Published: February 4, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Christie’s.
NEW YORK CITY – Christie’s sale of Important American Furniture, Folk Art and Silver on Friday, January 24, achieved $9,559,813 and capped a week of sales that also saw Outsider Art and Chinese export works of art sell for a cumulative total of $14,795,313. Christie’s reported the American furniture sale was 89 percent sold by lot, the Outsider sale to have been 99 percent sold by lot and the Chinese export sale was 79 percent sold by lot.
Commandeering the first part of the sale was John Hays, Christie’s deputy chairman and expert in American furniture. Hays is as much a cheerleader as he is auctioneer, dispatching lots with efficient and unflappable good humor while never failing to convey his passion for the material at hand. After the sale, Hays said, “When you have the lead lot, which we’ve now had for two years, well, we are grateful. The market is particularly resilient for paintings, for the great folk ones, and we are trying to address what we perceive is a particular interest in this market. The unusual things excelled, and there seems to be no lack of interest in the things that are considered to be the artist’s best work.”
The top-selling lot of the sale – of any sale conducted in New York City during Americana Week – was Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” which handily beat its $1.5/3.5 million estimate to bring $4.5 million from a private collector on the phone who prevailed against another phone bidder and a trade buyer in the room. It had been consigned to Christie’s by a private New York collector, who had acquired it in 1980 from Sotheby’s. The work had been illustrated in several early monographs on Edward Hicks, as well as Carolyn Weekley’s “The Kingdoms of Edward Hicks (Williamsburg, 1999),” which many consider to be one of the most definitive scholarly works on the artist.
Of similarly esteemed provenance and publication history was Gilbert Stuart’s “Portrait of George Washington,” which brought the second highest price in the sale when it more than tripled its high estimate and brought $975,000 from a phone bidder. Likely originating in the family of Colonel Thomas Lloyd Moore (1759-1813) of Philadelphia, the work has been in the hands of only one family since it was painted between 1796 and 1803 and has been the subject of scholarly research on not only the works by Gilbert Stuart but also the paintings of George Washington.
“These were wonderful nice examples and had such a lot going for them,” said Leigh Keno, bidding on the phone on behalf of a client, who bought the pair of portraits of a boy and a girl by Joshua Johnson for $495,000. “We had been looking for years for a great example of his works.” Hays acknowledged that “Joshua Johnson is enjoying a moment,” recalling not just the pair in this sale but also three lots of portraits of children painted by Johnson (African American, circa 1763-1824) that Christie’s had sold a year earlier that brought a total of $584,000. This reporter would also remind readers of a pair of portraits of the family of Dr Andrew Aitkin that Sotheby’s sold in January 2019 for $675,000.
The sale prominently featured several carved and polychromed cigar store figures, all from the collection of Gary Dubnoff. The first to cross the block also brought the highest price of the group; a bidder in the room paid $175,000 for a figure of “Punch” attributed to Samuel Anderson Robb that nearly doubled its high estimate. Of the eight examples on offer, four sold while four did not, with other notable results achieved for a figure of a “Moorish Queen” acquired by a phone bidder for $125,000 and an Indian chief Hays deemed “magnificent” that made $62,500 from an absentee bidder. “It is apparent that the more interesting and unusual ones do better,” said Hays.
A large component of the roughly 165-lot section of American furniture and folk was nearly 60 lots from the collection of the late Ralph Carpenter, who had worked for Christie’s in the 1970s and 1980s and to whom Hays paid tribute from the podium as well as in the catalog. The Carpenter collection was particularly strong in furniture and decorative arts from Newport, R.I., and highlights included the Colonel George Leonard wool-on-canvas embroidered coat of arms for the Fiennes family of Boston, which was acquired by ceramics scholar and dealer Rob Hunter bidding in the room on behalf of a Midwestern private collector for $150,000, prevailing over a bidder on the phone with Christie’s Outsider art expert, Cara Zimmerman.
Other top lots from the Carpenter collection included a William and Mary tall case clock with dial signed by Newport maker William Claggett (1694-1748) that ultimately went to a phone bidder for $60,000 after outlasting a trade buyer in the room and a married pair of private collectors who were also bidding in the room. Another bidder in the room won a Newport Queen Anne mahogany dressing table for $81,250. The Christopher Champlin pair of Chippendale carved mahogany side chairs attributed to John Goddard or Daniel Goddard brought $68,750 from the Preservation Society of Newport County. Not only did onephone bidder win two consecutively offered pairs of Tillinghast family Queen Anne walnut side chairs – the first pair bringing $37,500, the second realizing $30,000 – but they also prevailed on the Newport Chippendale carved mahogany high chest of drawers attributed to Benjamin Baker that finished at $17,500, just shy of its low estimate.
