Artworks Once Owned by William Louis-Dreyfus Highlighted Christie’s Somewhat Muted $2 Million Outsider Art Sale


“Outsider art” may not always be easy to define, but demand has never been broader or more intense, according to Christie’s specialist Cara Zimmerman.

Featuring 90 lots, yesterday’s online “Outsider and Vernacular Art” sale pulled in just over $2 million. That total cleared the $1.57 million presale high estimate, with a strong sell-through rate of 97 percent sold by lot and 99 percent sold by value. The auction included selections from the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, sold to benefit both the Foundation and the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The total is down from a larger sale of 128 lots last year that pulled in $3.3 million that had an identical 99 percent sell through rate.

The highest price went to one of the most famous names in the genre, Bill Traylor. The tempera, graphite, and colored pencil on paper work Two Dogs Fighting: Man Chasing Dog (1939-42) sold for $293,750, on an estimate of $100,000 to $200,000. 

Martin Ramirez, Untitled (Tunnels and Train) (circa 1950s) Image courtesy Christie's.

Martin Ramirez, Untitled (Tunnels and Train) (circa 1950s) Image courtesy Christie’s.

It was followed by a work by another star of the genre, Martin Ramirez, whose Untitled (Tunnels and Train) (ca. 1950s) sold for $187,500, far above the $40,000 to $80,000 estimate. And Thornton Dial’s mixed media on canvas Creation of Life in the Blackberry Patch (2003) sold for $150,000, also off of an estimate of $40,000 to $80,000.

The auction also set new artist records for lesser known names such as Judith Scott, Raymond Materson, and Laura Craig McNellis. A Scott sculpture, Untitled (Heart) (1993), which was made with yarn and canvas strips and came from the Dreyfus collection, sold for $52,500, on an estimate of $15,000 to $30,000. Materson’s colorful embroidery Pittsburgh Tavern (1994), also from the Dreyfus collection, sold for $9,375, on an estimate of $1,500 to $3,000. And McNellis’s acrylic on newsprint Blue and Yellow Garments (ca. 1982) sold for $3,750, clearing the high $3,000 estimate and marking the artist’s first time at auction.

Thornton Dial, Creation of Life in the Blackberry Patch (2003). Image courtesy Christie's.

Thornton Dial, Creation of Life in the Blackberry Patch (2003). Image courtesy Christie’s.

“Phone and internet bidding enabled buyers and bidders from around the globe to set exceptional prices and make the sale a great success,” Zimmerman said in a statement. “Art institutions, first-time bidders and established collectors all participated.”

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