NEW YORK — American realist painter Andrew Wyeth left an indelible impression on Eric Sambol after a museum class trip in the 1970s.
Many years later, the New Jersey businessman was able to acquire a work by Wyeth. It was the beginning of a collection that gradually expanded to include Wyeth’s equally famous father, the great classic novel illustrator N.C. Wyeth, and his son, Jamie Wyeth.
Sambol is now parting with 13 of his Wyeths – six by Andrew, six by Jamie, and one by N.C. Christie’s auction house, which is selling the works May 23, says it is one of the largest collections of Wyeths it has ever sold.
Sambol, a 53-year-old nature photographer and owner of a construction company in Toms River, N.J., said he fell in love with Andrew Wyeth’s work while on a high school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976 to see “Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons.”
“It solidified my fascination with the Wyeth family’s work, an enthrallment that remained with me for decades. … no one could compare,” he said in an interview this week.
Sambol and his wife, Cynthia, a landscape designer, acquired their first Wyeth in 2000 with the purchase of “Flat Boat” by Andrew Wyeth. Later came N.C. Wyeth’s “Norry Seavey Hauling Lobster Traps Off Blubber Island” and Jamie Wyeth’s “Lighthouse Dandelions.”
All three works, which hung throughout the Sambols’ home, will be offered in the May auction.
“Flat Boat,” a 1988 watercolor of a winter scene showing a rowboat tied up near the shore by a bare tree, is estimated to sell for $250,000 to $350,000.
“Lighthouse Dandelions,” an oil painting of a luminous Maine lighthouse set against a dramatic night sky, has the same pre-sale estimate. “Norry Seavey,” a 1938 oil in hues of blue depicting a fisherman off the coast of Port Clyde, Maine, could fetch as much as $500,000.
Sambol said he met Andrew Wyeth and his frequent model, Helga Testorf, for the first time in 2004 at Wyeth’s home and studio in Chadds Ford, Pa., and again in Eight Bells, Wyeth’s home in Maine, where the artist showed him a painting he was working on. He has also on several occasions met Jamie, whose works includes landscapes, animal paintings and portraits of the Kennedy clan.
But the relationship with Andrew Wyeth began with a correspondence in 2002 when Sambol wrote to ask about one of his works, Wyeth replied: “As for any thoughts I may have. … you will have to listen very carefully, for it to speak, my brush does the speaking for me, not my pen.”
One of the most expensive pieces in the auction is Andrew Wyeth’s “Rocky Hill,” a watercolor of the artist’s beloved dog, Nell, seated in the woods – a frequent subject of the artist’s paintings. It’s estimated to sell for $1.8 million to $2.4 million.
The Sambols said it took them seven years to acquire “Rocky Hill” but when they got a call that it was for sale on Jan. 16, 2009, they “immediately decided to buy.”
“Sadly, 10 hours later we were informed Andrew had passed,” Sambol said.
Sambol said they were selling the 13 works because their children were all grown and he and his wife loved to travel.
But he said that throughout the years, the works had inspired him and his wife in their own creative expression.
“Both our practices (photography and landscape design) require a patient, curious eye,” Sambol said. “Our collection of Wyeth works are filled with hidden metaphors that explore common themes of memory, nostalgia and loss – you can feel an intimate moodiness the moment you look into the work, it draws you in.”