Published: February 1, 2022
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Christie’s
NEW YORK CITY – One of the best single-owner sales of American folk art to come to market in decades anchored Christie’s 2022 Americana Week sales, contributing $10.8 million to three days of sales that tallied an impressive $23,686,438 and saw multiple new auction records established and an average sell-through rate of 92 percent. Outsider Art, which typically sells alongside more traditional folk art, was offered on February 3 and will be covered in a future issue.
Collection Of Peter & Barbara Goodman
Selling the morning of Thursday, January 20, was the folk art collection of Peter and Barbara Goodman, a selection of 137 lots that realized prices ranging from $3.8 million to just $250, with only four lots failing to find buyers. Peter Goodman had started collecting and developing his eye in the 1950s; when he sold his family’s Danskin company to Playtex in 1980, he had the funds at his disposal to buy the very best pieces available at a time largely considered the Golden Age of Folk Art. With a focus on color and surface, his collection included masterworks by some of the blue-chip artists of the category.
Prior to the sale, John Hays, Christie’s deputy director, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly, “As a collection, this ranks up there, piece by piece, with some of the most exciting folk art collections that have ever come to market. It may be one of those moments we look back on and say, ‘it’s a benchmark.'”
“It absolutely was a benchmark, and the family is just thrilled,” Hays said after the sale. “The glow from the sale is still there. It says a great deal about the eye of Peter Goodman; it speaks to how he had the same criteria for rarity, dynamic imagery and condition as other top collectors did then, and who do now. It’s right in there with the best folk art collections. It was a real test of what the top of the folk art market was capable of and shows that it’s really solid. Pieces were hotly pursued by the field and it’s a credit to the die-hard nature of the private collectors, who persevered through snowstorms and Covid to be here.”
The top lot from the Goodman auction, and the highest grossing work offered during the January Americana Week sales anywhere, was Ammi Phillips’ (1788-1865) “Woman with Pink Ribbons,” which sold for $3,870,000. Not only did the work, which had been extensively exhibited and published, exceed its $800,000-$1.2 million estimate, but it handily reset the record for the artist, which has stood at $1,692,500 since 2019 when Christie’s sold Phillips’ “Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog.” The painting was purchased by Patrick Bell of Olde Hope Antiques, bidding in the room on behalf of a client.
“It has a sublime beauty,” Bell said. “What makes it so extraordinary, in terms of folk art, is the simplicity of line, the strength and use of color, that elevates it beyond what one would expect to see in a portrait. It was also a great, exciting week for folk art. It was wonderful to see people excited and to see the enthusiasm of bidding.”
John Brewster Jr’s (1766-1854) portrait of Captain John Bourne was another record-setter, unsurprising given its lengthy provenance, exhibition and publication history. Estimated at $150/250,000, bidding opened at $75,000 but escalated quickly and beat its previous record price of $801,600, ultimately selling to a bidder on the phone with Christie’s Outsider Art specialist, Cara Zimmerman, for $2,670,000. It was underbid by Woodbury, Conn., dealer David Schorsch.
It was one of just a few lots that Schorsch was unsuccessful buying; he told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he spent $2.77 million in the sale and purchased – for both clients and for inventory – a total of 29 items. Bidding on behalf of a client, he established the new world record for Samuel Addison Shute (1803-1836) when he took “Woman with Two Canaries” to $1,170,000, prevailing over Cara Zimmerman’s phone bidder.
Schorsch also purchased, for $562,500, a pair of portraits of a husband and wife by Jacob Maentel (1778-1863) and a “View of Nahant (Sunset)” by Thomas G. Chambers (1808-1869), for $437,500; both lots were record-setting prices. The Maentels were acquired for a client; the Chambers was for inventory. A black-painted Windsor braceback chair from Rhode Island he bought on behalf of a client for $106,250 set a new record for a Windsor chair.
