This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Earlier this month, Edvard Munch's iconic "The Scream" scored $120 million at auction the highest price ever paid for a painting.
It got me to thinking. If a dour Norwegian's "Edvard's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" pastel rendering proved so valuable, I naturally wondered what a painting by a sunnily cheerful Utahn might fetch?
I posed the question to two people in a position to know.
As director of the Springville Museum of Art, Vern Swanson presides over the state's most wide-ranging and inclusive art forum. After musing whether it was Arab, Russian or Chinese money that had paid so much for "The Scream" (had I happened to have heard anything? No, I had not), Swanson started chewing on the question at hand.
A piece by Cyrus Dallin the lapsed Mormon who created the Angel Moroni that stands atop the Salt Lake Temple had recently sold for around $250,000. But that was a sculpture.
The English landscape artist Thomas Moran was at the height of his powers when he visited Utah in 1873. The vistas he found inspired some of his best work, especially his paintings of Zion Canyon. Swanson suggested that a "Utah Moran" could be worth a tidy sum.
Impressive, but ... Moran was an Englishman passing through.
Western artist Maynard Dixon spent considerably more time in Utah. His works are eagerly collected and command top dollar. Still, he is revered as a regional, and not Utah, artist.
What about Minerva Teichert? Surely, the Mormon pioneer painter qualified as undeniably "Utah," and her recent rediscovery meant collectibility and rising prices.
Tony Christensen, owner of Anthony's Fine Art and Antiques in Salt Lake, confirmed that Teichert's works were popular to the tune of, perhaps, $500,000. However, he was dismissive of the focus on money in the art world evidenced by "The Scream" frenzy.
"There's too much money and too little sense," he said.
Christensen remembered the buzz in the 1980s when a "Utah" painting first commanded $10,000. (It was a work by George M. Ottinger, one of those artists whom the LDS Church sent to Europe to study art in 1879.)
Christensen also let me know that Teichert was barely a Utahn. Other than being born in Ogden, she spent little time in the state. Raised on a Idaho ranch, she studied art in Chicago, then married and moved to Wyoming, where she tended to her family and rancher husband, painting when she could find the time.
In my investigation of Utah's brush with artistic greatness, Albert Bierstadt came up. Like Moran, he was just passing through and left us some luminous Utah landscapes. Of any artist with fleeting Utah contact, however, Bierstadt's works currently command the highest figures, going for several millions.
Swanson and Christensen agreed Arnold Friberg may be the creator of the state's most commercially valuable painting.
While he may not fulfill the "birther" definition of Utahn (he was born in Illinois), Friberg's creative life was centered here in the Beehive State, where he is famous for painting scenes from the Book of Mormon and collaborating with director Cecil B. DeMille to imagine the movie "The Ten Commandments."
Utah was also where he painted the now iconic "The Prayer at Valley Forge" depicting George Washington kneeling in the snow beside his horse. Like "The Scream," it hardly needs introduction. "Prayer" was recently appraised for the Friberg estate at a cool $12 million.
There are hints and rumors that some parties may be interested in "Prayer," but the buying and selling of art is not like putting a Ferrari on a showroom floor and waiting for a buyer.
It is an opaque market driven by private money that often wants to remain private (e.g. "The Scream").
Still, with its iconic status and the current conservative veneration of The Founders, I would love to be in the room if "The Prayer at Valley Forge" ever comes up for auction.
Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.