Sotheby’s Americana Week Auctions
Total $18.4 Million — Folk Art Shines
NEW YORK CITY — A packed salesroom watched as American folk art from the collection of Ralph O. Esmerian achieved $12,955,943 on January 25, setting a new record total for any auction of American folk art – a record that had stood at Sotheby’s since 1994. [See Antiques and The Arts Weekly, February 7, 2014]. The firm’s annual sale of Americana followed, which also featured a number of strong prices for folk art pieces, Sotheby’s Americana Week auctions totaled $18.4 million.
Folk art took center stage in the various owners auction of Americana, led by a rare Eider drake, purchased by Nathan Liverant and Son, that achieved $767,000 above a high estimate of $500,000. The decoy was probably made on Monhegan Island in Maine, circa 1900, by an unknown craftsman. Other standout prices for folk art included a rare canvaswork picture depicting a hunting scene, worked by Anna Woodbury (Swett) of Boston, circa 1748, which fetched $185,000, going to C.L. Pricket Antiques.
Top prices for American furniture were led by the Asa Stebbins federal inlaid and figured mahogany tall case clock, which sold to Historic Deerfield for $185,000. The clock was made for Colonel Asa Stebbins — one of Deerfield, Mass., wealthiest and most respected citizens — circa 1800. A classical rosewood, brass inlaid and ormolu mounted work table made in Boston, circa 1815, sold for $137,000, more than doubling its high estimate of $60,000.
Additional sale highlights included $149,000 paid by an anonymous bidder for Gilbert Stuart’s unfinished portrait of Jerome Bonaparte, youngest brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, First Consul of France, circa 1804; and two lots that each achieved $137,000 — a classical rosewood, brass inlaid and ormolu mounted work table, Boston, circa 1815, and John James Audubon’s “Say’s Squirrel,” 1831.
Also, a watercolor by Benjamin Henry Latrobe depicting a view toward the northwest, four to five miles east of Bloody Run, drawn from nature, 1815, sold for $100,000, while a rare Queen Anne cherrywood marble top pier table, Boston, circa 1755, finished at $100,000, and the Stokes family rare Chippendale carved mahogany side chair, Philadelphia, circa 1765, went out at $87,500.
Finally, a nearly identical pair of Chippendale carved and figured mahogany piecrust tilt-top tea tables, carving attributed to the “De Young High Chest” carver, Philadelphia, circa 1770, was $81,250.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com.
Important Americana At Christie’s
A Tale Of Two Collections
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – Christie’s American decorative arts department tends to succeed with selectivity, putting together focused sales of high quality that attract public notice and plump the bottom line. The three-session auction that stretched over three days, January 23 to 27, folded together furniture, folk art, silver and Chinese Export art. Realizing $10,189,025 on 355 lots sold, it hinged on the effective promotion of the estates of two well-known collectors, Eric Martin Wunsch and Kristina Barbara Johnson.
Wunsch, who died in March 2013, trained as an engineer. Methodical, scholarly and companionable, he approached Eighteenth Century American furniture and silver and Dutch Old Master pictures with academic rigor but enjoyed exchange with like-minded collectors and curators.
At a reception at Christie’s on January 22, Linda Kaufman, honored with the Eric M. Wunsch Award for Excellence in the American Arts, described him as a “dear friend” and recalled the happy hours that she and her late husband, George, and Ethel and Martin Wunsch spent with a tight-knit circle of collectors — “the Stones, the Kilroys and three men from Yale, Bob McNeil, Dick Dietrich and Charlie Montgomery.” The Kaufmans and the Wunschs were regular customers of Israel Sack, Inc, and were especially close to the firm’s president, Harold Sack, remembers former Sack associate Deanne Levison.
Offered on January 23, American silver from various owners tallied $1,737,875 on 89 lots sold. Wunsch supplied most of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century examples. Bidding from the front row, Timothy Martin of S.J. Shrubsole in New York claimed the lion’s share. His greatest prize was a brandywine bowl, $317,000, made in the Dutch style with six lobed panels, an embossed and chased flower base and beaded caryatid handles. Made by Cornelius Vander Burch of New York around 1690, the bowl is one of only 23 recorded examples of its kind and one of two known by Vander Burch. The other Vander Burch bowl fetched $512,000 at Christie’s in 2001.
Also on Shrubsole’s shopping list was a pair of Paul Revere Jr, Boston, circa 1790 sauceboats for Boston merchant Moses Michael Hays, $161,000; a silver hilted sword by Thomas Edwards, Boston, circa 1740, $27,500; an alms dish by Jacob Hurd, Boston, circa 1737, $18,750; and a hoof spoon by Jurian Blanck Jr, New York, 1670–1690, $11,250.
