6 Auction Highlights for American Art

May is the season for American art at auction. This past May was no exception, as many auction houses saw record highs for the work of America’s most beloved artists.

Here are 6 American artists who shattered auction estimates over the past month.

See more record-breaking prices and history-making artworks on Artory’s free price database.

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1. Gertrude Abercrombie

Gertrude Abercrombie was an American surrealist painter involved in the Chicago Jazz scene, often called “the queen of bohemian artists.” Her motifs include moons, owls, cats, and giraffes. She famously said, “It is always myself that I paint.”

“Giraffe,” (1954), was recently sold by Sotheby’s at their “American Art” sale. It fetched a price of $365,400, against its estimate of $10,000-15,000.

2. Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses

Grandma Moses was an American folk artist who began painting in earnest at the age of 78. On her art, The New York Times notes “The simple realism, nostalgic atmosphere and luminous color with which Grandma Moses portrayed simple farm life and rural countryside won her a wide following. She was able to capture the excitement of winter’s first snow, Thanksgiving preparations and the new, young green of oncoming spring.”

When she died in 1961, President John F. Kennedy memorialized her, saying, “The death of Grandma Moses removed a beloved figure from American life. The directness and vividness of her paintings restored a primitive freshness to our perception of the American scene. Both her work and her life helped our nation renew its pioneer heritage and recall its roots in the countryside and on the frontier. All Americans mourn her loss.”

“Christmas Trees,” 1955, was recently sold by Sotheby’s for $119,700.

3. Childe Hassam

Childe Hassam was a pioneer of American Impressionism, along with Mary Cassatt and John Henry Twachtman. As the foremost chronicler of New York City at the turn of the century, Hassam is best known for his urban and coastal scenes.

“There was that Preparedness Day, and I looked up the avenue and saw these wonderful flags, waving, and I painted the series of Flag Pictures after that.” Hassam recalled. “Flags on 57th Street, Winter 1918” was recently sold by Sotheby’s for $12,328,500. It previously belonged to The New York Historical Society and was sold to support museum’s collections.

4. Mickalene Thomas

Mickalene Thomas once said, “The 70s are a part of my work, not necessarily because of nostalgia but because of a recontextualizing process. I’m reinventing those experiences that I have no memory of. I try to incorporate all these aspects of myself in my work: what I grew up with, what I’m inspired by—textiles, African photography, Yoruban art, Cubism, Matisse.”

Thomas is best known for her depictions of African American women. She notably painted a portrait of Michelle Obama in 2008, which is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery. “Raquel Reclining Wearing Purple Jumpsuit,” a portrait of the artist’s partner, was recently sold by Christie’s for $1,830,000, well above the estimate of $400,000-$600,000.

5. Joan Mitchell

Joan Mitchell was an important American Abstract Expressionist artist. The art market is finally recognizing her genius as Mitchell’s market began to heat up a few years ago: six of her top seven auction records have all come since 2018, including two from 2020.

Untitled, 1958

“Untitled” was sold for $7,158,000 at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction on May 12.

6. Roy Lichtenstein

As a leading figure in the Pop Art movement, Roy Lichtenstein once said “I take a cliché and try to organize its forms to make it monumental. The difference is often not great, but it is crucial.” Lichtenstein used Ben-Day dots in his work, which was widely used by newspapers and comic strips to render gradients. His work mimics the mechanical technique on a much larger scale.

Executed in 1977 at the height of the artist’s celebrated Surrealist period, “Girl with Beach Ball II” was sold for $14,052,000 at Sotheby’s American Visionary: The Collection of Mrs. John L. Marion sale.

Search through Artory’s free price database to see more artworks by these American artists and to explore their artwork prices, trends, and records.

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