Published: October 15, 2015
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack;
Catalog Photos Courtesy of Blackwood/March
ESSEX, MASS. — Mike March and his Blackwood/March Fine Art & Antique Auctioneers celebrated their 35th anniversary with a varied sale on September 30. It had been a day of unsettled weather, with a stormy forecast for the evening, and that may have kept some people away, but there were more than 50 potential bidders in the room at the start of the sale. Internet and phone lines were in use and many of those bidders were successful. Well over 200 bidders registered to participate online. Not surprisingly, given the staff’s experience, the sale went smoothly and several folks went home with bargains.
March is known for selling paintings by Cape Ann artists, and there were numerous examples by several popular artists in this sale. The top lot of the evening was a painting by Emile Gruppe. A collection of African carvings was offered. There were several Oriental rugs, as well as a wide assortment of other merchandise. After the sale, March told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he was satisfied with the sale. “I think the poor weather and forecast affected the turnout, but the Internet bidders were very active. There’s no question that there were bargains to be had; that’s what makes auctions fun and keeps people coming back. We passed about 15 percent of the lots and that’s about average.”
Gruppe (American, 1896–1978) is one of the better-known Cape Ann artists. His studio was in Gloucester, Mass. Although his early years were spent in the Netherlands, after serving briefly in World War I, he settled on Cape Ann. He is best known for impressionistic landscapes; he was heavily influenced by Monet. He, in turn, influenced several other painters of the Cape Ann school. His Cape Ann paintings are his most popular, and Blackwood’s sale included two. One was the highest priced lot of the sale and the other was right behind it.
Selling for $6,490 was “Gloucester Sky,” an evocative harbor scene, with clouds, ocean and several sailboats. After the sale, March said he thought this painting was particularly fine and that it sold for less than he thought it would. “Gloucester Harbor” was the second highest price of the day, finishing at $5,428. Both paintings retained their original silver gilt frames. The buyer of “Gloucester Sky” told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that this was his first Gruppe. He said that he had recently bought a Rockport scene by Aldro Hibbard (American, 1886–1982) and wanted a Gruppe to go with it. Gruppe was also influenced by Hibbard, so the paintings will probably go well together. The Gruppe prices were in line with other recent auction results for the artist.
There were several other works by Cape Ann artists. March said he was particularly pleased with an oil on board by Frederick L. Stoddard (American, 1861–1940). March said, “I’ve been selling Stoddard paintings for 40 years, and this is the best he’s ever done.” The painting was a marine scene with sailboats and figures. It was in its original frame and went out at $920.
Exceeding its estimate was a carved and painted wooden and plastic panel by Alfred Czerepak (American, 1928–1986). It sold for $2,178 to an Internet bidder, the price well over some of the artist’s other recent auction prices. After the sale, March said the carving went to a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was delighted with his purchase. A 39-inch carving of a codfish by the same artist also did well, earning $1,210 from an Internet bidder, possibly the same person. Czerepak studied under Hibbard, who conducted summer art schools in Rockport for almost 30 years, starting in 1920.
An unframed oil on board by William Malherbe (American, 1884–1951), again of Gloucester Harbor, also did well, achieving $885. A portrait of Theresa Reagan by Leon Kroll (American, 1884–1974) finished at $1,888. Kroll was a prominent artist who exhibited at the landmark 1913 Armory Show, the first large exhibition of Modern Art in America. An oil on canvas by Otis Cook (American, 1900–1980), of a dock scene with a schooner alongside, finished at $2,124. The painting had a brass plaque indicating that it had won an award at the Rockport Association in 1952. The painting that drew the most action from phone and Internet bidders was an impressionistic street scene by Charles Movalli (American, b 1945). It sold for $3,304, more than eight times its estimate.
March said that there were bargains to be had among the Cape Ann paintings and other artwork. In particular, an oil on canvas of a large Victorian house in Rockport by Lucian Geraci went out for only $148, and an oil on paper of a Monhegan Island scene by Don Stone (American, 1929–2015) was bid to just under $100. A winter scene by Cecil Chichester (American, 1891–1963), whose work hangs in the White House, brought only $384, well under its estimate. A New England farm scene by Michael Graves (American, 1934–2015), whose paintings are in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, brought only $118.
The sale included a number of African carvings and beadwork. Most sold within estimates. A Bamoun carved and painted mask sold for $236, a Sentufo carved wood female figure finished at $148 and a Kuba carved, painted and shell decorated helmet mask fetched $236. An unusual Ibroibro carved wooden and painted figure with a colonial hat achieved $295. A 25-inch-long Kuba shell and bead decorated mask box went out at $236.
Sometimes, when auctioneers are asked about their favorite item in the sale, the answer can be surprising. For March, the expectation was that he would pick a Cape Ann painting. Not so. His favorite item was a laminated 6-foot-long wooden aircraft propeller made by the Sensenich Company. The company, founded in 1932 in Lancaster, Penn., is still in business today and still making propellers for light aircraft. In 1942, it claimed to be the largest manufacturer of wooden propellers in the world. Reconditioned wooden propellers are available from Sensenich today for $2,750, and a 1950s wooden propeller is listed online for $1,350. So whoever bought the one at this auction probably got a good buy at $384. March said, “It’s unbelievable to me that planes flew with wooden propellers.”
There were numerous other interesting items in this sale. A Hiroshige Japanese woodblock print of a fisherman went out at $787, well over its estimate, to an Internet bidder. A 29-inch pond model sailboat in good condition sold for $472, and a large hand colored 1852 engraving of Niagara Falls by Gouph & Cie seemed like a bargain at $236. A fancy child’s wicker rocker was another bargain, fetching only $30, while an early map of Gloucester and Cape Ann by John Mason, 1831, earned $148. An unusually large pair of well-modeled Staffordshire Spaniels, almost 14 inches tall and in good condition, fetched $177. A 9-inch Hopi pottery bowl sold for $413, and a 16-inch Chinese blue and white porcelain vase earned $384.
All in all, it was a varied and successful sale for the auctioneer and those who attended the sale.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.blackwoodauction.com or 978-768-6943.
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