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WPA Artists at Swann
The Artists of the WPA were on exhibit at Swann Galleries’ Thursday, February 4 auction. The multi-departmental sale was headed by Harold Porcher, the house’s director of Modern and Post-War Art, and featured paintings, prints, photographs, posters and related ephemera by artists whose careers were sustained by the Works Progress Administration and other agencies of the New Deal.
The sale was led by a selection of 38 vintage silver prints spanning 1932-42 by John Vachon, a record for the grouping, that sold for $37,500. Vachon began his work for the Farm Security Administration as an assistant messenger. As his interest in photography grew, he began to make his own photographs and accompanied Arthur Rothstein on one of his assignments; in 1938 Vachon would have his first solo assignment for the FSA in Nebraska. Other photography highlights included Dorothea Lange, with Hoe Culture, Alabama Tenant Farmer near Anniston, silver print, 1936 ($8,125), and Migrant Mother, silver print, 1936, printed circa 1970 ($7,000); Berenice Abbott with Manhattan Bridge (Looking Up), silver contact print, 1936 ($7,000); and Peter Sekaer with Old Fashioned Kitchen on Virginia Farm, silver print, 1936, which was acquired by an institution ($5,250).
Norman Lewis, who worked sporadically with several entities within the WPA, produced one of the highlights among the prints on offer, with his 1943 lithograph Comrades selling for $9,375. Other lithographs that captured collector attention included Benton Spruance’s The 30’s-Windshield, 1939, which brought a record for the print at $6,750; Howard Cook’s Lower Manhattan, 1939, at $8,750; and Grant Wood’s Tree Planting Group, 1937, at $8,750. Joseph Binder’s 1939 poster for the New York’s World Fair brought $5,250—the highest price for the work this century.
Paintings were popular among collectors with records being established for Arthur Getz with a 1938 casein and tempera study selling for $10,625, and Abram Tromka with Third Avenue El, oil on canvas, 1941, at $7,000. Reginald Marsh was represented with The Waterfront, New York, oil on canvas, 1943, which brought $13,750; and Leon Bibel's The Flood, oil on canvas, circa 1939, fetched $5,000.
For more information please contact the specialist, Harold Porcher, at (212) 254-4710, ext. 67 or firstname.lastname@example.org.