Published: May 31, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Millea Bros.
BOONTON, N.J. – It was three days of New York City collections at Millea Bros.’ select auction, May 19-21, offering a veritable collection of collections comprising ten individual single-owner hoards, each devoted to a particular area of interest, but all sharing scholarly expertise and that obsessive drive to assemble only the very best examples of their passion. The sale totaled $3.35 million, etching, for the moment at least, the firm’s “best ever” sale, according to Mark Millea, who co-owns the enterprise with his brother Michael. While the event was live-streamed, the auction action was all online, with about 4,000 bidders competing via LiveAuctioneers and an unspecified but large number of bidders lining up on BidSquare and the firm’s own platform. “The video feed gave the feel of a live auction. We put a lot of effort into our video broadcast of the action,” said Michael Millea.
The top lot over the three days was an antique monumental pavonazzetto marble cantharus urn, circa Fifteenth Century, which sold for $475,000 the first day, nearly 200 times its high estimate. Now on its way to Paris, the bowl with flattened channel-carved rim, panther-form handles, raised on a conical foot terminating in a square base, was apparently carved from a single block of marble. Its dimensions were 19 by 29 by 22½ inches, it came from a private New York City collection and had been featured in a January 20, 1967, antiquities sale at Parke-Bernet Galleries. “We were definitely surprised by the result,” said Michael Millea. “It did so well. From that consignment, the consignor had kept and gave us a lot of their old auction catalogs and some receipts as well.”
Day 1 opened with the Chinese art collection of a New York scholar. He was a professor at Columbia University and Sarah Lawrence and traveled to Mainland China during the years before it opened to the West. His massive collection spans the entire history of Chinese culture, from ancient Neolithic artifacts to Ming and Qing scroll paintings, and Modern art of the Cultural Revolution.
A Chinese archaic-style ritual Ding tripod vessel, 24 inches high, possibly Western Zhou dynasty (Tenth Century BCE), was the second highest selling lot of the day, selling for $90,625. The vessel’s patinated metal bowl, bell-shaped body with studded rim and upright loop handles on round tapering legs was on an elaborately carved zitan base, and its cover was set with a pierced carved yuan-style white jade finial. Its sale is one of those “good news” situations in which an item from an earlier sale is reoffered because the initial buyer did not pay for it. David Halpern, the firm’s head of Select sales, recalled that it did well in the fall sale. “With premium, it was about $35,000,” he said. “And – we’ve all been through it – the buyer didn’t pay for it. We lowered the estimate and reoffered it, and it brought almost three times what it made the first time.”
There were also Modern art jewelry highlights on Day 1, including a silver fringed necklace, 30 inches long, attributed to Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976). Selling for $75,000, more than ten times its high estimate, the hammered silver on cord was composed of twisted silver bands ending in scrolls, appearing as stylized silver musical notes. The piece was offered as property from a prominent Oyster Bay, N.Y., family and Calder patron.
Antiquities from the Near East and the Americas, part of a renowned collection assembled over decades by a powerful New York media mogul, included a tall ancient Egyptian wood carved figure with museum provenance. Estimated $10/15,000, the 35-inch-high Middle Kingdom (circa 2000 BCE-1800 BCE) painted human figure mounted on wooden plinth, probably Saqqara or Fayyum, was bid to $69,000.
Removed from a Park Avenue residence, a pair of Chinese flambe glazed double gourd vases, Qing dynasty (Nineteenth/Twentieth Century), mottled reds and blues glazed porcelain, unmarked, each 12¾ inches high, went out at $21,600.
Depicting a farmer with three donkeys, a 1964 scroll painting by Huang Zhou (Chinese, 1925-1997), realized $19,200. Ink in colors on paper mounted to silk, with a black inscription and red seal lower left, the scroll measured 28 by 17½ inches.
Day 2 of the sale was devoted to Modern art and design. The highest selling lot at $93,750 was an abstract oil on canvas painting of museum quality by Nikos Hadjikyriakos-Ghika (Greek, 1906-1994), “The Lady of Night,” 1957, oil on canvas, was signed “Ghika,” dated lower right and titled verso on stretcher. It measured 36 by 25 inches. The work was from the collection of Litsa Tsitsera, scientist, political activist and art patron of New York. Catalog notes describe Tsitsera, of Greek descent, as a female pioneer in electrical engineering, starting her professional career in 1960s New York City working for the global electrochemical giant Vittorio de Nora. In addition to her professional life she was an avid supporter of the visual arts, building an impressive wide-ranging collection, and becoming patron to numerous living artists, particularly those of Greek descent, including Theodors Stamos, Chryssa, Michael Lekakis, Frank Minei, Ed Meneely and Richards Ruben.
