Published: April 3, 2012
Grand old Newport cottages filled to the gunwales with generations of untouched antique treasures are more and more things of the past. Many have been broken into condominiums, been turned over to institutions or even shined up with custom furnishings. Not so long ago, when the old places were broken up, the auctions were amazing and most were handled by Michael R. Corcoran of the Gustave J.S. White Company. It was like the old days on March 14 when the contents of one of the last brought some major gems to market, and Corcoran was again the man on the job.
A Thomas Chippendale mahogany armchair made for the Duke of Marlborough was the headliner at the sale when it sold for $144,000. The chair is strikingly similar to a set of four armchairs by Chippendale in the blue drawing room at Dumfries House, now a Stately Home in Scotland. It came more immediately from Crossways, the Ocean Drive, Newport, estate of Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, which was the source of most of the desirable objects across the block.
The successful buyer, dealer Chris Jussel, beat out an almost equally determined phone bidder. Jussel wrote in an email after the sale that he bought it for stock and plans to restore the chair. A purposeful copy of the George II armchair was not nearly as exciting and brought $480.
An imposing bronze mastiff bearing the stamp of Nineteenth Century French sculptor Christophe Fratin was owned originally by William Thompson Walters, founder of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Md. Jane Pope Akers Ridgway’s grandmother had married Walters’ son in 1921 and the dog lived with them in Baltimore and Wilmington, N.C., until it moved to Newport in 1948 and remained there until it went under the hammer. The successful and very pleased buyer was again Jussel at $33,000. Heavy enough in itself, the sculpture’s weight was enhanced by a heavy marble stand.
Corcoran took advantage of the majestic canine to raise money for the Potter League for Animals, the shelter in nearby Middletown. He charged $10 admission, raising $1,030 for the organization.
A pair of Georgian silver candlesticks brought $2,520, and another pair was $2,400, each to the same bidder. A Tiffany silver monteith from the 1960s sold in the gallery for $1,200, and a medium-sized Revere bowl fetched $960.
Two cased sets of flatware that Corcoran specified were not silver sold for $960, while an octagonal silver bowl sold for $720.
A group of boxed cufflinks went to the Rhode Island trade for $1,440.
“Harvest,” a signed portrait of a cherubic child with cornstalks and a pumpkin, brought $54,000 from Judy Goffman Cutler of the National Museum of American Illustration in Newport. Cutler also paid $960 for a signed marble of a woman.
Four marine paintings signed “T. Buttersworth” were offered. They depicted a ship under full sail, a sailing vessel race, a man o’ war and a ship foundering off Dover. Each measured 18 by 24 inches, and each brought $5,000. Three went to an absentee bidder, and the fourth sold on the phone.
A signed oil on board view of a house by Jane Peterson sold for $4,200 to a bidder called Dale. A portrait of Jane Pope Akers Ridgway as a young woman sold for $600. Ridgway, a woman of great taste, was also a great beauty.
“Fragment of the Parthenon,” a drawing by prominent architect John Russell Pope, who designed the Jefferson Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, the National Archives Building and a number of houses in Newport, sold to an absent bidder for $1,800. Pope, father of Jane Pope Akers Ridgway, owned The Waves in Newport where the family summered.
A large (67 by 84 inches) and very good northern European, possibly Dutch, landscape with figures and animals drew dealer Alex Parrish to drive from New York City to bid. Although he was delayed by traffic in a thick fog, he arrived just in time to buy it for $6,600.
A group of Italian watercolors brought $1,680, and a set of 13 Chinese watercolors of sailing vessels fetched $960.
The collections at Crossways were wide ranging and deep. Chinese porcelain was just one area of interest: A Chinese blue and white porcelain dish with an imperial five-clawed dragon decoration went to the trade for $11,400. The same sharp-eyed dealer paid $4,800 for a tray lot of Chinese porcelain objects.
A pair of Chinese armorial plates went to another dealer for $4,200, while a pair of Chinese bowls drew $1,920. Two square vases in aqua glaze brought $840, and a Chinese porcelain blue and white bowl with a strainer sold for $720. A table lot of Meissen porcelain in the Onion pattern went to the trade for $2,760.
Auctioneer Mike Corcoran is a consummate entertainer, and his auctions are reliably lively †and speedy. He never forgets a bidder’s name and conducts his sales without bidding cards, merely calling out the name of the successful bidder. When a bidder in the gallery or on the phone hesitates, he rolls his eyes and reminds his audience, “The auction is today.” When a new bidder appeared, he asked him his name and inquired, “Is your check good?” Staffer Elsie A. Lombard keeps track of it all †no mean feat. This sale was her 848th auction.
A large table lot of Adams calyx ware pottery in the Lowestoft pattern realized $600.
When the hurricane of 1938 blasted through Newport, high waters cut off from the mainland the 1874 Castle Hill, the summer residence and laboratory built by naturalist and oceanographer Alexander Agassiz. His daughter-in-law who lived there at the time was terrified and sold the house, fully furnished, to local businessman James T. O’Connell, and it is an inn today. Agassiz traveled widely and collected astutely, gathering Asian art and furnishings par excellence. His Chinese table with a marble top, unmoved in the house during the hurricane, was included in this sale and sold on the phone for $9,600.
An armchair brought $3,600 from the trade, and a similar set of 14 mahogany dining chairs brought $3,600, while an armchair from the same group was also $3,600. A pair of hall chairs decorated with painted crests on the backs sold for $1,080, and a good-looking mahogany plate trolley realized $840.
A heavy pair of cut glass pokals brought $1,320.
One of the 347 copies of a limited edition of Newport: Our Social Capital by Mrs John King Van Rensselaer published in 1905 brought $220 from an area dealer. The author was widely respected, known in Newport for a contretemps with Timmy Sullivan, known as the wood hooker for the disorder that prevailed within and without his house, which abutted hers.
Jane Akers Ridgway inherited some of her father’s artistic talent, and examples of her skill were sold. Several paneled screens with decoupage flowers and birds brought prices ranging from $360 to $900. Her decoupage three-drawer chest was $120 and a nest of tables brought $90. A fire screen painted as a basket of hydrangea sold for $720.
A Lane cedar chest overflowed with exotic costumes used by Crossways’ houseguests at parties. Corcoran displayed several, and the lot went for $120. A stack of cased backgammon sets suggested a serious interest in the game and sold for $600.
A Baldwin upright on which Corcoran summed up the sentiments of the day by playing “Happy Days Are Here Again” sold for $840.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 401-841-5780.
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