Published: June 22, 2016
Review and Onsite Photos By Rick Russack,
Photos Courtesy Grogan & Company
BOSTON, MASS. — The salesroom was nearly full as the June 5 sale got underway at Grogan & Company. The first 111 lots had been consigned by a Chestnut Hill collector and those lots brought out the crowd. The high point of the collection, and of the overall sale, was a 93/8-inch plate from a tea service designed for Martha Washington. It was bought by George Washington’s Mount Vernon for $244,000.
In 1796, China Trade merchant Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest gave a tea service of approximately 40 pieces of Chinese export porcelain to Martha Washington. He designed the service himself, and presented it as a gift to Mrs Washington at the presidential mansion in Philadelphia. He had brought the set from Canton in a box labeled “for Lady Washington” and the service has come to be known as “Lady Washington’s States China.” Each piece in the set is decorated with a linked chain encompassing the names of the 15 states in the union (symbolizing strength and unity), a serpent swallowing its tail (symbolizing eternity), a Latin motto derived from Virgil’s Aeneid (roughly translated “[Our Union is our] Glory and [our] Defense against [Him]”) and Martha Washington’s monogram surrounded by a laurel wreath (symbolizing victory) atop a golden sunburst.
About 20 pieces from the service survive today, most owned by museums. Susan P. Schoelwer, the Robert H. Smith senior curator at Mount Vernon, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “Thanks to support from a number of generous donors, we are thrilled to be able to ‘bring home’ this beautiful plate from Martha Washington’s States china service. Our primary collecting focus is original Washington objects, and the States china plate is a superlative example. We are particularly excited about the superb condition of its highly symbolic decoration, which is unmatched by any of the other known pieces of this unique service. It thus represents most closely the appearance that George and Martha Washington and their guests would have known.”
With the acquisition of this piece, the Mount Vernon collection now numbers eight examples of the States china service: a covered cup, three covered-cup saucers, two tea saucers, a lozenge-shaped dish purchased at Christie’s in 2013 and the newly acquired plate.
After the sale, Michael Grogan said, “It gave me goose bumps to handle that plate. I’m accustomed to selling all kinds of things and some have brought more money than that did, but the feeling of this was really something else. The entire process of dealing with this historic plate has been a career high point for me. What a terrific resting place for this very special item.” Grogan said the consignor’s family had purchased the plate in New York in the 1970s.
From the same Chestnut Hill consignment, the Grogans sold a portrait by Mary Stevenson Cassatt, which brought the second highest price of the day, a superb bookcase/desk attributed to Calvin Willey and a fine pair of chairs attributed to Samuel McIntire. Several other paintings did well, and the sale included an offering of fine estate jewelry along with numerous other interesting items. There was plenty of easily affordable artwork and jewelry.
The sale grossed about $1,378,600. By dollar value, only about seven or eight percent failed to sell.
The bonnet top bookcase/desk, attributed to Calvin Willey more than tripled its high estimate to bring $91,500 from Pennsylvania dealer Diana Bittel, bidding on the phone. The cherry wood piece was dated circa 1790, when Willey was working in Lenox, Mass. He had previously apprenticed to a Colchester, Conn., school cabinetmaker and moved to Lenox where he completed many of the pieces known to have been made by him. Asked about the piece, Carl Stinson, well-known auctioneer and scholar of early American furniture, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “It’s truly magnificent: a masterpiece of Connecticut furniture.” The pair of Federal period carved mahogany side chairs attributed to McIntire realized $15,860. Their shield-shape backs included carved urns and swags.
The Cassatt painting, 1910, was just one of several fine paintings in the sale. Known as “Augusta with Her Forefinger on Her Cheek,” it had a long exhibition history going back to 1914 and had frequently appeared in museum catalogs. Augusta was the subject of several Cassatt paintings. The consignor’s family had purchased the painting in 1971 from Hirschl & Adler in New York. It was expected to do well and it did — finishing at $231,800. Also doing well, at $67,100, was an oil by James Edward Buttersworth (British American, 1817–1894) depicting a scene from the 1887 America’s Cup race, “Volunteer & Thistle with All Sails Full.” Volunteer won the cup that year.
“Arctic Sunset off Labrador” by William Bradford (American, 1823–1892), signed and dated 1872, earned $57,950. Bradford’s interest in the Arctic was stimulated by the disappearance of the Franklin Expedition in 1845 and the Arctic explorations of Dr Isaac Hayes in 1860–61. Branford made several extended trips to the region. In 1869 he chartered the Scottish steamer Panther with a crew of 40, cruised the Arctic waters, bringing back many photographs and sketches. The sale also offered a 1956 Florida landscape by Albert Ernest Backus (American, 1906–1990), which reached $24,400.
Lucy Grogan, head of Grogan’s jewelry department, put together a selection of 170-plus lots of jewelry and watches. She expected that a pair of tutti frutti earrings by Cartier, France, would be the top grossing item and she was right. The earrings were 18K white gold, set with full, single and baguette-cut diamonds with carved emeralds, sapphires and rubies; each piece was signed and numbered 4861 with a French eagle’s head hallmark. The pair sold for $24,440.
A platinum, aquamarine and sapphire ring by Cartier fetched $12,200, four times its estimate. The step-cut aquamarine stone weighed 17 carats and was flanked by four channel-set rectangular step-cut sapphires. Another ring of platinum with diamonds reached $11,590. Its prong-set brilliant-cut 2.29-carat diamond was flanked by two carats of diamonds. Buyers did not have to spend five figures to go home with nice jewelry, however. A 14K gold ring with a large oval cabochon moonstone, framed by circle-cut pink gemstones, went to an absentee bidder for $671.
Watches included a men’s 18K yellow gold and diamond Oyster perpetual day-date Rolex, with applied diamonds as numeral indicators. It had an 18K yellow gold bracelet and sold for $12,200. A similar lady’s Rolex brought $5,795. As with the jewelry, not all watches were expensive. One lot, selling for $610, included two lady’s wristwatches; one platinum and diamond and the other 18K yellow gold.
The sale was balanced with an assortment of interesting artwork and accessories. There were nine pieces of original artwork by Ludwig Bemelmans (American, 1898–1962), creator of the Madeline series of books for children. A watercolor sketch for “Madeline in London” earned $4,575, a watercolor and ink Christmas card brought $1,098 and a 1957 oil painting titled “Femme a la Rose” realized $5,185. Pablo Picasso’s 9½-inch ceramic plate “Visage Noir, Assiette G” finished at $1,098, and an unusual valet chair by Danish designer Hans Wegner, made by Johannes Hansen, earned $3,660.
A scarce lithograph by Charles Parsons (American, 1821–1910) of the Portland, Maine, waterfront seemed reasonable, reaching $976, and an interesting, brightly colored, Island School Outsider Art oil painting, depicting a hairdresser at work, fetched just $122.
After the sale, Michael Grogan said, “I was pleased to see private buyers actively bidding. There were two private buyers competing with the phone bidders for the Martha Washington plate and one of them later said that if the plate wasn’t paid, to please let him know. The Mary Cassatt went to a collector. That’s a good sign. Other neat, less expensive things, also went to private buyers. Overall, items from the Chestnut Hill consignor did well, and I was also pleased with some of the other paintings.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.groganco.com or 617-720-2020.
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