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Guy Carleton Wiggins’ painting ‘Fifth Avenue, Midtown,’ showing an American and a British flag flying high above the street, achieved $46,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2022. Image courtesy of Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

Guy Carleton Wiggins: The Lion of Manhattan Winters

NEW YORK — American Impressionist Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962) learned his craft from his father, noted landscape painter Carleton Wiggins, and soon became more famous than him within one of America’s most important family dynasties of artists. At age 20, he had a painting accepted into the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s permanent collection, making him the youngest American artist to be awarded this honor. A third-generation member of the family, Guy’s son, Guy A. Wiggins, also painted, but the middle Wiggins was by far the most well known and admired. A native of Brooklyn, New York, Guy C. Wiggins also spent much time in Connecticut, where he had a summer home, and became part of the Old Lyme artist colony of Impressionist artists. His snowy winter landscapes of New York City streets and historic buildings, however, are what made his reputation.

“Wiggins painted the classic and quintessential New York snow scene. Continuing the tradition of American Masters such as Childe Hassam, Robert Henri, and Everett Shinn, Wiggins painted the classic blustery, snowy urbanscape that resonated with young and old alike,” said Senior Vice President of American Art at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, Aviva Lehmann. “It’s funny — while the vast majority of our buyers in the American art category are American, we do see bidders and buyers of Wiggins come out of the woodwork in Europe and the Far East as well. Often, these buyers are expats wanting a taste of home abroad.”

Guy Carleton Wiggins’ 1943 oil on canvas ‘St. Patrick’s in Winter,’ which had been owned by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, attained $80,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Guy Carleton Wiggins’ 1943 oil on canvas ‘St. Patrick’s in Winter,’ which had been owned by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, attained $80,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Julien’s Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Deeply influenced by artist Childe Hassam’s paintings of New York, Wiggins is best known for his snowy street scenes of New York City, showcasing favorite landmarks  such as St. Patrick’s and Old Trinity Church and the New York Public Library. He began painting these city winterscapes in the 1920s and continued to do so for the next four decades. Wiggins did not exclusively paint scenes of Manhattan in winter, but it’s all too easy to assume that he did, given his output. While he is on record recounting the moment that inspired him to paint his first city winterscape, he does not appear to have explained what made him return to the subject so readily and eagerly. This much can be inferred: The public reacted to these pictures, and Wiggins, not being a fool, resolved to give the public what it wanted.

St. Patrick’s in Winter, a 1943 work of his, attained $80,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Julien’s Auctions in December 2019. This painting features the majestic cathedral partially obscured by flags hanging from a neighboring building in a bustling scene filled with people and cars. It is a fine work, but its provenance certainly helped drive bidding, as it was originally acquired by Frank and Nancy Sinatra from Dalzell Hatfield Galleries in Los Angeles.

Guy Carleton Wiggins painted many of New York City’s landmarks over and over again, such as this view of ‘St. Patrick’s in Winter.’ Even with nary a flag in sight, it performed well, securing $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Guy Carleton Wiggins painted many of New York City’s landmarks over and over again, such as this view of ‘St. Patrick’s in Winter.’ Even with nary a flag in sight, it performed well, securing $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Even without flags, a similar view of the church, also titled St. Patrick’s in Winter, sold for $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at Heritage Auctions. “This one was a real gem. The interest in this particular work was driven by the subject, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, but also by the complex composition filled to the brim with activity — cars, pedestrians, etc. This one has it all.” said Lehmann.

Another landmark he often painted at different times of the day and from slightly different viewing angles was the New York Public Library, typically showing its iconic lions covered in snow. His snowy scenes are atmospheric in tone, depicting a hushed city that belies the hustle and bustle of Manhattan life. One of his paintings of the library, Avenue at the Library, reached $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Clars Auction Gallery in December 2019.

A Guy Carleton Wiggins painting of the New York Public Library, ‘Avenue at the Library,’ realized $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.
A Guy Carleton Wiggins painting of the New York Public Library, ‘Avenue at the Library,’ realized $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2019. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Collectors during Wiggins’ lifetime and in the decades since have been drawn to his paintings. Long after Impressionism was supplanted by Modernism, his Impressionistic scenes continued to find appreciative audiences. “The market for Wiggins is steady and constant. Although the market for Wiggins peaked around 2005-2007, we see prices steadily climbing again,” Lehmann said. “There is always a broad market for Wiggins.”

Guy Carleton Wiggins paintings that depict flags flying high are more desirable to collectors than those without. “When it comes to Wiggins, the more flags, the better. It’s all about flags, flags, and more flags,” Lehmann said. “Furthermore, top prices are achieved for depictions of notable New York landmarks such as the stock exchange, the Grand Army Plaza, and the New York Public Library.” One such Wiggins scene, Fifth Avenue, Midtown, showing an American and British flag flying high, took a solid $46,000 plus the buyer’s premium at Bruneau & Co. Auctioneers in October 2022. The painting came out of a Rhode Island estate, where it had resided for more than 70 years before it made its sale debut.

A 1948 painting by Guy Carleton Wiggins, ‘Winter at 57th and 5th,’ earned $42,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of J. Garrett Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.
A 1948 painting by Guy Carleton Wiggins, ‘Winter at 57th and 5th,’ earned $42,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of J. Garrett Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers.

A similar vantage point likely painted from the artist’s office window, Winter at 57th and 5th, looks down onto 57th Street and captures a lively scene of snow blanketing the city. The 1948 work earned $42,500 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020 at J. Garrett Auctioneers. While the painting could have easily been monochromatic, the artist interjects bright bits of color in the vehicles traveling the street, the American flags and the umbrellas carried by pedestrians.

Flags, flags and more flags are on full view in Guy Carleton Wiggins’ ‘Wall Street, Winter,’ which brought $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.
Flags, flags and more flags are on full view in Guy Carleton Wiggins’ ‘Wall Street, Winter,’ which brought $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Some Wiggins paintings are made transcendent by the presence of flags; others draw their power from the landmarks he portrays. And in a precious few paintings of his, audiences get the total package, such as in Wall Street, Winter, which realized $36,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021 at Heritage Auctions. Federal Hall is showcased here and in the distance, and the energy of downtown Manhattan beckons.

‘Mid-Town Winter,’ an undated cityscape by Guy Carleton Wiggins, made $37,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of William Smith Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

‘Mid-Town Winter,’ an undated cityscape by Guy Carleton Wiggins, made $37,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023. Image courtesy of William Smith Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Wiggins was noted for his dramatic and icy cool palette of browns, whites and grays, such as in his work titled Mid-Town Winter, which brought $37,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023 at William Smith Auctions.

Wiggins’ snow-covered cityscapes transformed the appearance of New York into something more fictionalized, perhaps akin to a postcard, softening the city’s hard edges. In his paintings, snow is ever-white, and the street scenes appear magically calm, luminous and elegant even as its residents rush to and fro. Wiggins idealized the famed city and increased the difficulty of the feat by repeatedly depicting it during the coldest and arguably least appealing of the four seasons. He looked past the freezing temperatures and the traffic-slowing shower of snow to find, and amplify, the undeniable allure of Manhattan. No wonder, then, that collectors continue to seek his charmed snowscapes.