Painting of volcano smoked its presale numbers


Yes, it smokes. That’s what Popocatepetl does.

On Jan. 9 the painting popularly known as, Popocatepetl, by artist Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943) sold at Selkirk Auctions. It was estimated to sell for $150,000-$200,000.

It was over almost within a blink of the eye. Popocatepetl, which means ‘it smokes,’ sold for $552,000, more than double its higher estimate. In short, it smoked.

The painting is named after one of Mexico’s grandest volcanoes, Popocatepetl. Hartley painted four versions of Popocatepetl. Three of the paintings were oil on board, primarily consisting of cobalt blues and bright whites. Those were exhibited February 1933 in Mexico City to celebrate the competition of the artist’s Guggenheim Fellowship.

One of those paintings is now in the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, another in the Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln, Nebraska, and the third sold at Sotheby’s in 2012 for $392,500.

Selkirk personnel said this painting was purchased by a foundation, but they could not say more about the buyer. The fourth Popocatepetl was different, though. It is larger than the other three, oil on canvas and has a different palate – more rust red, azure blue and white.

Selkirk Executive Director and Curator Bryan Laughlin explained what came together for the auction company to produce such a resounding echo through the art world.

“First, you have to remember, the painter is very important, and he’s on the rise,” Laughlin said. “Then, you have the background story. Upon arriving in Mexico City, Hartley discovered his best friend, writer Hart Crane, had committed suicide in New York. In his grief, the volcano 45 miles south of the city became a balm. There is also a bold palette of colors, and a
marketing and communications team that did a top-notch job. I have every reason to be proud of our team.”

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