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Fine Art as an Investment: Everett Shinn (1876-1953) by Charles A. Riley
by Charles A. Riley II

Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Stage Scene, 1902. Oil on canvas, 24 x 29-1/2 inches. Property from the Collection of Rita and Daniel Fraad, Sotheby's, New York, lot 20 (December 1, 2004). Courtesy of Sotheby's, New York.

Shinn presented this painting to the Lotos Club to pay the bill for his dues. Nearly one hundred years later, it sold for the auction price of $7,848,000, a record for a work by Shinn.

Athletes have a locker-room term for a player who wins through sheer desire and hustle  they call him 'hungry.' Few artists it seems were hungrier for success than Everett Shinn (1876-1953). One anecdote relates how Harper's Weekly editor-in-chief Colonel George Harvey, perhaps inspired by the December blizzard then in progress, asked Shinn if he could produce a picture of the patrons leaving the Metropolitan Opera House in a snowstorm. The eager young illustrator said he had precisely the drawing needed, then sprinted to a midtown stationer, where he bought a cheap box of pastels and paper, and headed to the opera house. The resulting work, the magnificent A Winter's Night on Broadway, ran as a centerfold in the February 17, 1900, edition of the magazine.

Now it is collectors who are hungry for Shinn's work. 'Everybody's looking for any drawing or painting by him they can find,' says Janay Wong of David Findlay Jr. Fine Art in New York. Shinn's top price to date at auction was reached in December 2004 at Sotheby's sale of the holdings of Rita and Daniel Fraad, when Stage Scene sold for a healthy $7.8 million (against an estimate of $2.5-$3.5 million). Shinn produced the work for the Lotos Club, a New York haven for artists and theater types that accepted paintings in lieu of dues. The theater was one of Shinn's favorite subjects, and here he incorporated an often-used orchestra perspective, probably influenced by the work of Edgar Degas. Also a painter of theater scenery, Shinn often included elaborate backdrops in his works, as in Stage Scene. Shinn was in fact so taken by the theater that he built a small stage in his studio, where he wrote, cast, directed, and acted in his own plays, writing a total of thirty-five scripts. Shinn expanded his interest in theater to the motion picture world, moving to Hollywood in 1917 to work as an art director. He returned to New York in 1923 where he continued his artistic pursuits.

Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Flower Shop, Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street, New York City, 1940. Watercolor and pencil on paper, 6 x 7-1/2 inches. Courtesy of James Graham and Sons, New York. Priced at $18,000.

Shinn displayed a light touch and delicate palette in this watercolor.

Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Millionaire's Row, 1904. Pastel on paper, 9-1/4 x 14 inches. Courtesy of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC, New York.

The history of Shinn's prices at auction are more erratic than those achieved for the work of fellow Ashcan School figures like John Sloan (1871-1951). In 1985, Shinn's oil on canvas In the Lodge sold at Christie's for $242,000. It took more than a decade, however, for his prices to reach that level again. In 1999, Sotheby's sold paintings by Shinn for $321,000 and $411,000, respectively.

Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Washington Park Square, 1910. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20-1/2 inches. Courtesy of Roughton Galleries, Inc., Dallas, Tx. Priced at $120,000.

Yet it does not require that kind of money to acquire a work by Shinn. At heart an illustrator, his hand was rarely still. He drew daily, capturing urban scenes. Many galleries have a broad selection of his drawings available in various price ranges, including New York's James Graham and Sons, whose founder was a close friend of Shinn's. 'For an artist of his stature his drawings are remarkably affordable and I'd have to add they are classic, sexy, wonderfully executed, and frankly compelling,' says Priscilla Caldwell, vice president of the gallery, adding that prices for his drawings begin at $12,000 and reach $25,000 for fine examples of his black line and red conté crayon works.

