Published: February 7, 2017
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Rago
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. – On a $140/160,000 estimate, a unique Paul Evans cabinet dropped jaws in Rago’s three-day sale as it rode bidding to $382,000, a world auction record for the New Hope artist. The January 21-22 sale included five sections and more than 1,000 lots of material from early Twentieth Century design, Midcentury Modern, modern design, modern ceramics and glass, as well as the single-owner collection of Dr Martin Eidelberg.
“Piece for piece, it was probably the strongest sale we have ever had,” said David Rago, “It did over $5 million, and we’ve had sales gross more, but in terms of sell-through and competition for lots, I don’t know if I’ve ever had an easier sale to call or stronger results.”
The sale produced a healthy 86 percent sell-through rate with nearly 30 percent of bids coming from the internet, Bidsquare producing 17 percent and LiveAuctioneers the other 13 percent. “As an auctioneer, I have a good idea on what is going to happen, all except for the internet,” said Rago. “Sometimes there were three, five or eight people bidding on a single lot; it was a fun auction to call.”
Setting an auction record for Paul Evans is no easy feat. The prolific artist has thousands of auction records spanning every major period of production throughout his life. Since 2008, Rago has handled 16 cabinets from Evans that have each brought more than $100,000. At the front of the pack now stands a custom gold and crimson red standing cabinet that transcended the styles that Evans became renowned for.
“It was a benchmade piece, so the design has never turned up before,” said Rago. “It was a collaboration between Evans and the original owner. It had elements from the ‘Wavy Front’ series, the welding work pulled from his ‘Sculpture Front’ cabinets, and the swatches of colors and the background looked similar to his ‘Argente’ line. The base was a gold cityscape. It was a hybrid.”
The previous record was stoked by Wright only eight months prior, $293,000 for an exceptionally vivid “Argente” cabinet with an abstract silver and black design.
The mid-mod and modern design sections brought strong and reliable prices for both handcrafted and manufactured Modernist works. Another Paul Evans sculptural cabinet, this one floating, was consigned by the original owner and brought $112,500. Exploding through the $8,000 high estimate was a pair of custom Paul Frankl cork lounge chairs, settling at $53,125. In the same section, a collection of George Nakashima furniture in the form of cabinets, tables and benches found continued interest from collectors. A “Frenchman’s Cove” dining table in book-matched walnut brought $51,250, over double its $22,500 high estimate, while “Minguren” and “Conoid” series tables, as well as five cabinets, all did more than $15,000. Chandigarh furniture from Pierre Jeanneret also saw active bidding, with a set of ten V-leg chairs bringing $31,250 over an $18,000 high estimate.
The collection of Martin Eidelberg brought choice examples of early Twentieth Century pottery to the forefront. With his often-cited 1972 exhibition at Princeton, “Arts and Crafts Movement in America,” Eidelberg was a seminal figure in the revival of interest in the movement in the United States. “He’s probably the world’s top mind in Twentieth Century decorative arts,” said Rago.
The collection featured works by University City and Adelaide Robineau, Arthur Hennessey for Marblehead, Ruth Erickson for Grueby, John Bennett, Tiffany Studios, Rookwood, Martin Brothers and more. Biloxi madman George Ohr took the top lot in the section, with Rago saying that a raspberry, purple, green and gunmetal pigeon-feather glazed vase with ruffled rim, in-body twist and two ribbon handles was “the best piece of George Ohr we’ve ever had.” It brought $87,500.
A Robineau porcelain vase with Aztec-style feet and a brown crystalline vase made $46,875. David Rago was humbled to handle the collection of Robineau works as “there’s just none of it out there.”
The general sale of early Twentieth Century decorative arts found strength, as always, in Tiffany Studios, though the field has cooled off as of late. A fine Peony table lamp with bright pink flowers over a cool, green and blue foliate background sold for $62,500. A Tiffany Studios bronze gimbal candlestick complete with snuffer and turtleback tiles brought $26,250.
Of the top ten highest grossing lots in the modern ceramics and glass section, seven of them were contemporary works, only Paolo Venini and Stanislav Libensky kept the old guard afloat. Venini contributed the highest lot in the section, an optical red and black “Murrine a Dama” vase, which hammered down at $46,875. Libensky’s “Green Eye of the Pyramid,” the smallest of three sizes made by the Czech artist, sold comfortably above high estimate at $43,750.
A collection of works by Japanese-born and Italian-trained Yoichi Ohira surfaced from a Puerto Rican collection, many with provenance back to Barry Friedman, Ltd, and all produced favorable results. The highest for the artist was a “Mosaico a Polvere con Cerchi” vase blown in Murano in 2002, bringing $46,875. Ohira was joined by Dale Chihuly, Lino Tagliapietra and Steven Rolfe as having works sell north of $15,000. A nod to earlier times, a sculptural work by William Morris from the “Suspended Artifact” series, executed in 1993, brought $40,625.
“The total sale estimate was $3.5 to $5 million,” said Rago. “We finished just above $5 million, it was a strong sale.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For general information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.
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