Published: February 28, 2017
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
CRANSTON, R.I. – The young auction group Bruneau & Company pulled off with aplomb its first single-owner, live, cataloged sale on February 18. “It was an amazing sale with lots of action, thanks to my team,” said founder and principal Kevin Bruneau, who called the auction from the company’s headquarters outside Providence.
On offer was the small but highly distinctive art collection of Tamara and Norman Jay Bolotow. The Barrington, R.I., couple were active in the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art, Norman serving as a museum trustee in the 1980s. The couple credits director Franklin Robinson and prints and drawings curator Deborah Johnson-Serinsky with nurturing their interest in art. The Bolotows also clearly benefited from RISD’s Art for Your Collection sales and the museum’s collectors’ club. Much else of what the Bolotows acquired came from well-known galleries and auctioneers in New York and Boston.
Ably cataloged by Bruneau specialist Travis Landry, the 152-lot trove spoke to the Bolotows’ clear and evolving tastes. According to Landry, “Norman favored Expressionism, Social Realism, the boardwalk beauties of Reginald Marsh, the droll humor of Heinrich Kley and the aesthetic of Leonard Dufresne’s modern genre scenes. Tamara appreciated the work of female art pioneers Alice Schille and Julia Margaret Cameron. Beyond their personal favorites, together they collected Austrian Art Nouveau and Art Deco sculpture.”
Early on, through an art rental program at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Norman became interested in geometric abstractions by Ilya Bolotowsky, the Russian American artist who was no relation, despite his similar name. Bolotowsky’s glowing orb “Golden Tondo B” led the auction, bringing $20,000. Two colorful expressionist paintings from an earlier stage in Bolotowsky’s career garnered $3,375 and $2,500.
Drawings and a painting by the German illustrator Heinrich Kley (1863-1945) offered the biggest surprise. Bruneau saw active bidding on 16 works by the artist thought to have inspired animator Walt Disney. Many pieces went to a German buyer. Landry believes the firm set a record with the arresting watercolor “Interior of a Steel Mill,” $13,750. A pen and ink drawing of three centaurs by Kley reached $7,500, while another of crocodiles and bears figure skating went for $6,875.
Norman Bolotow’s interest in Social Realism was evident in works by Reginald Marsh and George Grosz, the latter represented by four paintings and three lithographs, many of them nudes. “As they say, sex sells,” Landry said of the top Grosz, a watercolor on paper nude that went for $9,375. A more developed Grosz watercolor and pastel nude achieved $8,520.
The most compelling Marsh was a double-sided watercolor depicting, on one side, women on the boardwalk, and, on reverse, women on a street corner, characteristic subjects for the artist. The work on paper exceeded estimate to bring $10,000.
Softer in tone and reflecting Tamara’s love of women artists was “Beach Bathers,” a dappled Impressionist view of children frolicking in the surf. By Alice Schille (1869-1955), the watercolor retaining a Vose Galleries label left the room at $10,000.
It was hard to say where the monochrome, semiabstract charcoal drawing “Dark Plants No. 5” by contemporary artist Terry Winters (b 1949) fit into the Bolotow collection, but it held its own, selling for $10,000.
Likewise, a colorful ceramic sculpture by Viola Frey (1933-2004), a contemporary artist of growing interest to scholars, seemed a sleeper. Calling to mind a Della Robbia tondo, Frey’s bas relief plaque made $5,125.
A group of German and Austrian Art Nouveau and Art Deco bronze figures revealed another side of the Bolotows. “Torch Dancer” by Ferdinand Preiss made $9,375, a nude female dancer by Carl Kauba brought $3,475 and a Middle Eastern dancer by Franz Bergmann fetched $2,750.
Few pieces were reserved. One exception was an albumen print portrait of Mrs Herbert Duckworth by pioneering British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. It passed at $15/25,000.
“It was a special piece, worth saving for the right buyer,” said Landry.
Prices include buyer’s premium.
Bruneau & Company’s spring antiques and fine art auction is scheduled for March 25 at 63 Fourth Avenue in Cranston. For information, 401-533-9980 or www.bruneauandco.com.
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