Three generations of Wyeth artworks will be auctioned next month, including 14 original oil canvases by N.C. Wyeth that were used to lavishly illustrate the classic adventure tale of "Robinson Crusoe."
The Dec. 2 sale at Christie's also includes works by N.C. Wyeth's son, Andrew, and grandson, Jamie.
Andrew Wyeth's "Above the Narrows" is being offered for sale for the first time since 1961, the year the late mutual fund pioneer Jack J. Dreyfus bought it from the artist for his home. The tempera work was completed a year earlier and shows the artist's teenage son Nicky standing on a bluff overlooking the St. George River in Maine.
Previously exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "Above the Narrows" is expected to bring $3 million to $5 million.
"It's one of the last great temperas by Wyeth to come on the market," said Christie's head of American paintings Eric Widing. "There are very few in private hands."
He said Nicky Wyeth still remembers spending nearly his entire summer in 1960 posing for the painting.
Andrew Wyeth, who focused on the people and landscapes of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley and coastal Maine in works such as "Christina's World," died Jan. 16 at age 91. The Philadelphia Museum of Art held a major retrospective of his work in 2006.
The "Robinson Crusoe" oils are being sold by the Wilmington Institute Library in Wilmington, Del., to raise money. They purchased them from N.C. Wyeth in 1922.
The auction house estimates they could bring $3.8 million.
"Reluctantly, we came up with the decision to sell the Wyeths," said Rodney Scott, president of the library's board of directors. He said the library had explored other options first, but none had the potential to raise $4 million to $5 million to renovate the neoclassical building and help replenish the library's endowment, which took a hit in the recession.
The canvases have graced the reading rooms of the Pierre DuPont-built library since Wyeth approached it about purchasing them. At the time, Wilmington had no public exhibition space, said Scott.
He said the library has replaced the 14 Crusoe works with museum-quality reproduction prints.
The famous book illustrator is also known for his brilliantly vivid pictures for other popular classics, including "Treasure Island," "Kidnapped," "Robin Hood," and "The Last of the Mohicans."
The paintings that illustrated Daniel Defoe's "Robinson Crusoe" will be sold individually, not as a group. Each depicts a critical scene from the book, like Crusoe drifting at sea on his raft.
"It's the first time in anyone's memory that a nearly complete (N.C. Wyeth) set has come up for sale," said Widing. Of the three additional works in the series, two are in private hands and one is missing, he said.
"They have a realism that make them all the more powerful as works of art," added Widing. "He's a master of robust realism."
"A Couple of Chairs Sitting Around the Coast of Maine," a 1982 work on paper by Jamie Wyeth is estimated to bring $120,000-$180,000. It shows two Victorian lawn chairs against the background of a white beach home.