Two works by Chryssa Vardea (Greek-American, 1933-2013) from the same collection were also notable, including a large painting and two neon light boxes. Fetching $50,000 was a mixed-media neon sculpture, circa 1960. The untitled, neon, painted wood and painted canvas carried no observable signature and was housed in a Plexiglass shadowbox, 46 by 31 by 9 inches. The oil on canvas, “Stocks (Lehman Brothers),” 1962, was of large scale (69 by 75 inches) and brought $41,250.
Tsitsera also collected works by Jean Xceron (American/Greek, 1890-1967), whose abstract oil on canvas, ex-Guggenheim Museum, “Composition No. 247,” circa 1942, signed lower right with museum label verso, took $26,250. And Tsitsera’s collection also contributed a work by Janice Biala (American, 1903-2000), a large oil on canvas “Courtyard in Winter #3,” 1987, which also earned $26,250. Signed “Biala” lower right and verso, it had two gallery labels verso and measured 59 by 46 inches.
A design highlight from the home of a recording industry insider was a Louis Cane patinated bronze and oak bureau plat, circa 2001, that realized $31,200. With walnut parquet top over three frieze drawers, a cast bronze frame and pulls, the piece came from the “Caillebotis” series, and was brass stamped “Cane,” dated, numbered 2/8 and marked “Ciselure D’art Ile de France CAI.” Cane was noted primarily as a painter but turned his attention to furniture design in the 1990s. Catalog notes place him in the tradition of Diego Giacometti, Claude and François-Xavier Lalanne and Garouste & Bonetti, with work that blurs the boundaries of fine art and design, with each piece produced in a limited signed edition. “The Louis Cane group was really surprising at how strong it was,” offered Halpern. “It’s an artist whose works did not generate a lot of interest until recently. We just happened to come in after his market developed.”
Day 3 included English antiques and American folk art from the Connecticut home of socialite Barbara Allen de Kwiatkowski, all sourced and assembled by decorators Sister Parish and Albert Hadley.
The day clearly belonged to Tiffany Studios, though, with a Louis Comfort Tiffany stained glass window leading the way at $41,250 and a rare Tiffany Nasturtium vase pulling in $31,250.
With provenance to the Lillian Nassau Gallery in New York City, where it had been purchased in 1967, the circa 1902, American “Wisteria” example featured leaded and plated glass in purple and blues. It was housed in a later steel frame with a piano hinge for window mounting and measured 49 by 30 inches.
The Tiffany Studios Favrile glass paperweight vase was from the Litsa Tsitsera collection. From the first quarter of the Twentieth Century it was abloom with orange Nasturtium flower and leaf design on streaky blue ground with an iridescent green interior. The 8½-inch-high vase was signed “L.C. Tiffany, Favrile” on the underside of the foot.
A fine art highlight on the sale’s final day was an Orientalist oil on canvas harem scene by Vincent G. Stiepevich (Russian, 1841-1910), again from the Tsitsera collection. Signed “V. Stiepevich” lower right and measuring 18 by 24 inches, the painting found a buyer at $22,500.
Continental art and antiques from a 510 Park Avenue estate included a pair of ebeniste-signed Louis XVI case pieces by Jacques-Laurent Cosson (1737-1812). The pair of console tables brought $16,250 and featured inlaid banding and stringing, variegated marble tops, ormolu ribbon and trailing flower mounts, foliate escutcheon and lower tier with pierced brass gallery marked “J.L. Cosson” and “JME.”
Additional highlights included a mirror-image pair of Venetian Moor stands, sourced by Parish-Hadley, that earned $15,000. The Nineteenth Century Italian blackamoors were of polychrome painted plastered wood with inset marble tabletops, with each 55-inch-high figure carrying a fringed basket and standing on an acanthus leaf plinth. And fetching $14,375 was a French “Japonisme” bronze cloisonne clock, late Nineteenth Century, the figure in the manner of Miyao Eisuke standing beside a square gong hanging from a dragon-headed post and a playful foo dog on shrine table-form pedestal.
The next Select sale will be conducted in the fall, but there will be numerous other sales during the summer months. Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.milleabros.com or 973-377-1500.
November 22, 2022
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