Shinn's graphic works (which also include cartoons and newspaper illustrations made throughout his career) are prodigious  over his career he illustrated twenty-eight books and ninety-four magazine stories. Among the great unpublished books of all time was the 1900 suite of prints he intended to gather in a volume under the title New York By Night. The book never materialized, but many of the prints were made and occasionally surface on the market.
Shinn, who grew up in Woodstown, New Jersey, started his career as an industrial designer for a gas-fixtures company in Philadelphia before enrolling, in 1893, in the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he took classes with Thomas Anshutz. At the same time he met illustrators William J. Glackens, George Luks, and John Sloan while working as an artist-reporter at the Philadelphia Press. After graduating in 1897, he was the first of these artists (also joined by Robert Henri) to move to New York. The five were joined by Arthur B. Davies, Ernest Lawson, and Maurice Prendergast for a landmark exhibit in 1908 at the Macbeth Gallery, held in protest against the National Academy's rejection of work submitted for exhibit. The Eight, as they became known, were reacting against what they considered the stilted classicism of academic painting at the time. Though this was the only occasion The Eight exhibited together as a group, their protest laid the groundwork for American modernism.

Everett Shinn (1876-1953), Interior Scene with Nude, ca. 1925. Oil on canvas, 12 x 15-1/2 inches. Courtesy of ACA Galleries, New York.

The spontaneity that made the Ashcan School so popular imbues this scene.

Soon after arriving in New York, Shinn was recruited by The World to do quick sketches of fires and trolley accidents. By 1899 he had the first of many mural commissions  among his most renowned are the eighteen-panel work he made in 1907 for the Stuyvesant Theater and his 1911 treatment of local industry in Trenton City Hall, both of which survive. Shinn, with Henri, Glackens, Luks, Sloan, and Davies, were among a group of artists, referred to as the Ashcan School, who were intrigued with contemporary urban culture and the gritty side of New York . He differed, however, in that he was drawn more to the theater and Park Avenue life than to the Bowery, shifting away from the seamy cultural emphasis of his Ashcan colleagues. 'It's just that the uptown life with all its glitter was more good-looking... Ah, the clothes then, the movement of the satins, women's skirts and men's coats and swish of wild boas, oh Lord,' he once ecstatically observed.

ACA Galleries in New York recently placed two significant works on the market. Interior Scene with Nude is a glowing rhapsody in golds and maroons, with glints of candlelight on ormolu and blushing flesh. Nudes were a recurring subject in Shinn's works, his life drawing skills were more developed than many of his fellow Ashcan painters. As the author of a 1935 article in Time magazine noted, 'Readers of mass circulation magazines have long known illustrator Everett Shinn as the creator of slinky voluptuous ladies with incredibly long legs and arms.'1

Everett Shinn (1876-1953),Steps Between Houses Paris Street, 1903. Pastel on paper, 21 x 28 inches. Courtesy of ACA Galleries, New York.

Shinn, the quintessential New York painter, visited Paris in 1900. While there he absorbed the influence of Degas and Daumier. This pastel of a street scene was part of an important international show at Durand-Ruel in 1903.

The second of the ACA images is a rarer Paris street scene in pastel that was first exhibited at the Durand-Ruel Gallery in 1903). Jeffrey Bergen, president of ACA and a Shinn expert, admires Shinn's virtuosity: 'He was such a multitalented, mercurial individual who just didn't have enough time in the day to do the things he wanted to do.'

Collector Leonard Milberg last year donated a major late pastel of a signature snowy New York street scene by the artist to Princeton University Art Museum. An early collector of Shinn, Milberg has witnessed the growing appreciation for the artist's work. 'When I first started collecting him he was thought of as a great illustrator, but of late he has become much more than that. I think he's delightful, wonderful; the quintessential artist of New York, especially for that fascinating period.'

1. 'One of Eight,' Time (March 11, 1935).
Charles A. Riley II is a cultural historian and professor at City University, New York. His two dozen books include Aristocracy and the Modern Imagination and Color Codes.


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