Knocked down to Deanne Levison was a pair of circa 1715 John Coney of Boston chafing dishes with pierced rims and claw feet clutching wooden balls. Sold for $233,000, they bear the engraved crest of Boston merchant Thomas Hutchinson. Single chafing dishes identical to these are in the collections of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. For $30,000, the Atlanta, Ga., dealer also took a Myer Myers of New York brandy warmer, circa 1760, probably made for New York merchant Sampson Simson.
Including furniture, property from the Wunsch collection realized more than $2.2 million, prompting Andrew Holter, Christie’s head of American furniture and decorative arts, to note the market’s appetite for quality and provenance. Leading sales of Wunsch furniture was a circa 1770 Chippendale carved mahogany scallop-top tea table. Probably from the shop of Benjamin Randolph with carving possibly by Richard Butts, the Philadelphia piece sold to a phone bidder for $905,000.
A 1760–80 New York Chippendale carved mahogany chest of drawers of elegant proportions went to an anonymous bidder in the room for $569,000.
Two tiny treasures were knocked down to an agent for a well-known New England collector. A rarity, a circa 1772 Boston parcel-gilt mahogany block-front dressing glass that descended in the Russell family, flew past its $10/15,000 estimate to fetch $185,000. A circa 1809 Federal sewing box attributed to Thomas Seymour with paint decoration attributed to John Ritto Penniman made $125,000, well above its estimate of $3/5,000.
Deaccessioned by Chipstone Foundation, the 1765–1775 Deshler family Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany side chair with carving attributed to John Pollard went to an anonymous bidder in the room for $725,000.
From other consignors, two Boston bombe chests of drawers dating to circa 1785 and circa 1770 brought $485,000 and $425,000, respectively.
Seventy-seven lots from the estate of Kristina Barbara Johnson, an early supporter and former trustee of the American Folk Art Museum who amassed and later sold important collections of scrimshaw, followed the Wunsch property. Johnson died in April 2013.
Patrick Bell and Edwin Hild of Olde Hope Antiques advised Johnson’s family on the dispersal of the property, which in this session garnered $855,375. Christie’s captured the collection’s vibrancy in its installation. Shown in the galleries next to a large cigar store figure of Punch, consigned by actor Dustin Hoffman and sold for $60,000, was Missionary Mary Proctor’s life-size acrylic painting of three spiritually rapt women, “For We Walk by Faith Not by Sight,” $6,875.
“This painting really describes Kristina. She followed her own light,” said Bell.
The assemblage documented, in a highly personal way, the folk-art field’s evolution since the 1960s, when Johnson first appeared on the scene. The session saw good prices for traditional American folk art. Perhaps nudged by the Monmouth County Historical Association’s recent retrospective on the artist, two pastel portraits of pretty women by the New Jersey itinerant Micah Williams made $27,500 each. A pair of oil on canvas portraits of a Baltimore ship owner and his wife by the African American artist Joshua Johnson crossed the block at $35,000. An early Twentieth Century hooked rug depicting General Washington sailed past its $2/4,000 estimate to bring a startling $30,000.
Johnson was more foresighted in her selection of Twentieth Century self-taught art. By William Edmondson, “Mother and Child,” a carved limestone sculpture only 11¼ inches tall, sold in the room to folk art collector Jerry Lauren for $263,000, more than tripling its estimate.
William Hawkins’ powerful enamel and mixed media on board painting “Two Deer in a Fiery Forest” went to Susan Baerwald of Just Folk, Summerland, Calif., for $37,500, with collector Edward V. Blanchard Jr, president of the American Folk Art Museum’s board of trustees, in pursuit. Blanchard acquired Thornton Dial’s arresting abstract oil on canvas, “Tiger,” $32,500, among other pieces.
The best paintings by Bill Traylor now fetch in the mid-six figures at auction. “Brown Mule” lacked some of the psychological complexity of Traylor’s finest work but was hardly unsuccessful at $37,500. The painting was one of several items that Johnson shrewdly picked up at fundraising auctions organized by the American Folk Art Museum over the years.
The marquee lot of the Johnson session, “The Old Covered Bridge” by Grandma Moses, failed to sell. Christie’s had good reason to estimate the 1943 oil on canvas at $300/700,000. It is large — 36 by 45 inches — and compositionally pleasing. Other paintings by Moses have topped $1 million at auction, in 2006 and 2009. Passed at $280,000, this painting is likely to find a new home in good time.
From a Massachusetts collection, a paint-decorated fireboard opened at $55,000 but failed to meet reserve. Linda Lefko, co-author of Folk Art Murals of the Rufus Porter School: New England Landscape, 1825–1845, urged caution in attributing the unsigned painting to Rufus Porter, as Christie’s had done. “What I can say is that this is definitely school of Rufus Porter. It is certainly by the same painter who did many of the unsigned walls in the area of Greenfield, N.H., where this is from.”
Chinese Export Art
Christie’s concluded its juggernaut on January 27 with Chinese Export art. The session realized $3,034,750 on 130 lots sold. Highlights included a set of four Qianlong period nodding-head figures of court couples. Their rare large size — 173/8 inches tall — elegant costume and delectable palette sparked competition, securing a winning bid of $173,000 from a European dealer.
