Review By Rick Russack,
Catalog Photos Courtesy of Skinner, Inc
BOSTON, MASS. — It was a rainy Sunday morning in Boston on October 25 and Skinner’s gallery had fewer than 20 bidders when the auction began. It did have several active phone lines and two busy Internet platforms going for it, though. The size of the audience had no effect on prices, which were strong throughout the sale.
Leading the way was a William Bradford seascape that sold for more than $300,000. Some good American furniture brought good prices and some were bargains, American silver and a Ralph Cahoon painting did well, a small group of Hudson River school paintings drew competitive bidding and some China Trade paintings sold well over the estimates. All in all, it was a successful sale that moved along smoothly, and, according to Steve Fletcher, Skinner’s executive vice president, it grossed just under $1 million.
As expected, the top lot of the sale, finishing at $303,000, was an 1859 seascape of Boston Harbor by William Bradford (American, 1823–1892). The work sold to a dealer, bidding on the phone, probably for a client. Bradford was from Fairhaven, Mass., and, early in his career, painted ship portraits of whalers sailing from the nearby port of New Bedford and clipper ships sailing from Boston.
Tiring of ship portraits, his interests turned to the Arctic, and he made several voyages sketching and sometimes taking photographs of the scenes he saw, completing the paintings when he got home. He sailed with Dr Isaac Hayes on his year-long Arctic expedition in 1861, exploring the region around Ellesmere Island. Perhaps it was this journey that got him interested in photographs of the Arctic. Hayes was a self-taught photographer and took a large series of stereo views of that trip. Those photos are probably the earliest taken in the Arctic. Photographing under Arctic conditions at that time was not easy; this was before film was in use, and the wet-plate process was difficult to master in the extreme cold.
This Boston Harbor scene was exhibited at Boston’s National Sailor’s Fair in 1864, a charitable affair, raising money for naval officers and seamen disabled in the Civil War. It was also exhibited at the DeCordoba Museum of Art, about 100 years later, in 1969. Shortly after completing this painting, Bradford began to concentrate on the Arctic scenes. His gigantic 6-foot-by-10-foot painting, “Sealers Crushed by Icebergs,” completed in 1866, toured the nation, before being sold to Le Grand Lockwood for a record-setting price. Lockwood also financed some of Bradford’s Arctic journeys.
Later in life, Bradford spent time in England, securing a commission from Queen Victoria. After returning from London, he had a seasonal studio in San Francisco, painting scenes of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains. In 2007, the New Bedford Whaling Museum mounted a major exhibition of his work.
Other paintings also did well, including a very colorful painting by Ralph Cahoon (American, 1910–1982) which finished at $31,980. It had everything going for it; hot air balloons, mermaids, sailors, whales and flags. A folky painting of a young boy in a red dress, holding a hammer and nail, by an unidentified artist, brought $12,300. There was a small group of Hudson River school paintings and the most popular was a view of several sailboats on the river, along with a side-wheeler and a figural group. Done by Victor De Grailly (American/French, 1804–1889), it sold for $14,760. His works hang in the New-York Historical Society, the Brooklyn Museum and several other museums.
The sale included several China Trade works. A group of three fine reverse paintings on glass, representing the months of January, February and March, reached $15,990. The consignor said they were part of a set of the 12 months but the others had been left to another family member and their present location was unknown. That would be quite a set if it was ever reunited.
As always, Skinner had a good group of American furniture, including several Eighteenth Century pieces from Connecticut. Leading this segment of the sale was a carved cherry highboy from New London County. It had shell carvings on both the upper and lower sections and a scrolled apron. With an old refinish, it achieved $9,840. A cherry desk/bookcase with scrolled cresting, raised panel doors and a flame finial finished at $7,380.
A very attractive tall case clock, also from Connecticut, circa 1810, had a scrolled and arched hood, brass finials, a tombstone door, with inlay on the door and on the base. It sold to Darcy Lane, who told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that she had recently purchased an 1818 home in Dedham, Mass., and was purchasing things for the home. She bought a number of other early pieces and paid $7,380 for the clock. She said, “I’m really new to this. How will I get the clock home?” A Skinner staff member gave her a list of movers that would solve that problem for her.
