Rockwell's 'Blacksmith's Boy' fetches $7 million at auction

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Norman Rockwell's painting of dueling blacksmiths sold Wednesday for $7 million, as the Berkshire Museum cashed out its gift from the artist with the more delicate rap of an auctioneer's hammer.

By the end of Sotheby's American Art auction, the last scheduled sale of museum works, the institution said it remained $13 million short of its goal of raising $55 million, the sum allowed by a Supreme Judicial Court decision after months of litigation.

That means additional sales of works from the Pittsfield museum's collection may lie ahead, beyond the 13 works listed for auctions this month. The museum was cleared by the SJC to sell any of the 40 works it marked for sale last July, up to a cap of $55 million.

"Considering the unpredictable nature of the art market, we are disappointed but not surprised to fall short of our expected goal," said Elizabeth McGraw, the museum board's president, in a statement.

McGraw disclosed Wednesday that after five auctions over two weeks, the museum will take in "net proceeds" of approximately $42 million. That total includes the earlier private sale of Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop."

Museum trustees are expected to decide their next steps at a board meeting scheduled for June 7. Under a plan endorsed by Attorney General Maura Healey, the museum seeks to convert valuable art works into cash it can use to cover recurring yearly deficits of more than $1 million. It also plans to shift its focus to include multimedia programming about science and nature. When the museum on April 10 identified the 13 works headed for May auctions at Sotheby's, officials expressed hope the sales would generate enough money to allow it to retain other works.

"We will take time now to consider how we will proceed, through possible auction and private sale, to gain the additional resources needed," McGraw said. "We are eager to continue the important work of planning for the future."By saying it stands to gain $42 million, the museum comes close to identifying the undisclosed sale price of "Shuffleton's," a work now owned by the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.

But the "hammer" prices taken in for 11 works sold this month may not tell the whole story. That is because the museum may receive a share of the buyer's premium paid on top of the winning bid.The hammer price is the value of the winning bid itself, before fees.Carol Bosco Baumann, the museum's spokeswoman, declined Wednesday to say whether the museum is receiving an additional payment, a bonus referred to in the art world as an "enhanced hammer."

She also declined to specify the sale price of "Shuffleton's.""We are respecting the agreement reached in that sale and proprietary information essential to Sotheby's competitive place in the market," Bosco Baumann said.

Based on the hammer prices alone in the five auctions, the museum will receive $12,735,000. Of the 13 works listed for sale, two did not sell.

That figure would suggest that "Shuffleton's" sold to the Lucas museum for $30 million — the high bid estimate it received when it was listed for auction last November, before litigation upended that sale.

Church unsold

On Wednesday, the price paid for Rockwell's "Blacksmith's Boy — Heel and Toe," not including buyer's fees, hit the presale low bid estimate of that amount set by Sotheby's during a sale crowded with Rockwell works.

The other most valuable piece up for sale, Frederic Edwin Church's "Valley of Santa Isabel, New Granada," did not sell.

Bidding on the work, an example of the Hudson River School of landscape paintings that was given to the museum by the Buckingham family in 1909, topped off at $4,250,000 — not enough to allow it to be sold. It had received a presale low estimate of $5 million.Also sold Wednesday for lesser amounts were the last two of 13 pieces put up for bid by the museum.John LaFarge's "Magnolia" sold for $210,000, just over its low presale estimate of $200,000.

A fourth museum work, Rembrandt Peale's portrait of George Washington, sold for $180,000, under Sotheby's presale determination that it could bring a bid of at least $200,000.

The morning's auction capped two weeks of sales.All told, Wednesday's auction brought in $7,390,000 in "hammer" prices to the museum, just $10,000 shy of the $7.4 million in low presale estimates for the three works.

While "Blacksmith's Boy," also known as "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop," met its presale low estimate, other works by Rockwell sold by other owners exceeded high presale estimates. They included the artist's "Boy Playing Flute Surrounded by Animals (Springtime)," which sold for $3.4 million. It had received presale estimates of $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

Another Rockwell work, "Little Girl Looking Downstairs at Christmas Party," sold for $1.7 million, topping its high bid estimate of $1.5 million.

Still in the Pittsfield collection is a Rockwell portrait of former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.



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