Christie’s In Praise of America Auction Celebrates American Folk Art

Nazia Safi
Published on

The term “folk art” originated in the United States in the early 1900s to describe works produced by those who lack formal artistic training. It includes a range of mediums, from painting and crafted objects to sculpture and furniture. American folk art was not fully appreciated until the turn of the 20th century, drawing extra attention in the 1920s. The category continues to attract collectors today. Christie’s will bring a collection of American Folk Art to auction in New York on January 21st and 22nd, 2021. 

More than 80 lots in the upcoming event come from the collection of American folk art collectors Joanne and Fred Siegmund. In the 1960s, the young couple began looking for folk art to furnish their new Upper West Side apartment. Soon the couple collected a vast assemblage of American folk art and objects. “We remember the story behind each piece and the dealer it came from; finding it and buying it really was the best part of the whole story,” said Joanne Siegmund. “We never bought anything that we didn’t like.” The highlight of the collection is a pair of portraits by husband-wife duo Samuel Addison Shute and Ruth Whittier Shute.

Samuel Addison Shute (1803-1836) and Ruth Whittier Shute (1803-1882), A Pair of Portraits of Silas and Rebecca Sherman, undated. Image from Christie’s.
Samuel Addison Shute (1803-1836) and Ruth Whittier Shute (1803-1882), A Pair of Portraits of Silas and Rebecca Sherman, undated. Image from Christie’s.

Samuel Addison Shute (1803-1836) and Ruth Whittier Shute (1803-1882) had a brief but prolific painting career. Samuel Addison Shute, a practiced physician, joined his wife in an artistic partnership after their marriage in 1827. The couple traveled through the small cities of northern New England and New York State as portrait painters. They often collaborated on the same portrait. When working with paper, they primarily used watercolor supplemented with pencil, gouache, gum arabic, and blank areas to obtain different effects. 

A Pair of Portraits of Silas and Rebecca Sherman by the Shute duo is available in the upcoming auction (USD 30,000 – $50,000). The man is shown wearing a black coat and a gold anchor pin. Beside him, the woman is depicted in a black ruffled-sleeved dress and crown with a book in her hand.

Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), George Washington, 1788. Image from Christie’s.
Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), George Washington, 1788. Image from Christie’s.

Charles Peale Polk (1767 – 1822) is another notable folk artist highlighted in this January sale. Nephew of the esteemed artists Charles Willson Peale and James Peale, Polk was orphaned at the age of ten. He was raised by Charles Willson Peale and became one of the artist’s first pupils. Peale encouraged Polk to practice by making copies of his portraits.

During the early part of George Washington’s presidency, Polk painted a series of presidential portraits based on Peale’s well-known 1779 painting of George Washington at Princeton. Polk’s 1788 George Washington portrait shows the president in his blue and buff general’s uniform with three stars on the epaulet ($200,000 – $300,000). According to the lot essay, the portrait was probably executed under the guidance of Polk’s uncle and teacher, Charles Willson Peale.

Joshua Johnson (1763-1824), Portrait of a Woman, undated. Image from Christie’s.
Joshua Johnson (1763-1824), Portrait of a Woman, undated. Image from Christie’s.

Joshua Johnson, America’s first-known professional Black artist, was born into slavery in Maryland during the mid-18th century. However, he earned his freedom after completing an apprenticeship with a blacksmith. Although much about his life remains contradictory and mysterious, it is believed that Johnson mostly worked as a portrait painter. Johnson’s portraits often feature subjects sitting on chairs and gazing directly at the viewer. Most of his paintings have plain backgrounds; small objects such as flowers, letters, books, and dogs often adorn Johnson’s canvases.

Joshua Johnson’s Portrait of a Woman will be available with an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. The painting depicts a woman sitting on a chair with her arms crossed, looking directly at the viewer. She sports an updo and a headscarf above her ruffled collar. In one hand, she holds a half-open book. Two other pieces from the artist will also be available. 

Other notable American folk artists featured in the event include James Sharples, William Matthew Prior, and Gilbert Stuart.

Christie’s upcoming In Praise of America: Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, Prints and Broadsides sale will be held on January 21st and 22nd, 2021, at 2:00 PM EST. Visit Christie’s for more information and to place a bid.

Want to learn more about folk and unconventional art? Auction Daily recently shined a spotlight on outsider art at auction

Media Source
Writer
James Ardis
James Ardis
Senior Writer and Editor

James Ardis is a writer, editor, and content strategist focused on the auction industry. His company, James Ardis Writing, has partnered with auction houses, galleries, and many clients outside the art world.

More in the auction industry