Published: March 1, 2016
Achieves $180,000 For Rungius ‘Bull Moose’
CHARLESTON, S.C. — On February 12, Copley Fine Art Auctions successfully sold more than 480 items of antique and contemporary decoys and American, sporting and wildlife art. Conducted in conjunction with the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition, the auction achieved a sell-through rate of 90 percent and totaled more than $2 million. The firm’s winter sale saw its largest attendance in six years.
Copley continues to set benchmarks in the field. Decoy and sporting art dealer and Copley co-founder Stephen B. O’Brien Jr recalled, “After only a few years as a buyer at decoy auctions, I realized the industry was ripe for improvement. Quality decoys and their collectors deserved better than what was being offered. This realization was a great motivator in founding Copley.” O’Brien has placed an emphasis on publishing informed catalog descriptions, setting record prices and posting accurate sales results.
He said the firm has dominated the high-end decoy market since 2009, having sold 14 of the top 24 decoy lots at auction, more than all other firms combined. In this sale, all ten of the top decoy lots found buyers. The top bird carving was George Boyd’s swimming Canada goose, which sold for $90,000 on its $50/70,000 estimate. The second highest was the Ward Brothers’ Canada goose, landing at $69,000, within its $60/80,000 estimate, and A.E. Crowell’s Ruffed Grouse brought $63,000, well above its $35/45,000 estimate.
Perennially balanced between decoys and fine art, Copley continued its stellar results with American, sporting, wildlife and western art. Nine of the top ten paintings were launched, with Carl Rungius’s “Bull Moose” oil leading the way at $180,000, within its $150/250,000 estimate. Copley continued its strong results for works by this important wildlife artist, having now sold 16 of 17 offerings.
American paintings also found eager buyers, with Andrew Wyeth’s “Pot Buoys” selling for $90,000 on its $70/80,000 estimate and A.B. Frost’s classic watercolor “The Music for the Dance” bringing $60,000, double its high estimate. The oil painting “Dory and Lobster Traps” by Impressionist Willard Metcalf sold after the auction for $60,000, and Jack Lorimer Gray’s imposing oil “In The Southern Ocean” brought $33,000. Robert Abbett’s quail hunting oil titled “Wild Covey” brought a strong $36,000, landing within $800 of the current record price for the artist.
Single-owner collections performed exceptionally well, with Session Three of the William H. Purnell decoy collection achieving a 100 percent sell-through rate. In addition, the William B. Webster III sporting art collection was also 100 percent sold, landing well above its high estimate.
The highest performers from the Webster collection included works by American impressionist and sporting artist Aiden Lassell Ripley. The watercolor “Ruffed Grouse and Apples” brought $25,200, the classic southern hunt scene “Quail Country” brought $39,000 and the vibrant upland hunting oil “Woodcock by the Brook” sold for $60,000.
Modern sporting art masters saw their day, boosted by Bill Webster’s practiced eye, with David A. Maass’s oil “Winter Wonder Ruffed Grouse” selling for $25,200, more than double its $8/10,000 estimate. An oil painting by Wisconsin artist Owen Gromme depicting a Brittany sold for $15,600, and Gromme’s striking “Horicon Marsh – Canada Geese” oil brought $12,000. David Hagerbaumer’s watercolor “Shagbark Hickory – Bobwhite,” depicting a covey of quail in flight sold for $4,800, and two watercolor works by Canadian artist Allan Brooks exceeded expectations, selling for $5,100 and $3,900, each well above their $1/1,500 estimates.
“Wild Bounty – Black Ducks” by California artist Harry Curieux Adamson brought $30,000, the third-highest price for the artist and the top result since 2013. Chet Reneson’s work sold well, and the watercolor “Early Visit,” sold for $4,800.
Works from contemporary artists also sold well, with an action-filled acrylic by Peter Corbin titled “Tarpon’s Tempest” bringing $18,000. The Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s artist of the year Kent Ullberg’s sculpture “Silver Ghosts” sold for $10,200, well above its $6/8,000 estimate and raised important funds to support the BTT.
Classic sporting art found ready and eager buyers, with Lynn Bogue Hunt’s duck hunting oil “Broadbills – The Tenth Bird” reaching $15,600. The artist’s western hunting oil, “Big Horn Rams,” brought $37,200.
Ogden Pleissner’s fly fishing watercolor “Fading Light” fetched $37,200, and a pastoral watercolor by A.L. Ripley sold for $2,520 on a $600/900 estimate. A watercolor by American ornithological artist Louis Agassiz Fuertes depicting “Scaled Quail” was bid to $4,800, almost doubling its high estimate of $1,5/$2,500, and William J. Schaldach’s trout watercolor “Mayfly Diet” sold for $4,200. A watercolor of snipe by Robert Verity Clem exceeded expectations, selling for $3,600, and the auction saw solid results for sporting art prints by artists including Frank W. Benson, A.L. Ripley, Roland Clark and Richard Bishop.
