Published: October 24, 2017
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
NEWTOWN, CONN. – There were more than 40 people waiting in line on the chilly October 13 morning outside the former residence of the well-known art dealer and artist Donald Purdy, who passed away in January 2016. The line poured down the stone steps that led up to the front door and a plethora of dealers and collectors showed, their areas of interest matching the inventory in the photographs that Fairfield Auction had put out to publicize the estate sale: paintings, American furniture, bronzes, Asian antiques, carpets, gilt frames and more.
The earliest person in line arrived at 3 am, six hours before the 9 am opening, and, as such, directed the sign-up list with a sense of authority that seemed compounded by his Eastern European accent. The man was gracious and organized, asking everyone to put their name down as he formed the crowd into an orderly line that matched the sequence of names on the college-ruled yellow notebook he held in his hand.
Donald Purdy was known to many in the trade as an art dealer, though his reputation as an artist will likely eclipse that as public sales records for his works carry his name forward.
His daughter, Abby M. Taylor of Taylor Graham Gallery in New York City and Greenwich, Conn., learned the trade by watching her father at work.
“My father had been what he would have called a ‘Dealer’s Dealer,’ Taylor said. “He really did most of his business with people in the trade because he loved and respected their knowledge, what they did and he liked working with people in the business. That said, my father had a great impact on the private collectors who did seek him out. Still today, many of them say to me that my father was an unforgettable experience – both as a person and as a dealer and as a business.”
Purdy was known to do business with many leading galleries, including Hammer Galleries, Alexander Gallery, Co Kerr Galleries, Post Road Antiques, Jordan Volpe Gallery and Richard York Gallery.
“It was very special to watch him in action, he learned to read people, he had a special eye and he loved interaction,” said Taylor.
When the doors opened, buyers walked into an expansive home with picture windows set on a hill overlooking an equestrian farm where riders could be seen jumping over a myriad of obstacles in the early morning sun. The calming scene outside was in direct contrast to the circus that had just begun inside the home for Rosie and Jack DeStories, owners of Fairfield Auction and the sale managers.
“It was nonstop on the run,” said Jack DeStories. “I literally did not sit for two days. There were some very nice things in the sale and they wound up acting as a draw, some very recognizable faces in the antiques world showed up and bought.”
Donald Purdy’s two-day sale generated more than 200 receipt slips with multiple cashiers working the check out table.
Being the closest area auction house to Purdy, the DeStories knew him well through his presence at their sales.
“We’ve known him for years and years,” said Jack. “He came to the gallery regularly. He was a charming guy, always very interested in antiques, carpets and paintings. He would always find something interesting in the sales to talk about and would buy things from time to time.”
As the buyers spread throughout the main floor, basement and garage, red tags started appearing everywhere on objects throughout the house. Folks were quick to draw.
A three-bay glass display case housed well over 100 smalls just inside the living room door, mostly Asian objects, including jade, cloisonné, porcelain figures, soapstone carvings, enameled boxes, censers and carved seals. Buyers interested in these things formed a mob in front of the cases, overwhelming the attendant who had a one-item-out-at-a-time policy.
Behind, on the tables and walls spread throughout the living room were larger Asian vases, more cloisonné, blue and white porcelain, celadon colored ceramics and a large, tessellated horse.
Fine art in the form of oil paintings and bronzes could be found in near every room. A large landscape oil painting by Charles Linford hung in the main room and featured an expansive vista lit by a luminous sunset. It was flanked by two reportedly Tang dynasty figural plaques. Other paintings at the sale included works by Bernard Corey, Charles Jacque, Frederick Yates, Jean Carolus, William Paxton and plenty by the man of the hour, Donald Purdy himself, a self-taught artist who began painting in the 1960s. Purdy’s work was exhibited extensively throughout his life, including shows at Van Diemen-Lilienfeld Gallery, Ruth Butler Galleries and the Paris-based Bernheim-Jeune Gallery, to name a few. His works are also in the permanent collections of the Cincinnati, Columbus and Bridgeport Museums, as well as the Butler Institute and the Walter P. Chrysler Museum.
Bronzes abounded – many equestrian subjects – and included both originals and reproductions by Canadian sculptor Marc-Auréle de Foy Suzor-Coté, Carl Kauba, Edward Degas and Frederic Remington.
Period antique furniture was also on the menu, with the hottest item coming in the form of a diminutive William and Mary burl tall clock that dated to 1690. With beautifully carved spiral columns, the piece was claimed, paid for and packed up within 45 minutes of the opening. Alongside the clock was a period Hepplewhite oval dining table with two extensions that could have comfortably seated ten, while a Federal sideboard shouldered up against the wall behind. One of Jack DeStories’ favorite things in the sale was an Eighteenth Century tiger maple slant front desk with ogee feet and clean, straight lines. Also on offer was both a tiger maple drop leaf table and a Connecticut highboy.
Frames, frames and more frames seemed to be the mantra of the basement and garage. Piles of gilt frames lined the downstairs walls of the home, stacked neatly against each other in gleaming, golden heaps. More than 100 of the frames sold throughout the sale, putting a major dent in the hoard that the dealer/artist kept on hand for whatever need he had.
“It was kind of a nice crossover,” said Jack DeStories. “That there are people that like to buy at estate sales and others at auction, by us doing an estate sale we got everyone together, so it made a new mix.”
Fairfield Auction will host its next auction November 10-15. For more information, www.fairfieldauction.com or 203-880 5200.
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