Published: April 4, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Clarke Auctions
LARCHMONT, N.Y. — Provenance has always been an accepted value multiplier. When a work can be traced back to the studio without too many stops in between, buyers are satisfied and become willing to pay a premium for veritable authenticity. When those stops in between number only one, and that one person purchased the piece directly from the studio, add on more value. This is when the stars begin to align. So when a single-owner pair of chests by famed Twentieth Century Italian architect and designer Gio Ponti went up at Clarke’s March 26 sale, bidders rode that river of confidence to $40,000.
“They were particularly special because of their age,” said Keane Ryan, design specialist at Clarke. “The consignor had purchased the chests directly from Singer & Sons. She was using them as her dressers from the day she purchased them to the day we took them out of the estate. They had usefulness for her.”
The chests were of rectangular form and featured three drawers with two rectangular pulls of varying sizes applied to each. They had a rich, vibrant deep red grain and sat on four tapered legs, still with the original label to the inside drawer.
The firm has seen a steady increase in demand for modernism in the past three quarters.
“Interest in design has been at an all-time high,” said Ryan. In terms of revenue for the section, “This was definitely the best sale of this year and it was up there with the top sale from last year.”
Works by Paul Evans represented a number of top performing lots. Three works, a sculptural welded chair, a three bay wall-mounted shelving unit and a coffee table all came from an estate in Long Island. The shelving unit featured four wall-mounted panels in composite and bronze, sculptured in the artist’s brutalist aesthetic with smoked glass shelves mounted on brackets between them. The piece brought $18,750, doubling the high estimate and producing one of the strongest results for an Evans wall unit at auction. Just another indication on the strength of Evans in the current market is how much a single side chair will sell for — $4,250. No small change. The coffee table also performed strongly at $7,500, while another sculptural welded occasional table with upward pointing spikes, from a different estate, finished strong at $16,250.
Just as in any other genre of collecting, rare forms from top names continue to outperform more common pieces from the period.
Ryan said, “The demand for quality, well-known design is driving the market. Buyers want recognizable pieces from [famed] designers because people are starting to view their furniture not only as useful and functional but also as an investment. The resurgence of midcentury has forced people to reevaluate the furniture in their home, and not just the artwork, as an investment purchase.”
Not to be left out, artworks, jewelry, silver and bronze sculpture also performed well in the sale.
The second highest lot of the day came in the form of a large- scale Charles Dufresene oil on canvas that measured 82¾ by 110½ inches. The Art Deco work, titled “Retour de Chasse,” featured a group of figures in a colorful forest, stopped for a brief moment while a native guide dressed a bird.
“We’ve been handling the estate of a New York art dealer and this was in his storage,” said Nelia Moore, fine art specialist at Clarke. “It was kind of bundled up and we didn’t know what we were pulling out.”
The central figure stood nude while holding a tropical bird, a dog looking at the nude man attentively while two other figures on horseback, one a woman in dress, stood in the background idly. Even with a 13-inch tear to the canvas, the piece more than doubled its $9,000 high estimate to land at $22,500. The buyers were French, and the work will be heading back to its homeland.
Also performing well were several lots of modern prints from Twentieth Century masters. A Roy Lichtenstein color screen print from a New York City collection went out at $8,750. The piece had been gifted to the consignor when she was a teenager, and it must have inspired further collecting, as a few other modern works in the sale came from the same estate. Another from that consignor was a Frank Stella “Sinjerli Variations” offset lithograph and color screen print that found wanting bidders, landing at $6,250. From a different consignor, Tom Wesselman’s “Lulu” color lithograph from the Metropolitan Fine Art portfolio featured a red haired woman surrounded by blues and purples with colorful flowers in her hair and to her side. It brought $5,500.
Among the jewelry and silver offerings, a diamond ring found plenty of interest as presale online bidding started the lot well over its $6,000 high estimate. The ring featured a 2.06-carat brilliant cut diamond flanked by channel set accent stones and set in 14K yellow gold. It brought $13,750. In the same group, a Tiffany & Co. Chrysanthemum flatware service in a gold vermeil finish tripled the high estimate to land at $10,000.
Detail and quality carving saw interest in this sale; two aspects of a work that will, hopefully, never lose favor among bidders. Originally hanging in Jimmy Armstrong’s Bar on West 57th Street in Manhattan, a Gothic Revival polychromed shadow box brought $6,875. It featured five women with steeple headdress in a box-seat setting, a pair of them talking with each other while the others looked forward. It was willed to the Weston, Conn., consignor from the owner of the bar. In antique furniture, an elaborately carved Irish mahogany console with a detailed carved frieze on ball and claw feet sold for $2,625.
“We had a number of nice surprises,” said Moore. “There was strong bidding across the board, even for some lower end pieces, so we were very pleased.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
The firm’s next sale will be April 23. For more information, www.clarkeny.com.
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