Review by Andrea Valluzzo, Photos Courtesy Litchfield County Auctions
LITCHFIELD, CONN. – Asian artworks selling for right around the half-million-dollar mark seems to be the trend for May auctions. Exactly a week after a Chinese scroll painting hit $528,000 at a New Jersey auction, Litchfield County Auctions got its turn on May 20 when an oil on canvas by Zao Wou-Ki (b 1921, Chinese French), “Oiseaux Dans Les Nids,” 1951, attained $487,500, including the buyer’s premium.
The painting opened at $95,000 and quickly overtook its $150/250,000 estimate when a phone bidder jumped it to $280,000. A total of nine phones and one Internet bidder chased the lot at the start, but it soon came down to a battle between two phone bidders, including the initial bidder, who lost out to another phone. “Slow and steady wins the race,” quipped owner/auctioneer Nicholas Thorn after the sale.
“We got as close to half-a-million as you can,” he said. “The consignor was very excited to find out he had a valuable painting.” The collector brought the painting into the gallery in a group of artworks and did not know what he had. “He didn’t recognize the signature, but because we had sold one about 12 years ago, it was immediately obvious what we had,” Thorn added. The gallery had the work authenticated by the Zao Wou-Ki Foundation.
The painting drew much presale interest and the auctioneer even arranged a private viewing on the Upper West Side of New York City the week before the sale. The artist is renowned for his abstracted style and was among a group of artists in post-World War II France working in this style to tell honest stories of the war and its aftermath. “To this end, Zao began to paint more boldly than ever, combining expressive lines with deeply saturated color. In the mid-1950s, he incorporated Chinese influences more directly, sometimes using actual calligraphy instead of loose and winding brushstrokes,” according to the Guggenheim Museum.
A second work by Zao Wou-Ki, a lithograph titled “Hortensias,” also sold in this sale, going within estimate at $5,750, while rounding out the list of robust-performing artworks was a Marc Chagall lithograph, “Ecuyere au Bouquet,” at $6,875.
“The Zao Wou-Ki was far and above the best result, but overall it was a strong sale,” Thorn said, noting they have moved from doing large sales to smaller monthly sales that allow buyers to better focus on the items on offer. The gallery also has moved to a Saturday auction schedule instead of Wednesdays-Thursdays, and had an uptick in attendance at this recent sale. The auctions here are already carried online on LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable but this sale marked the debut of the auction house’s own bidding platform via Auction Mobility, which Thorn said was well used and is a strong platform for mobile users.
Another strong performer was a pair of Chinese watercolors on paper, Twentieth Century, that bested the $400/600 estimate to achieve $9,375. “That was a nice surprise for the consignor,” he noted.
A disappointment was the Red Grooms prototype carousel that failed to hit its reserve. The piece may be offered again later, Thorn said, but the consignor may opt to take it home to enjoy it longer. “It’s such a neat object, but very unusual,” he said.
The furniture category featured a Sixteenth Century, Italian, walnut cassone, having a central carved cartouche with a crown flanked by two dragons, and gadrooned edges and paw feet, that fetched $6,562; a Sixteenth Century Spanish walnut vargueno that sold just over high estimate at $3,875 and a Regency bench as fainting couch, Nineteenth Century that went out at $3,125.
Other lots performing above estimate were a pair of Rose Medallion porcelain plaques, Twentieth Century, at $2,250 and an 1880 charcoal drawing of an elderly couple by Adolph von Menzel that took $4,250.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.litchfieldcountyauctions.com or 860-567-4661