Published: February 9, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Stair Galleries
HUDSON, N.Y. – “We’re really pleased,” said Colin Stair of Stair Galleries after a series of sales, January 27-29, which included a single-consignor session of items by interior design tastemaker John Rosselli and two days of Americana fare. “I’m never just not surprised that people are spending money and buying things. I’m in the ‘useless’ business. It’s not food, water, medicine, shelter. And yet my grandfather and great grandfather had great business in the Depression, in World War II, so I don’t know…,” said the fourth-generation furniture specialist and founder of Stair Galleries.
“We had a great little Americana sale. A lot of nice surprises and a very high success rate,” he said of the two days of sales that totaled about $680,000, with only about six unsold lots. About 40 percent of the lots sold above the estimate, about 35 percent sold within the estimate, with the rest below the estimate. Among the surprises was a Queen Anne painted “Heart and Crown” armchair with a rush seat that was pushed by 50 bids from its $300/600 estimate to a final price of $19,680. Repairs to the top rail in a couple of spots, some wear on its armrests and other surfaces and minor joint separations did little to deter bidders from pursuing the chair exhibiting good scale. Property of a Landmark house, the 48-by-24¼-by-19¼-inch example was just one of the highlights of the 436 lots crossing the block over the two days devoted to furniture, decorations and art representing all periods of production with a particular emphasis on the early Nineteenth Century. Top lot overall was a Chippendale carved mahogany and brown painted tester bed that similarly trounced its $600/800 estimate to settle at $24,600. “I don’t claim to understand the bed, guessing a rare American thing. It was consigned by RISD.”
Another of the highest flying lots of the sale’s second day was a map of the territory of the United States from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, engraved with color additions on two sheets, 1853. It soared from its $800-$1,200 estimate to finish at $21,760. Each sheet was 22 by 46½ inches (sight), and framed together they were 59 by 58½ inches. Stair believed that the fact that it mapped out the railroads to California was what made it so interesting. It came from a Darien, Conn., estate.
Nothing speaks Americana more clearly than a choice weathervane, and Stair offered one of the category’s quintessential forms, the American Horse and Sulky. On a stand and measuring 19 by 31 by 7 inches overall, and not withstanding a few expected minor bruises and repairs, the vane pulled in at $20,480, twice its high estimate, after 17 bids.
A Tiffany Studios bronze floor lamp base stood 69¾ inches high. With some overall wear, some oxidation to the patina and a few spots of encrustation, it rose to $18,450.
Augustus Rockwell (1822-1882) was an American artist active and living in New York, best known for his landscape paintings. Attributed to the artist in this sale and coming from a private New York collection was an oil on canvas landscape, “Transparent Lake, Hamilton County, N.Y.” The 1872 oil was inscribed “A. Rockwell,” titled and dated on the reverse, 26 by 36 inches. Bidders liked the attribution and took it to a final price of $18,450.
Furniture and decorative arts were notable among the sale’s highest selling lots. A large Federal painted mantelpiece earned $14,760. Fitted with two paper labels on the reverse, “D.H. King Esqr., New Rochelle and Parlor 4,” the mantel was of impressive scale, measuring 5 feet 2 inches by 6 feet 11 inches with an inside dimension of 39¾ inches by 4 feet 8 inches.
Fetching $10,455 each were a Regency giltwood convex mirror and a George III mahogany library cabinet in two parts.
Additional highlights included a pair of Federal mahogany, birch and parcel-gilt pier tables, each fitted with a marble top and a mirrored back panel, going out at $9,840, and, from the property of the late Zane Studenroth, connoisseur and antiquarian who specialized in early Nineteenth Century American furniture, lighting and decorative arts, there was a tall Federal mahogany and marble sideboard. It sold for $10,240. “Selling my friend Zane Studenroth’s things was very sad for me,” said Stair. He specialized in Federal furniture, especially pieces from New York. In the 1980s he used to turn up at all my exhibitions. First one in the door. He’d look at everything and we’d have a good conversation. I was happy to have done a good job in selling his items, and the family was appreciative. I kind of likened it to ‘we’re going to do a really good memorial service for your stuff.'”
