Published: September 4, 2018
Review by W.A. Demers
PHILADELPHIA – Material Culture’s most recent double-header sale started off with 528 lots of fine, folk and ethnographic art, along with antiques and decorative arts in the morning on August 20, followed by more than 200 lots that included an important collection of black Americana.
This is a convention the firm has followed for several sales – offering selections in one of the two categories every month, sometimes with a single-owner collection to spice things up. There is a global vibe to its presentations, acknowledging that material culture seeps across national borders and beckons collectors from the world over.
Leading this sale, as it did in an earlier auction this summer, were works by Twentieth Century Indian artists, and more specifically by female artist B. Prabha (1933-2001), whose elongated feminine forms comprised five of the auction’s top ten lots.
“Painting of a Standing Woman” bested its high estimate to finish at $27,500. “Painting of a Girl” realized $22,500, while “Painting of a Woman with Bird” took $20,000 and “Painting of a Woman with Fruits” settled at $18,750.
Jamini Roy’s (1887-1972) women are less sylph-like and rather embody the essence of simplicity of folk life, but the Indian artist’s “Painting of Three Women” also found favor with bidders and brought $18,750, while his “Painting of Parvati and Ganesh” was bid to $15,000.
Rounding out the two-dimensional fine art lots were notable works, such as a Thukral & Tagra (Indian) painting that fetched $16,250 and two others by Prabha and Roy that made $13,750 and $12,500, respectively.
One of the items in the sale receiving the most presale interest, according to the firm’s George Jevremovic, was a folk art scale model of a country fair. A tour-de-force, highly detailed rendering of a country fair, the early Twentieth Century piece included carousels, a Ferris wheel, sideshows, games of chance and hundreds of figures of people and animals. It was accompanied by A typewritten catalog compiled by the Historical Society of Greece, N.Y., with 415 detailed technical entries describing its composition. “This mechanical toy ‘Fair’ was purchased in the 1930s from an antiques shop on Atlantic Avenue in New York City,” stated the catalog. “It was purchased by Mary Lay Davis (Mrs Harry I.). The fair was sold to John J. Wittman in the 1980s and given to the Historical Society of Greece, N.Y., in October 1986. We have been told that the maker of the fair was probably an immigrant, possibly Italian.” The 20-by-40-by-27-inch model sold for $3,000.
Jevremovic characterized the sale’s overall results as “pretty good, a reflection of where the market is today. We sold 90 percent of what was offered. Indian art was pretty strong. The B. Prabha works came out of a private New York City collection.”
The black Americana offered in the sale came from a collection of a couple from Philadelphia, now in Florida, that had been assembling the material for about 40 years. Comprising about half the auction, “even items that didn’t sell received postsale interest,” said Jevremovic. Since some of this material might seem controversial, the auctioneer said he was pleased by the turnout and response for a gallery talk open to the public by Ramona Austin, curator for the Baron and Ellin Gordon Art Galleries, Old Dominion University, on August 18 prior to the sale. Her talk, “Our Becoming: Identity and Ethos in American Material Culture,” addressed issues of race and racism.
All prices given include the buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For more information, 215-849-8030 or www.materialculture.com.
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