Published: October 6, 2015
By Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY — Midtown Manhattan was both subdued and chaotic on the morning of September 24. With the pending arrival of Pope Francis, scheduled to deliver mass in the city later that day, some office workers chose to telecommute. Those who made it into town, including bidders at Christie’s 115-lot sale of important American furniture, outsider and folk art, found themselves navigating the security barriers stretching for blocks in every direction from St Patrick’s Cathedral and along the Pope’s Fifth Avenue parade route. Not surprisingly, much of action at auction was virtual, with absentee, phone and online buyers contributing heavily to the $3,600,875 bottom line.
Organized by department head Andrew K. Holter, the small sale presented a balanced mix of material ranging from the primarily historical to the chiefly aesthetic. Pleased by the session that was 98 per-cent sold by value, 92 percent sold by lot, Holter acknowledged the challenges of the current market-place. “The key is to figure out what our clients are looking for and how to deliver that material in a way that is engaging and exciting,” he said.
As has been the case for several seasons now, the session included a few choice offerings from the estate of Eric M. Wunsch. Notable among them were two two-drawer Federal worktables with handsome figured veneers of satinwood, maple and casuarina. Closely matched, they had served as nightstands for Wunsch and were the first and last things the collector saw each day. Attributed to Thomas Seymour, possibly working with John Seymour, a table with brass paws feet shot past high estimate to bring $87,500. Attributed to the Seymour shop, the second table, retailed by Israel Sack, Inc, was on casters and was formerly in the collection of Mitchell Taradash. It fetched $40,000.
Sold by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a Philadelphia Chippendale double-peaked camelback sofa left the room at $50,000, while a circa 1725 Peter Stretch tall clock in a case attributed to John Head made $10,000 for the same consignor.
Overlooking replaced marble tops, a replaced lower platform and pieced feet, a savvy buyer stepped up to the plate to buy a Lannuier pier table, $37,500. The important document is labeled by the New York cabinetmaker and bears his stamp in multiple places.
At the far end of the department’s dateline for furniture, a pair of circa 1880 Japanesque side chairs attributed to Herter Brothers made $30,000.
Twenty-five pieces bearing the provenance of the financial firms Credit Suisse and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette also added heft. Credit Suisse acquired DLJ, co-founded by Richard Jenrette, in 2000. The noted collector’s influence could be detected in the handsome selection of Federal-era portraiture and accessories. Highlighting the group was Gilbert Stuart’s bust-length oil on canvas portrait of George Washington. Based on Stuart’s so-called “Athenaeum” portrait, painted from a live sitting in 1796 and now jointly owned by Washington’s National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the oil realized $941,000 against its $200/300,000 estimate.
Father of the American banking system, and now memorialized by a hit Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton, rendered in marble by Horatio Stone, achieved $37,500. Also from the Credit Suisse collection, portraits by Daniel Huntington for the Chamber of Commerce of the State of New York realized $65,000, $50,000 and $43,750 for likenesses of Lincoln, Sherman and Grant.
The success of these portraits, as well as that of a stirringly patriotic and impressively large New Eng-land American flag-draped whaling scene on canvas, $221,000, in part testified to bidders’ admiration for the investment firms, for which many in the New York area have worked. As Holter explained, “The whaling scene hung in the Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette boardroom. It was one of the first pictures Dan Lufkin bought for the company. Many people had fond memories of it.”
The third time was not a charm for Thomas P. Moses’s portrait of the schooner Charles Carroll on the Piscataqua River as viewed from the north end of Noble’s Bridge in Portsmouth, N.H. Consigned by a Connecticut family, the painting sold for $365,000, less than the $600,000 achieved at Northeast Auctions in 2004. Depicting a forest of ships’ masts against a roseate skyline, this arresting work was made famous by collector Nina Fletcher Little, who chose it for cover of her 1984 memoir Little by Little. The picture brought $211,500 in part one of the landmark Little sale in January 1994.
Christie’s attention to Twentieth Century self-taught art is showing results. While crossover artists such as Bill Traylor now routinely appeal to collectors of traditional Americana, less widely known practitioners of this often vibrant, graphic tend to attract the contemporary art crowd.
“We see this as a building category and like to think that we are a bit ahead of the curve,” says Holter.
His successes in the self-taught realm included William Edmondson’s limestone carving of Nurse Wootten, $221,000; two epic watercolor and pencil on paper narratives by Henry Darger, sold for a combined $586,000; two subtle soot and spit on paper constructions, $22,500 and $17,500, by James Castle; and Thornton Dial’s mixed-media collage “In Times of Struggle and Blood,” $32,500. A color drawing by Adolf Wolfli, an artist included in the American Folk Art Museum’s new show on Art Brut, reached $56,250.
In a preview of coming attractions, Christie’s announced that it is selling the collection of Mr and Mrs Max R. Zaitz of Princeton, N.J., on Friday, January 22. “Max and Betty bought primarily in the 1970s and 1980s, frequently at auction and with the advice of Alan Miller, Bill Stahl, John Hays and Dean Failey. It’s a small collection, just over 100 lots, but with some really terrific furniture, primarily from Philadelphia,” said Holter. Deshler chairs and a Deshler card table, a mirror carved by Pollard and a set of trifid-foot, balloon-seat Philadelphia side chairs are among the highlights.
Finally, “The Apotheosis of Washington,” a Chinese Export painting on glass depicting angels bearing a saintly George Washington to heaven, made $32,500 in this most recent round. It was a fitting coda to an Americana sale that coincided with the Pope’s historic first visit to the United States. The Holy Father’s contribution cannot be known for sure. Still, Holter, who commutes to work from New Jersey, looked up on his way home to see Francis in his Fiat.
“We felt blessed,” says the Christie’s specialist.
Prices include buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.christies.com or 212-636-2000.
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