Published: February 2, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Christies
NEW YORK CITY – Christie’s Americana Week sales began with an online-only auction of 107 lots of Chinese export art on Wednesday, January 20; the sale included the works from the Tibor Collection and generated a total of $1,128,750 as it went 75 percent sold by lot. A three-session sale conducted January 21-22 and titled “In Praise of America: Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, Prints and Broadsides” offered nearly 400 lots and achieved a total of $5,936,000 with 85 percent of lots selling. Approximately 100 lots of Outsider Art were offered the morning of January 21, adding an additional $2,137,750 to a week that came to a final tally of $9,202,500. (The Outside Art sale is reviewed separately). In-person previews were available by appointment with phone and absentee bidding available as well as online bidding through Christie’s dedicated internet platform.
“What an extraordinary week during extraordinary times,” said John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s America. “Record prices were paid in every category sold this week – most notably the portrait of George Washington by James Sharples and a contemporary broadside of the Declaration of Independence. This auction demonstrates the continued strong interest Americans have in their art and culture – from Native American basketry, silver, furniture and Outsider Art. It was an honor for Christie’s to represent the owners of these remarkable pieces offered in the auction.”
A selection of 35 prints and documents from the collection of Ambassador J. William Middendorf was not just the marquee collection in the second session but one of the stars of the sale itself. Christie’s senior specialist in printed Americana, Peter Klarnet, spoke with Antiques and The Arts Weekly by phone after the sale. “We were extremely happy with the results. There seems to be an increasing awareness for important pieces of graphic Americana and the market for iconic imagery has been steadily strengthening.”
Middendorf’s contemporary copy of John Dunlap’s July 4, 1776 edition of the Declaration of Independence carried an estimate of $600/800,000, the highest estimate in the sale. One of about a dozen versions known in existence, this edition had been acquired by Middendorf on November 14, 2010, at Skinner, where he paid $380,000. The document generated interest largely from private collectors, and three phone lines were in competition as it crossed the block. It brought $990,000 from books and manuscripts dealer Seth Kaller, who was bidding on behalf of a private collector.
The price of $412,500 realized for Paul Revere’s “The Bloody Massacre Perpetuated in King Street, Boston, On March 5th 1770, By a Party of the 29th Regt” is a new record for the work, besting the prior record of $362,500 set in January 2019 at Sotheby’s. Revere made about 200 copies of this image, many of which are in institutions. “Prices on these have been rising quite remarkably. I have seen an increasing appreciation for these iconic images of America; this is one of those key images that everyone has studied,” Klarnet said. So popular was Revere’s image that it was copied, with those editions bringing significantly less money. Jonathan Mulliken’s version brought $32,500, still exceeding expectations, while Isaiah Thomas’ simplified version, printed in 1772, made $5,625, just topping its high estimate.
William Hubbard’s 1677 “The Present State of New-England. Being a Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians in New-England, from the first planting thereof in the year 1607, to this present year 1677” kicked off the group. Denoted as an extremely rare first edition, it was among the first books printed in Boston; its map is thought to be the first map of America to have been printed in what would become the United States. It brought $87,500 from an estimate of $70/80,000.
The rows of coffins heading Ezekiel Russel’s 1775 broadside titled “Bloody Butchery by the British Troops, Or, The Runaway Fight of the Regulars” made for a striking piece of Revolutionary War era political propaganda. A third state issue of the second edition soared well past it’s high estimate to bring $212,500; it was a price Klarnet thought might be a record for the edition.
American Furniture, Folk Art & Decorative Arts
The first of three sessions in the “Praise of America” sale took place on the afternoon of Thursday, January 21, and, if the prices were any determinant, most of the better things. Hays said they had bidders from 27 states and “lots” of new bidders. He acknowledged that the department made the conscious decision to curate the sale more tightly than usual, particularly in two-dimensional works that could be more easily understood in the digital medium if clients could not come to New York City to preview lots in person.
The first lot out of the gate was a molded gilt-copper and cast zinc eagle weathervane attributed to A.L. Jewell of Boston that flew to $32,500 from an estimate of $5/10,000. It set a high bar for the sale, particularly for folk art. Jacob Maentel’s “Portrait of a Young Gentleman,” which depicted a full-length profile portrait of a man in a blue suit, walked past its high estimate to finish for $5,000, and a portrait of William Henry Liscomb by William Matthew Prior made $47,500. A painting of a sailor and mermaid by Ralph Cahoon that included a verse made $27,500, nearly three times its low estimate, and a silk and watercolor-on-silk needlework mourning picture, made at the Misses Pattens’ school in Hartford, Conn., circa 1810, doubled its low estimate to bring $16,250. A carved spreadwing eagle, attributed to Cumberland County, Penn., carver Wilhelm Schimmel, landed within its estimate, selling for $12,500.
