Published: September 26, 2023
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring; Photos Courtesy Brunk Auctions
ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Brunk Auctions presented a 505-lot Emporium Auction on Thursday, September 14, followed by a two day Premier Auction September 15-16 that saw an additional 814 lots cross the block. At the end of the three-day event, the house tallied an overall total of more than $2.9 million.
“Our fall auction season kicked off to a very robust start with this sale, posting a better than 90 percent sell-through rate and a strong total,” said Andrew Brunk. “We saw more exceptional results for Edgefield pottery led by the two signed Dave Drake vessels, and continued strength in works by Winfred Rembert. Nineteenth Century American paintings also saw spirited competition. We have an exceptional November auction on its way, and between now and then modernism and Asian sales. It’s going to be an exciting fall!”
The two signed Edgefield pottery vessels by enslaved potter Dave Drake Brunk was referring to were the toast of the auction, both achieving the highest price of the event: $135,300. Sold five lots apart on the second day of the Premier Auction, the first to reach that price was a signed and dated ovoid stoneware jug with speckled greenish brown alkaline glaze and the inscription, “Lm / May 29 – 1857 / Dave.” The inscription is unusual: comparatively few of Drake’s pots were both signed and dated. The jug was considered fresh-to-the-market as it had been discovered by the family of the consignor in a Woodville, Ga., barn about 80 years ago. A private collector prevailed with the winning bid.
As unusual as it was for Brunk to have one signed and dated piece, they had a second one that, coincidentally bore the same inscription: “Lm, May 29 1857, Dave”; according to the auction catalog, there are just two pairs of wares that share the same date. The second vessel was a 17-inch-tall stoneware jar that will be making its way into a Southern institution. Though neither piece had been documented in the Ceramics in America (2006) articled by Arther F. Goldberg and James P. Witkowski titled, “Beneath His Magic Touch: The Dated Vessels of the African American Slave Potter Dave,” the jar was a known example, having been exhibited at the Bascom: Center For The Visual Arts in Highlands, N.C., in 2017.
“For the right pieces, the Southern pottery market is still pretty hot. I was proud we could represent both sellers,” said Corey Jones, Brunk Auctions’ specialist in Southern pottery, who noted the condition of both pieces was very good, which he said was one factor helping to drive the price. He also thought the recent exhibition on Drake’s pottery — “Hear Me Now: The Black Potters of Old Edgefield, South Carolina,” which the Metropolitan Museum of Art launched from September 9, 2022 to February 5, 2023, and which is currently at the University of Michigan Museum of Art after a stint at the MFA in Boston — has also helped generate interest and exposure for the field.
He also pointed out the strong price for a monumental 10-gallon stoneware two-handled jug made in the Catawba Valley, Lincoln County, N.C., circa 1840, which was stamped “JCM” and brought $19,680, selling to a private collector.
Winfred Rembert’s (American, 1945-2021) dye on carved and tooled leather compositions will be no stranger to readers who have been following Brunk’s auctions for the past year, beginning with ones they sold from the estate of Connecticut dealer Peter Tillou, who helped discover Rembert. The sale offered three opportunities for acquisition but one that had descended in the family of the artist’s sister, titled “The Good Ole Boys” from 2009 achieved the most. It had been included in the Hudson River Museum’s 2012 exhibition, “Winfred Rembert: Amazing Grace” and sold to a trade buyer for $123,000.
A Florida landscape by Hermann Herzog (German American, 1832-1932) will be returning to the place it was painted. “Sunset on the Florida Hummocks,” which had been exhibited at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach in 1975 as well as at the Museum of Fine Arts in St Petersburg, and with provenance to a New York City gallery and the Atlanta, Ga., estate of a Southern gentleman, sold to a private collector in Florida for $799,950.
Two works by American artist Thomas Moran (1837-1926) crossed the block within close proximity to each other and both sold for $56,580. The first to do so was his “On the Welsh Coast,” from 1885, which had been acquired directly from the artist and will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné, as will be the second Moran to hit that price. “A Glimpse of Georgica Pond, Long Island” had been exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1885 was also initially acquired from the artist. Two separate phone bidders, both private collectors, won them.
In the firm’s July 13-15 auction, it presented works that had been given to Pittsburgh, Penn.’s, Chatham University by the Thomson family. This sale continued to sell works from that collection and was led at $39,360 by a painting titled “Cattle Resting in a Highland Field” by Rosa Bonheur (French, 1822-1899). It found a new home with a California collector who was bidding online.
For provenance, it would be hard to beat that of a watercolor on ivory portrait of George Washington that was painted by Charles Willson Peale (American, 1741-1827) after his 1779 sitting. Published in Charles Coleman Sellers’ Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1968), the miniature had descended in the family of Colonel Nathaniel Ramsay, brother-in-law of the artist, through the McHenry, Brand and O’Connor families before going into a private collection in New England. It sold to a private collector, bidding on the phone, for $27,060.
For an idea at how much the market for American furniture has changed, one need look no further than one of the top-selling lots in that category. When it was offered at Christie’s in 2003, a Philadelphia Federal mahogany two pedestal dining table with remnants of a paper and attributed to Henry Connelly and provenance to a Germantown, Penn., family sold for $77,675. Offered with a $12/18,000 estimate, it sold this time around to a New York collector, bidding by phone, for $24,600.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Brunk Auctions’ next auctions include an Asian art auction on October 19, Photography, Modern Art + Design on October 20, and Emporium and Premier auctions November 16-18. For information, 828-254-6846 or www.brunkauctions.com.
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