Throughout the sale, bidding was balanced between attendees in the room, telephone bids and bids executed through the online platform. Auctioneer Peter Coccoluto kept the sale going at a steady, brisk pace over the course of the day. Five hours into the sale, the crowd in the room was still active and involved. Long stretches of the sale went without a single lot unsold and brisk bidding propelled the action.
The decoy portion of the sale got off to a strong start, with contemporary carver Marty Hanson’s swan selling for $5,535 to an Internet buyer. Soon thereafter, the sale saw strong prices set for miniature carvings, with a pair of mergansers by George Boyd leading the way at $4,800. These were followed by an A.E. Crowell tern which sold for $3,300 and five delicate songbirds by Crowell, which all exceeded their $500/700 estimates, landing at $1,320 each.
Life-size decorative carvings by Massachusetts carver A.E. Crowell were among the top lots of the sale, with the ruffed grouse launching to $63,000. Collectors agreed with Copley’s specialists regarding the rarity and quality of this bird, propelling the rare upland game bird carving above its $35/45,000 estimate. The finely detailed bobwhite quail brought $24,000 in a post-auction sale.
A rare offering of Canada goose decoys by George Boyd from the Howard Batchelder rig demonstrated the intricacies of the decoy market. The swimming Canada goose brought $90,000, while the Canada goose with its head turned slightly to the right sold for $15,600, and the Boyd goose with its head turned slightly to the left sold for $7,000 after the auction.
In the shorebird market, a running plover by early Massachusetts carver Elisha Burr sold for a strong $15,600. Three of the better Nantucket shorebirds were scooped up by astute bidders, as a feeding golden plover brought $2,760, a golden plover brought $3,600 and a hollow golden plover sold for $3,300.
Contemporary carver Mark McNair continued his strong results at auction, with a merganser pair bringing $2,400, within its $2/3,000 estimate, a feeding yellowlegs bringing $1,800, above its $1/1,500 estimate, and a dowitcher pair selling for $2,280, well above its $600/900 estimate. Works by William Gibian performed well, with a vibrant Mandarin duck bringing $2,280 on a $800–$1,000 estimate and a yellowlegs pair landing at $2,040, above its $800–$1,200 estimate. New York carver Chauncey Wheeler’s flying goldeneye hen and drake each sold for $8,400, and Captain John Schweikart’s canvasback hen brought $7,200, above its $4/6,000 estimate.
Decoys from the William H. Purnell Jr collection were well received, with his plover by Virginia maker Nathan F. Cobb Jr leading the way, going well above its $10/15,000 estimate to hit $21,600. Twenty-two carvings from Purnell’s collection were 100 percent sold, with 17 selling within or above estimate. Purnell started collecting decoys very early in the era of William Mackey Jr, Donal O’Brien Jr and Adele Earnest. Over the last half-century, Purnell acquired some of the finest Southern decoys known, and bidders once again responded to offerings from this revered Southern collection.
Decoys carved by North Carolina maker Lee Dudley have been held in the highest regard by collectors from the earliest days of decoy collecting, and a canvasback drake sold for $42,000. Shortly afterward, a Caines brothers mallard drake brought $18,000 on its $10/15,000 estimate. A hooded merganser hen by Delbert “Cigar” Daisey sold for $4,800, and a Canada goose by Bob McGaw sold for $4,200.
Copley offered three Canada geese by the Ward Brothers of Crisfield, Md., each from a different era of their carving. A 1930s Canada goose created for the Bishops Head Gun Club sold for $69,000, a 1970s cedar carving brought $2,706, and the third goose, carved circa 1936, sold for $4,613.
Rounding out the results for top decoy offerings were two good buys for Connecticut carver Shang Wheeler’s birds. A goldeneye pair brought $36,000 and a rare wood duck hen sold for $13,200. Additionally, a sleeping mallard hen by Charles Perdew landed at $51,000, and a mallard drake by the same maker sold for $5,400.
Folk art highlights include a rattle snake cane, which soared past its $500/800 estimate before striking $3,900. A horse and jockey weathervane brought $4,200, and a pair of wood duck andirons landed at $1,230 on a $500–$1,000 estimate. Significant book results included Herbert Stoddard’s The Bobwhite Quail from 1931, selling for $1,845, and volumes one through five of Adam Paff’s Etchings and Drypoints by Frank W. Benson, selling for $2,214, both to online buyers.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Copley is preparing for its sporting sale, which returns to Plymouth, Mass., in July, with consignments accepted through April 15 or until full. For information, 617-536-0030 or www.copleyart.com.
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