Washington State has a history which is exemplified by the Big Four artists Guy Anderson, Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan and Morris Graves. The influences of these artists include a pastiche of Asian and Native American art, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism and Cubism. The art scene in Seattle well documented, but there exist undiscovered or forgotten artists such as Virginia Banks.
Pacific Galleries was contacted by a man in the process of downsizing, and from him we received some furniture and a dozen pieces of Northwest art, including works by Callahan, Anderson and George Tsutakawa. His items sold well at auction, and he summoned us to pick up the remainder.
The man was the husband of Virginia Banks (1920-1985), and we received the lions share of her lifes work on consignment, which has been stored in their garage for twenty years.
Banks grew up in Massachusetts and attended Smith College, earned a B.A. in art, and began exhibiting work after completing her M.A. She then taught at Seattle-area colleges, including the University of Washington and Cornish College of the Arts. She married in 1946 and travelled extensively for many years. Her works were shown at New Yorks Brooklyn Museum, the Whitney Museum, the Seattle Art Museum and countless other institutions. Her peer group included the Big Four, and she exhibited alongside them at the Zoe Dusanne Gallery (the first professional modern gallery in Seattle, opened in 1950), yet there was little information about Banks in books.
Her work it typical for a Northwest artistshe tried her hand at white writing, the Zen-influenced scribbles that Tobey and Graves fought over, each claiming authorship. (For all we know, Banks could have pioneered this style of painting.) Her work during the 1950s was of primarily surreal marine scenes, and of portraits in bright colors, which are most admired by Pacific Galleries buyers.
Preliminary record searches turned up on 1994 sale of an oil on canvas by Virginia Banks (measuring 22 x 28) in Mystic, Connecticut for $375, and the gallery that bought this piece then priced it in the high four figures. Our earliest estimates were based on this record, and medium-sizes pieces were given pre-sale estimates of $300 to $500.
In the fall of 2005, Pacific Galleries began to auction Banks artwork with excellent results, earning anywhere from $130 for a small piece to $3,250 for a large 1950s-era marine scene. Sales have continued to climb, and our March 2006 sale realized an outstanding $9,000 for another marine scene, which brings us to a complex market riddle: are our sales the optimal market condition for these works, or is there an expanding market for this forgotten artist? Only more time and more sales will tell.