Monday, June 25, 2012

Morris Graves "Untitled (Trees and Houses)" 1934
This month’s ART FIND by the California modernist artist Morris Graves (1910-2001) is entitled “Untitled (Tree and Houses).” Our blog reader inherited two of the artist’s paintings from her aunt, who was a potter at UCLA and knew the artist.

Morris Graves was born in Fox Valley, Oregon. A primarily self-taught artist, he dropped out of high school and began working on a boat during the late 1920s. This enabled him to travel to Japan and China, an influence that would permeate his art throughout his life.

During the Great Depression, Graves worked as an artist for the Federal Arts Project. Upon returning to the northwest, Graves and fellow artists Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, and Kenneth Callahan founded a school of artists known as "Mystic Painters of the Northwest.” Their artistic philosophy was influenced by the natural world and Eastern religions.

One of the key moments in the Graves’ career was when his artwork was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York’s "Americans 1942: 18 Artists from 9 States" exhibition

“Untitled (Tree and Houses)” is characteristic of Graves’ style and palette. While Graves worked primarily as an oil painter he also explored tempera, gouache, watercolor, and ink and wax on thin paper in a technique used in Oriental scroll painting.

This painting is signed and dated on the back of the canvas. The artist’s neutral, earth-toned palette incorporates loose brushwork and a thick application of paint. During this period, Graves often painted images of the nature, trees, and animals. “Untitled (Tree and Houses)” was painted during the height of the Depression in 1934. An image of barren tree surrounded by an austere landscape of houses appears to reflect the bleak mood of American history during this period.

In the art market, Graves’ work is highly sought after by collectors and dealers. At auction, his oils have sold for as much as $68,500. His works on paper appear to demand higher prices, with a current mixed media on paper listed for sale at $75,000.

The provenance, defined as the history of ownership for a work of art, is strong in the case of this painting. It came directly from the artist to the current owner’s aunt, thereby increasing the painting’s desirability collectors. In the art market, appraisers always evaluate the provenance of an artwork as it can dramatically effect the value of artworks when the history of it lineage are unknown.

At auction, “Untitled (Tree and Houses)” would likely be estimated between $15,000-$20,000 but could sell for much more depending on the auction house, location, bidders in the room, and other factors. If this painting were appraised for insurance purposes, the retail replacement value would be much higher.