The catalog identified a collection of seven works in the session as being from a “distinguished Pennsylvania-German collection,” with some noteworthy results. A primitive red and black painted wooden weathervane that depicted an Indian warrior on horseback made four times its low estimate and sold for $60,000, while Johannes Bard’s birth fraktur for Catharina Lebo more than doubled its low estimate and sold for $11,250. Making $8,125 and exceeding expectations was a Schwenkfelder fraktur drawing attributed to the Exotic Scenery Artist. More interest was paid to a fraktur drawing of two unicorns, which doubled its high estimate and brought $11,875, but a dynamic fraktur drawing of an American snake fighting a British lion commanded the extraordinary price of $32,500, more than ten times its low estimate.
Historical portraiture, particularly those of America’s Founding Fathers, has enjoyed interest that many have speculated has been the result of the musical Hamilton. Whatever the reason, it is a trend that continues and two portraits of George Washington, one by James Sharples (1751/2-1811) and Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), possibly in collaboration with Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827) dominated the session, bringing $325,000 and $268,750, respectively. A portrait of Alexander Hamilton by Sharples nearly tripled its low estimate and sold for $58,750, and a bronze bust of Benjamin Franklin by Fredinand Barbedienne (French, 1810-1892) after the model by Jean-Antoine Houdon (French, 1741-1828) achieved $27,500.
African American artist, Joshua Johnson (circa 1763-after 1824) has also been a subject of renewed interest in recent years, taking top-lot honors at several of the past January Americana sales in 2019 and 2020. This sale offered three examples, with a portrait of a woman bringing the highest price of $150,000, well beyond expectations. Johnson’s portrait of Thomas Donovan sold within estimate, for $62,500, while a portrait possibly by Johnson and depicting a mother and child failed to find a buyer with an estimate of $40/60,000.
Washoe baskets by Dat So La Lee (Louisa Keyser, 1850-1925) are masterworks of the form and the sale included two, offered consecutively. The first to cross the block finished within estimate, bringing $87,500, while the other surpassed its estimate several-fold, realizing $237,500 on an estimate of $40/60,000. John Hays said that the same buyer – a private collector – acquired both.
Furniture offerings were relatively sparse in comparison to the rest of the sale but some lots achieved noteworthy comment. A phone bidder paid the $250,000 high estimate for a Chippendale carved mahogany scallop-top card table attributed to John Townsend of Newport, R.I.; a phone bidder paid $118,750 for a set of six Classical rosewood nesting tables that can be documented to Duncan Phyfe and Son of New York, 1841 that descended in the family of John Manning. The rest of the furniture performed largely to expectation, with broad-ranging results. A carved and painted oak box attributed to the shop of Thomas Dennis of Ipswich, Mass., with an estimate of $15/25,000 brought $56,250, while a set of four Federal paint-decorated caned chairs from Baltimore brought just $125 against an estimate of $2/4,000.
A sizeable portion of the third session offered works from the Siegmund Collection of American folk art. The biggest surprise came towards the end of the session, when a group of six miniature profile portraits, done in ink, watercolor and pencil, on paper from a private New Jersey collection sold to a private collector on the phone for $43,750, about ten times its high estimate. After the sale, Hays said there was speculation that they may have been done by Rufus Porter. Of the Siegmund collection lots, noteworthy results include $50,000 paid for a carved white marble recumbent lion and an unusual articulated painted pine and fabric cyclist figure rode past its high estimate, finishing at $13,750. The same price was paid for a carved and painted wood “heart in hand” lodge symbol, while a molded sheet-iron rooster weathervane, possibly from Berks County, Penn., flew to $7,500. A portrait of a child holding red berries shot past all expectations and sold for $30,000. Samuel Addison Shute’s portraits of Silas and Rebecca Sherman, possibly done in collaboration with Ruth Whittier Shute, sold within estimate, for $37,500. Another pair of husband-and-wife portraits, this time of Samuel Callender and Sarah Jane Howell by Ammi Phillips (1788-1865) also sold within estimate for $16,250.
Furniture in the third session had modest results, with the majority of offerings bringing results within or below expectations. Exceptions to that were a miniature grain-painted pine chest of drawers, possibly from Shaftsbury, Vt., bringing $11,250, just ahead of a painted New England blanket chest with drawer that made $10,625.
