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WSJ Magazine’s Hicks Hiccup: Piece Features an Auction “Record” That Wasn’t UPDATED

Edward Hicks, “The Peaceable Kingdom with the Leopard of Serenity,” 1846-48, from Ralph Esmerian’s collection
Photo: Sotheby’s

The Wall Street Journal‘s new lifestyles magazine, WSJ, which debuted Saturday, had already gone to press when news broke that the record auction price for American folk art—$9.67 million for an 1846-48 version (above) of Edward Hicks‘ “The Peaceable Kingdom”—was never actually paid by the successful bidder at Sotheby’s May 22 auction. That price figured prominently in the new magazine’s piece about the burgeoning American folk art market, The Lion’s Share.

One day before the inaugural issue of the 100-page magazine hit the stands, Felicia Lee of the NY Times reported that Sotheby’s was suing the bidder who had reneged, Halsey Minor, for $16.8 million. (Minor told Lee that he intended to countersue.) UPDATE: David Glovin of Bloomberg had the story two days before the Times. Both reports identified two other Sotheby’s-auctioned paintings that Minor also failed to pay for and that are now part of the auction house’s lawsuit—a Warhol and a Childe Hassam.

The Hicks already had a troubled market history going into this aborted sale: It was unsuccessfully offered privately by Sotheby’s from the collection of the financially beleaguered benefactor of the American Folk Art Museum, Ralph Esmerian. When the undisclosed minimum bid was unmet, the painting was put up for public auction.

This, of course, reminds me of the infamous “auction record” set in 1989 (since broken) by de Kooning‘s ”Interchange,” knocked down at Sotheby’s, New York, for $20.7 million. The Tokyo dealers who made the winning bid failed to pay. Nonetheless, that artist’s “record price” was cited for years to come.

Another iteration of “Peaceable Kingdom,” this one from the collection of the late arts benefactor J. Irwin Miller and his wife, is being offered for an estimated $4-6 million on Sept. 25 at Christie’s. It is anomalously inserted in the American furniture sale (where it is the highest-estimated lot), rather than the American paintings sale being held earlier the same day (where estimates top out at a mere $100,000).

The unfortunate case of bad timing for WSJ magazine’s inaugural art report was matched by the unfortunate rubric under which the article appeared—“How much is it worth?“In the case of the Hicks, that’s a very good question.

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