by Donna Poulton
"The West is dead... you may lose a sweetheart but you won't forget her."
- Charles Russell
The Charles M. Russell Museum, located in Great Falls Montana, has been auctioning and selling art to finance their Museum for the past 50 years. In those 50 years, the last vestiges of the old West have slipped away forever and a new West has emerged. Whether we like it or not, there is no going back to those ‘good old days’ … It’s all the more intriguing, then, that buyers from all over the world continue to purchase paintings with images that take them back in time to a pristine landscape and a romanticized idea of an uncomplicated way of life. Last year the C. M. Russell Museum auction event raised over $1.6 million in art and related sales over a three-day period—an enviable sum for any museum.
Charles M. Russell Cabin, at the Charles M. Russell Museum. Photo courtesy of roger4336.
This year, with over 400 bidders in attendance, the event is predicted to top last year’s record. Although the tally is not yet in, a look at the auction sales today suggests they're on track. While not sizzling, the overall sales met the low estimate and there were no passes—often seen at other auctions in the last few years. For the discerning eye, a few objects slipped through the cracks … a Kathryn Stats painting was a steal at $3500 and an Edwin Curtis photograph, estimated to sell between $10,000 to $14,000, sold for $6000.
Cliff Light by Kathryn Stats. Photo courtesy of www.icollector.com
The Vanishing Race by Edward S. Curtis
Bawling Calf, a painting by Contemporary Cowboy Artist of America Bill Owens, went for over estimate with the premium, but it was worth it to anyone who works with or loves cattle.
The most exciting part of this year’s auction, though, was getting a glimpse of the old West masters: Will James, Edward Borein, Sydney Lawrence, O.C. Seltzer, O.E. Berninghaus and of course Charles Russell. Their work also sold within estimates, but on the low side. The much anticipated sale of a Charles Russell painting, estimated to sell between $240,000 and $280,000, came in low at $200,000, but that’s still not a bad price for a watercolor.
Bronco Buster by Charles M. Russell
Among the Adobes-Taos by Oscar E. Berninghaus
With the Pioneer Woman giving the keynote, the auction and a number of other events filling out the week, Great Falls, Montana was the place to be this weekend.