The Collection of John Rosselli
On January 27, Stair gave bidders a taste of John Rosselli’s distinctive eye when it presented “Master Class: John Rosselli’s Artful Eye,” featuring about a 200 lots from his collection. Part of Stair’s zeitgeist is summed up in its motto of “Selling Interesting Things From Interesting People.” That list is long, including such “collecting celebrities” as Keith and Patti Richards, Dominick Dunne, Allan Stone, John and Susan Gutfreund, among many others. “John has always been a hero of mine,” said Stair. “At 94 years old, he came to the preview three different times – threatening to buy everything back.” Rosselli’s collection presented a fitting episode for Stair, and even more fittingly the sale was led by a pair of modern carved and painted wood palm tree pilasters, 6 feet 10 inches high, that rose to $11,070.
“One must only buy what one likes, and it will find its place” is Rosselli’s motto. Once Francoise de la Renta arrived at his shop with Babe Paley, who wasted no time in snapping up a pair of miniature ivory palm trees for Truman. “I’ll always remember wonderful clients like Babe Paley, she gave a point of reference, and shopped 12 months of the year for Christmas – I adored her!” said Rosselli.
The sale was a rampant feast of the tastemaking of the dealer who more that 60 years ago opened his first antiques shop in New York City. He created a destination for interior designers and architects who came to rely on his sophisticated eye and the shop’s ever-changing inventory of antiques and furnishings.
In the 1960s, Rosselli and his longtime associate Furlow Gatewood began creating reproductions of antique accessories, lighting and occasional furniture. Their craft was characterized by painted finishes, exacting detail and an ability to customize quickly. The workroom they established in Harlem quickly became a go-to resource for the interior design community.
By 1985, Rosselli’s nephew Jonathan Gargiulo joined the company and shortly after opened the John Rosselli & Associates showroom in New York City’s D&D Building on Third Avenue. At this time, the business expanded to include additional lines of furniture and lighting, as well as fabrics and wallcoverings, becoming a full-service showroom.
Two decades later, the firm established three additional showrooms in Washington, DC, Dania Beach, Fla., and Chicago, and the business began focusing on new boutique collections of textiles and wallcoverings. Each showroom become a popular destination for designers who appreciated Rosselli’s timeless sense of style.
Last October, as the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing evolution of the design industry threw shade on viable commerce, Rosselli announced that he would be permanently closing his beloved shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. In an Instagram post, he shared that he would be shifting his business model in favor of an e-commerce platform.
A Louis XV-style Provincial pale grey painted buffet fitted with a variegated marble top above three cutlery drawers and three cupboard doors on a plinth base was bid to $7,687, while a chic resin mirror attributed to Edward Zajac brought $7,380.
There was plenty of room to gather around a French Louis XV Provincial farm table at 6 feet 6 inches by 30½ by 37 inches. There were minor age splits, seam separations and staining to the top, plus some evidence of old worming in the legs, but it was structurally sound, enticing bidders to a final price of $7,040.
Also good looking while at the same time being essentially utilitarian was an English oak refectory table that was 6 feet 10¾ inches long. It bettered its $1,5/3,000 estimate by realizing $6,150.
Interior decorators vied for a Continental tole palm tree and pair of Indian elephant pedestals, each achieving $6,400.
Two brass and ebonized etageres climbed to $6,150, while a pair of Giacometti-style bronze lamps sold for $6,080, and a pair of faux bamboo etageres made $5,760.
“It was a nice sale,” said Stair, adding that there were 200 new bidders and 15 new buyers. “I’m not looking to get seven figures but rather to get things sold for people for a reasonable amount of money. That sale was about $400,000 total and almost all of it was sold.” Even better, he added, there was very little trade participation – so private buyers and designers. “Two weeks leading up to the sale, we were in Elle Décor, Architectural Digest and Veranda. You can’t buy that kind of press. And it’s a new, young group of editors who got the essence of it.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Primarily servicing the New York City metro area and tri-state region, Stair conducts auctions twice a month.
For additional information, www.stairgalleries.com or 518-751-1000.
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