The sale will be held in the firm’s Lone Jack gallery, located 30 miles east of Kansas City, beginning at 10 am. (CST).
Both letters were written by Mr. Benton to his parents while he was in his early 20s – one in 1906, when he was attending Western Military Academy in Alton, Ill.; and the other between 1908 and 1911, while he was studying art in Paris. The illustrations, which relate to the narrative content, were done in pen and ink. The letters carry pre-sale estimates of $2,500-$5,000 each.
“It will be interesting to see how these letters do, considering there are no records of anything like them having ever been offered on the national market,” said Dirk Soulis of Dirk Soulis Auctions. “The illustrations and lively content should make them desirable to collectors, and they’re both clean and intact. They were sold at a little-publicized auction by a relative of Mr. Benton's some years ago, and the current owner very fortunately has consigned them to us.”
The 1906 letter, written from Western Military Academy, runs three pages, two of which have illustrations relating to life at the academy. On the back side of page one is a full-length portrait of the quartermaster, and on the third page is a depiction of Sunday dinner so crowded “it’s barely possible to get your foot to your mouth.” Each page measures 9.5 inches by 6 inches.
The other letter, written from Paris, includes a self-portrait illustration of the artist with a pompadour-style hair-do, sitting in his flat. Another drawing he titles “my foot in sandals.” The content gives accounts of Mr. Benton’s work and daily life. He talks about landscape painting, the cost of materials, a baker who extends him credit, his art dealer, a hired model and more.
Thomas Hart Benton went on to become one of America’s foremost painters and muralists. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, almost sculpted works depicted scenes of everyday life in the United States. He was born in Neosho, Mo., and is strongly associated with the Midwest.
The Benton letters are actually part of an auction that will be dedicated mainly to Mission furniture, art pottery and lamps. Around 350 lots have been consigned, mostly from prominent local estates and collections, and only one lot – a Tiffany lamp – carries a reserve (minimum the consignor will accept). The rest is an absolute auction: everything sells, regardless of final price.
Three oil on canvas works by the Italian artist Nicola Simbari (b. 1927) will be sold to the highest bidder. The works titled Purple (23 inches by 31 inches) and Boats at Twilight (28 inches by 40 inches) both carry pre-sale estimates of $3,000-$4,000. The third painting, titled Sails (32 inches by 40 inches) is expected to garner $5,000-$7,000. All three works are nicely framed.
Two Tiffany lamps are expected to get paddles wagging. The first is a late 19th century Hampshire Pottery melon form green matte glaze art pottery table lamp with oil font, dated 1897 and with a 16-inch-wide leaded dome shade with rectangular green panels decorated with yellow pomegranates (est. $8,000-$12,000); and a bronze harp form lamp base signed Tiffany Studios and numbered 419, with a gorgeous gold aurene shade attributed to Steuben (est. $1,500-$3,000).
A pair of Rookwood art pottery vases are expected to generate much bidder interest. One is a monumental (24 inches tall) early standard glaze vase attributed to Albert Valentien (1885), with bats against a full moon (est. $1,000-$2,000); the other is a vase with rooks on a board fence at sunrise/sunset, signed on the base for Kataro Shirayamdani, 1909 (est. $2,500-$5,000).
Returning to fine art, two noteworthy oil on canvas paintings deserve mention. The first is a work by French artist Michel Henry (b. 1928). Measuring 44 by 76 inches minus the original frame, the painting is in fine overall condition (est. $2,000-$3,000). The second is a painting by Cuban artist Baruj Salinas (b. 1935), titled Tepetl II, 69.5 inches by 49 inches (est. $500-$1,000).
Other artworks will include a Colorado watercolor on paper by Birger Sandzen (1871-1954), done circa 1930s, showing a lake and mountains with snow (est. $8,000-$12,000). The 15 inch by 21.5 inch work, minus the frame, is in very good condition. Also sold will be a monotype print of a work by Abraham Walkowitz (1878-1965), titled Blind (est. $500-$1,000).
Finally, a Gustav Stickley umbrella stand with pegged construction and boasting good original finish and color, is expected to hit $500-$700. To view all the lots to be sold, please log on to DirkSoulisAuctions.com, which will allow you to link to LiveAuctioneers.com, the auction’s Internet bidding facilitator. Phone and absentee bids will also be accepted for this sale.
Previews will be held on Friday, Nov. 11, from 4-7 pm., and on Saturday, Nov. 12, the date of sale, from 8-10 am. At 10 am., some uncataloged items will be offered. Immediately after that, the cataloged items will be sold. The Dirk Soulis Auctions gallery facility is located at 529 West Lone Jack-Lee’s Summit Road in Lone Jack, Mo., under the large white water tower.
Dirk Soulis Auctions (DirkSoulisAuctions.com) is always accepting quality consignments for future auctions. To consign an item, an estate or a collection, you may call them at (816) 697-3830, or toll-free at (800) 252-1501.