“We were really pleased with the results – strong interest from core buyers who have supported the market for years as well as from buyers new to the field,” said Jody Wilkie, Christie’s senior vice president and international specialist head of European ceramics. She was referring to 16 lots of Seventeenth and Eighteenth English ceramics from different sellers that crossed the block in the middle of the American furniture and folk art section to capitalize on crossover interest. All but three of the lots sold, with the first lot – a Bartlam blue and white soft paste porcelain saucer bringing $18,750 from an anonymous institution bidding on the phone. Hunter also confirmed acquiring for his Midwestern private collector a London Delft polychrome figural salt depicting a “sulking youth” for $56,250 and, buying for $7,500 for himself, a London Delft armorial blue and white rectangular salt.
The market for Charles Wysocki (1928-2002) has been improving recently and the sale featured three works, all consigned from a West Coast collection and all three exceeding expectations. The largest of the three also brought the largest price of the group: $60,000 was achieved for “Olde Bucks County.” After the sale, Christie’s announced that the result set a new auction record for Wysocki. It was purchased by an Asian family, which included two sons – one a teenager, the other younger – who sat in front of their parents and occasionally held the bidding paddle. The family was also successful in buying an Arapahoe ledger drawing for $4,375, a Chippendale carved mahogany marble slab table from Boston for $21,250 and, coming slightly later in the sale, a 14K gold serving bowl marked Tiffany that exceeded expectations to close at $30,000.
Not only were the Asian family among the underbidders on Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington but they were the successful buyers of “The Death of General Wolfe” after Benjamin West, which they acquired for $100,000. After the sale, the father identified himself as a private collector. It is a welcome sight to see increased bidder diversity among what has been a largely homogenous market and will be interesting to learn more about this family as they continue to collect.
Christie’s sales are laid out chronologically, with Nineteenth Century works generally coming towards the end of the section. Highlights among the Federal furniture offerings were two tall case clocks, one by Aaron Willard (1757-1844) that made $23,750, the other by his son, Aaron Williard Jr (1783-1864) that finished at $21,250. A phone bidder bought a Federal eagle-inlaid mahogany candlestand for $13,750. After the sale, Colonial Williamsburg curator, Tara Chicirda said they had filled a gap in their collection when they acquired the Hooper family Federal inlaid mahogany and flame birch veneered work table for $11,875.
However, one of the most unexpected results in the sale came for a work table probably by Duncan Phyfe that stood at the front of the saleroom. The work table relates to one at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and bore a paper label from the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebration exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum; it brought $212,500 from a bidder on the phone with Martha Willoughby, well ahead of its $25/35,000 estimate.
Works by Tiffany were the undisputed leader in a sale of approximately 100 lots of silver that closed out the Americana Week sales. Achieving the highest price of $125,000 was a silver, gold and enamel vase made by Louis Comfort Tiffany for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition that sold to an absentee bidder. A bidder in the room paid the next highest price – $52,500 – for a Tiffany parcel-gilt silver and enamel musical carousel, designed by Gene Moore circa 1990, which had been estimated at $50/80,000. A square-section mixed-metal and silver tea caddy by Tiffany that more than doubled its high estimate to finish at $50,000.
Jill Waddell, senior specialist in the silver department, said afterwards “An emerging trend we are noticing is that our clients are looking for things they can live with 365 days a year. It’s no longer platters and plates that live in your butler’s pantry – collectors are looking for things that can live out of the cupboard, objects that have character and color and are fun. Tiffany mixed metals and Japonesque are performing strongly and we see a deep market for these works.”
Offered on Thursday, January 23, Christie’s “Chinese Export Art Featuring the Tibor Collection, Part II” sale of 165 lots totaled $1.9 million. Commenting on the sale afterwards, senior specialist Becky MacGuire said, “I was pleased to see the interest and results. Today’s collectors tend to be broader in their vision, they want to collect great pieces in each category, or the big classic pieces. Chinese porcelain has always been where there has been wealth, global wealth continues to drive this market. That taste is still a part to some degree all around the world, with some variation, and we are seeing a growth in Chinese buyers in this category.”
Leading the sale was a pair of famille rose soldier vases and covers from the Qianlong period (1736-1795) that realized $250,000. The pair “were the best,” said MacGuire. “Those are just such a classic, great thing.” After the sale, she said bidding interest in the vases came from the United Kingdom, China, Southeast Asia, Mexico and Indonesia. A rare early Mexican market blue and white jar, Wanli period (circa 1600) was the second highest price in the sale, achieving $193,750 from a phone bidder. “These are very rare and this one was in not great condition, but it generated a lot of excitement, particularly for those who follow the Hispanic market for Chinese export porcelains. We had interest on these from Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and Portugal.” Sliding into third place was a circa 1730-40 large ruby and famille rose five-piece garniture, Yongzheng/early Qianlong period that finished at $162,500. MacGuire attributed interest in part to the “gorgeous” color that the Chinese had mastered in the 1720s.
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