If Schorsch was unsuccessful winning Brewster’s “Portrait of Captain John Bourne,” he walked away with Brewster’s double portrait of the Dow Twins, secured for a client at $112,500. A client backed his $81,250 on a pair of portraits by Sheldon Peck but the $112,500 he paid for a red-painted blanket chest from Centre County, Penn., was all his.
Goodman had purchased several works from Schorsch; the sale provided an opportunity to reacquire some of them. Among those that Schorsch bought back included a Philadelphia cutwork picture ($3,000), a Queen Anne painted dressing table ($25,000), a pair of portraits by Erastus Salisbury Field previously owned by his parents, and a stenciled theorem painting ($10,000).
“To have so many masterpieces [offered in one auction] was remarkable. I’ve been doing this for 40 years and it felt like the old days. There hasn’t been this amount of anticipation since the Esmerian sale,” Schorsch said.
William Matthew Prior was represented in the sale by half a dozen lots, most of them portraits of children. Two of them featured young boys holding hammers; the example with the child wearing red soared beyond expectations before being nailed down at $200,000.
The masterpieces in Goodman’s collection clearly, and quite rightfully, attracted the most attention, but there were plenty of items of more modest quality and value that offered sharp-eyed bidders a good opportunity. Among these were a North Carolina William and Mary slat back armchair that realized $3,000 against a $5/10,000 estimate, a Shaker yellow-painted turned bowl, possibly from Mount Lebanon, N.Y., within estimate at $3,250, and two lots of Lehnware that sold for a combined $1,375 against a combined low/estimate of $7/11,000.
Various Owners Americana
Once the Goodman collection had been dispatched, Christie’s offered American silver and marine paintings on the afternoon of January 20. A silver tankard made by Benjamin Wynkoop of New York, 1700-20, a silver salver by Jacob Hurd of Boston, and a circa 1870 Gorham silver ice bowl led the former at $43,750, $42,500 and $25,000, respectively. Sailing into the lead of the marine paintings category was a painting of the Black Ball Packet Ship Harvest Queen attributed to John Hughes for $23,750, which edged out Charles Sidney Raleigh’s American Clipper Ship Ocean Queen with $21,250 and “The Black Ball Packet Columbia off South Stack,” for $20,000.
The rest of the sale took place in a single session that began the morning of Friday, January 21, and featured the usual offerings of American furniture, decorative arts, folk art and printed manuscript ephemera. Topping the sale, and bringing the presidential price of $930,000 from a new private collector, was a portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart that was offered with an estimate of $200/300,000 on behalf of the Saint Louis Art Museum, to benefit the acquisitions fund. The painting is a 27-by-21½-inch rendition of Stuart’s Atheneum portrait and is one of approximately 85 examples known, with the closest known parallel being one at the Huntington Art Museum in San Marino, Calif. A lengthy provenance for the painting was outlined in the catalog, leaving no gaps between when this painting was painted around 1820 to when the Saint Louis Art Museum acquired it from John Levy Galleries of New York in 1923.
Stuart’s portrait of Washington was one of four examples on offer, all but one surpassing expectations. James Sharples’ 9½-by-7¾-inch pastel on paper profile example had descended in the family of the original owner and more than doubled its high estimate, closing at $625,000. A portrait of Washington at Princeton by Charles Peale Polk that was modeled after the 1787 “Convention” portrait done by his uncle, Charles Willson Peale in a more expansive composition that included Washington’s uniform and Nassau Hall in the background. Though Polk painted about 50 such likenesses, the example Christie’s offered was distinguished by the artist’s signature and date of 1790, making it the earliest known of Polk’s Princeton series. It brought $562,500. For those whose pockets were not quite so deep, an example by French artist Léon Cogniet could be acquired more reasonably at $30,000.
In recent years, early printed Americana have occupied prominent positions on the sale’s leaderboard; this year was no different. Realizing the second highest price in the sale at $750,000 was a lot of two engraved views of the Town of Concord and the South Part of Lexington that were done in 1775 by Amos Doolittle, a New Haven, Conn., silversmith who went to Boston and witnessed the events that marked the start of the Revolutionary War. Being sold with provenance to the collection of Ambassador J. William Middendorf II, the catalog describes the pair as “the most compelling of any contemporary image of the American Revolution by a contemporary eyewitness.”
