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A private collection of Western art with multiple connections to Yellowstone will be auctioned

THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926) The Southern Arm of the Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Territory signed with initials in monogram and dated '1874' (lower left) watercolor and gouache on paper
Christie's Images Ltd. 2022
THOMAS MORAN (1837-1926) The Southern Arm of the Yellowstone Lake, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming Territory signed with initials in monogram and dated '1874' (lower left) watercolor and gouache on paper

In May, the Western American Art collection of the late entrepreneur and conservationist Carl W. Knobloch will be live auctioned. Knobloch had a family residence in Wilson, Wyoming where his 75 piece collection resided. Wyoming Public Radio's Kamila Kudelska spoke with Head of American Art at Christie's, Tylee Abbott on the significance of the collection.

Tylee Abbott: It's about 75 paintings in total. There's a heavy emphasis on 19th century pictures and in particular, early Western pictures dating back to the early part of the 19th century. The artists, especially the artists working in the West at those times, the nature of them were that they were what is often referred to as explorer artists. So this was a time before really there was much westward expansion. As early as the 1830s, when the artist Alfred Jacob Miller was going on a trip to explore what was then Oregon Territory, which constituted Oregon and Idaho and some of Wyoming and some of Montana. And Mr. Knobloch has incredibly good representation in his collection of that early period of Western art, which is extremely exciting because those items are very, very rare. The vast majority of high-quality things by these early American artists are already in institutional collections. And of course, they are the subjects of the document and the landscapes and the cultures and those kinds of things romanticized to an extent, are also, of course, early important documents of America at that time.

Kamila Kudelska: What stands out the most to you in the collection?

TA: Some of the most impressive and rare and unique works in the collection include those by George Catlin, who was traveling actually into the Missouri River watershed in the 1830s. There's a phenomenal approximately 20 by 30 inch George Catlin oil painting from the 1830s of a buffalo chase, a surround of the Hidatsa Indians hunting Buffalo, which actually was previously in the collection of the Field Museum of Natural History Museum in Chicago. And there's a companion, or maybe not a companion, but a painting of a similar subject and style that's in the Smithsonian Institute now. So just right there you have a real example of the rarity and importance of this type of object.

KK: What pieces in the collection have any connections, if at all, to Wyoming?

TA: Perhaps the most significant works and holdings in the collection that relate to Wyoming would be Mr. Knobloch's works by Thomas Moran. Thomas Moran came on a geological survey and exhibition to Wyoming in 1871. And on that expedition, he joined photographer William Henry Jackson in documenting the unique landscape, especially of Yellowstone. And on their return to the East Coast and into Washington [D.C.], the geological materials and notes taken from that expedition, together with William Henry Jackson's photographs and Thomas Moran's watercolors, were used to lobby Congress in the creation of Yellowstone National Park. From that time onwards, Thomas Moran became intricately associated with Yellowstone and really kind of branded as its foremost artist and was very popular in its time for those images. The earliest work in the collection by Moran is an 1874 watercolor of Yellowstone Lake. And this watercolor is interesting, actually, because it was part of a series of watercolors that were reproduced in chromolithographs and distributed to what was a growing wealthy public with interest in the West and in Yellowstone in particular.

KK: You've mentioned Yellowstone a lot. And there's lots of connections in this collection to Yellowstone. So I wonder if there's any significance for y'all to do this auction the year of the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone National Parks?

TA: Yes, certainly. It's an exciting moment, the 150th anniversary of Yellowstone. And we're thrilled to have this auction coincide. Especially when you have something as unique and special as a work like the watercolor of Yellowstone lake in '74 that was right there at the beginning of the establishment of Yellowstone and in the wider appreciation of Yellowstone in the American psyche. So it's definitely a special moment for Yellowstone, for Wyoming, and for Thomas Moran and these works in the collection. And I just think that it does, and I hope that it does, translate and provide evidence to the incredible interests that we continue to have today 150 years later in Yellowstone, but also the American West and the western landscape and the American landscape in particular.

KK: So as I'm understanding, all the proceeds of the auction is going to go to the Knobloch Family Foundation, which is his organization that's dedicated to conservation and economics. So if maybe you can just go into a little bit of detail of the significance of having all of that money going into a nonprofit?

TA: Yes, it's very exciting and it's just so fitting that kind of continuity throughout this entire project was not only dating back to Thomas Moran and American's early establishment of the importance of protecting land. And Teddy Roosevelt's commitment to being a steward of the Western landscape, all the way up into Mr. Knobloch's own personal lifetime in his philanthropic work in conserving natural landscapes. But to have now in his passing the proceeds from the sale, which we expect to be in the range of $15 to $20 million, to go into the Knobloch Family Foundation and hopefully, in theory in perpetuity, be able to be used to continue his efforts. But also the great legacy in history that I think is unique in a way of American trait, the appreciation of our landscape and the willingness to dedicate private funds to the protection, often for the public, of our environment.

In addition to reporting daily on the happenings in Northwest Wyoming, Kamila is also the producer of the Kids Ask WhY Podcast and the History Unloaded Podcast.Kamila has worked for public radio stations in California, New York, France and Poland. Originally from New York City, she loves exploring new places. Kamila received her master in journalism from Columbia University. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring the surrounding areas with her two pups and husband.
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