Published: February 13, 2007
Americana Week shows and sales increasingly rely on blockbusters to capture attention in a crowded market and boost the bottom line. At Christie’s January 18 and 19 sales of Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver, Prints and Decoys, ten lots out of 716 generated $15,102,600, or 63 percent of the $23,922,400 total.
Last year, Christie’s showcased property from the Mrs J. Insley Blair collection, one of the best and earliest assemblages of American furniture ever to come on the market.
This year, it was folk art that got top billing. Two paintings from a group of three by Pennsylvania folk artist Edward Hicks contributed to a series of new auction records. Additionally, Christie’s produced record prices for a portrait by Ammi Phillips and for an American wildfowl decoy.
Hicks’ iconic paintings, illustrating the tenants of his Quaker beliefs and documenting the political currents of his time, have long fascinated collectors. Two of the Hicks pictures offered by Christie’s descended in his family. One collector in the room even remembered seeing them while visiting the house with a Pennsylvania dealer, now deceased.
The first painting up was a “Peaceable Kingdom.” Hicks painted 65 known versions of the scene depicting harmony among God’s creatures, as foretold in Isaiah 11:6–9. The painter created the 24¼- by-30¼-inch oil on canvas in 1849 for his daughter Elizabeth. It was on his easel when he died. Hicks was still sure of hand, but the painting is subdued in mood, as if the artist knew that the end of his life was near.
Bidding on the work opened at $1.8 million. After a volley between Pennsylvania dealers Todd Prickett of Yardley and Harry B. Hartman of Marietta, the “Peaceable Kingdom” went to Hartman for $6,176,000, an auction record for American folk art and for Edward Hicks. The price eclipsed the previous auction record, set in 1999, when Christie’s sold a Middle Kingdom-era “Peaceable Kingdom” for $4,732,500.
A “Portrait of Andrew Jackson” by Hicks descended with the “Peaceable Kingdom.” Oil on canvas laid down on board, it breezily shows the President with a shield and an American eagle. The patriotic image went to Stephen Score for $352,000. The Boston dealer also acquired a L.W. Cushing & Son grasshopper weathervane, 41 inches long, for $520,000. Connecticut dealer Fred Giampietro underbid the weathervane.
From another consignor, a lively and appealingly detailed version of Hicks’ well-known image, “Penn’s Treaty With The Indians,” sold to Stonington, Conn., dealer Marguerite Riordan for $3.6 million. Again, it was an auction record for the series. Harry Hartman underbid the circa 1835–1845 work.
“She stopped us in our tracks when we saw her from across the room for the first time,” New Jersey collector and dealer Allan Daniel said of Ammi Phillips’ portrait of a little girl in red with her cat. Painted circa 1830–35 and reminiscent of Phillips’ “Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog,” a previous record holder now at the American Folk Art Museum, the Kent Period picture sold to Daniel and his wife, Kendra, for $1,248,000, an auction record for the artist. Connecticut dealer David Schorsch was the underbidder.
Painted by Joseph Badger around 1750, a statuesque pair of oil on canvas portraits of Mr and Mrs Andrew Sigourney of Boston were a good buy, selling to collectors in the room for $57,600.
Worked by Betsy Wardwell at the Mary Balch School in Providence and dated 1797, a Rhode Island sampler in outstanding condition with great color and charming detail, sold to Philadelphia dealer Amy Finkel for $329,600 ($50/80,000). Authority Betty Ring drew attention to Balch School needlework with her 1983 exhibition and catalog, Let Virtue Be A Guide To Thee. In 1988, a Balch School sampler fetched $192,000 at auction.
Christie’s joined forces with specialists Gary Guyette of Maryland and Frank Schmidt of Maine, of the waterfowl auction firm Guyette and Schmidt, to market decoys from several sources. The partnership, as well as the prices, offered further evidence of the rising prominence of these vernacular sculptures in the mainstream market for American folk art.
A cataloged sale of property — including decoys, weathervanes and other folk sculpture — from the collection of Dr Alvin E. Friedman-Kien realized $2,238,960 on 84 lots. Friedman-Kien started collecting decoys after renting a weekend house in Upstate New York from Adele Earnest, the pioneering dealer and co-owner of the Stony Point Folk Art Gallery in Stony Point, N.Y.
