Published: June 16, 2008
What began as an annual foray into the world of fine art in 2005 has grown into a twice-a-year endeavor at Clarke Auction Gallery that conducted its fourth annual fine art sale on May 19.
Ronan “Ron” Clarke, the firm’s founder and owner, said he developed an eclectic eye for one- and three-dimensional art via the works that would regularly surface from area estates for his traditional monthly auctions. When Tom Curran joined the firm last year †Clarke jokingly refers to him as “a former customer” †the auctioneer’s “eye” was bolstered by Curran’s research and analytical skills developed during more than 30 years with IBM. This, coupled with the quality and volume of exceptional fine art, became the basis for Clarke’s decision to expand the auction house’s special sales dedicated to paintings, watercolors, sculpture and prints into spring and fall editions. And certainly it has not hurt that the fine art auction market, in general, has increasingly been catching fire.
Clarke Auction Gallery became a part of the Westchester County landscape ten years ago. Clarke, who started his career in Ireland and came to New York in 1988 via London, wended his way through stints as a picker and an owner of a couple of retail antiques stores, before opening the auction house in 1998.
A New York Times article published in November 2007 helped put Clarke’s auction house on the radar screen of Metro-area suburbanites, and the gallery’s location, just behind Larchmont village’s main drag and a short walk from the Metro North train station, makes it a convenient venue. The Internet, too, adds a worldwide audience patched in through Clarke’s online gallery.
In Clarke’s view, the fine art auctions spur new consignments and attract art collectors and dealers in addition to his regular customers. “And it’s worked on all counts,” he said. “We’ve had great auctions that have generated our highest revenue sales.”
The May 19 auction featured more than 330 lots. As expected from presale interest, a Nineteenth Century Gustav Bauernfeind (1848‱904) watercolor of Jaffa, now a part of Tel Aviv, ruled the roost among offered works, selling for $42,300 to an English buyer on the phone in the first half hour of the auction. An Internet bid of $11,000 put the painting into play, where it was pursued by three phones and the Internet to its final selling price.
The German Orientalist’s painting, measuring 13½ by 183/16 inches, was noted as being in very good condition, with strong colors and no foxing. It was signed lower right in ink “G. Bauernfeind” and inscribed “Jaffa” with faint additional pencil inscription visible just above the bottom matte that appeared to be in Bauernfeind’s hand indicating a date that was indistinct beyond “June 18__.
Another Baurenfeind Jaffa painting, a market scene, is known to have been painted in 1887. According to the website Artcyclopedia, Bauernfeind was captivated by Jaffa, and he photographed and painted there, though it was often under quarantine for plague and westerners like himself were targets of religious zealots. The artist settled in Jerusalem in 1898 and died there six years later. His skill at rendering Middle Eastern settings with both artistry and realism produced beautiful paintings that are considered among the most historically accurate images of the Middle East in the Nineteenth Century. His depiction of the recruiting of Turkish soldiers in Palestine, painted in 1888, another Jaffa scene, is in the collection of the Dahesh Museum of Art.
Selling at $37,600, a painting by “the father of Texas painting” Julian Onderdonck (1882‱922) was also in hot pursuit, although the scene was possibly of Long Island Sound. Slightly dirty, the 14-by-20-inch oil on canvas was estimated at just $6/9,000, but it spurred three in-house bidders and seven phone lines to vie for it, ultimately going to a bidder on the floor. “He’s [Onderdonck] big in Texas,” observed Clarke in ascertaining why the Impressionist’s work caught fire among bidders. “If it had been one of his Bluebonnets paintings, it would have probably brought more than $1 million.”
A local family in Larchmont was the surprising source for a couple of watercolors by Florencio Molina Campos, an Argentine artist known for his energetic depictions of gauchos. During the house call, Clarke said he at first thought the two scenes †one depicted a gaucho on a bucking horse, the other was a more tranquil scene of a farmer, women and a burro †were merely prints. When he was able to look more closely under the frames, however, he determined that both were gouaches. The more desirable action scene commanded $9,988, while the farm scene brought $6,463.
Additional highlights included a lost 1922 Daniel Chester French maquette, which gaveled at $2,644. The maquette, measuring 38½ inches high including the base, was made for French’s sculpture “First Division Memorial.” Like his iconic Lincoln Memorial, this monument is in Washington, D.C. The maquette was a working model in plaster and was essentially intact, except for the final piece’s wings, arms, flag and the top of the helmet. It had come out of a home in Old Lyme, Conn., and from the collection of a noted American sculptor.
A pair of A.B. Wenzell (1864‱917) pastels of lovers reached $2,644 and $2,350. The latter was painted circa 1898 and portrayed a naval officer courting a beauty on the deck of a battleship. The other Wenzell pastel had an Army officer courting a lady in a garden.
A John Wilde oil on wood panel similarly paid tribute to feminine charms, but this painting by the Wisconsin Surrealist was reportedly of his second wife, shown au naturelle in a field with giant fruit. The 1971 work was titled either “Some Apples” or “Some Tomatoes,” as inscribed verso with title and alternate title and original gallery label. It sold for $12,925.
African American art did well, and included works from Bob Thompson, Al Loving, Calvin Burnett, Charles Sebree and Benny Andrews. Leading this group was a female nude by Bob Thompson that reached beyond its $6/9,000 estimate to realize $15,275. A Florida college professor was the successful bidder on a large (61 by 92 inches) mixed media work titled “Mercer Street 9” by Al Loving and an oil on paper collage by Benny Andrews titled “Bather.” The lots brought $11,162 and $9,450, respectively. Charles Sebree’s (1914‱985) unframed mixed media on artist board of a woman was won by an Englewood, N.J. police captain for $9,988.
A “tiny” (9 by 8¾ inches) Daniel Ralph Celentano oil on canvas of chorus dancers performing in a burlesque theater before a raucous audience made $5,875 from a phone bidder in California who was “mad to get it,” according to Curran.
Clarke concluded, “What’s great about our sales are the unexpected pieces †the Bob Thompson from a local closet, a pair of genuine Campos Molina gouaches from a few blocks away and the superb Belgian and Danish art along with the Twentieth Century Americans. But while we quietly and regularly set records for great art, buyers can still find unique pieces at good prices.”
Prices reported include the 15 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 914-833-8336 or www.ccauctiongallery.com.
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