Published: August 4, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Shapiro Auctions
MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Auctioneer Gene Shapiro said the term “summer sale,” long a pejorative for sluggish results or lower quality items, was ill-fitting in not only the current climate, but also in relation to his July 25 auction, which grossed $2,270,000. “It was just a good sale,” he said. “It could have happened in April or November,” times of the year when auctioneers typically see stronger interest.
But the fix for the stuff has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely not going to happen on a virtual talk with a curator or a video through the rose garden. The thirst for collecting follows the action, and the action right now is on the block at auction houses.
“The preview was well attended,” Shapiro said. “During lockdown, while so many museums are closed, it’s fun to visit an auction preview. We have a lot of room, no one can enter the building without a mask. Now is as good a time as any to visit auctions.”
Shapiro said the sale drew from 30 to 40 consignors, led by a $335,000 result for a historically significant lot: a Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) still life work en suite with a Spanish Colonial chest pictured in the painting. On the back of the painting, Sharp wrote of its subjects: “A Prehistoric Bowl — Excavated Near The Pueblo of Zuni, N. Mex. ($500 prize Pasadena Art Inst. 1935). Chest was property of Gov. Bent, 1st Gov. of New Mexico, killed in the battle of Taos in last war of Indians + Gov’t Red drapery I bought from the back of a camel (over howda) in Biskra, Africa. -J. H. Sharp. Taos, N. Mex.”
All of the pieces in the painting, as well as the painting itself, were sold by the artist to Laura Scudder, at whose house in La Habra Heights, Calif., Sharp used to stay during the 1930s-40s. The drapery and the bowl are lost, but the chest and painting were never divided. They passed by descent to her grandson, Mark Scudder, who passed away in 2017.
There was good interest in the lot, including a number of dealers, collectors and institutions. Davison Koenig, the executive director and curator of the Couse-Sharp Historic Site, was on the line and bidding, though ultimately the museum’s pockets were no match for the buyer. Koenig said all of those pieces in the picture were once housed on the property. They are in the midst of turning Sharp’s home into a museum space.
While the painting was a stunner, the chest was no dog. That it belonged to the first governor of New Mexico was rather significant, and the designs — with the relief carved panels, the chip-carved borders and the strong geometrics — made for a rather remarkable piece of historic design. The house attributed its maker to the Valdez family of Velarde, N.M. These forms were explored by Elizabeth Fleming in an essay titled “Cultural Negotiations: A Study of the New Mexican Caja” in Chipstone’s American Furniture 2000.
A consignment of David Burliuk (1882-1967) works with provenance to Ella Jaffe Friedus, a longtime collector and friend of the artist, posted strong results.
“These Burliuk works brought the kind of money that we were seeing at the height of market,” Shapiro said. “That’s indicative of renewed interest from American, Russian and Ukrainian collectors. We’ve always been a market leader for Burliuk and the fact that we got these prices is good for the market overall. Rock solid provenance and good quality works are still very high in demand.”
Shapiro said a number of the works from this group were 1940s reimaginations of the artist’s earlier Futurist compositions that he originally executed in the 1910s and became well-known for. Among them was his highest result, “Carousel,” a 20-1/8-by-30¼-inch oil on burlap that sold for $59,375 on a $9,000 estimate. Burliuk dated the composition 1917 in a tongue-in-cheek manner, a way of looking back. Behind at $28,575 was “Marriage Portrait (I have a horse…),” a 17-7/8-by-15-inch oil on canvas board. The painting features a man with a picture of a horse on his cheek, a woman with a picture of a cow on her cheek, and is inscribed verso, “I have a horse / you have a cow / let us be married / now.”
Other fine artworks did well against estimate, including a dated 1970 Alexander Samokhvalov (Russian, 1894-1971) work titled “On the Bus” that sold for $245,000. On the rainy-day bus scene group portrait, the auction house wrote, “From the Socialist Realist subway scenes of the 1930s to the photorealistic paintings of Semen Faibisovich, the Russian painting tradition has never been able to abandon the hidden poetic potential of the day-to-day traveler.” Maximilien Luce’s (1858-1941) dated 1896 “Paysage au bord de la riviere,” a 19¼-by-26-inch oil on canvas, sold for $150,000. The auction house wrote that the work was completed shortly after Luce’s visit to Camille Pissarro in Eragny-sur-Epte near Normandy, where he stayed during the month of September, 1895. Over half the image is sky, with every line in the painting — the foreground river, the clouds, the distant hillside and the town’s roofline — all pointing towards the point at which the town’s church spire reaches the heavens.
In decorative arts, the sale was led by a pair of Nineteenth Century French Sevres-style porcelain vases that brought $32,500 on a $15,000 estimate. The central cartouches depicted scenes of courtship and allegorical still lifes. Rising to $25,000 on an $8,000 high estimate was a Japanese gilt-iron Koro that was purportedly exhibited at the 1877 First Domestic Exposition in Tokyo and illustrated in the accompanying exhibition catalog. It measured 10-7/8 inches high. Also with exhibition history was a pair of bronze and marble lamps by Edward F. Caldwell & Co., depicting Poseidon and Amphitrite in bronze, seated atop marble sea turtles, each holding gilt cornucopias in the form of a fish and a shell. The Poseidon model, titled “Marble Turtle With Triton – Bronze,” was exhibited by the company in 1903 at the annual exhibit of the Architectural League of New York in the galleries of the Fine Art Society at 215 West 57th Street.
Shapiro said interest was strong across all of the firm’s platforms and he was pleased with the results of the sale among its different categories: Russian, French and Vietnamese art; decorative arts; furniture and jewelry.
For additional information, www.shapiroauctions.com or 212-717-7500.
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