During the preview, Steve Fletcher said that one of his favorite pieces in the sale was a small Federal period round marble top table of carved mahogany and mahogany veneer. It had four outward flaring legs, acanthus carving and was probably made in Boston, circa 1820. Bidders apparently agreed, as it sold for $13,500, nearly three times its estimate to a determined phone bidder. The underbidder, in the room, when asked what was special about this table, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that it was “a good Boston form; it’s small, it’s probably the original finish, and the overall scale is really good. The fact that it’s small helps, as that makes it easy to move and it’s good for today’s apartments.”
Remember when no one wanted to admit that a piece of furniture had been made in Canada? That has changed. The sale had two chests of drawers, cataloged as having been made in New Brunswick, circa 1825. One, of wavy birch and bird’s-eye maple, with ring-turned corner posts ending in turned legs, sold for $5,228. Canadian may sell well, maybe next time there’ll be some pictures in the catalog.
During the preview, a group of students from the North Bennet Street School were examining and measuring pieces of American furniture. They were enrolled in the school’s Cabinet and Furniture Making program. It is a two-year, full-time program, accepting only ten students a semester, so only 40 students are in the program. The North Bennet Street School, located in Boston, offers intensive, hands-on training in traditional trades and fine craftsmanship. Programs, in addition to furniture making, include bookbinding, locksmithing and violin making.
Jason Kelly, one of the students, said, “If you want to be an artisan in furniture making, then you have to take this course. We use old tools, learn about old finishes and old techniques, and our instructors are all contributors to Fine Woodworking magazine.” One of the instructors, Steve Brown, was carefully measuring the Connecticut highboy.
Early in the sale, there were several lots of early American silver that sold well. A teaspoon by Paul Revere Jr brought $3,998, more than four times its estimate. A coin silver tankard made by Nicholas Roosevelt, circa 1750, with a stepped lid and double-scrolled handle, went out at $9,840, and a silver tankard by John Burt, circa 1740, reached $6,765. It was engraved with the name of John Swan. The tankard was accompanied by an interesting note which indicated that a young John Swan beat on a drum when Native Americans attacked his father’s house. According to the note, they wanted Swan’s mother whom they had once taken prisoner after murdering her first husband.
While we are talking about a piece with some history, we should mention a very interesting watercolor on paper that was cataloged as a War of 1812 Prisoner of War Camp. It depicted a large red barn surrounded by pickets with blue coated soldiers inside, red-coated soldiers standing guard and a fortified house on a hill flying a British flag. It was estimated at $800 but sold for $2,583. Hopefully, additional research will identify the scene and add to its historical value. Another piece with historical interest was an early Nineteenth Century oil on canvas Allegorical Memorial to Revolutionary War Heroes. It depicted several figures coming to lay their gifts at the obelisk memorial dedicated to “Warren/Montgomery/Wooster/Mercer.” There’s more to learn about this piece, as well. It was estimated at $1,500 but finished at $6,765, and it had condition problems.
There were unquestionably some bargains in this sale. A pair of portraits by William Mathew Prior (American, 1806–1873), possibly depicting Hiram and Eunice Hall of Portland, Maine, earned only $738. A Federal period armchair and matching side chair, attributed to Stover and Taylor, New York, early Nineteenth Century, with carved crest rails, went out for only $369. A Federal carved mahogany server, probably made in Massachusetts, circa 1815–20, reached only $1,968, well below its low estimate.
There were several other interesting items in the sale. A pair of 12-inch globes made by Joshua Loring, circa 1834–44, on X-form stretchers, achieved $7,995, just about double the estimate. Two scrimshawed and polychromed whales teeth, about 7½ inches tall, finished at $5,228. One tooth had a Scottish military officer and the other showed an elaborately gowned woman. A late Nineteenth Century folky black cloth doll dressed in a brown gown, with an embroidered face, made $2,460. The sale ended with an enormous Bellamy-type carved and painted spreadwinged eagle plaque. It was 81 inches long and the eagle was clutching an American flag and had a blue ribbon in its beak. It found a new home with a final price of $3,198.
After the sale, Steve Fletcher told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he was satisfied with the sale. He was pleased that the items with historical interest did well. “Things with a little extra something did well, and there were certainly some bargains in the American furniture lots. Skinner-Live (the dedicated online bidding platform) was very active, and I was glad to see that,” he said.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.skinnerinc.com or 617-350-5400.