To a standing-room-only crowd on October 3, Abell Auction Co. conducted its fall fine art and antiques sale of more than 600 lots gathered from estates across Southern California. With more than 50 percent of the lots hammering above their estimates, the energy in the gallery was strong.
Highlighting the sale was one of the most important collections of Taos School paintings to have come to market in Los Angeles in more than 20 years. Peggy Fouke Wortz, the granddaughter of R.E. Olds, founder of Oldsmobile and REO Motorcars and Trucks, had in her Palm Springs and Riverside homes paintings by William Herbert Dunton, Eager Irving Couse, Joseph Henry Sharp and Bert Geer Phillips.
Dunton’s “Heart of the Wilderness,” the top sale of the afternoon, sold on the phone for $287,500 after heavy competition on the floor and from telephone bidders across the United States. Joseph Henry Sharp’s landscape of his home and garden in Taos sold for $57,500. This special painting had an annotation in Sharp’s hand on the verso naming each of the plants grown in his garden. In addition, a Couse painting depicting an American Indian sold for $63,250, and two of the four Bert Phillips works sold for $69,000.
In addition, Abell represented the estate of Harry Daniel of Borrego Springs, Calif., and Bristol, Va. This important collection of modern Italian and Chinese paintings and sculpture created international attention and competition. The highlight of the estate was an oil painting by the Italian artist Afro that sold on the floor for $172,500 despite numerous international telephone bidders. In addition, the estate had four original paintings by the Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki. The works offered at Abell, although small in size, fetched enormous prices ranging from $34,500 to $57,500.
The most historically important work sold was Pericle Fazzini’s “Young Boy and Fawn” that created much controversy when first debuted in 1955 and later became an international incident when the people of Bristol, Va., rejected what they deemed to be a “monstrosity.”
The Fazzini bronze was bought by the architect of the newly built Virginia High School while he was on vacation in Italy with funds for the installation of an art piece. When the statue arrived in Bristol, however, the city council rejected it, and the local press of Bristol dubbed it “The Groping Boy.” Pericle Fazzini, an important contemporary Italian artist whose works are displayed in the Vatican and the Museum of Modern Art, demanded, “Where is Bristol? To know who I am all you have to do is open any art publication or see who won the first prize at the International Biennale of Venice.” The president of Italy Luigi Einaudi had admired the piece, and Fazzini said, “If it’s good enough for the president of Italy, it should be good enough for a US high school.”
By rejecting the sculpture, Bristol created an international fracas with media from Time to Pravda, the newspaper of the Soviet Union’s ministry of culture, picking up on the story. Pravda took a swipe at both the city of Bristol and the artist, saying, “It was an example of another bourgeois falling-out.” In the end, the city of Bristol paid Fazzini $2,600 for the artist’s fees to be rid of the sculpture, whose original price was $8,500. Daniel, a prominent area businessman, purchased the sculpture, and it soon disappeared out of the spotlight, until it was discovered by the appraisers of Abell Auction sitting in the wading pool of the Daniels’ house in Borrego Springs. After international inquiries and heavy competition on the telephone, the bronze sold for $33,350 to an Italian buyer.
From the estate of Christopher J.C. “Aggie” Agajanian, the influential racecar owner and promoter, an important Louis XV-style kingwood, rosewood and ormolu-mounted bureau plat was sold on the floor for $109,250 despite international telephone bidding, as well as a Louis XV-style kingwood, tulipwood and ormolu-mounted commode for $28,750.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Abell Auction Co.’s next fine art and antiques sale will be conducted in February. For information, www.abell.com or 800-404-2235.