Published: August 16, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy of Rafael Osona Auctions
NANTUCKET, MASS. – Rafael Osona Auctions conducted two sales over the weekend of August 6 and 7, offering no less than 850 lots between them. The first was the Americana, Fine Art and Decor Auction on August 6, and the second was the Marine Auction on August 7. Gail Osona, wife of Rafael and partner in the business, said, “Nantucket art is skyrocketing.” The two auctions made about $2 million in total.
The highest lot of the first sale was an oil on canvas by Anne Ramsdell Congdon, “View From Monomoy,” which sold for $123,000. Painted circa 1941, the oil on canvas shows a view from Monomoy Harbor in Nantucket. A member of The Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston, Congdon and her husband took holidays to Nantucket, moving there permanently after his retirement where she joined the island’s Art Colony. Congdon’s work was represented by the Easy Street Gallery through the 1940s, when this painting was made. It was one of three Congdon paintings sold that day, including “Stone Alley,” for $38,400 ($15/17,500) and “Homestead in New Hampshire,” for $30,750 ($25/35,000).
Next in the top lots was “Sunset Sail” by Robert Stark Jr, which sold for $70,725 and set a new record for his work. From Osona’s online Artists’ page, written by Carolyn Walsh, “[Stark’s] legacy is a modernist approach to American Luminist paintings. Working principally in oil on canvas or panel, he is best known for coastal scenes that feature an iconic, red-sailed catboat.” This detail was present in each of the Stark’s included in the sale, such as “Lone Red Sail Off Headland” and “Red Sail Approaching Shore At Evening,” selling for $20,910 ($10/12,000) and $9,840 ($8/12,000), each well over their estimates.
Ralph Eugene Cahoon Jr’s work was strongly represented in the auction, with his cheeky scenes always attracting attention. The highest price achieved was for “Mermaids And The Duck Hunters,” doubling its low estimate at $61,500. Three other Cahoon’s sold that day; “Oceanside Seesaw Games” more than double its high estimate at $42,040 ($15/20,000), “Mermaids With Flags” for $27,060 ($20/30,000) and “Mermaids And Capsized Sailors” for $27,060 ($25/35,000). Another Cahoon went postsale, his “Mermaid With Looking Glass” for $18,450 ($20/30,000).
Two paintings by Nantucket artist Wendell Macy (1845-1913) were included in the sale and both performed well at the block. Born in New Bedford, Mass., but descended from some of Nantucket’s earliest families, Macy is sometimes best known for his depictions of maritime tragedy, showing the quieter side of island living. “Lady In The Sun, Nantucket” was a small painting at only 4 by 7 inches, but shone at $20,910 against its $12/18,000 estimate. The second Macy to sell that day was “The Fiddler,” circa 1878, which sold to the tune of $15,990 over its $8/12,000 estimate.
Decorative art and material culture also populated the lots, with much fine furniture and home goods beginning a new chapter. Midcentury Modern made the first appearance in this category with a set of six George Nakashima (Japanese-American, 1905-1990) “New” chairs in black walnut and hickory, which were bought directly from his New Hope, Penn., gallery shop in 1962. Early American furniture also appeared in the higher sales, including a Connecticut Chippendale oxbow secretary, made from cherrywood in 1790 that sold for $13,500 ($10/15,000) and an Eighteenth Century Queen Anne tiger maple slant front desk for $8,610 ($3/5,000). An unusual addition was a Gustavian credenza from the Eighteenth Century, painted pale blue, which charmed the bidders up to $10,880 ($2,5/3,500) on the Internet.
Colonial silver was also present in the sale; a rare Nantucket coin silver porringer, crafted circa 1797 by Benjamin Bunker (1751-1842), who was one of the most prolific silversmiths on the island after settling there around 1763. He was listed as an armorer during the American Revolution, and a Mason at the Nantucket union lodge. This porringer was made to commemorate the marriage of George Swain (1776-1848) and Hanna Coffin (b 1778), who went on to have eight children together. The porringer appears in Patricia E. Kane’s Colonial Massachusetts Silversmiths And Jewelers (1997), and sold for $23,370 ($17,5/22,500).
Out of a handful of jewelry lots, a Diana Kim England charm bracelet adorned the sale for $17,220, almost tripling its high estimate. The 18K yellow gold bracelet was a classic double link with 18 charms and weighed 98 grams. The charm motifs included Nantucket baskets, scallop shells, starfish, a lobster claw, welks and a charm of Nantucket Island. The bracelet was numbered 98 out of a limited edition of 100. Having relocated from Nantucket to the Hudson Valley, England is still producing jewelry and taking commissions.
Canton porcelain was plentiful in the sale, but a few lots stood out from more than 150 examples. A rare group of nine graduating cider jugs with foo dog finials on the lid was the top at $13,530 ($8/12,000). One was signed “J.R. Canton 1838” on its bottom surface. These were joined by a Canton Mason’s cider jug from the Nineteenth Century, described as clobbered because of the gold used to decorate the surface with Masonic motifs and to cover the foo dog on the finial. It captivated for $5,535 ($2/3,000). An umbrella stand from the same era sold online for $5,376.
Boston history was up for sale as well, with two important needlework samplers done by Hannah B. Loring, 10, and Caroline Matilda Loring, 9, from 1811 and 1816. These sold together for $14,760. The Metropolitan Museum of Art holds a needlework family record by Hannah, which includes her sister, Caroline. It also reveals that her father was married three times; Hannah was the daughter of his second wife Sarah, who passed away shortly after Hannah’s birth.
The Marine sale hoisted up many more treasures, most of which were made with materials from the sea. The highest lot leading the fleet was a scrimshawed antique whale panbone by contemporary scrimshander Michael Viennau of The Scrimshander Gallery of Nantucket. The bone was 40 inches long and 17 inches high, engraved in polychrome with a whaling scene and five vignettes of the pictured journey, and sold for $13,530.
Two examples of prisoner of war art were prominent in the top lots, including a miniature French 80 gun man-o-war ship model, made with carved bone by a possibly American prisoner circa 1800. The model included retractable guns on the lower deck (22 of them missing), a Trojan figurehead, finely carved rake-boards and a stern. The model won the day at $13,860 against its $4/8,000 estimate. The other sculpture was a carved bone three-figure spinning jenny, made circa 1800 by a French prisoner of war. The jenny had mechanical cranks that caused the figures’ heads to pivot back and forth, and sold for $9,840 ($2/3,000).
Other scrimshaw and ivory artifacts appeared in the sale. An American polychrome sperm whale tooth championing the sea trade occupied the third highest lot of the sale, displaying two banners with “Success To Commerce” and associated swag on either side. The tooth sold for $9,480 over its $4/6,000 estimate. An antique narwhal tusk walking stick with a silver cap from the mid-Nineteenth Century sold for the same price at $9,480.
Another whalebone item was a busk inscribed “Harvest – J.W. Minor,” circa 1825-62. Used for corset structure, these were handed down as mementos or sold as art objects when the restrictive garments went out of fashion. This example showed a South Pacific scene, with two whaling barks flying colors and a longboat out in pursuit of three whales, and two customs houses with a steam-sail paddle wheeler and the initials “N.S.” on the reverse. The busk sold for $7,380. Another treasure was a whaleman-made fancy document box from the last quarter of the Nineteenth Century with numerous antique walrus and whale ivory applications to the mahogany case, which closed at $6,765.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. Rafael Osona’s Late Summer Auction is on August 27. For information, www.rafaelossonaauction.com or 508-228-3942.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm