The ever-present series of adjustments that have detoured so much of our daily lives and altered a range of anticipated events have compelled those caught in the crosshairs to push forward with a rebounding grit. Although, uncertainty is top of mind, there remains unexpected strokes of enthusiasm and verve that breakthrough the marsh to provide us with clear moments of excitement.
Bidsquare, the exclusive online bidding platform for the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction for the fifth consecutive year, readied itself for an increase in online participation in light of pandemic restrictions and limited, in-person auction attendance. The event on July 25, 2020, was held at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno Nevada and marked the 35th year of the Coeur d'Alene Art Auction's annual sale - where, typically, a fleet of private jets would've touched down on “The Biggest Little City in the World” for the energetic auction hallmarked by groups of men circulating and pointing at the crowd making sounds like, “yip!” or “yep!” and “hep!” This year, coordinated previews and special appointments would suffice in preparing dedicated collectors for the most important Western art event that the market has to offer.
Ahead of auction day, Bidsquare gauged an impressive uptick of registered and approved online bidders with a 68% increase from last year as well as over $1 million in absentee bids. The platform also implemented the use of live audio and video to reinforce the boisterous connection between the Coeur d’Alene Auction auctioneer and their enthusiastic audience - a detail which is appreciated and enjoyed now more than ever. However, the real testament of how auction day would go during these precarious times, began in the most Western way - when the sun reached high noon on that Saturday in Reno.
Bidsquare saw immediate encouragement as the clicks came chattering in like a flood of boot spurs. Solidifying a place on the online platforms' roster was artist, Charles M. Russell. Popularly represented in the Coeur d’Alene Auction's annual catalogs, Charles M. Russell would secure the top two spots in online Bidsquare sales that day. During his lifetime, the American artist created more than 2,000 paintings of cowboys, Native Americans, and landscapes set in the western United States and in Alberta, Canada - in addition to bronze sculptures. The top sale, 'lot 72, Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), Blackfeet War Party (circa 1896), watercolor and gouache on paper' came charging in at $190,400 and, not far behind, came, 'lot 138, Charles M. Russell (1864-1926); Planning the Attack (The Wagon Train) (1902) watercolor on paper' which sold for $154,700.
Lot 72, Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), Blackfeet War Party (circa 1896), watercolor and gouache on paper; Sold on Bidsquare for $190,400
According to Western American art historian Dr. Larry Len Peterson, “Inspired by the watercolors of Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, Charles M. Russell tackled the challenging field of watercolor painting seriously for the first time in the 1890s. His education came in the form of observing prints of other artists’ works, illustrations, exhibitions, and reading how-to artist books -the most important being H. W. Herrick’s Water Color Painting: A Description of Materials with Directions for Their Use in Elementary Practice (1882). Russell was fortunate to be working in a time when the American watercolor movement reached its apex in the 1880s and 1890s. Despite being self-taught, he mastered transparent watercolor painting and routinely employed dry brush and washes. He also began experimenting with gouache—a mix of Chinese white with transparent watercolors. His use of gouache would become a mainstay after the turn of the century.
“During this formative period, Russell often employed a pyramidal composition with a white horse at the front-center. Blackfeet War Party is a fine example of Russell, the nostalgic, using his imagination to back trail on the old frontier. The Blackfeet were his favorite subject, and they were proud of that fact. Galloping to the challenge, the robust warriors with the swirl of dust enveloping them, are eager to engage one of their mortal enemies on the Great Plains, perhaps either the Sioux or the Crow.
“It is striking how few Western American artists in Russell’s era worked in watercolor and how accomplished and prolific Russell would become in this media. In fact, one can make a case that Russell’s greatest talent was not oil painting or sculpting, but his mastery of watercolor.”
Lot 138, Charles M. Russell (1864-1926); Planning the Attack (The Wagon Train) (1902), watercolor on paper; Sold on Bidsquare for $154,700
Rick Stewart wrote, “Almost from the beginning the Plains Indians recognized the threat that the covered wagon caravans represented to their way of life. Sometimes their response was not necessarily to engage in open warfare with the caravans, but to demand tribute from them. ‘Emigrants continually reported that the Indians who came to demand tribute explained also why they were requesting the payments,’ the historian John D. Unrah has written. ‘The native explicitly emphasized that the throngs of overlanders were killing and scaring away buffalo and other wild game, overgrazing prairie grasses, exhausting the small quantity of available timber, and depleting water resources.’ The tribute payments, which could be in specie or provisions were demanded by the Sioux and other tribes whose domains were crossed.
“But conflicts nevertheless occurred because most of the emigrants felt that the Indians had no rights to begin with, and certainly no real ownership of the land over which the wagons passed. In painting his watercolors of this subject, perhaps Russell felt some sort of sympathy with the Indians and their plight; after all, these scenes were painted from the Indian’s point of view, not that of the white man. ‘You can’t blame the Indian very much for being sore at the whites, as they killed what nature had provided for their food and did it wantonly’ Russell is said to have told one of his friends. In his art, Russell sought to make the Indians more visible and appealing, at a time when public sympathy for them was increasing as their frontier culture was rapidly vanishing."
Lot 32, Bob Kuhn (1920-2007); Sunny Day, Cape Churchill, Acrylic on board; Sold on Bidsquare for $71,400
Bidsquare's total online sales saw a gain of 119% compared to last year, capturing $1.4 million during the 2020 Coeur d'Alene Auction, highlighted by the sale of works by renowned artists such as Bob Kuhn, Howard Terpning, Olaf C. Seltzer, Carl Rungius, Edgar Payne, and Maynard Dixon, amongst others. Bidsquare's user-friendly platform and high quality collector base continues to attract winning bids in the annual sale, "Bidsquare has really amazed us both with their service, and the huge increase in bidders year over year. Our clients tell us they love the Bidsquare format and ease of use. With online bidding being such a major component this year, we had full confidence in Bidsquare’s ability and they didn’t disappoint!" notes Mike Overby of The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction.
The historical significance of the artists and specific works included in the Coeur d'Alene Auction is also an integral part of what makes this sale so special. Items such as, 'lot 152, Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952); The North American Indian, Portfolios 1-20; and Vols. 1-20; Stickley Brothers (early 20th cen) American Oak Book Cabinet', for example was, according to Western American art historian Dr. Larry Len Peterson the, ‘Most gigantic undertaking in the making of books since the King James edition of the Bible.’ Read more about it in our previous article, Monumental Portfolio and Paintings To Be Offered at The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction on Bidsquare. The top price of the July 25th sale was achieved by [lot 111] Thomas Moran’s 1883 painting Green River, Wyoming, selling for $1,633,800 - eclipsing the high estimate of $1,500,000. Painted in the prime of his career, Green River, Wyoming was the most significant Moran painting of this size and subject matter to come to market in recent years.
Bidsquare is honored to have served as the exclusive, online partner for The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction and extends its sincere recognition and gratitude to all of the online bidders, familiar and new, who joined us this year.
View the full, post-sale results from The Coeur d'Alene Art Auction, Fine Western & American Art sale, here, on Bidsquare.
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Jessica Helen Weinberg | Senior Content Editor at Bidsquare