“The Earnest provenance essentially guaranteed strong prices and also assured that the birds would be superlative. Adele had a great eye and helped establish the lens through which collectors today look,” said Stephen O’Brien, a decoy dealer from Boston.
Illustrated in two books by Earnest, Folk Art in America and The Art of the Decoy, and formerly exhibited at the American Folk Art Museum, a large Canada goose, 30 inches long with a worn coat of paint and mellow, waxed patina, achieved $553,600, selling to folk art collectors Jerry and Susan Lauren of New York. “It’s pure art,” Jerry Lauren said of the sculpture.
Dating to circa 1890, a great gray heron by Cape Cod carver Elmer Crowell fetched $204,000 from a collector. Levinson & Cullen Gallery of Atlanta acquired a circa 1900 swimming loon, possibly from New York, for $120,000.
Weathervanes from the Friedman-Kien collection included a “Goddess of Liberty” by Cushing & White, acquired by a collector for $464,000.
From another consignor but also bearing an Earnest provenance, a Nineteenth Century red-breasted merganser hen made by Lothrop Holmes of Kingston, Mass., branded on its underside “L.T. HOLMES,” went to a collector bidding by phone for $856,000 ($400/600,000). The price was a record at auction for an American decoy. The bird’s long, narrow bill had been repaired, but that did not bother experts. Last year, Fried Giampietro sold a Holmes drake at the Winter Antiques Show for $500,000.
Top collectors always have a four-shell Newport Townsend-Goddard bureau table on their wish list. At $520,000 ($500/800,000), a 1760 three-shell Newport bureau table was a good buy for C.L. Prickett Antiques. Attributed by Christie’s to John Goddard or Edmund Townsend, the bureau descended in the Captain John Tibbits family of Warwick, R.I.
Another interesting piece was a Queen Anne walnut 12-sided drop leaf table consigned by the South County Art Association in Kingston, R.I. It also went to Prickett, for $408,000.
Nathan Liverant and Son acquired a mahogany reverse serpentine chest-on-chest with a boldly styled pediment top and double-cusp ogee-bracket feet for $44,400. The case piece is probably from Norwich, Conn., said Connecticut dealer Arthur Liverant.
A Townsend-Goddard school dome-top tall clock left the block at $262,4000. A crisply carved shell crowns the arched pediment door of the beautiful timepiece, which houses works by William and James Miller of London, circa 1760. Although it is not known who the clock was made for, it descended in the family of Martha Card Read, who was born in Newport.
Maryland dealer Milly McGehee purchased a circa 1795 Benjamin Clark of Philadelphia tall clock for $168,000. The example closely resembles another clock in the collection of the US State Department. “It’s in wonderful condition, with great carving and nice surface, and was a very good buy,” said the Maryland dealer, who, on behalf of an institution, also purchased an elegantly inlaid Hepplewhite lady’s desk for $90,000. The secretary was probably commissioned by the Beverly family of Blanfield Plantation in Virginia.
Estimated at $100/150,000, the Fisher-Wharton-Smith Family Philadelphia chest-on-chest brought $108,000 from an absentee buyer.
Stratford Hall Plantation, Robert E. Lee’s Virginia birthplace, deaccessioned six lots. A pair of Philadelphia Chippendale side chairs with pierced crest rails went to James Kilvington for $102,000. The Delaware dealer said he sold a chair from the same set to Chipstone Foundation two years ago at the Philadelphia Antiques Show.
Purchased from C.W. Lyon in 1944 and consigned by Stratford Plantation, a New York Chippendale mahogany slab-top table sold to the trade for $262,400.
The session came to a close with three lots of Aesthetic Movement furniture purchased around 1880 from Herter Brothers by Harry Eugene Myers, the son of a Cleveland financier. A stamped marquetry inlaid and ebonized table doubled low estimate, selling for $132,000.
Christie’s biggest disappointment was a Massachusetts Chippendale mahogany bombe slant-front desk with Israel Sack provenance. Christie’s withdraw the piece, estimated at $500/800,000, for further analysis after questions were raised about small patches and holes on the writing surface.
Estimated at $150/250,000 and from the collection of Mrs J. Insley Blair, a Philadelphia Chippendale carved mahogany high chest of drawers with carving attributed to Nicholas Bernard was also withdrawn.
All sales prices include buyer’s premium. For information, 212-636-2000 or www.Christies.com
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm