Published: June 13, 2017
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy of Humler & Nolan
CINCINNATI, OHIO – Nearly 1,300 lots crossed the block in Humler & Nolan’s two-day Memorial Day weekend sale that featured Rookwood ceramics, American and Continental pottery and art glass through the last 150 years. With more than 800 online bidders, another 150 between the phone and absentee and still 100-plus more sitting in the audience, the plethora of coveted vases, bowls, jugs, plaques, lamps and decorative arts from three important private collections as well as a number of individual consignors totaled approximately $1.2 million.
While acknowledging the soft market in bottom and middle-market works, auction director Riley Humler was pleased with the results from the sale and asserts that the very best objects still find considerable interest among collectors.
“What helped the sale tremendously is that, at the top end, we had a fair number of glass and Rookwood examples that were really good pieces,” said Humler. “Across the board, really tantalizing things. When collectors are given the opportunity to buy quality, they step up. People are still looking for that. There were several pieces that really exceeded their expectations.”
At the top of the sale came two lots, both from American makers and produced in the 1920s, that each brought $24,200.
On the first day of the sale, that result came in the form of a large Rookwood vellum glaze plaque by artist Ed Diers. The 1929 plaque featured an early morning azure blue sky with the sun shining through a golden-hued cloud cover above the Venetian lagoon, depicting the waking city in the background and a group of men aboard small ships tied to a seaman’s shrine in the foreground. The shrine in the scene would have been constructed and kept up by those who made their living at sea, captains and fishermen who hoped for safe passage.
“At 14 by 16 inches, it was one of the larger plaques that Rookwood made; most of them were half that size,” said Humler. “And it happened to be one of the more rare examples, not many were made. If you look at the image, the detail was just amazing. Somebody got a good buy, it was a nice one.”
The second result at $24,200 was a never-before-recorded vase from Iowa State College artist and one-time professor Ethel Julia Bouffleur. The vase, which was produced between 1922 and 1924 during the artist’s tenure at the university under the direction of Paul Cox, prompted a research trip by Riley Humler to the Brunnier Museum collection at Iowa State University in Ames. Although the museum had not previously recorded the mark, the trip into the archives yielded three additional examples with the same mark and style that were then able to be identified as Bouffleur.
From zero to four and with a very impressive premiere auction result, Ethel Julia Bouffleur’s work features a significant level of artistry that, combined with a factor of immense scarcity, will likely produce similar high dollar results in the future. The example in Humler’s sale featured carved and painted decoration of white and yellow echinacea blossoms stemming upward from the base and surrounding the form over a teal green background.
“It’s quite rare, there’s not a lot of Iowa State pottery anywhere. The piece had been in a collection for many years and really hadn’t been identified as Iowa State,” said Humler. “It was thought to be, because of the clay body and the glaze really smacked of being an Iowa State piece, but it hadn’t been confirmed because the marks weren’t ones anyone had ever seen before. A little bit of sleuthing and a little hard work, we were able to positively identify it.”
With the depth of work kept in the Brunnier Museum and the university’s collection, the American Art Pottery Association plans to hold a future convention on the grounds to expose more scholars and enthusiasts to the ceramics that came from the area.
The firm’s signature Rookwood sale section presented an assortment of styles and forms that the maker produced in various periods throughout its operation.
A historically significant Spanish water jug featuring a stylized lobster on one side and one of the earliest Rookwood marks on the other, likely created by Alfred Brennan, soared above the $3,500 high estimate to land at $17,545. Pit between two phone bidders, Humler said their appreciation for the piece took it to the wall. Produced in 1883, the jug was later documented in a 1942 B. Altman Rookwood sale advertisement, meaning that the firm held onto the example for at least 59 years after it was made.
“This is the beginning of a very famous company trademark,” said Humler. “There was one artist at Rookwood who probably would get credit for designing the Rookwood logo, Alfred Brennan, and we’re fairly sure that he did the decoration on this piece. In 1883, Alfred Brennan decorated maybe a half dozen to a dozen pieces that had the Rookwood symbol painted on the outside. That’s the first time it had ever been used on a piece of Rookwood that we’re aware of.”
In the same section, Grace Young’s portrait vases helped guide a Native American example to $15,125. The tall work, measuring in at 14½ inches high, featured Sioux Chief Hollow Horn Bear. While the pieces fell out of favor after their initial run at Rookwood during the turn of the Twentieth Century, they came into vogue with collectors for their ties to American history, offering what the other Rookwood portraits, which largely featured Continental scenes and Old Masters, could not. According to Humler, a gentleman amassed a large collection of Native American Rookwood portrait pieces years ago, leaving few to anyone else before he passed away. We still await that collection to come to market.
This auction also featured some of the best glass that Humler can recall seeing in any of his past sales. Leading the category was a Tiffany Apple Blossom lamp with a 16-inch-diameter shade over a bronze base that brought $22,990. Cameo glass from Daum and Gallé also piqued interest among collectors. A large 24¾-inch-high Daum Nancy enamel and cameo vase with green and ruby cabochons scattered over a floral design brought $10,890. An exceptionally bright Gallé “blow-out” vase featuring amber apple blossoms against a yellow background also found a new home at $7,865.
One of the larger surprises of the day presented itself in a pair of Chinese porcelain handled vases that stood 22¾ inches tall. Humler recalled his astonishment when online absentee bidding started the lot at $10,000 over a $900 high estimate. Bidding rose steadily to $16,335, selling to a phone bidder from England. It was the first time a Chinese work had popped off for the auctioneer, which is a trend in the auction world as Asian arts continue to perform strongly as they ship off to a strong economy of collectors in the East.
Coming in at $10,980 was a rare 1903 Art Nouveau Zsolnay center bowl that showed two women kneeling opposite each other on the rim, staring into the pool of water that was represented by the bottom of the bowl. Lily pads were strewn about the surface of the pool, all over the maker’s signature Eosin iridescent glaze.
An anonymous institutional buyer scooped up the finest example of Newcomb pottery in the sale, a double-signed high-glaze vase by Anna Francis Simpson and Maude Robinson. Produced in 1910, the 6-inch-high vase featured eight stems of budding white roses over a blue green background. It sold for $13,310.
“Across the board, it was a good sale for us,” said Humler.
All prices include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.humlernolan.com or 513-381-2041.
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