November 17, 2020 12:00 EDT

Modern & Contemporary Art

 
 

62

Harry Bertoia (American, 1915-1978)
Untitled (Double Bush Form)

Patinated bronze with copper stem.
Bush form with bud and elongated tips.
Executed in 1974.
height: 18 1/2 in. (45.7cm)
width: 22 1/2 in. (57.2cm)
depth: 17 1/2 in. (44.5cm)

Provenance: The Artist.
Private Collection, Penn Valley, Pennsylvania (acquired directly from the above in 1974).
Private Collection, Penn Valley, Pennsylvania (by family descent).

NOTE:
This lot is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Harry Bertoia Foundation and signed by Celia Bertoia, Director and will be included in the upcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.

Best known for his large public sculptures and fountains throughout the United States, Harry Bertoia grew up in Italy, moving to the Detroit area at age 15 to pursue his study of art. After a year at the School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, Bertoia received a scholarship to the Cranbook Academy where he made formative friendships with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. The school's director Eliel Saarinen asked Bertoia to restart a metal working program at the school where the artist's early experimentation in jewelry-making set him on a new path. Bertoia moved to California in 1943 with Charles Eames and began working on early iterations of "ergonomics" (although the term was not coined yet) and helped with war efforts in making airplane parts. Here he began making sculptures in the evenings in his spare time, as well as continuing the monotype printmaking he had begun in his student days. Bertoia and his young family stayed in California for a few years before moving to Bally, Pennsylvania at the request of Hans and Florence Knoll (Florence was also a classmate at Cranbrook) to design chairs for their furniture business. His designs earned him immense popularity and granted him the income to begin pursuing his sculpture in earnest.

In Pennsylvania, Bertoia remodeled a barn into a studio space and began experimenting with different materials and techniques to create bush and tree forms. Throughout the 1960s, the artist moved into creating sound sculptures, building on a lifelong love of music and cooperating with his brother to produce small concerts and recordings of the tones and reverberations of his works. The two works presented here were acquired by the owner's father, who visited the barn in the 1970s to select these works directly from the artist. One can imagine the rich soundscape of the barn as one after another sculpture resonated and filled the air with its luxuriant tones. Bertoia's career was cut short by cancer, but it is estimated he made tens of thousands of works in his life.

Untitled (Double Bush Form)
In the 1940s, Bertoia attended welding classes at Santa Monica College in California to help with the war time efforts of manufacturing airplane parts. The skill served him well for the rest of his career as he experimented with welding techniques in his sculptural works on small and large scale. In this Double Bush, Bertoia's careful construction and attention to detail are fully realized, incorporating both bud-type and elongated tips in a single sculpture, a rarity in his oeuvre according to Celia Bertoia, who deemed this work "magnificent." Indeed, the sculpture comes to life with the interplay of light on its delicate lacing of bronze, creating a powerful feeling of movement and harmony in space, evocative of a windswept fall day.

Sold for $125,000
Estimated at $100,000 - $150,000


 

Patinated bronze with copper stem.
Bush form with bud and elongated tips.
Executed in 1974.
height: 18 1/2 in. (45.7cm)
width: 22 1/2 in. (57.2cm)
depth: 17 1/2 in. (44.5cm)

Provenance: The Artist.
Private Collection, Penn Valley, Pennsylvania (acquired directly from the above in 1974).
Private Collection, Penn Valley, Pennsylvania (by family descent).

NOTE:
This lot is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity issued by the Harry Bertoia Foundation and signed by Celia Bertoia, Director and will be included in the upcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.

Best known for his large public sculptures and fountains throughout the United States, Harry Bertoia grew up in Italy, moving to the Detroit area at age 15 to pursue his study of art. After a year at the School of the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts, Bertoia received a scholarship to the Cranbook Academy where he made formative friendships with Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen. The school's director Eliel Saarinen asked Bertoia to restart a metal working program at the school where the artist's early experimentation in jewelry-making set him on a new path. Bertoia moved to California in 1943 with Charles Eames and began working on early iterations of "ergonomics" (although the term was not coined yet) and helped with war efforts in making airplane parts. Here he began making sculptures in the evenings in his spare time, as well as continuing the monotype printmaking he had begun in his student days. Bertoia and his young family stayed in California for a few years before moving to Bally, Pennsylvania at the request of Hans and Florence Knoll (Florence was also a classmate at Cranbrook) to design chairs for their furniture business. His designs earned him immense popularity and granted him the income to begin pursuing his sculpture in earnest.

In Pennsylvania, Bertoia remodeled a barn into a studio space and began experimenting with different materials and techniques to create bush and tree forms. Throughout the 1960s, the artist moved into creating sound sculptures, building on a lifelong love of music and cooperating with his brother to produce small concerts and recordings of the tones and reverberations of his works. The two works presented here were acquired by the owner's father, who visited the barn in the 1970s to select these works directly from the artist. One can imagine the rich soundscape of the barn as one after another sculpture resonated and filled the air with its luxuriant tones. Bertoia's career was cut short by cancer, but it is estimated he made tens of thousands of works in his life.

Untitled (Double Bush Form)
In the 1940s, Bertoia attended welding classes at Santa Monica College in California to help with the war time efforts of manufacturing airplane parts. The skill served him well for the rest of his career as he experimented with welding techniques in his sculptural works on small and large scale. In this Double Bush, Bertoia's careful construction and attention to detail are fully realized, incorporating both bud-type and elongated tips in a single sculpture, a rarity in his oeuvre according to Celia Bertoia, who deemed this work "magnificent." Indeed, the sculpture comes to life with the interplay of light on its delicate lacing of bronze, creating a powerful feeling of movement and harmony in space, evocative of a windswept fall day.

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Harry Bertoia

Born in San Lorenzo, Italy, the innovative furniture designer Harry Bertoia was a student at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan, where he founded the metalworking department. At Cranbrook, Bertoia was introduced to chair design when Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames won the Organic Furniture Design Competition; Bertoia and Eames began to work together in the 1940s, with much of the design of the now-famous Eames chairs created by Bertoia himself—although no recognition was rewarded. Bertoia moved to Pennsylvania in 1950, where he remained until his passing in 1978.

Many Philadelphia and Pennsylvania collectors have a deep familiarity with Bertoia’s work because of his studio’s proximity to the city, naturally bringing both consignors and potential buyers to Freeman’s. Within Freeman’s long track record of presenting Bertoia’s work at auction, there are several standout successes, including the 2007 sale of Bertoia’s Sound Sculpture, which exceeded its pre-sale estimate by almost four times to achieve a remarkable $305,000. Sea Anemone (Bush), a small bronze sculpture, sold for $137,500 in 2016; a similar work, Untitled (Double Bush Form) achieved $125,000 in 2020.

After moving to Pennsylvania and opening his studio, Bertoia began designing wire pieces that came to be known as the Bertoia Collection, including his famous Diamond Chair, produced from polished steel wire—a major part of the mid-century modern furniture movement. His artistic output ranged widely; he was also a jewelry designer and printmaker. Later in his career, Bertoia became fascinated with the different textures and sounds he could create with metal by altering its length, shape, and density; he remains renowned for his later “sonambient” or sound sculptures—works of varying sizes (some up to twenty feet tall) made of beryllium, copper, bronze, and brass, some topped with cattail-like cylinders. Bertoia would use these works to perform concerts and make albums; he also created sculptures in the form of bushes, dandelions, and sunbursts. Bertoia continued to craft these sculptures up until his death in 1978.