Bidding wars broke out at Sotheby’s New York’s “The Spirit of America” sale on Wednesday, offering works from the collection of late oil tycoon Erving Wolf and his wife Joy. Not a single lot went unsold and, in the end, the sale trumped its high estimate by 160 percent to fetch $39 million.
In their lifetimes, the Wolfs amassed one of history’s most significant collections of American art and design, ranging from rare Colonial furniture to design objects by some of the 20th century’s most iconic modernists.
The sale was led by the 19th-century Massachusetts painter Fitz Henry Lane’s with a final sale price of $6.1 million (all prices listed include buyer’s premium), a figure that quadrupled the lot’s high estimate. The work is based off Lane’s impression of the coastal landscape in Maine during a summer cruise in 1850.
A new record was set for the quintessential American architect Frank Lloyd Wright when his ceiling light from the Francis W. Little House in Peoria, Illinois, brought in $2.9 million, a whopping six times its high estimate. Designed for the house in 1902 to 1903, the fixture is considered an exceptional example of the Prairie Style that helped usher in a new modern American vernacular.
Other highlights from the sale included the intimate portrayal of a model by the Impressionist painter William Merritt Chase, which sold for $2.8 million. Landscape painter Winslow Homer’s made $4.3 million, following two major retrospectives dedicated to the artist last year at the Met in New York and the National Gallery in London.
“As one of the finest collections and last of its kind to celebrate American artistry in all its forms, the Wolf collection was a momentous occasion for the American art and design markets,” said Jodi Pollack, Sotheby’s chairman and co-worldwide head of 20th-century design, in a statement.
The sale kickstarted a series of auctions dedicated to the Wolf collection. Yesterday, “Exceptional Jewels” sold out, bringing in $8 million, while the American bronze statues featured in “Forging America” made $2.3 million. The online sale “America Without Reserve: The Wolf Family Collection” ends on Monday, while the live sales “Cross-Currents in America” and “Building America” will take place at Sotheby’s New York today.