Marsden Hartley's Birch Grove, Autumn Leads Bonhams American Art Sale In New York

New York – A selection of significant modernist works deaccessioned by The Museum of Modern Art, New York (MoMA) and sold to benefit the acquisitions fund, will lead Bonhams American Art sale in New York on Tuesday, November 19. Highlights from The Museum of Modern Art include Birch Grove, Autumn by Marsden Hartley, estimated at $300,000-500,000, and Ordnance Island, Bermuda by Niles Spencer, estimated at $150,000-250,000. Additional highlights in the sale span the 19th and 20th century genres of American Art, including works by John Frederick Kensett, William Glackens, Albert Bierstadt, James Buttersworth, and James Bard.

Marsden Hartley's (1877-1943) revolutionary vision and painting techniques led him to become one of the most pioneering figures of the American Modernist movement. Painted in 1910—a breakthrough year for Hartley– Birch Grove, Autumn is part of a small series of works that included arguably some of the most modern and abstract compositions to have yet been painted in the United States. The previous year, the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz had offered Hartley a one-man show and encouraged him to develop in a more radical direction. An encounter with the work of Henry Matisse and other artists who had trained in Paris introduced him to avant-garde techniques. The color and directness in Hartley's work profoundly changed and in the summer through autumn months of 1910, in his home state of Maine, he painted this small series of intimately-sized landscapes that are stylistically bold and vigorous, including Birch Grove, Autumn.

Birch Grove, Autumn was once in the collection of theatrical set designer, architect, artist and long-time friend of Hartley's, Lee Simonson, who acquired it from Stieglitz and bequeathed it to MoMA.

Niles Spencer (1893-1952) painted Ordnance Island, Bermuda during a two-month excursion to Bermuda in the winter of 1927-28, and it exemplifies the artist's lifelong fascination with a modernized style of realism. Spencer was a subtle and sophisticated colorist who selected, analyzed, and refined his subjects until he reached the mature moment to construct the work. His creative process was careful and time-consuming.
Ordnance Island, Bermuda's highly-refined geometric aesthetic, muted tones, and the focus on simplification of form are hallmarks of the artist's strongest work and tie him to the group of American artists known as the Precisionists.

Ordnance Island, Bermuda was part of the collection of the American lawyer, financier, and renowned philanthropist and art collector, Sam Lewisohn, who gifted it to The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1938.

Additional highlights in the sale include superb 19th century landscapes such as John Frederick Kensett's Sunset in the Adirondacks, painted in 1859, (estimate: $200,000-300,000) formerly in the collection of the publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, and stands in Kensett's oeuvre as one of the artist's largest and most accomplished works on the subject of the Adirondacks; Albert Bierstadt's Mount St. Helens, Columbia River, Oregon, painted circa 1889, a superb example of Bierstadt's skill as a landscapist (estimate: $250,000-350,000). In addition, this work by Bierstadt has been requested for the February 8 to May 17, 2020 exhibition Volcano! Mount St. Helens in Art organized by the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon.

Bonhams Director of American Art, Jennifer Jacobsen, commented: "Bonhams is honored to offer for sale a selection of deaccessioned works from The Museum of Modern Art that are being sold to benefit the acquisitions fund. Marsden Hartley's Birch Grove, Autumn and Niles Spencer's Ordnance Island, Bermuda are superb examples of American Modernism. Both works are strong expressions from painters working at pivotal points of inspiration and development in their careers. With their excellent provenance and exhibition history, we anticipate a great deal of interest from collectors. The American Art sale as a whole will also offer a strong and well-rounded selection of American Impressionism and 19th century landscape paintings, including John Frederick Kensett's impressively large-scale work, Sunset in the Adirondacks."

Other highlights of the sale include:

Mount St. Helens, Columbia River, Oregon by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Estimate: US$250,000-350,000.

Sunset in the Adirondacks by John Frederick Kensett (1816-1872). Once in the collection of W. Randolph Hearst, it is estimated at US$200,000-300,000.

Ship of the Line USS Ohio in Stormy Weather by James Edward Buttersworth (1817-1894). Estimate: US$120,000-180,000.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest and most renowned auctioneers, offering fine art and antiques, motor cars and jewelry. The main salerooms are in London, New York, Los Angeles and Hong Kong, with auctions also held in Knightsbridge, Edinburgh, Paris, San Francisco and Sydney. With a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 22 countries, Bonhams offers advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full list of forthcoming auctions, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments, please visit


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