An engraved and colored map of New York City, surveyed in 1766 and 1767 and done by Bernard Ratzer in 1776, also topped expectations, bringing $625,000 against an estimate of $300/500,000. Prior to sale, it had been the only privately held copy in full contemporary color of what the catalog described as “the finest map of an American city and its environs produced in the Eighteenth Century.”
“Good furniture took a step forward,” John Hays confirmed. Prices backed the statement.
Most of the primary American furniture-making centers were represented by masterworks that brought some of the sale’s top prices. Leading the group was a circa 1755 Philadelphia Queen Anne carved walnut armchair, from the Wunsch Collection, which realized $750,000. Notable characteristics of the chair included the impressed names of previous owners on the rear rail or slip seat frame; additionally, it was one of at least eight armchairs in a single suite, the only known surviving suite of such a large size; the whereabouts of six chairs from the suite are known. It sold to a buyer in the room.
Another lot with Wunsch provenance – this time from the Wunsch Americana Foundation – was the Gould family Queen Anne carved walnut high chest of drawers from Newport, 1750-70. Estimated at $60/90,000, it topped off at $150,000. Declared a “masterpiece” by Albert Sack in his 1993 volume The New Fine Points of Furniture: Early American, the design and preservation of the piece were particularly desirable to collectors.
Other high-selling furniture lots include a Marblehead, Mass., Chippendale mahogany bombe chest of drawers, circa 1770, which sold within estimate for $275,000. It had provenance to Mimi Adler, who had acquired it from Israel Sack; it had been illustrated not only in American Antiques from Israel Sack Collection (volume 5), but also in Brock Jobe and Myrna Kaye, New England Furniture: The Colonial Era.
Not to be outdone, and representing New York, a Classical ormolu-mounted and figured mahogany marble top pier table that was labeled and stamped by Charles-Honoré Lannuier, traded hands at $81,250, a considerable advance of its $10/15,000 estimate. It had provenance to Peter Terian and had been included in the Metropolitan Museum’s 1998 exhibition and catalog of the same name, “Honoré Lannuier, Parisian Cabinetmaker in Federal New York.”
A group of 11 cigar store figures, ten of which were from the collection of Gary Dubnoff, were a stand-out element of the folk art category. Of these, an unattributed carved and polychrome figure of a “Racetrack Tout” brought the most: $375,000. It was followed at $75,000 by a “Girl of the Period” and “Highland Lassie,” for $40,000.
African American folk artist Joshua Johnson’s works have, in recent years, been among the standout lots of Americana Week. “Portrait of a Gentleman” was the only example on offer at Christie’s but it courted significant attention and brought $275,000 against a $40/60,000 estimate. While the sitter was unidentified, the Baltimore Federal side chair he sits in, as well as a stretcher label for a Baltimore framer, suggest a connection with that port city.
Nineteenth Century American Art
Paintings of America’s Western parks – namely Yosemite and Yellowstone – by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) led the January 19 sale of Nineteenth Century American Art. The highest price among the 69 lots offered was $786,000 for “In the Yosemite,” a 19-by-26-inch oil on paper laid down on canvas work from the estate of Texas oilman and collector Patrick Rutherford Jr.
Following not too far behind was “On Route to Yellowstone Park, Company A’s Camp of the 86th U.S. Army,” which Bierstadt had painted around 1881, in oil on paper laid down on canvas. Measuring 14 by 19 inches and hailing from the collection of James William Glanville & Nancy Hart Glanville, it found a new home at $400,000.
Shifting from west to east, a landscape of Mount Lafayette from Franconia, N.H., by David Johnson (1827-1908) provided a change of scenery. Painted in 1874-75 and measuring 30 by 50 inches, the view resounded with bidders, who pushed it to $350,000.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Christie’s next Americana sales will take place in January 2023. For more information, www.christies.com.
January 31, 2023
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