Published: September 29, 2020
Review & Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – If you had pick one word to describe a CRN auction, that word would have to be “eclectic.” Carl Nordblom and Karin Phillips put together a sale with a wide variety of high-quality items featuring a collection of Carlo Bugatti furniture, a collection of early Black Forest carvings, porcelain, early American and midcentury furniture, paintings and sculptures, tea caddies, Asian items, silver and more. Following the restrictions necessitated by COVID-19 guidelines, only about 15 people could attend the live auction and appointments were required to preview the material. Two online platforms and several phone lines were in use, and absentee bids were handled as they usually are.
The top lot of the day, surprising everyone, was a signed Herter Brothers inlaid rosewood cabinet. The cabinet, estimated at $3/5,000, was cataloged as circa 1880-82 and finished at $48,800. Inlaid with floral and insect designs, the cabinet had open display shelves on each end and two heavily inlaid doors, a pierced carved skirt and all-over gilt accents, along with a maple interior and maple panels behind the display shelves. It also had six drawers with original hardware.
Not as much of a surprise was a group of Carlo Bugatti (1856-1940) furniture, for which there was active bidding with most pieces going above estimate. Nordblom expected that the collection, which had been assembled over a 35-year period and divided into eight lots, would generate strong interest, and there was considerable online activity prior to the sale. As a collection, the total price was $107,970. Leading was a pair of benches with geometric pewter inlay, copper rosettes, copper wrapped handles and vellum seats. They were sold individually but totaled $30,700. A pair of circa 1900 tall-back armchairs, also heavily inlaid, of stained and ebonized wood, parchment and with brass and pewter inlay, some in the form of Arabic text, sold for $15,680.
Bugatti started producing furniture in Milan in 1880, continuing to work in that city until 1904. The furniture in this sale dated to the end of that period. He later moved to Paris, where he continued to work, using unusual materials and taking inspiration from varying sources – the Gothic era, Japan, Islam, North Africa as well as Oriental motifs. The highly decorated and unusual shapes he often employed were a reaction against the Industrial Revolution and factory-produced pieces of the time. Bugatti’s designs were striking, immediately recognizable and creative. When Queen Elena of Italy met Bugatti at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts conducted in Turin in 1902, she praised him for his “Moorish-style” furniture. His answer was: “Your majesty, this style is not Moorish – it’s my own!” His son, Ettore, was the famed automobile designer.
In addition to the Herter cabinet described above, the large selection of American furniture included a circa 1815 New Hampshire inlaid mahogany bowfront server, probably made in Portsmouth, which realized $13,420. Another circa 1815 piece, also from Portsmouth, was a three-part tiger maple secretary/desk that featured a shaped crest with three brass finials, glazed doors in the top section, tambour doors, a flip out writing surface and nicely turned legs. It realized $3,965. A Baltimore inlaid mahogany cellarette finished at $3,660 and a New England Chippendale flaming birch four-drawer chest reached $1,708. Quality reproduction furniture by Eldred Wheeler always does well, and this sale included a striking Chippendale tiger maple secretary/desk with arched panel doors, ogee feet and a fitted interior that included a hidden drawer. With paper label, it went out for $3,965. The company, formed in 1977, is still making reproduction furniture today.
The first lot of the day, “Olympia,” a large unsigned oil on canvas by Arthur Bowen Davies (1862-1928), which had been purchased from the estate of the artist by a gallery, finished at $15,860. The story of Davies and his wife is fascinating. His wife murdered her first husband on their honeymoon, and Davies had a second life with a common-law wife and family. And there’s more. Many of his works are in the Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C.
The sale included numerous other American paintings, including two small acrylic and oil works by Jack Whitten (1939-2018), which also did well, with each finishing at $45,700. Whitten was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2015 by President Barack Obama. His works hang in several museum collections and a retrospective of his sculpture was shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018. Two marine paintings by Antonio Nicolo Jacobsen (1850-1921) were included, with a portrait of the pilot boat New York bringing $6,100 and a portrait of the schooner Matchless under full sail bringing $7,930.
The Black Forest carvings were early examples, and the collection obviously belonged to a collector who favored animal forms, especially dogs. The dog groups were probably the work of Walter Mader or his son, Swiss carvers, both known for their exceptional dog carvings. Bringing the highest price of the collection was a carving of a bitch and her three puppies, probably dating to about 1900, and it went out at $11,590. Another group of a bitch and her three puppies, also possibly by Mader, earned $7,930. The bargain of the collection was a life-sized carving of Bobbie, probably a Bouvier des Flanders. It was 34 inches tall but only brought $793.
There were pleasant surprises throughout the sale. A pair of Chinese famille rose porcelain candlesticks, thought to be from the Republic period, but perhaps earlier, sold for $10,370. A Seventeenth Century Indo-Portuguese bone figure with a Museum of Fine Arts label on the base sold for $9,150. Also a surprise, a lot of 18 pieces of Royal Copenhagen porcelain reached $10,980 in spite of some defects.
After the sale Nordblom said, “It was good day with plenty of surprises and I think some people got some very good buys. It went smoothly, there were plenty of phone bids and we ended up with three-quarters of a million dollars. I’d call that a good day.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
For information, 617-661-9582 or www.crnauctions.com.
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