Published: January 24, 2023
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Fontaine’s Heritage Auctions
CANAAN, N.Y. — The Old Testament story of Judith slaying Holofernes has been depicted through the centuries by many artists, from Botticelli, Rembrandt, Caravaggio and Seventeenth Century Italian artist Artemisia Gentileschi to contemporary American artist Kehinde Wiley. The story was also retold in what was described as an “early hand-painted [painting] of two ladies, one with a sword looking like she’s going to cut off a guy’s head” in Ralph Fontaine’s Heritage sale on January 15. “Judith Beheading Holofernes,” presented in a gilt frame was nicely done, with some flaking towards the bottom in an estate-fresh consignment, measuring 10 by 25 inches. It sold for $18,750, the top lot in Fontaine’s 300-lot Wonderful Winter Multi-Estate Auction featuring estate paintings, Victorian, oak, midcentury and period furniture, a music box collection, folk art, country items and more.
The Old Testament story of Judith features the heroic young widow who saves the besieged Jewish city of Betulia, which is under attack by the Assyrians. Judith determines to sacrifice herself in order to free the city. With her maidservant Abra, Judith sets out dressed in her finery to the camp of Assyrian general Holofernes, under the pretext that she is willing to betray the Israelites so that the Assyrians can defeat them. Enchanted by Judith’s beauty, Holofernes invites her to dinner in his tent, where she plies him with drink and he falls asleep. Judith severs his head with his own sword, she and Abra bring Holofernes’ head back to the city and the Assyrians flee. The story of Judith and Holofernes — the vulnerable rising to slay a hostile invader, the oppressed overthrowing their oppressor — holds enduring appeal. Over the centuries Judith has been variously interpreted as a virtuous young woman, a seductive femme fatale and a brave heroine.
An early Prior School portrait on paper, circa 1830-50, was notable among the folk art on offer. Selling for $2,000, it was nicely done, presented in a period frame, 10 by 13 inches.
Deadheads and historic guitar enthusiasts chased an extremely rare “Travis Bean” guitar that was similar to the one Jerry Garcia used in the Grateful Dead to $5,000, five times its high estimate. Exhibiting typical use, with one missing knob, the guitar made in Germany came with its original case. The guitar got its name from Clifford Travis Bean, an American luthier and machinist from California. In 1974, Bean partnered with Marc McElwee and Gary Kramer to start Travis Bean Guitars, which made high-end electric guitars and basses featuring machined aluminum necks. Bean passed away in 2011 but his wife Rita and Kevin Burkett of Electrical Guitar Company continued the business. In June 2016 it was reported that the Hive owner Jeff Grady, who collects historic guitars, owns the Travis Bean TB500 #11 that Garcia used in the studio and on-stage in the mid-1970s.
A musical highlight of a much different sort crossed the block when an extremely rare oak Reginaphone music box/victrola jumped its $1,000 high estimate to also finish at $5,000. Described as in “excellent working condition,” the estate-fresh music box exhibited a nice original finish and came with 15 original 21-inch discs from a lifetime collection. It measured 30 inches wide by 14 inches tall and 24 inches deep.
Two sets of sterling silver flatware by Reed and Barton combined for a $7,800 tally. One was a 143-piece set in the Hampton Court pattern, unmonogrammed and weighing in at 147 troy ounces in a custom made silver chest. The other was an extensive 120-piece set in the Francis the First pattern. With many serving pieces, the unmonogrammed set was 150 troy ounces, everything in groups of 12.
Fetching $3,750 in the furniture category was a carved oak sideboard fancifully decorated with Northwind heads, serpents and more. In nice condition, it measured 60 inches wide, by 54 inches tall and 24 inches deep.
Sitting pretty was a 20-inch Duffner and Kimberly Waterlily pattern leaded lamp. It featured a large base with lily pad and cattail design, stood 25 inches tall and went out at $3,400.
Rounding out the sale’s top highlights were a Carl Bucherer man’s chronograde wristwatch at $3,250 (original bill of sale from 2011 for $9,775) and a large signed Tiffany & Co sterling silver pitcher and original bag $2,000. The latter was estate fresh and could use some polishing but it had no dents.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.fontaineheritage.com or 413-442-2537.
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