PASADENA, CALIF. — John Moran Auctioneers has accrued many great objects and sales in its 45 years selling decorative and fine art, and at its April 29 decorative arts auction, it gained another.
The auction house established a watermark for an American art pottery vase by preeminent Arts and Crafts potter Frederick Hurten Rhead (1880–1942) and his wife, Agnes Rhead. Standing slightly over 17½ inches tall, the baluster-form vase is incised in minute detail with a peacock, his tail feathers glazed in blue and three shades of green and fanned out over a brown and buff-colored ground accented with stylized black tree branches. This choice example of the potter’s art realized $570,000, including the buyer’s premium.
Dated 1910, the vase was made during the British-born Rhead’s brief tenure at the University City Pottery in University City, Mo. In addition to rarity, a compelling design and craftsmanship, the vase possessed that all-important ingredient for auction success: impeccable provenance.
Purchased from the pottery in the summer of 1910 by a couple residing in St Louis, it was given as a wedding anniversary and baby gift to the Meyers family of Iowa City. Never before offered for sale, it was handed down through several generations of the family and was only recently rediscovered by an heir in his Southern California home.
The vase went on the block to face a full bank of telephone bidders from across the country and a determined floor bidder. Several minutes of fast-moving combat eliminated all but three contenders, but as the asking price flew higher, the action was punctuated by tense pauses.
One of the telephone bidders, Robert Kaplan, acting as agent for Rudy Ciccarello of the Two Red Roses Foundation in Florida, finally prevailed over the resigned floor bidder. The new price is a healthy $54,000 higher than the previous record of $516,000, set in March 2007 by another Rhead vase. That example, created during Rhead’s tenure in Santa Barbara, Calif., featured a grove of eucalyptus trees. The record for American art pottery is also a Rhead work and is a panel of four tiles, depicting a peacock, that realized $637,500, including the buyer's premium, at Rago's in October 2012.
The vase and the tile panel will soon be united in a setting worthy of their stature. The Two Red Roses Foundation is breaking ground on a new museum in St Petersburg. The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, scheduled to open the first quarter of 2017, will be the first museum in the United States solely dedicated to preserving the legacy of American Arts and Crafts design. The museum will showcase the two Rhead peacocks as highlights of the holdings of around 1,600 items of decorative and fine art in the foundation's collection.
A complete report on this auction will appear soon.
UPDATED: This article was updated May 9, 2014, to correct errors.