George Platt, as a still-life painter, may not stand out among his peers from the Northeast. With neither the lush colors under suffused light as in Fall River School nor the sumptuousness of George Henry Hall, Platt’s works are not widely collected in the art institutes of America nowadays. But as one of a few 19th-century painters who moved to the West after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the regional interests from the west coast have kept the demand for his work fairly high. A tabletop still life painting featuring two apples and one knife by George Platt was auctioned on June 15 at John Moran Auctions and fetched $1700 plus premium. Yes, $850 per apple!
Trained in Germany in the early 1870s and possibly PAFA in the last 1870s, Platt moved to Chicago and later Denver and spent the rest of his life. It was probably during his PAFA period when he met Harnett and Peto and learned to paint Trompe l’oeil style.
In this tabletop still life painting, Platt chose a more conventional composition: Against a somber background, fruits were lit by dim light to show colors and texture. It is similar to what was sold at Pook & Pook in 2005 although in the previous one, the apples pouring out of a tilted tin basket enable the painter to render smooth and suffused reflection with sensual pleasure. In both pictures, there awaits the moments and dynamics within the quietude. The knife has been intentionally placed in a different diagonal near the edge, is that an allusion to the dangers of sensual pursuits?
If Platt’s western status explains the relatively high price reached in a California auction house, then the immediate next lot, a sketch work by John Francis Murphy, which was sold surprisingly above the high estimate, may testify that aesthetics eyes are looking for gems which are not necessarily beautiful or complete.
The late Murphy often adopted a more broad brushstroke bordering impressionism. “The Old Barn” by Murphy, at the Luce Center of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, shows his freedom from laboring jewelry colors in one of his favorite subject matter: Indian summer.
But this small oil on board is angrier and dasher, with the dark brown tones typical of works from his mid career. Murphy’s pencil sketches were exhibited along with his paintings in the 1980’s at the Hudson River Museum. Most of these drawings were well composed, clean and organized, although they lack the ambitious details of a Durand. In the 1870’s he painted numerous shadow-box miniature paintings (less than 6 by 8) to adorn the parlors of the wealthy, yet those paintings, regardless of their size, are complete in the content and reside in their own nostalgia moods amid the fast changing Gilded Age. This one was not: It is mostly a color sketch and was probably used to prepare for a bigger canvas. Thus it is a rare chance to see the process of the painter, who settled down the moody tone with spontaneous strokes.
The small sketch was sold for $2500 plus premium.