the national treasures they are now regarded as. Heade was doing something new in American landscape painting with his marshscapes, and that newness was a direct violation of the standard practices of the Hudson River School formulas. His choice to paint an “anti-picturesque” landscape, with a flat uninterrupted expanse, an absence of framing devices such as a canopy of trees, a rocky wedge of foreground or a jutting precipice, and virtually no focal point at all, patently disregarded the rules for a successful (i.e., picturesque) landscape set forth in 1792 by the Reverend William Gilpin in Three Essays: On Picturesque Beauty, On Picturesque Travel, and On Sketching Landscape.
The other pair of paintings that round out the top five offerings in the Heritage American Art event were George Henry Durrie’s (American, 1820-1863) bucolic and romantic oil painting Winter in the Country, A Cold Morning, c. 1863, which realized $448,125, and Henry Francois Farny’s (American, 1847-1916)Saddling Up, 1895, a gouache on paper painting that exquisitely portrays a quiet and authentic tableau of Native American life, as well as the sweeping grandeur of the western American landscape, realized $334,600.