Published: June 14, 2022
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy of Material Culture
PHILADELPHIA – Fine, folk and Outsider art filled the showroom at Material Culture on May 31 for the firm’s no-reserve auction. Leading the day was a Samuel Anderson Robb (American, 1851-1928) cigar store Indian, which surpassed its $10/20,000 estimate to achieve $48,000. The sale totaled $442,000, offering 494 lots, 398 of which sold. There were approximately 2,100 registered bidders and two online platforms in use.
Robb was a sculptor, best known for his carved wooden figures for tobacco shops and circus wagons. He was born in New York City, the son of a Scottish shipwright. In 1876, he married Emma Jane Pelham and opened his own carving shop. After Emma died just two years later in 1878, Robb designed and built a monument to her. The figure in this sale had Robb’s signature carved rose, which he added to some of his Indian maidens to honor the death of his wife.
“It was a really good example of Robb’s female form,” said George Jevremovic, the founder of Material Culture. “In the current market, it did really well. There was a lot of interest from different parts of the country and it ended up going to a collector out in the West.”
Robb’s workshop was the largest in Nineteenth Century New York City. His carvings ranged from traditional cigar store Indians to circus wagons and ventriloquist dummies. The 63 ½-inch-high figure in this sale had provenance to Goldberg Bowen, Sutter Street, San Francisco. Goldberg, Bowen & Company was a specialty grocery and liquor offering a full line of whiskeys, featuring imported Scotch brands, well-known American labels like “Old Crow” and an impressive number of proprietary “signature” brands.
From folk art to fine art, a portrait of a gentleman by Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) sold for $10,880. The oil on canvas was signed twice and dated 1902, with original frame. It had been cleaned and stabilized by a conservator and had been seen earlier on the antiques show circuit and in an auction by Trinity International Auctions.
An uncompromising realist, Eakins dedicated his career to depicting the human figure in oil and watercolor, sculpture and photography. He was enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1862 to 1866, attended anatomy lectures at Jefferson Medical College and profited from contact with Philadelphia’s art collections, exhibitions and artists. Arriving in Paris for study in 1866, Eakins was in the vanguard of young painters who would shift the focus of American art from landscape to the figural subjects favored by the European academies. At this period, Eakins was painting a series of bust-format portraits. Some are identified, but this example was not. The sale catalog noted that Eakins’ exhibition records at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the National Academy of Design, often use general descriptive titles like “Portrait of a Gentleman,” making it a challenge to identify some of the sitters.
A muted, snowy scene by French artist Alexandre Jacob (1876-1972), “Neige dans L’Oise au Bord De L’Etang,” earned $8,960. The oil painting on canvas, signed and framed, bore an exhibition history at Paris Salon in 1963 and provenance to Vixseboxse Galleries, Cleveland, Ohio. It measured 40 by 34 inches.
Another work by a French artist, Claude Venard’s (1913-1999) “Boat in Dock” tied up at $8,320. The oil on canvas was signed and framed 22 by 26 inches. Venard’s bio on Artsy describes him as a highly individual post-Cubist painter known for his still lifes, landscapes and eccentric portraits, as well as his use of basic geometric forms like rectangles, cylinders and cones as representational strategies.
American graffiti artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) was represented in the sale by “International Youth Year.” The year 1985 was proclaimed by the United Nations as the International Youth Year. It was conducted to focus attention on issues of concern to and relating to youth. This limited edition lithograph, one of an edition of 1,000, accompanied the UN’s stamp issue in November 1984. Haring was 26 years old and considered to be the fastest rising star in the art world. Measuring 8½ by 11 inches, handmade on pure rag Arches paper from France, the signed litho, accompanied by print documentation, was bid to $8,960.
Outsiders came a-knocking. Elijah Pierce (American, 1892-1984) was represented by an untitled piece depicting two partially clothed figures, which rose to $7,680. Carved in 1981, each was of painted wood, both signed on the bottom, one dated “1981.” Overall height with the stand/shelf was 17 inches. Renowned throughout the 1900s, Pierce was the youngest in his family born from a former slave on a farm in Baldwyn, Miss. He began carving at a young age using a pocketknife, many of his subjects are animals because of his prior farm life.
A Purvis Young (American, 1943-2010) work from a private Pennsylvania collection, “Goodbread Alley Work,” went out at $7,040. It was paint on found wooden board and measured 43 by 32½ inches.
And Haitian Outsider artist Andre Pierre’s (1916-2005) mythological “Immamou,” oil on board went out at $6,400. In Haitian Vodou lore, the ship Imamou transports the Haitian dead to the land of the spirits. The piece was signed, framed and measured 36 by 48 inches.
Jevremovic said the firm’s next auction should not be missed. It’s set for June 26 and features choice antique and collectible Oriental rugs, including some outstanding examples from the private collection of Jack Cassin.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For more information, www.materialculture.com or 215-849-8030.
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