Artist to Know: Guy Carleton Wiggins

Liz Catalano
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John Moran Auctioneers Presents Summer Scene by American Impressionist

Landscape painting runs in the Wiggins family. The tradition started with John Carleton Wiggins, an American painter who dominated the New England art scene in the 1890s. His son, Guy Carleton Wiggins, followed in his footsteps and quickly became a famous painter in his own right. The younger Wiggins was known for his New York City street scenes, often captured from the window of his Lower Manhattan studio. 

In 1925, Guy Carleton Wiggins painted French Riviera, a colorful summer scene that departs from his usual snowy streets. This work will come to auction on April 6th, 2021 at 3:00 PM EDT with John Moran Auctioneers. Learn more about Wiggins’ life and artistic style before the bidding starts.

Guy Carleton Wiggins in 1959. Image from The New York Times.
Guy Carleton Wiggins in 1959. Image from The New York Times.

Guy Carleton Wiggins grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in the 1880s. Art was a constant in his early years. His father, John Carleton Wiggins, was a leading painter of sheep, cattle, and American history scenes. He reportedly gave a four-year-old Guy Carleton a palette and paint to set him on the artistic path. The strategy worked. Guy Carleton Wiggins studied at the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute and the National Academy of Design in the early 1900s before taking a studio near Washington Square Park. 

Inspired by the Old Lyme art colony, Wiggins combined elements of French and American Impressionism to create a distinctly atmospheric style. Local art circles held the young painter in high regard, especially after the Metropolitan Museum of Art accepted one of his paintings for its permanent collection. However, this early success did not ease the financial struggles of the Great Depression. Wiggins was extremely practical during his early years, often painting cityscapes that were easily recognizable and marketable. 

Guy Carleton Wiggins slowly built a reputation for painting winter-themed streets. He later told about his love affair with snowstorms and sleet. One day, Wiggins tried to paint a summer landscape during New York’s frigid winter. It did not go smoothly. Wiggins looked up during a break and observed the city. “Suddenly I saw what was before me— an elevated railroad track with a train dashing madly through the whirling blizzard-like snow that made hazy and indistinct the row of buildings on the far side of the street,” he said. “In a week I was established as a painter of city winter scenes.”

Guy Carleton Wiggins, French Riviera, 1925. Image from John Moran Auctioneers.
Guy Carleton Wiggins, French Riviera, 1925. Image from John Moran Auctioneers.

These winter paintings were Wiggins’ best-sellers for many years. He also retreated to Connecticut during the summer months to paint sunny scenes as a change of pace. In 1925, Wiggins completed a piece titled French Riviera. This oil painting will come to auction with John Moran Auctioneers in April. It was likely completed after Wiggins formally joined the Old Lyme art colony in Connecticut. Executed with chartreuse and shades of dark green, the piece looks over a small village and church steeple. It has a presale estimate of USD 8,000 to $10,000. 

Wiggins rapidly rose to fame thanks to New York’s dreary winters. He lost interest in the subject almost as quickly— there was no creativity in meeting commercial demand. Wiggins spent his later career exploring other themes, including ship harbors and federal architecture. These works never gathered the same acclaim as his winter scenes. At auction, the artist’s highest-priced paintings still depict snow-blanketed streets, bundled-up pedestrians, and fluttering American flags.

Guy Carleton Wiggins, Wall Street Winter. Image from Sotheby’s.
Guy Carleton Wiggins, Wall Street Winter. Image from Sotheby’s.

Wiggins’ Wall Street Winter sold for $229,000 at Sotheby’s in 2008, setting the artist’s current auction record. That hammer price more than doubled the low estimate. With Impressionistic splashes of color and a church spire positioned at the vanishing point, the piece reflects Wiggins’ signature style. More recently, Skinner sold a winter painting of Fifth Avenue for $106,250. Estimates for the artist’s summer and fall paintings typically fall between $3,000 and $12,000. 

Though Wiggins died in 1962, the family artistic tradition continued with his son. Guy Arthur Wiggins painted the streets of New York for the next several decades. In 2011, the Salmagundi Club in Greenwich Village featured all three generations of Wiggins painters. The club’s then-president, Claudia Seymour, pointed out the unusual arrangement for The New York Times. Talented children sometimes take up their parents’ crafts, “but to go on to a third generation is really remarkable.” 

Guy Carleton Wiggins’ French Riviera painting from 1925 will be available with John Moran Auctioneers on April 6th, 2021. Bidding will start at 3:00 PM EDT. For the complete catalog and to place a bid, visit LiveAuctioneers.

Interested in artist histories at auction? Check out Auction Daily’s profile of Ida Kohlmeyer.