Published: May 8, 2007
Auctioneer Steve Gass of Trinity International Auctions has been busy of late, carving out a niche in both the affluent lower Fairfield County/Westchester/New York City area art market, and also around the globe. Most recently demonstrated on April 21, 2007, during the premier event for the newly reformed Avon, Conn.,-based art auction business, formerly known as Trinity Fine Arts, the sale posted an impressive gross tally of just over $1 million.
The addition of “International” into the company’s title represents more than just a name change, according to the auctioneer, it is a reflection of both the merchandise that the auction house presents, as well as its clientele. With a focus toward presenting international artists with the same vigor as it does with American works, the auction house is also proving to be a popular spot for European collectors and the trade to purchase art. The auction house reported a heavy percentage of the recent sales coming from clients abroad.
“This is an area that American auction houses typically do not to accentuate or focus on,” stated Gass. “Probably 40 percent of the phone bidders we had participating were from overseas and most of them were bidding on items from their home countries.”
Interestingly, Gass begins his auctions, which start at noon, with works by Russian artists. “Our bidders from throughout Russia are in a time zone that is eight hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time,” he said. “We make it convenient for them to participate in the auction by offering Russian art first, and then we work backwards from there. Italian and German artists are offered next, English and French and then on to the American items.”
Gass notes a shift taking place in the art market, commenting, “Hudson River paintings are always going to be fashionable, but there is a strong shift toward contemporary and Modernist works. The Russian Modernist paintings we offered went through the roof, as did the Italian works.”
A moderate sized crowd was in the room as the auction began, although a host of staff lined the back of the gallery armed with telephones and computers. Online bidders claimed roughly 25 percent of the lots sold throughout the day, the telephones were particularly strong, taking 50 percent of the lots, and the remaining 25 percent sold to a determined group of bidders seated in the gallery.
The sale got off to a brisk beginning with the selection of Russian works with an Impressionist-style Abram Arkhipov oil on canvas titled “Open Field” bringing a premium price. The painting, signed lower right and with a certificate from the Tratyakov Museum, was actively bid by three phone bidders, with the lot selling to one of them, well above estimates, at $14,340.
The first of the David Burliuk paintings to cross the block was titled “Flowers and Seashells by the Sea” and action from the five landline telephones, and other gallery representatives staffing cellular phones, was intense. “The Burliuks just flew,” exclaimed Gass after the auction. “There are a tremendous amount of clients in Europe, especially the Russian art buyers, that want to repatriate as much art from their countries as they possibly can.”
The attractive Burliuk painting that depicted a bunch of colorful flowers had an exhibition history of the Ulrich Museum of Art. Estimated at $22/28,000, the lot opened for bidding at $10,000 with several of the phone bidders getting into the action. Bids advanced quickly, but as the price escalated, phone bidders dropped from the action one by one. Eventually it came down to a single phone bidder competing with an Internet bidder, with the latter claiming the lot at $33,460.
Two other Burliuk paintings sold for $19,120 each, including an urban scene with children playing in the foreground that was titled “Bronx Scene,” and a waterfront scene featuring a bait shack on piers titled “Quick Frozen Fish, Florida.”
The top lot of the Russian works came as an oil on canvas by Ivan Aivazovsky titled “Luminous Sunset off the Coast” was offered. The painting, estimated at $35/50,000, opened for bidding at $25,000 and was immediately hit by a bidder in the gallery and several of the telephone bidders. Internet bidders attempted to get in on the action, yet they always seemed to be a bid or two behind the quick pace established in the room. After a final flurry, the lot was hammered down at $47,800.
“The Tree,” an oil by Vasil Sitnikov, surprised many in the gallery with a determined bidder in the room competing with several telephone bidders until he claimed the lot at $15,535. A Wassijl Khemeluk oil depicting a vase filled with flowers was another of the lots to take off, with anxious phone bidders jumping the bid throughout the process. Looking for an advance from $8,000 to $8,250, one of the telephones jumped the bid to $9,000, only to be countered by another telephone who jumped the bid to $10,000. The lot ultimately went to yet another phone bidder at nearly double the presale estimates as it sold for $16,730.
The top lot of the auction came as an Edwin Lord Weeks painting was offered. The painting ultimately proved to be popular with bidders, although it remained under the radar almost right up until sale time. Titled “Resting Under a Shady Tree,” the oil on canvas board measured 14 by 11 inches and carried a presale estimate of $2,5/3,500.
Opening at only a couple thousand dollars and with four phone bidders poised for action, the painting took off with large jumps in the bidding coming from a couple of them. At $4,500 the bid was jumped to $5,000, and the next bidder jumped it again to $7,500. Soon the competition narrowed to two of the bidders, with a believed record price eventually paid for the artist at $63,335. “Orientalist type pieces seem to be much more in favor these days,” commented the elated auctioneer.
Another of the sleepers was the Emerson Woelffer abstract oil on canvas titled “The Lookout,” 1950, monogrammed on the lower corner. Also hovering under the radar, this painting ended up having nine phone bidders registering by sale time. “As it turns out, he has virtually no track record,” stated Gass of the Modernist painting. Consigned from a private estate, the painting had been purchased in the 1950s directly from the artist in the Chicago area.
Perhaps little known in this part of the art world, California bidders were active, with one client flying in to try and buy the Woelffer. Estimated at $1/2 ,000, the painting took off when it crossed the block with the buyer in the gallery competing heavily with the telephones. In the end, a San Francisco phone bidder claimed the lot at a record price paid at auction for the artist of $37,045.
A European painting titled “Seated Man Smoking Pipe” by P. Semonowich did well, with the Moroccan-themed portrait selling at $32,265.
Italian paintings of interest included a pair of Francesco Battaglioli Eighteenth Century oils that sold for $14,340, two Eighteenth Century pen and ink drawings by Guardi that went out at $9,560, and a Felice Giordano oil that brought $8,962.
American works included an Everett Shinn pastel titled “Washington Square Park in the Snow,” sold for $23,900, a Charles Lanman painting titled “The Otter and The Fish” at $11,950, and a George Bellows watercolor “Lake with Mountain Vista” realized $14,340.
Modernist pieces included two Robert Philipp oils with “Rockport Porch” selling at $21,510, while “The Chef” was knocked down between estimates at $10,755.
One controversial note associated with the auction was a decision the gallery made to not report prices to Internet art-listing sites. Staring down a double-edged sword, Gass made a decision that prices would not be reported to AskArt or Net-Art and he made it a point to publicized the new policy in his advertisements.
“This was based on requests from dealers and collectors who asked if we were going to be reporting to these online services,” said the auctioneer. “Several of our major clients said they would not be participating” if the prices were reported to online listings. Clients cited difficulty in the resale process when paintings they purchased at the auction were listed with the prices they had paid. And, commented Gass, should a painting fail to sell at the auction, it affects the consignor as the sales avenue is rendered “dead for five to seven years after they have been reported on the sites as passed.”
The downside for the auction gallery is the publicity and consignments generated by strong prices posted on the net. “People will often see that you achieved a great price for a particular artist and then they call to consign a similar work by the same person.”
Prices include the buyer’s premium charged. Trinity International Auctions will be conducting a fall auction and has a special summer sale that it is trying to work into the schedule. For information, 860-677-9996, or www.tiauctions.com .
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