Auction Results: The Artists of the WPA, February 4, 2021 @Swann

Given the historical resonance between our current moment and the post-Great Depression efforts to restart the economy, the idea of a WPA-themed art auction makes inspired sense. This sale at Swann last week included not only photography supported by the FSA and other government agencies, but artworks in a variety of mediums from the period.

In general, the photographs on offer performed to their modest expectations. A few positive surprises from Rothstein, Sekaer, Vachon, and others helped the Total Sale Proceeds for photography (of roughly $150K) find their way to just above the low end of the aggregate pre-sale estimate range.

The summary statistics are below (all results include the buyer’s premium):

Summary Statistics
Total Lots 59
Aggregate Pre Sale Low Estimate $141900
Aggregate Pre Sale High Estimate $212300
Total Lots Sold 43
Total Lots Bought In 16
Buy In % 27.12%
Total Sale Proceeds $148527

Here is the breakdown (using our typical Low, Mid, and High price range definitions):

Detailed Breakdown
Low Total Lots 55
Total Low Lots Sold 43
Total Low Lots Bought In 12
Low Buy In % 21.28%
Aggregate High Estimate of Low Lots $158300
Total Proceeds from Low Lots $148527
Mid Total Lots 4
Total Mid Lots Sold 0
Total Mid Lots Bought In 4
Mid Buy In % 100.00%
Aggregate High Estimate of Mid Lots $54000
Total Proceeds from Mid Lots $0
Total High Lots 0
Total High Lots Sold NA
Total High Lots Bought In NA
High Buy In % NA
Aggregate High Estimate of High Lots $0
Total Proceeds from High Lots $0

The top lot by High estimate was tied between two lots: lot 13, Lester Beall, It’s Fine For Us/Rural Electrification Administration, 1939, and lot 14, Lester Beall, A Better Home/Rural Electrification Administration, 1941, each estimated at $10000-15000; neither lot found a buyer. The top outcome of the sale was lot 54, John Vachon, A select group of 38 photographs, 1937-1942, estimated at $5000-7500, sold at $37500 (image above, via Swann).

83.72% of the lots that sold had proceeds in or above the estimate range and there were a total of 4 positive surprises in the sale (defined as having proceeds of at least double the high estimate) (images above via Swann):

Lot 18, Charles Krutch, Men playing checkers, Red Bank, Tennessee, for the Tennessee Valley Authority, 1935, estimated at $600-900, sold at $3250

Lot 21, Arthur Rothstein, Rally for the Townsend Plan, Kansas, 1936/1980, estimated at $1000-1500, sold at $3500

Lot 25, Peter Sekaer, Old Fashioned Kitchen on Virginia Farm, 1936, estimated at $1200-1800, sold at $5250

Lot 54, John Vachon, A select group of 38 photographs, 1937-1942, estimated at $5000-7500, sold at $37500

The complete lot by lot results can be found here.

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Read more about: Arthur Rothstein, Charles Krutch, John Vachon, Peter Sekaer, Swann Auction Galleries

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