Published: March 2, 2021
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Willis Henry Auctions
HANOVER, MASS. – When you go to a Willis Henry sale, you know you’ll see painted furniture and accessories, firkins, stoneware, redware, weathervanes, Shaker items and other good Americana. Will and Karel Henry’s February 21 sale delivered that and more. Much of the material they sell comes from local homes and estates. There was a collection of furniture decorated by Peter Hunt, early firearms, several carved walking sticks, Native American pottery, Chinese furniture and porcelain, and a Nineteenth Century painting of Alexander the Great, which, unexpectedly, turned out to be the highest priced item in the sale.
Not much was known about the painting, which depicted Alexander mounted on a horse in military dress, surrounded by angels, putti and another soldier holding a crown or halo over his head. Based on a date of 1837 on a scroll held by one of the figures in the painting, it was cataloged as Nineteenth Century, with a high estimate of $2,000. Two bidders obviously thought more of it, and it finished at $21,250. It came from a nearby home in Duxbury, Mass., where it had been used as a room divider. There were a number of other paintings throughout the sale, including an oil on canvas landscape by Ernest Lawson (1873-1939). It was signed, included a farm building and was thought to be “Round Hill Farm, Greenwich, Conn.” It realized $6,250.
The sale started off with several pieces of stoneware and redware. A 9½-inch Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century redware ovoid jug with an uncommon pinkish-gray glaze sold for $657. A 10-inch New England redware plate with yellow decoration brought $438, and a Nineteenth Century redware mug with a predominately green glaze, shaped sides and a strap handle earned $219. A 3-gallon stoneware crock marked “Albany NY” and decorated with a bold, blue sunflower and floral motif realized $594. Another 3-gallon crock, with double cobalt flower, marked “JT Carpenter, Grocer, Mt Kisco, NY,” finished at $375.
When we talk about Willis Henry sales, including numerous items with painted surfaces, we’re usually referring to items in old red or blue “buttermilk” paint. This time, however, the term also included a sizeable collection of pieces decorated by Peter Hunt. Hunt, who died in 1967, spent most of his working life on Cape Cod, where he also operated an antiques shop. His work was quite popular in the 1940s-50s, with articles describing his work appearing in magazines such as Life and House Beautiful. His clients at the time included such influential names such as Helena Rubinstein.
He, or young artists he employed, repainted all sorts of furniture and wooden objects with colorful scenes and designs reminiscent of Pennsylvania German and French provincial folk art. Motifs included hearts, flowers, fruits, birds, angels and pretty young women and their suitors. Hunt further embellished some of those pieces with pseudo-French phrases scrawled across their surfaces.
A 30-inch-tall Nineteenth Century barrel, repainted with trees and a colorful village scene, earned $656, and a small dry sink, decorated with blue swags, and a top decorated with a horse and rider pulling a wagon, sold for $625. There were numerous other pieces, nearly all selling well over estimates. There was even a pair of duck decoys repainted by Hunt that sold for $469. One can only wonder what the decoys might have been worth had they not been decorated by Hunt.
Two green Hingham firkins each brought $750. One, 7 inches tall, was unmarked, and the other, 11 inches tall, was stamped C.S. Hersey. Hersey lived in Hingham, also known at the time, as “Bucket Town.” An 11-inch swing-handled, three-lapped bucket in an old natural finish brought $938. A lot of six small Hingham covered oval boxes, one made by Hersey, realized $813.
Furniture included an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century English tavern or stagecoach leather covered wing chair, which earned $1,250. The style is so named because of the deep wings. A very unusual English mahogany drafting table, with the catalog dating it as Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century, sold for $1,625. It had an adjustable drawing surface, hidden pull-out brass candle holders and numerous drawers and compartments for paper and drafting implements.
American furniture included a New England four-drawer bowfront Hepplewhite chest of drawers, which earned $1,500 and an Eighteenth Century cherry slant-front desk, with four graduated drawers, that also realized $1,500. A colorful, yellow paint-decorated pine dressing table reached $1,375. There were also two Eldred Wheeler pieces. One, a small inlaid lift-top blanket chest with three drawers, earned $1,125, and the other, a small four-drawer Hepplewhite-style sideboard with side-by-side drawers, realized $1,063.
Native American items included a 6-by-7-foot Kwakiutl button blanket from British Columbia. Of wool broadcloth, red wool with black and mother-of-pearl buttons it depicted seals and a large killer whale. Examination before the sale by those familiar with button blankets determined that it had been made for the tourist trade, not tribal use. Accordingly, it sold for $1,125. Contemporary Southwest pottery included a finely carved black and white Pueblo olla with an intricate design, made and signed “Lillie Patricio, Pueblo of Acoma, N.M., June 02.” It realized $532, while two San Ildefonso bowls sold well over their estimate, achieving $1,625. One was signed “Russell Sanchez, San Ildefonso Pueblo 1981” and the other, with inset turquoise eye, was signed “Dora of San Ildefonso, 1988.”
After the sale, Will Henry was asked if he had been able to learn any more about the Alexander the Great painting, and he said that no additional information had come to light. Commenting on the sale, he said, “I thought the Peter Hunt decorated pieces did well – most finished over estimates. The furniture brought about what we thought it would, and there was a lot of interest in the firearms and other military pieces. I was pleased to see that we had so many bidders and so many of them were new to us. I think we did okay, and I’ve spoken to our consignors. They’re happy. One said, ‘Come get some more stuff.’ That’s what I like to hear.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.willishenryauctions.com or 781-834-7774.
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