Colonial Americans used English and Continental pottery before it was locally produced and the Americana sales usually offer a good selection of English Delft, Staffordshire and other pottery from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. All of the ceramics were offered in the first session and were led by an English Delft portrait charger of Charles II that sold within estimate for $62,500, closely followed by an English Delft portrait charger of Catherine of Braganza that realized $43,750. A small selection of seasonally-appropriate pottery book-form hand-warmers were in great demand, as was a Brislington Delft dog-form bank that bidders chased to $32,500. Blue and white English posset pots with covers each sold for $40,000. Wrotham slipware lots were led by a dated and initialed puzzle tyg, going out for $20,000. Ceramics in America editor and ceramics consultant, Rob Hunter, who is usually ensconced at the back of the room and bidding for both private and institutional clients, said he had made a few purchases in the sale, noting an English Delft chinoiserie mug for $4,000, a Wrotham slipware tyg dated 1701 and initialed for John Eaglestone for $9,375 and a Wrotham slipware dated and initialed puzzle jug, made in 1642 by John Livermore, for $6,275. All were for a private client.
The Chinese export sale marks the first sale overseen by Carleigh Queenth, who assumed the title of Head of Sale for Chinese Export Art when Christie’s long-time doyenne of Chinese Export Works of Art, Becky MacGuire, retired at the end of 2020. “The sale was a testament to the vitality of the Chinese export market,” Queenth said. “Porcelain designed by Cornelis Pronk, mugs from the Eckenhoff Collection and fabulous figures from the Tibor Collection all had strong results. The bidding was particularly spirited for a number of birds in the sale, including a pair of famille rose roosters, a rooster tureen cover and a pair of hawk boxes and covers.” She noted that about two-thirds of the sale sold to buyers in the United States and Europe, with buyers from Asia taking the other lots.
To underscore her point, the animal form was particularly visible in the top prices achieved in the section, with the top price of $150,000 paid for a pair of goose tureens and covers, Qianlong period, circa 1760-80 from the Tibor collection. Additional provenance to the Falk and Mottahedah Collections helped the pair to fly past their low estimate and they were bagged by an international buyer. An international buyer was also successful in acquiring a Qianlong period ox-head tureen and cover for $52,500, also within its estimate and also from the Tibor collection.
Bird-form objects were other top lots, notably a pair of Qianlong period famille rose roosters that nearly doubled their high estimate and flew to $52,500, a pair of late Eighteenth or early Nineteenth Century geese that had previously been offered at Christie’s in 2009 and brought $50,000, and a Qianlong period famille rose rooster tureen cover that almost tripled its high estimate to close at $43,750. Bringing $32,500 was a pair of large white cranes, while a pair of nesting form famille rose hawk boxes and covers settled at $27,500. All were from the Tibor collection.
Birds and animals from the Tibor Collection were not the only draw and one of the biggest surprises in the sale was a plate from another collection. Selling for ten times its low estimate, a “ship” plate for the Portuguese market, circa 1820, sold for $30,000. It was cataloged as rare and depicted the three-masted merchant ship The Brilliante flying a pennant.
The second session began the morning of Friday, January 22, with about 80 lots of silver and objects of vertu. It was, in the words of senior silver specialist, Jill Waddell, a smaller sale than usual. She thought silver did “pretty well,” with the most historically important things doing “really well.” During the Covid-19 pandemic, she has noticed an increased interest in flatware, perhaps spurred by more dining at home, though centerpieces and punchbowls, which are of a more communal nature, being in less demand.
Several lots illustrated Waddell’s point about dining accoutrements. A set of 12 American 18K gold after-dinner coffee cups with saucers and spoons, marked Tiffany & Co., circa 1925, brought the top price in the section, going to a buyer in the United States for $110,000 and within estimate. Ten Tiffany 18K gold teaspoons in the San Lorenzo pattern, circa 1920, were chased to $20,000 from an American buyer. Twelve charger-sized place plates, made by Gorham and retailed by Grogan Company in Pittsburgh, Penn., nearly doubled the high estimate, also selling to an American collector for $16,250.
The history and provenance of the second and third top-selling pieces in the silver section doubtlessly contributed to their results. Saving the earliest for last, the Governor Gurdon Saltonstall Basin, bearing the mark of Jeremiah Dummer of Boston, circa 1690, sold to an American collector, bidding on the phone, for $77,500. Waddell said works by Dummer are hard to find and this was distinguished not only by two legible marks but also noteworthy for its absence of engraving, either original or later.
A monumental silverplated centerpiece epergne, made for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial International Exhibition by Meriden Brittania Co., of Meriden, Conn., was estimated at $10/20,000 but sold for $50,000. Waddell said it was not fresh to the market, having been sold previously, in 2009 but she was very happy with the price. Another piece, also made for a world’s fair, this time a Martelé silver and glass claret jug made by Gorham and retailed by Spaulding & Co., of Chicago, Ill., for the 1900 Paris Exposition Universelle, sold within estimate for $13,750. Waddell noted that the market for Martelé silver has seen stronger days, speculating that the inability to come and examine the workmanship in person may have been a factor.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For additional information, www.christies.com or 212-636-2000.
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