AS recently as a decade ago, the Pennsylvanian Impressionists or New Hope School – perhaps the most recognisable group of painters to emerge from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) – remained a relatively untapped seam for ‘serious’ auctioneers of the Mid-Atlantic States.
Fast-forward ten years and this once dealer-led market is currently among the hottest areas from the 'traditional' end of the American picture business. It remains very much an East Coast affair, but one senses that this Americanised approach to the Impressionism movement had arrived with the sale at Freemans' last year of The Old Mill, Washington's Crossing, a trademark plein air winter landscape by Edward Wallis Redfield (1869-1965) for $625,000.
Along with Daniel Garber, Redfield (shortly to be the subject of a catalogue raisonné) has emerged as the ace in the New Hope pack. He was on form again on December 5 when his 2ft 2in x 2ft 8in (66 x 81cm) oil Under the Laurel sold at $270,000 (£139,200).
This market-fresh view of a snow-laden babbling brook included a letter from the artist to the original purchaser dated April 1928 in which he waxes on his fondness for the spot "one fourth mile from my studio on the Johnson Farm".
Specialist Alasdair Nichol - who has worked hard to cultivate interest in the PAFA beyond its back door - was also pleased to see among half a dozen artist records from the PAFA second string. These included a new high for Redfield pupil George William Sotter (1879-1953), whose winter nocturne The Village Road signed and dated 1938 sold at $200,000 (£103,100), and $180,000 (£92,800) for The Delaware - Reflections, c.1926 by Fern Isabel Coppedge (1883-1951).
However, for sheer painterly effect a personal favourite was a vibrant 1908 sketch of a French landscape by Arthur Beecher Carles (1882-1952). With its experimental blocks of colour, this small oil on board, 7 1/4 by 9 1/4in (18 x 23cm), underlined why Carles, who died in obscurity plagued by alcoholism, was regarded as such a pioneer early in the century and is seen now as a precursor of Abstract Expressionism. It doubled hopes at $18,000 (£9300).