Esther Baskin Moore (later Ferguson) nurtured her passion for and knowledge of art by making the decision to move to New York City as a young woman. Once there, she frequently attended lectures and exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Later in life, when she and her husband James retired to her home state of South Carolina, she shared this love by founding the Distinguished Lecture Series at Charleston’s Gibbes Museum of Art. In 2010, the Gibbes featured an exhibition titled Modern Masters from the Ferguson Collection. The associations Ferguson made in and around Charleston both lengthened her collection’s historical reach and imparted to it a regional character. Included in our Fall Quarterly Auction are paintings that highlight this Charlestonian side of Ferguson’s collecting interests.
In our upcoming sale, we are offering seven paintings by William Aiken Walker (1838-1921). Aiken was born in Charleston and during the Civil War served primarily in his hometown as a draftsman for the Confederate Corps of Engineers. The paintings in this auction date to his most prolific period, from the 1880s onward. By this time, he circulated between the mountains of North Carolina, the Atlantic coast in Florida, and New Orleans. His depictions of African Americans and their caricatured role in the cotton establishment - picking cotton, figure studies, cabin scenes, and other pursuits – were in high demand in the post Reconstruction South and continue to be collected today.
Another artist with ties to Charleston and well represented in the Ferguson collection with nine paintings is Edmund Marion Ashe (1867-1941). The New York-born painter developed a progressive realist style during his time as White House artist-correspondent, where he became friends with President Theodore Roosevelt. One of his paintings was included in the legendary 1913 Armory Show. But it was Ashe’s earlier, beautifully composed Impressionist-style paintings of his own family that attracted Esther Ferguson, perhaps along with his retirement to Charleston in 1939. These paintings are “more tender,” says Claire Fraser, Leland Little’s Director of Fine Art and Silver. They recall work by near contemporaries like Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam. Of special note is On the Lawn (1908), a loving and warm scene that captures a sense of clement lighthearted languor on the grass. According to Fraser, “We have some of the best paintings by Ashe that have come onto the market.”
Esther Ferguson’s contemporary collection is represented through three paintings by the great twentieth century Abstract artist Robert Natkin (1930-2010). Two of these are small intimate abstracts created especially for the Fergusons.
The third is Escape with Wing (1984), part of his Hitchcock Series. This large painting (72” x 48”) has characteristically bold colors and shapes whose dramatic composition seems almost cinematically superimposed. This is a major Natkin work that speaks to Esther Ferguson’s true collecting passion.