Spotlight Artist: William H. D. Koerner - Thomaston Auction
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July 1, 2023

Spotlight Artist: William H. D. Koerner

If anyone remembers our first feature auction of 2023, Winter Enchantment, they may recall that we offered and sold a multitude of William H.D. Koerner paintings. For those fans of the American painter and illustrator, you’re in luck! Not only do we have a great selection for July Splendor, but also our next feature auction, August Grandeur.

For those, however, who don’t know Koerner or his work, you’re probably wondering: What’s the big deal? What’s the hype behind him? Well, besides the fact that he’s the guy who dominated the art world of the American West, and grew in recognized fame even further once former Pres. George W. Bush hung a painting by him called, ‘A Charge to Keep,’ in the Oval Office.

But let’s delve further into what makes Koerner such a worthwhile and noteworthy artist of our country’s history.

William Henry Dethlef Koerner was born as Wilhelm Heinrich Detlev Körner November 1878 in Prussia. At three years old, his family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in Clinton, Iowa. Despite his lack of artistic training, his illustrative skills and sketches were noted by his family as he grew up.

By the time he was 20 years old, Koerner found employment at the Chicago Tribune as an artist, and then quickly moved on to become an art editor at the United States Daily. Once that paper fell out of business, he and his wife moved to New York City, where he worked at Pilgrim Magazine.

Koerner later enrolled at the Art Students League, then applied and was accepted into Howard Pyle's illustration school in Wilmington.

As he studied under Pyle’s mentorship, he shared his own skills and knowledge with other students, including Stanley Arthurs, Harvey Dunn, Frank Schoonover and N.C. Wyeth.

In 1912, the first exhibition by Pyle's students was presented to the public, and Koerner's works were a popular attraction and he gained significant traction by the audience and critics alike.

In 1919, the Saturday Evening Post invited Koerner to illustrate two articles with Western themes, which propelled him further into his art career. Koerner was captivated with the American West once he took on the role, and soon became one of America’s most recognizable artists.

Koerner illustrated more than 200 stories with Western themes and painted over 600 pictures for periodicals.

It is estimated he completed nearly 2,000 illustrations of which about 1,800 were done for magazines.

Maxfield Parrish influenced Koerner's color theory. Parrish illustrated "The Great Southwest" articles by Raymond Stannard Baker which appeared in Century Magazine.

A prolific and versatile artist-illustrator, "Big Bill" Koerner's work gained considerable visibility through his cover and story illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies' Home Journal, Harper's Magazine, McClure's Magazine, American Magazine, Cosmopolitan and Redbook.

At the time of his death in 1938 at 58, the artist received commissions for over 500 paintings and completed drawings for more than 200 western-themed stories. Each week he produced at least one full oil, a head, and a vignette.

During the last three years of his life, Koerner was seriously ill and unable to paint.

Koerner's illustrations are compared with those of Frederic Remington, Charles M. Russell, Philip R. Goodwin, and Harvey Dunn. They are known for his bold brushwork with a vibrant color palette which enabled his vigorous depictions of the "Great American West," emblematic images of those untamed territories.

We are very lucky to have such an array of gorgeous pieces by Koerner, and most sold at astonishing prices. In our Winter Enchantment 2023 feature auction, this painting by him entitled, “When Christian Burned the Bounty,” sold for $10,000.

In our approaching July Summer Splendor auction, we will have five more gorgeous paintings available for bidding, including this somber piece entitled, “The White Geese.”

Our Koerner pieces in this sale will be available for bidding Sunday, July 9, by Lots 3417 to 3421. We highly recommend being an in-person, absentee or phone bidder for these paintings, as we’ve noticed that Koerner is seeing a resurgence in popularity between museums, galleries and collectors alike!

And just a little teaser for our August Grandeur feature auction, which will be held Aug. 25 - 27, we will have the last of our Koerner paintings embellished throughout the sale, including this stunner entitled, “Women of Pitcairn Island,” based off a scene from the book by James Hall and Charles Nordhoff.

Excited to see our next 21 paintings by Koerner this August? Sign up for special interest alerts by emailing our Marketing Associate and Outreach Coordinator, Emma Testerman, at emma@thomastonauction.com!

Or, you can call ahead and fill out a phone bid form by dialing 207-354-8141. This is not a collection to be missed!

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