Review by Karla Klein Albertson, Photos Courtesy Neal Auction Company
NEW ORLEANS – While the summer heat that settles over New Orleans is literally breathtaking, nothing deterred collectors from bidding and buying at the Neal Auction Company’s summer estates auction on July 8 -9. Just as superb food and good music are year-round commodities in the Crescent City, fine art and antiques emerge in all seasons.
The same elements that fuel the spring and fall sales made July a success – regional art from both the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, historic American furniture in antebellum styles, pottery and silver with Gulf Coast connections and a major collection of Asian art from a local estate. The two-day event presented more than 1,100 lots drawn from dozens of consignors.
Bettine Field Carroll, vice president of business development and Asian specialist at Neal’s, emphasized that the formula never varies: “We’re always looking for the best property for each auction, especially for estates property, such as the Chinese jade from the collection of Maurice and Eunice Lion. And, of course, we’re looking for a good mix; we try to do our best to avoid redundancy. For any given auction, we always have more property than we can actually put in the sale, so we end up retaining things for the next auction. We’re already working on the September sale.”
The painting selection for the catalog front cover and its inside cover companion proved prescient – the work of Twentieth Century Louisiana artists sold well throughout the sale. That cover image – “Semiotic 86-6,” a 1986 work by Ida Rittenberg Kohlmeyer (1912-1997) – was top lot of the auction, selling for $36,600, exceeding the $25/30,000 estimate. The New Orleans artist graduated from Sophie Newcomb Memorial College (Tulane University) and then studied in New York City with Hans Hofmann; he and other Abstract Expressionists of the period influenced her early work.
On the inside cover, the serene “Springtime” farm view by Clarence Millet (1897-1959) brought an above estimate $20,130. Millet was another Louisiana artist who left the state to study. After attending the Art Students League in New City and exhibiting on the East Coast, he returned to New Orleans to set up a studio in the French Quarter. In addition to the art work illustrated, other regional hits included a 1998 mystic Blue Dog by George Rodrigue (1944-2013) called “Deep Love,” which brought $34,160; “Golden Bunnies” by Hunt Slonem (b 1951) sold for $11,250; and “Afternoon on the Marsh” by Knute Heldner (1877-1952) realized $10,675.
Marney Robinson, who heads the painting department at Neal, said postsale, “Honestly, I think one of the surprises of the day was the early George Dunbar piece from the ‘Figurative’ series; he’s a beloved local artist. It had really active bidding; the estimate was $3/5,000 and it sold for $14,640. He just had a great retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art – ‘George Dunbar: Elements of Chance.’ It’s very early, the ‘Figurative’ series was just a brief period in his career before he moved on to more geometric pieces. But it’s still his characteristic clay on board – it had a great texture to it. We’re delighted to see more collectors coming on board for his work.
“We particularly love that 1950s to 1960s period in New Orleans art and the artists working during that time, when the contemporary art scene was building. By 1956, the Orleans Gallery had opened on Royal Street in the French Quarter, the first artists’ collective in the city. The gallery was nonprofit and cooperative, offering community memberships and a place to give greater meaning to the art of New Orleans and the South. That’s where Kohlmeyer, Dunbar and George Dureau all made their debuts on the local art scene. Their work is coming out now, and we’re delighted to see the market building for their works. At the heart of the art section in the July sale, we had a room full of bidders.”
Significant sections of the sale in both the Saturday and Sunday sessions were devoted to Nineteenth Century furniture in styles that ranged from Federal to classical, rococo and Renaissance Revival. With a full hand of forms and ornamentation available, some were notable bargains – a rosewood rococo cylinder desk with an étagère superstructure brought $1,830, and a Seymour-attributed Federal mahogany secretary bookcase a most reasonable $2,560. Others sold at or above their high estimate when a collector had the right spot to fill.
Nowhere to sit when you dine? One bidder solved the problem with six matching classical mahogany Gondola chairs made in New York, circa 1830, which brought $3,355. The group had been purchased at Didier in New Orleans in 1993. Another buyer chose a fine set of 12 Gothic Revival mahogany dining chairs on casters for $5,490. Photos of the dining room at Melrose in Natchez, Miss., show an almost identical array around the dining table; the chairs were mentioned in the 1865 inventory.
Modern had its moments – a Danish teak extension dining table and eight chairs from around 1955 sold for $1,216 on Sunday. There were four lots of Frank Lloyd Wright furniture designs for Heritage Henredon of the same period; the hexagonal mahogany Taliesen design coffee table sold for $1,188. For those who want to make a strong statement, a truly sculptural lot of two Post-Modern marble bergere-form chairs – each back in the form of a lower face of classical persuasion – found a buyer at $7,040, over a $4/6,000 estimate.
After the sale, Polly Rolman-Smith, Neal’s furniture expert, said, “We definitely have surprises with furniture. There was a late Eighteenth Century chair attributed to a Maryland or Mid-Atlantic maker. It had a pretty low estimate, but it ended up going for $3,250. That was the biggest surprise of the sale for me. During the exhibition period, we had so many requests for more information about that chair; it was definitely on many bidders’ radar.”
Looking toward fall offerings in her department, she continued, “We have a really great collection coming up in September. Caribbean consignor Philip Sturm has a massive collection of antique furniture from the islands, as well as Chinese artifacts and European decorative arts. Much of the Caribbean furniture is early Nineteenth Century, and the pieces are one-of-a-kind. The mahogany tropical hardwoods are absolutely stunning. There are armoires with inlay, Campeche chairs. Some pieces are in the French style, others show more English influence.” Sturm is the author of the 2007 Antique Collectors’ Club volume on West-Indian Antique Furniture of the Lesser Antilles, 1740-1940.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.nealauction.com or 504-899-5329