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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
 

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Bloomberg.com

Steve Martin Hopper, Wistful Rockwell Break Auction Records

By Lindsay Pollock

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Actor Steve Martin's somber 1955 Edward Hopper painting of a pensive woman looking out a dark window sold for $26.89 million this morning at Sotheby's New York, an auction record for the artist.

``Hotel Window,'' estimated to bring more than $10 million, was purchased anonymously by phone.

The previous Hopper record, $2.42 million for the 1930 ``South Truro Church,'' had stood for 16 years.

Just a few minutes earlier, ``Breaking Home Ties,'' a 1954 Norman Rockwell painting of a father sending his son off to college (and made to be a cover of the Saturday Evening Post), sold for $15.42 million, also an artist record.

The work was sold by the children of a neighbor of the artist. Its anonymous buyer bid by phone as well.

The previous Rockwell top price was $9.2 million, set in May at Sotheby's New York.

New York art dealer Howard Godel said that the sale shows ``there's a ton of money chasing the iconic pictures -- and these were iconic pictures.''

The Hopper and Rockwell were part of Sotheby's American painting auction, studded with important 19th- and 20th- century artworks by Mary Cassatt, John Marin and Georgia O'Keeffe. Christie's American painting sale takes place tomorrow.

Few for Sale

Hoppers rarely appear on the market. The artist was not prolific, painting just 366 canvases; he died in 1967. During the 1950s, when he was in his 70s, he produced about five paintings a year. Hopper's longtime dealer, Frank Rehn, who gave the artist his first solo show in 1924, sold ``Hotel Window'' to collector Olga Knoepke for $7,000 ($50,270 in 2006 currency) in 1957.

It was later owned at various times by Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza and dealer Andrew Crispo. Publisher Malcolm Forbes paid $1.32 million for it in 1987.

The painting was exhibited in 2001 at a show of Steve Martin's collection at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas along with a more spectacular Hopper: the 1927 ``Captain Upton's House.''

``Hotel Window'' had been part of the Whitney Museum's Hopper exhibition currently on view in New York.

Hopper ``evokes a certain period and style that other artists don't,'' said American painting dealer Debra Force. ``It's very classic American, but in a modernist context.''

Cinematic Scene

``Hotel Window'' looks something like a film still. It is nighttime, and a seated older woman, wearing a burgundy hat and dress, is waiting for someone who seems unlikely to arrive.

``It's no particular hotel lobby,'' Hopper said of the work (as quoted in Sotheby's catalog). ``I guess it's lonelier than I planned it.''

Artist Donald Trachte, a Vermont neighbor, bought ``Breaking Home Ties'' from Rockwell in 1960 for $900. Because of a divorce in the 1970s, Trachte made a copy of the work and hid the original behind a wall in his studio. His children discovered the original earlier this year.

(Lindsay Pollock writes on the art market for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

Posted by kmt

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