Published: June 20, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Tremont Auction Gallery
NEWTON, MASS. – The June 4 sale at Tremont Auctions brought to light a group of Edward Steichen photographs that had been stored, and nearly forgotten for more than 40 years. The market responded positively.
The sale also included paintings that did well, including one by John Angus Chamberlain (1927-2011) that brought more than $70,000 and others that sold well into the five-figure range. Asian items included a Republic period vase that finished so far over the estimate that we won’t mention the arithmetic. Twentieth Century furniture did well, as did some Native American material and porcelain. An 1802 Philadelphia sampler may have been the “steal” of the day at $1,989. The sale grossed $707,000.
The Steichen material, which narrowly avoided ending up in the trash, comprised photo murals and related items that had been created for the 1933 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago. Steichen’s photo murals were installed in the Hall of States, as part of the New York State exhibition at the fair. Tremont sold the collection in two lots; one lot included five mounted poster-sized gelatin prints, each more than 4 feet tall, along with a set of detailed blueprints indicating how all were displayed at the fair. Subject matter of the large mounted prints included the George Washington Bridge, the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, all taken by Steichen during the construction of each.
The second lot included 30 rolled prints that when installed would create a mural more than 57 feet wide, an artist’s proof and handwritten instructions as to how the murals were to be installed. Subject matter of the rolled prints included lumbering scenes in the Adirondack Mountains, buildings, bridges and more. Several pieces had Steichen’s stamp on the back.
The two lots sold to the same buyer for a total of $67,860. The material had not been well taken care of for the last 40 or 50 years and significant restoration will be needed to deal with condition issues, especially to the five mounted images. The consignor had estimates done about ten years ago for restoration but the cost would have been well over $20,000. Presumably, the rolled prints will also require professional conservation.
After the sale, it was learned the buyer is a dealer who has said that the prints will get the required restoration. As far as is known, the photographs were owned in the 1970s by Richard Mills, a well-known antiques dealer in Exeter, N.H. Mills exhibited at the Winter Antiques Show in New York in those years. Ron Bourgeault said, “I knew Dick well. He was a Harvard graduate and a book dealer to start with. He opened a book store in New Haven, then was in Portsmouth for a while and then Exeter. Over the years he dealt in quantities of paintings. I took over his booth at the East Side show, which is when I started doing the show. He was a money man for many smaller dealers when they found big estates. His second wife was Herb Schiffer’s sister.”
The entire batch came close to being thrown in the trash. In correspondence, the consignor said, “In 1974, I was working with my father representing the estate of Richard Mills. His sister, the executrix, was a family friend. After the contents of the house were sold, a sale of the house was scheduled. I was helping the executrix clean out the few remaining items that had not sold, which included the board photos and the rolled group, stored in the garage and in poor condition. There was no interest in the photos. The executrix decided to dispose of the photos in the trash, but they were too large to leave on the street. She gave them to me with the understanding that I should get rid of them or do whatever I chose.
I stored them in a barn behind where I was living at the time and ignored them for the following decades until the house and barn were being sold. I then decided to sell them through the auction.” Hopefully, this material will be available to the public at some point in the future.
The top selling lot of the sale was a mixed media collage by John Angus Chamberlain, which sold for $70,200. It was made of painted paper and metal mounted to fiber board with staples, and was signed and dated 1962. Concord, Mass., dealer Mark Brock said he bought it for inventory and said that he was pleased with the purchase, having thought it would bring more than $100,000. That expectation was based on the fact that in May 2015, Bonhams sold a very similar work, created in 1961, for more than $200,000.
Other paintings also did well, including a painted plywood three-dimensional abstract painting by Ramirez, titled on the reverse “Red Percussion” which went for $28,080. A 1958 abstract “Primeval Landscape” by William Baziotes (American, 1912-1963) finished at $24,570. Each of these three paintings came from the collection of Donald Weitzman, Sutton Place, in New York.
Chinese porcelains often bring more than was expected and there was an example in this sale. Cataloged as “Twentieth Century Republic period Chinese garlic mouth famille rose porcelain vase decorated with European figures in a landscape along with a poem and artists seals, blue enamel Chien Lung mark on base,” the 6½-inch tall piece finished far over the estimate at $25,740. When Jim Callahan, Tremont’s vice president and director of Asian art, was asked about this piece, he said, “It was an attractive piece and well marked. It was produced between 1929 and no later than the 1930s. That was a period when royal palaces were being looted and fine reproductions were being made. This vase was an example of that work and sold accordingly. The buyer was in the room during the sale, and on his phone. It may be going back to China.”
There were numerous other interesting items, including three lots of Hans Wegner chairs. One lot, a pair of “Cows Horn” chairs in teak, rosewood and leather, brought $7,605. Louis Vuitton and similar trunks did well, with a Louis Vuitton wardrobe steamer trunk reaching $6,435 and a steamer on a custom built stand earned $5,616. A Goyard steamer trunk fetched $3,744.
After the sale, Doug Stinson, one of the owners, commented on the strength of the sale. “We did pretty well in all areas and several items blew away the estimates. It was a good sale for us and our next one will be a single-owner sale of antiques that have been packed away for decades.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.tremontauctions.com or 617-795-1678.
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