From the Wunsch collection, a circa 1785 Order of the Cincinnati plate brought $87,500. According to the Society of the Cincinnati, only one service was made in this pattern, the 302-piece service owned by George Washington.
In the paintings category, a circa 1794 oil on canvas view of the Viceroy of Canton in the great hall of his palace receiving the British envoy Lord Macartney made $149,000. The work is attributed to the school of Spoilum. Labeled Lamqua, an album of 80 leaves painted with fruits, flowers, trades and boys at play sold to the UK trade for $81,250.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For information, 212-636-2000 or www.christies.com.
Quixote Cabinet, Maritime Works
Triumph At Bonhams
NEW YORK CITY — The Alfred I Gold collection of maritime paintings sailed to success at Bonhams’ Important Maritime Paintings and Decorative Arts auction January 24. Affectionately known as “Fritz,” Gold focused on ship portraiture related to the Liverpool-New York trade of the mid-1800s, referred to as “Queens of the Western Ocean.”
The collection of 16 canvases was 94 percent sold by lot, led by a James Edward Buttersworth composition, “Schooners from the New York Yacht Club Racing in the Narrows,” which attained $106,250. Additional highlights included “The Packet Ship Fanchon of the Black Star Line” by Samuel Walters, which more than doubled estimate to reach $100,000. Fine examples from Joseph Heard and John Hughes were also well received.
“Shipping off Birkenhead” by Robert Salmon was the auction’s top lot, bringing $221,000. Other highlights of note included James Edward Buttersworth’s “The American clipper ship Flying Cloud, Scudding in a Gale of Wind off Cape Horn,” which sold for $185,000, and a strong selection of paintings by Montague Dawson, such as “Sunset Glow,” which more than doubled estimate to reach $93,750.
Gregg Dietrich, Bonhams’ maritime consultant, reflected on the collection’s success: “Fritz Gold had a passion for maritime history, as well as a discerning eye for artistic quality. The market was very responsive because his sophisticated approach and extensive knowledge were evident in every painting on offer. He was a true connoisseur and an important member of the maritime art community. It was an honor to handle the collection.”
American and European Works
A day earlier, a Nineteenth Century rosewood cabinet, inlaid with scenes from the novel Don Quixote, was the protagonist in Bonhams’ fine American and European furniture, silver, folk and decorative arts and clocks auction January 23. Rendered in a Hispano Flemish Baroque style with gilt parcel, etched bone and faux tortoiseshell elements, the cabinet attained $149,000, nearly ten times over estimate after a fierce phone bidding war.
“The cabinet manages to be both a window into the Renaissance cultural and literary mind, and a highly decorative element that is almost contemporary in its aspect,” said Karl Green, director of furniture and decorative arts for Bonhams New York. “We are seeing the market respond to unique pieces that capture this era’s aspirations.”
An elaborately carved custom hall clock from Tiffany & Co. provided further evidence of the trend. The Asian-inspired clock, replete with ivory, brass and copper details, was created for the Seligman mansion in New York at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Each room in the opulent home had a theme, as was fashionable among the period’s aristocracy. The clock belonged to the Japanese-style smoking room, and more than doubled estimate to bring $100,000. From the same time period, an Americana carved and polychromed wingspread eagle with flag and shield attributed to George Stapf fetched $23,750.
Additional highlights included a serene white marble sculpture of “Highland Mary” by Benjamin Edward Spence (1822–1866) that transported bidders to Nineteenth Century Britain. A neoclassical depiction of Scottish national poet Robert Burns’ lost love Mary Campbell, the serene beauty, realized $37,500, nearly ten times its estimate.
Among the sale’s many silver highlights was a William IV ivory-mounted sterling silver two-handled oval footed tray made in London in 1836 by Robert Garrard II, which took $40,000. Property of a noble family, the tray was made in honor of the marriage of Lionel Nathan de Rothschild (1808–1879) to his cousin Charlotte von Rothschild (1819–1884) that same year.
Chinese Export silver also proved popular, in particular with the sale’s numerous Chinese bidders, including an oval two-handled tray by Luen Hing from early Twentieth Century Shanghai. Featuring pagodas, animals, birds and insects amid an aquatic garden, the finely chased tray fetched $31,250, more than five times its estimate. By the same token, collectors of Russian antiques responded to a Russian 84 standard silver figural writing stand made in Moscow circa 1899–1908, which brought $35,000.
Victoria Ayers, Bonhams’ senior specialist in silver, said, “Silver is timeless and truly international. Quality items that retain close to their original crisp decoration and speak to rich cultural traditions are sure to resonate with sophisticated connoisseurs worldwide.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Bonhams’ next sale of furniture, silver and decorative arts will take place April 29.
For additional information, www.bonhams.com or 212-644-9001.