The annual Scottsdale Art Auction was a tour de force of classic and contemporary art of the West.

All Images Courtesy Scottsdale Art Auction

Travelers in the West soon discover that Montana is not the only state that can lay claim to having “big sky country.” The plains of Kansas, the deserts of Arizona, the mountains of Colorado and the varied landscapes of the other states in the American West all provide settings for amazing skies. Visitors from other countries, even other parts of the United States, often comment on the sky-dominated scenery: billowing clouds, thunderstorms, breathtaking sunsets and mountains that seem to touch the heavens. Every year some of the best contemporary and classic Western artwork capturing those skies, and the peoples who dwell under them, can be found at the annual Scottsdale Art Auction. This year was no exception. 


Phil Epp focused his Distant View on three horses, dwarfed by a big Kansas sky filled with layers of clouds. Epp’s painting hammered down at $21,060, nearly twice the expected price.


Held April 14 and 15, the auction featured over 400 pieces and brought in a total of $13.7 million. Most of the artwork for sale was created by contemporary artists. Phil Epp’s Distant View captured a cloud-filled sky over the Kansas prairie, dwarfing three horses on a low rise. Ed Mell’s cubistic Cloud Force showed an Arizona landscape dominated by angular thunderclouds. Wyoming’s Tetons dominate the sky, looming above three riders, in Martin Grelle’s Meat Seekers at the Teewinot. 

Riders also appear in a landscape ruled by mountains and thunderclouds in Mark Maggiori’s Sons of Blue Lake, while Logan Maxwell Hagege’s balloon-like clouds hover above hills and people in his painting It’s a New Life. The day ends with sunset over tepees on the Montana plains in Colt Idol’s Daydream.


Ed Mell’s Cloud Force sold for $29,250. Mell’s clouds, like his landscapes, are usually angular and hard-edged. In this respect his work reflects the harsh beauty, and danger, of the desert environment.


Night follows day as a full moon rises above New Mexico’s Taos Pueblo in Eanger Irving Couse’s Taos Love Call. The painting by Couse was one of several at the auction by early 20th-century artists. Edgar Payne contrasted the red rocks of the Colorado Plateau with blue sky in his Riders in Canyon de Chelly, while Berger Sandzen’s Rocks and Glaciers focused on the colors of the Rockies. 

Big sky wasn’t the only imagery popular at the auction. Works by Oscar Berninghaus, one of the founders of the Taos Society of Painters, have significantly increased in value over the last few years. Berninghaus’s The Hunters, Taos brought $1,562,000, the highest bid at the auction, establishing a record price for a painting by him. This and the other prices realized at this year’s Scottsdale Art Auction demonstrate that the sky is the only limit when it comes to art of the West.


August 16-19, 2023

C.M. Russell Summer Sale

C.M. Russell Museum (Great Falls, MT)

406-727-8787 •

August 25-27, 2023

Premier Firearms Auction #89

Rock Island Auction Co. (Rock Island, IL)

(800) 238-8022 •

September 5-6, 2023

Firearms & Militaria

Morphy Auctions (Denver, PA)

(877) 968-8880 •


In contrast to the angular depictions by Ed Mell, rounded clouds carefully framing 
the human figures in Logan Maxwell Hagege’s It’s a New Life suggest a softer and more forgiving landscape. Hagege’s kinder and gentler desert image sold for $93,600.
In contrast to the angular depictions by Ed Mell, rounded clouds carefully framing the human figures in Logan Maxwell Hagege’s It’s a New Life suggest a softer and more forgiving landscape. Hagege’s kinder and gentler desert image sold for $93,600.


A partly cloudy, and seemingly tranquil, day in the Tetons is about to be disturbed by three hunters in Martin Grelle’s Meat Seekers at the Teewinot. At $396,100, this painting brought in over $186,000 more than projected.


Edgar Payne devoted a great deal of time to painting the different moods of Canyon de Chelly. In Riders in Canyon de Chelly the great rock chasm is so majestic that the riders almost go unnoticed. This composition of red rock and blue sky went for $280,800.


Eanger Irvin Couse’s Taos Love Call captures a tender moment under a full moon, with a young man serenading a young woman outside the Taos Pueblo. It also captured a final bid of $702,000.


Massive thunderheads loom above riders crossing a plain in Mark Maggiori’s Sons of Blue Lake. Projected to capture a top bid of $75,000, Maggiori’s painting brought $175,500.


Taos painter Oscar Berninghaus was fascinated by American Indian hunters and made them the focus of several paintings, including The Hunters, Taos. It fetched $1,562,000 and set a world record price for one of his paintings.

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