Nantucket Arts

Sold for $74,500

The market for Nantucket art has never been stronger, with auction sales for paintings by George Inness, Eastman Johnson, Anne Ramsdell Congdon, Ralph Cahoon, Wendell Macy, James Walter Folger, Hayley Lever, Frank Swift Chase, George McCord, and others driving the marketplace.

With good reason.  Nantucket is recognized among world destinations consistent in having fostered centuries of venerable art – those rare places that ensure an artist’s primary need are met: inspiration, good light and enthusiastic patrons. By the turn of the 20th century, a significantly established Nantucket Art Colony observed and recorded a subtle evolution from working waterfront to world resort; a cultural shift from industry to leisure.

Having established records for prices paid for works by many of these artists, Rafael Osona Auctions is the leading resource for Nantucket paintings and sculpture spanning the 19th – 21st centuries.

The earliest Nantucket art was mostly utilitarian; objects decorated and embellished by the hand of the giver: baskets and scrimshaw, samplers, walking sticks, ditty boxes, swifts and other folk art.

As 18th – early 19th century whale ships prospered and the island’s growing wealth allowed, things began to change. Prominent families commissioned portraits – among them Folgers, Macys, Coffins and Starbucks. Itinerant, self-taught limners painted the earliest likenesses; later portraits fashioned by the more classically trained.  Artists William Swain (1803-1847), James S. Hathaway (1830-1852) and George Gardner Fish (1822-1906) were three of the most sought after.

Enthusiastic Patrons

Having become one of the wealthiest towns in America by the 1840s, Nantucket’s small inns and guesthouses began to welcome the growing numbers of summer visitors. Thirty years later, grand hotels – and grander “summer cottages” – graciously accommodated the rich and famous. Local artists like Wendell Macy (1845 – 1913) seized the opportunity.  Having set up shop on Main Street, Macy painted Nantucket’s landmarks, steamboats, the shore, abundant offshore shipwrecks, and quaint rural scenes that visitors could collect as souvenirs.   Having returned from her New York studies to 22 Lily Street, Nantucket-born Annie Barker Folger (1852-1936) – a founding member of the Art Students League – painted en plein air; remarkably lush evocations of the island’s vistas.  Both artists thrived mightily.

The Birth of an Art Colony

By the turn of the 20th century, Nantucket had become a revered destination among the greatest American artists of the day. Eastman Johnson (1824 – 1906), painter and co-founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, had for years enthusiastically encouraged peers to join him here, to experience the “healthful climate” and “exceptional light.” The seeds for an artists’ colony had been sewn, and the locale was fertile.

Frank Swift Chase (1886 – 1958) followed, organizing classes for aspiring artists, returning every summer through the mid ‘50s to teach and paint. Nantucket artists Tony Sarg, Doris & Richard Beer, Jane Brewster Reed, Annie Barker Folger, and Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin were among their peers; Anne Ramsdell Congdon, Emily Hoffmeier, Elizabeth Saltonstall, Harriett Lord, Ruth Haviland Sutton, and Isabelle Hollister Tuttle, were among Chase’s students.  By the 1920s, art was transforming the working waterfront. Fishing shanties now functioned as artist studios, and in 1945, a newly founded Artists Association occupied the old Macy warehouse, where spermaceti and whale oil had once been stored.

The last half of the 20th century solidified the extent of this acclaimed Artists’ colony. Galleries evolved, and the Artists Association of Nantucket “for a decade and more… was the arts center on Nantucket. Candlelight readings by Thornton Wilder and Tennessee Williams. An exhibition of works on paper by Diego Rivera. A piano recital by Leonard Shure. An exhibition on loan from the Met that included Max Weber and Thomas Hart Benton. Lectures on modern art by members of the 45 Group….”  ~AAN History

Over the years, dozens – perhaps hundreds – of resident and visiting artists have made good use of Nantucket’s bounty:  her inspiration, good light and now, global patrons. Edgar Jenny, Julian Yates, C. Robert Perrin, Philip Burnham Hicken, Pat Gardner, Sybil Goldsmith, John Austin, Bobby & Polly Bushong, Andrew Shunney, Roy Bailey, Illya Kagan, David Lazarus, Robert Stark, Keith McDaniels, Kerry Hallam, G. S. Hill and James Harrington not the least among them.

Since 1980, Rafael Osona Auctions is recognized as Nantucket’s leading dealer in 19th – 21st century Nantucket Art.

19th – 21st Century Nantucket Artists (a partial list)

Contemporary Nantucket Artists

  • Joan Albaugh
  • Paul Arsenault
  • James Cromartie
  • John Devaney
  • George Davis
  • Molly Dee
  • Marshall DuBock
  • Robert Frazier
  • Kerry Hallam
  • James Harrington
  • Victoria Harvey
  • G. S. Hill
  • Illya Kagan
  • David Lazarus
  • Katie Trinkle Legge
  • Reggie Levine
  • John Lochtefeld
  • Richard Loud
  • Maggie Meredith
  • Janet L. Munro
  • Charles Munro
  • George Murphy
  • Jan Pawlowski
  • Pamela Pindell
  • Sherre Wilson Rae
  • Don Russell
  • Christine Sanford
  • Gerry Scheide
  • George Thomas
  • Neik Van der Plas
  • William Welch


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Recent Examples at Auction