Marvin Cone just took a giant step out from Grant Wood’s shadow.
Cone’s 1936 oil painting, “Stone City Landscape,” has sold at auction for $752,500 — a record for the Cedar Rapids native who has not enjoyed the worldwide fame of his lifelong friend, colleague and collaborator in the Stone City Art Colony of 1932 and ’33.
Sotheby’s New York sold the Cone work Nov. 29 during its American Art Auction, which tallied $27.6 million, exceeding expected sales of $24.2 million. The Cone piece, privately held for 25 years, far exceeded its expected selling range of $120,000 to $180,000. Multiple bidders drove up the price, but Sotheby’s officials said they cannot divulge the buyer’s identity.
“It’s wonderful,” Sean Ulmer, curator at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, said of the sale. “Marvin Cone has been an undervalued and under-recognized artist in the broader scene in American art.
“It seems as if collectors are paying more attention to his work. This sale price is phenomenal. He’s had other strong sales in the past, but this piece is particularly stunning,” Ulmer said. “It comes from an important period in his life — the 1930s, when he was making some of his best landscapes, so the buyer chose well.”
Sotheby’s also sold Cone’s “The Appointed Room” for $80, 500 on Sept. 28. Other recent sales range from $4,740 for “In a Paris Park” and $34,160 for “Cloud Patterns,” both in September, to $186,000 for his “Farm Silhouette,” sold at Jackson’s in 2011.
Known as a Regionalist painter, Cone (1891-1965) explored various subjects during his prolific career. The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art holds more than 500 of his works, ranging from landscapes, clouds and circus scenes to architecture, doors and stairs.
Ulmer said the “Stone City Landscape” is unusual, however.
Unlike his friend Wood, Cone didn’t do too many Stone City paintings, Ulmer said.
“The actual sketches by him done at the Art Colony are figural and very, very sketchy of that period. He was spending most of his time teaching, not making art,” Ulmer said.
Also, while Cone’s landscapes often reflected his home state, he changed certain aesthetic aspects, making them more generalized.
“This one is more secure in identification, because we have the Stone City cliffs that make it very specific,” Ulmer said. “He was not interested in painting what a camera would shoot.”
Visitors to the museum and its online gallery — crma.org/Gallery/Marvin-Cone.aspx — will see similarities between Cone’s other landscapes and this “singular, stellar piece,” Ulmer said.
And now the art community’s spotlight will rightfully shine on a man who preferred to live a quiet life, painting at home and abroad, and teaching for more than four decades at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
“More people will be paying attention to work of Marvin Cone because of this particular sale,” Ulmer said. “More people will say, ‘Who is this person? I should get to know this person’s work better.’
“The whole point of our exhibition is to increase his visibility, which is long overdue. This phenomenal sale will help in our cause to make him a much better-known artist,” Ulmer said.
“The quality was always there. He was fairly well known during his lifetime but people across the country have kind of forgotten how good an artist he was. Our exhibition and a sale like this will go a long way in resurrecting his reputation.”