Published: November 23, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
THOMASTON, MAINE – “It was a sale that, if you wanted to buy something wonderful in any category, we had it,” Kaja Veilleux said when we caught up with him two days after he brought the gavel down on the last of 1,358 lots offered in Thomaston Place Auction Galleries’ November 12-14 “Autumn Majestic” auction. “I thought it was a very successful sale; Friday [November 12] felt like the old days. It was an exciting weekend and the amount of interest we had was amazing. The Cowan estate was no-reserve, and we had a large crowd in-house participating throughout the weekend,” Veilleux continued.
The sale totaled $3.5 million and was 87 percent sold. Of the total bidders who competed for lots, 34 percent had never registered with the auction house before, and successful buyers hailed from 15 countries outside of the United States.
About one-fourth of the sale was from the Patterson, N.Y., estate of Frank Cowan and featured early American furniture, English oak furniture, needlework, Chinese ceramics and medieval and Islamic metalwork. An advertising photographer whose clients included Volkswagen, Kellogg’s, Levi’s and the United States Army, Cowan’s collection got the sale off to a strong start with early English decorative arts; his American furniture was offered on the second day.
Achieving the top price for the weekend was Winslow Homer’s (American, 1836-1910) “Coming Through the Rye,” which finished at $936,000. Done in 1867 in oil on canvas that measured 16¾ by 11¾ inches, the work had been extensively exhibited in both the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, with provenance in private collections in New York City, Aurora, Ill., and Chicago, as well as Babcock Galleries in New York City. The last time the work was offered at auction was in 2017, when it sold for $341,000. It is included in the artist’s catalogue raisonne and sold to an American buyer bidding on the phone.
One of the biggest surprises to Veilleux was the result on a flambe iridescent blue, lavender and milky-white glazed Chinese moon flask that dated to the Eighteenth Century and realized $175,500; it was the second highest price in the sale. The 13-inch-tall vessel was marked underneath with Qing Qianlong reign seal marks and had belonged to Mary Millicent Abigail Rogers (1902-1953), a fashion icon and art collector, and the granddaughter of Standard Oil founding partner Henry Huddleston Rogers Sr. It sold to a buyer in the United States, underbid by an Asian bidder in the salesroom.
Another surprisingly strong result was seen with a Novgorod School Russian icon that depicted the Ascension of the Virgin Mary to Heaven. Done circa 1600 in egg tempera and gesso and gold highlights on a wood panel, it achieved a heavenly price of $49,725, nearly five times its high estimate. It was part of a selection of more than two dozen icons, all but one of which had come from the estate of Albert P. Neilson.
Veilleux admitted to being a bit disappointed in the result achieved by a Tiffany Studios patinated bronze table lamp with jeweled leaded glass “dragonfly” shade. It had never been on the market, descending in the Camden, Maine, family of the original owners who had acquired it as a wedding present in 1910. It sold at the low estimate for $99,450 to a buyer from the United States.
Works by native Maine artist Jamie Wyeth (b 1946) are perennial favorites among collectors and a watercolor and gouache on half-sheet of cotton rag paper titled “Olsen’s” had so much interest from bidders that it closed at $43,875, more than double its high estimate. One reason the work may have inspired such interest was it depicted the Cushing, Maine, farmhouse made famous by Jamie’s father, Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), in his “Christina’s World” from 1948. Jamie’s work was done in 1965, when the artist was just 19 and was noted for its skill and vision.
Nineteenth Century American landscapes offered at Thomaston Place regularly feature among the leaderboard and this sale was no different. Thomas Moran’s (1837-1926) luminous view of the Grand Canyon had provenance to the Laura Davidson Sears Collection, as well as the Elgin Academy Art Gallery, Elgin, Ill., and the Lenz Art Studio in Milwaukee, Wisc. It more than doubled its low estimate, going out for $43,875 to a buyer in the United States.
Three American seascapes followed the Moran onto the top lots of the second day. Fitz Henry Lane’s (1804-1865) “Maine Harbor at Sunset” measured 20½ by 24¾ inches in an ornate deep cove-molded gilt gesso frame and made $29,250. The same price was achieved by Alfred Thompson Bricher’s (1837-1908) “Surf, Rocks and Sea with Sailboats” with provenance to both the Neilson estate and Kennedy Galleries. A second work by Bricher – this depicting a coastal scene – rode a wave of interest to $25,740.
But back to the Cowan estate. Leading the 315 works offered on the first day was an early Eighteenth Century English framed petit point needlework depicting a “land of riches” or wedding that sold to an English dealer for $22,814, more than ten times its low estimate. Other early English needleworks from Cowan’s estate brought similarly strong results. Another “land of riches” example brought $17,550, while a dated 1603 allegory of Baby Moses in the Nile cruised to $16,380. At $9,945, a Seventeenth Century stumpwork picture of a courtship scene brought more modest results.
The majority of Cowan’s collection was devoted to Asian works of art and many significantly surpassed expectations. A Chinese Tang dynasty (675-750) pale celadon glazed earthenware canteen of large size at 11½ inches tall and with relief decoration to the flattened sides rose to $19,890. For $15,210, a Chinese blue and white punch bowl with Jiajing mark made ten times its high estimate and a Qing shallow bowl in imperial yellow sold for $12,870.
“Furniture has been picking up,” Veilleux said, referring to both pieces from Cowan’s estate as well those consigned by other sellers. “It’s a good sign.” From Cowan’s estate, an English Charles I oak wedding armchair, dated 1648, finished at $11,700 while an earlier carved caqueteuse or “lady’s” armchair dated 1571 was gaveled down for $7,605. Rounding out furniture highlights from Cowan’s estate was a circa 1600 Elizabethan joined three-tiered open oak court cupboard with vigorously turned supports that realized $5,850.
Thomaston Place Auction Galleries will offer toys on December 1, jewelry and couture – a new category for the firm – on December 2, and a large sporting art and antiques collection on December 3. A large private collection of Native American works will cross the block in January.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as state by the auction house. For information, www.thomastonauction.com or 207-354-8141
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