Published: June 23, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Sloans & Kenyon
CHEVY CHASE, MD. – A familiar face landed at the top of Sloans & Kenyon’s June 14 sale when a Richmond Barthé (American, 1909-1989) bronze sculpture titled “Feral Benga” brought $111,125. It now stands as the African American artist’s second highest auction result following another “Feral Benga” that flew well into the six figures less than two weeks prior.
Whether it is the artist or the artwork – perhaps both – it is undeniable that a moment is being witnessed for Barthé.
The 20¼-inch-high nude of a man standing with raised arm holding a sabre is considered one of the most iconic and watershed works from the Harlem Renaissance artist. It depicts Francois “Feral” Benga, a Senegalese dancer who performed at Paris’ Folies Bergère.
The present work hailed from a 1960 recast by the Modern Art Foundry, Long Island City, and was sold at Ascension Gallery in Washington, DC, in the 1990s. Barthé’s original casting for the model was done in the 1930s after he saw Benga perform on a trip to Paris.
The auction house’s president Stephanie Kenyon said she had four or five bidders on the bronze before it shook out to two who carried it to the final result.
The work was consigned from a Washington, DC couple who collected African American art in the 1990s.
About 26 bidders were present and bidding live in the gallery on auction day, the first time since March when retail establishments were forced to close their doors to the public.
“It was nice seeing folks back in the gallery,” Kenyon said. “We saw some of our longtime buyers and others that came for one specific thing. It wasn’t a really full gallery, but everything went smoothly. Everyone was spaced six feet apart and we reserved the right to limit the amount of people allowed inside.”
Overall, Kenyon said she was happy with the auction, which produced approximately $450,000 in total sales. “We were very pleased,” she said, “we had a lot of interest and action on everything. We estimated conservatively and there were few if any reserves. People were eager to buy interesting things.”
The 748-lot auction went about 80 percent sold with 458 absentee and telephone bids logged and 144 successful online bidders on Invaluable.
Charging strong through the results was a 13½-inch-high bronze titled “Buffalo,” cataloged as after Alexander Phimister Proctor (American, 1860-1950). The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a similar reduction bronze in its collection. Proctor created four monumental bronze buffalo for the Dumbarton Bridge in Washington, DC, as part of a commission from the city’s Fine Art Commission in 1912. They still stand there today atop the bridge’s stone pylons. To prepare for the commission, Proctor went to a preserve in Alberta, Canada, to follow a herd of North American bison. The artist’s “Buffalo” sold for $57,401 on a $3,000 high estimate.
A set of five antique Russian icons from the Eighteenth or Nineteenth Centuries far surpassed the $600 estimate when they sold for $8,573. Four of them were square tempera on wood panels and one was oval.
From Lois Mailou Jones (American, 1905-1998) came an untitled Haitian scene watercolor, 18¼ by 23¼ inches, that sold for $7,620. Jones would marry Haitian artist Louis Vergniaud Pierre-Noël just four years before this work was painted in 1957. Together they lived between Washington, DC, and Haiti, summering on the island as a guest professor at Centre D’Art and Foyer des Artes Plastiques in Port-au-Prince. Two years prior to this work, Jones was commissioned by President Eisenhower to create portraits of the Haitian President Paul E. Magloire and his wife.
Continental examples formed the brawn of the furniture offerings, led by a circa 1850 Louis XVI-style ormolu-mounted mahogany upright vitrine cabinet signed F. Link that sold for $6,033. Behind at $5,715 was a similar Nineteenth Century mahogany ormolu-mounted vitrine cabinet in the sideboard style marked “V.P. Sormani & Fils/10 r. Charlot/Paris.” Rising above an $800 high estimate to bring $3,125 was a pair of George IV brass-inlaid Regency rosewood drop leaf tables from the early Nineteenth Century.
“The better Continental pieces came from the estate of an old client of ours, he passed away recently,” Kenyon said. “He purchased some of them at the old CG Sloan & Company, the immediate predecessor to Sloans & Kenyon. It was nice seeing them again, I remember selling some of those things to that same collector back then.”
European pottery and porcelain also found competitive bidding. Producing $4,445 was a KPM porcelain plaque depicting “The Repudiation of Hagar,” signed M.L. Chamberlaine. The plaque measured 15¼ by 13 inches. Without any condition issues, the coast was clear for a Wedgwood black fairyland luster “Moorish” octagonal porcelain bowl to sail above estimate for $3,302. It was painted by Daisy Makeig-Jones and measured 4 inches high by 8½ inches diameter.
A few antiquities went above estimate, including an Egyptian bronze funerary box surmounted by a sculpted figure of the crowned falcon god Horus, together with a bronze oil lamp, which sold for $4,763 – over 12-times estimate. It had provenance to a 1971 auction at Adam Weschler & Son, where the consignor paid $250 for it. “You can really see how the market has improved,” Kenyon said. At $4,191 was a Persian repousse yellow gold cup measuring 3 inches high with the sculpted heads of three horned mythical beasts protruding from the hammered winged bodies around the form.
The firm’s next sale is scheduled for the end of July. All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For more information, www.sloansandkenyon.com or 301-634-2330.
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