Dozens of pieces of “cowboy” art owned by the late energy entrepreneur T. Boone Pickens are being sold by Christie’s in New York later this month.
Pickens, who died last September aged 91, was an oil and gas entrepreneur and one of the USA’s best-known executives, as well as a philanthropist and civic leader. He was among the billionaires who have made The Giving Pledge, a commitment to give away half of his wealth for charitable purposes, giving more than $700 million to charity, including nearly $500 million to Oklahoma State University. Around 2006, Pickens was a vocal supporter of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (HR 503).
But Pickens was also a visionary art collector, building a landmark collection over the course of his career. Spanning a century of Western American history, his collection features important works by the most iconic artists of the Old West, including Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Thomas Moran and N.C. Wyeth, as well as by the most prominent contemporary Western painters, such as Howard Terpning and G. Harvey. With this unique combination of both traditional and modern paintings, the dynamic collection reveals Pickens’ “lifelong admiration for the boldness of the American spirit”, Christies said. In all, 79 lots will be sold.
Expected to fetch the top price is Remington’s The Buffalo Signal (If Skulls Could Speak), which has a pre-auction estimate of between $US3m and $5 million. It was completed by Remington in 1903, and acquired by Pickens in 2007. It depicts an Indian buffalo scout dramatically posed on horseback signaling his tribesmen. Remington depicts his hero just as he has abruptly pulled his mount to a halt to wave his buffalo robe overhead. The horse rears in alarm, balancing on just a single hoof with its head turned, eyes wide and nostrils flaring. The landscape is parched, painted only broadly in earth tones to suggest the arid country of the American Southwest, and the sky is a cloudless blue. The figure is painted with more refined and vibrant detail, including the rider’s beaded shirt, which was based on one in Remington’s own studio collection (now at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming).
A bronze sculpture by Remington, The Broncho Buster, is also on offer. It was cast in 1895 and is stamped R10 on the base. The Broncho Buster has regularly been a centerpiece of the Oval Office at The White House, including during the tenures of several presidents. The Henry-Bonnard Bronze Co. produced 64 sand castings of the bronze between 1895 and 1900, making the present work a lifetime cast, Christie’s says. The Broncho Buster has a pre-auction estimate of between $US300,000 and $500,000.
A CM Russell piece titled Roping a Wolf that Pickens bought in 2008 is expected to fetch between $US700,000 and $US1 million. Famously known as the Cowboy Artist, Charles Marion Russell documented the stirring history of the American frontier, based on his own experiences working on the open range in Montana. In the superb watercolor Roping a Wolf, Russell captures the frenzied rush of movement as two cowboys wrangle a wolf that is likely a threat to their herd.
Another lot with high expectations is Howard Terpning’s Flags on the Frontier, which was painted in 2001, and inspired by the true story of General George Armstrong Custer. It is expected to fetch between $US700,000 and $US1 million. Pickens acquired it in 2006.