Published: January 29, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Madelia Hickman Ring
NEW YORK CITY – Folk art – both traditional and Outsider art – set a dynamic tone for successful sales during Christie’s Americana Week, when the Rockefeller Center-based firm offered slightly more than 950 lots of American furniture, folk art, decorative arts, prints, silver, Chinese export and a varied single-owner sale. Results for the three-day period achieved a total of $15,867,250, a considerable gain over the $8.2 million in sale totals from the same week the previous year. While Christie’s cumulative total fell short of Sotheby’s total for the same week by approximately $1 million, the three highest prices for the week were all sold at Christie’s. Below is an encapsulated review of the sales and the highlights of each sale.
Little Cassiobury: The Collection of Susan Lyall
Christie’s kicked off the week on Wednesday, January 16 with the sale of the collection of Susan Lyall, which featured English and Irish furniture, Chinese works of art and furniture, as well as British paintings and decorative art. With 96 percent of the nearly 225 lots selling, and totaling $1,885,000, the Lyall sale got the week off to a good start. Leading the auction was an Irish William IV mahogany four-pedestal dining table that made $156,250 ($60/100,000). Other top lots included a pair of Chinese Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century huanghuali “Official’s Hat” armchairs that finished at $118,750 ($100/150,000) and “Gorse on Ringland Hills” by Sir Alfred James Munnings, which achieved $87,500 ($100/150,000).
Chinese Export, featuring the Hodroff Collection, Part IV
Chinese export porcelain and paintings crossed the block the morning of Thursday, January 17, with the fourth part of the collection of Leo and Doris Hodroff. Of the 280 lots offered, 69 percent, or 193 lots sold, achieving $1,794,125. The top lot of the sale was a pair of Qianlong period (1736-95) painted enamel plaques that tripled their high estimate ($30/50,000) when they fetched $150,000, with a half a dozen bidders competing for the lot. Also of note were two lots of French Royal provenance – a massive pair of French armorial dishes ($27,500) and a set of three graduated French Royal armorial ecuelles and covers ($27,500) that Christie’s confirmed were acquired by – and will return to – the Chateau de Versailles.
The market demand for late Nineteenth and Twentieth Century silver supports reasonably priced lots, as evidenced by the results of Christie’s sales of American silver, which it offered on the afternoon of Thursday, January 17. Selling 94 of 118 lots offered and achieving a total of $881,250, the section was spearheaded by a silver mounted 18K gold three-piece tea set by Ubaldo Vitali, New Jersey, late Twentieth Century, that sold for $62,500. Other high-flying silver lots were an American silver and mixed metal teapot by Tiffany & Co., circa 1878, that more than doubled expectations, bringing $52,500 against an estimate of $25/35,000. Of similar vintage was an ice bowl by Gorham that finished at $45,000, tripling its low estimate ($15/25,000).
The saleroom was nearly packed at 10 am on Friday, January 18 when John Hays ascended the podium to sell the first half of the Outsider sale. After complimenting Christie’s Outsider art specialist, Cara Zimmerman, for putting together a dynamic sale, Hays got the sale off to a good start with the collection of Eugenie and Lael Johnson, when the first lot – Howard Finster’s “The Farmer and His Old Mule” – significantly exceeded expectations ($4/6,000) when it sold for $10,000 after a few minutes of spirited bidding between online bidders and a phone bidder, who ultimately won the lot. The Outsider Art session would total $4,261,625 from 161 lots and was 99 percent sold by lot. To give a little perspective on the growth of the department, the 2018 Outsider sale grossed $2,017,375 from 90 lots offered, of which all but 4 lots sold.
One of the most highly anticipated lots, and also from the Johnson collection, was Henry Darger’s monumental “148 At Jennie Richee During fury of storm…” Estimated at $250/500,000, Hays opened the bidding at $180,000 then continued to take bids from several phone bidders, ultimately selling the work for what would turn out to be the top price of the section and the third highest price achieved for the week – $684,500 – to a phone bidder. Another highlight from the Johnson collection was William Edmondson’s circa 1930s “Critter,” ($40/60,000) that saw competition from bidders on the phone, closing to one of them for $125,000. Another Edmundson, this time from a private collector, was “Lady,” which brought more than triple the low estimate ($60/80,000) when it sold to Martha Willoughby’s phone bidder for $237,500, the third highest price in the sale.
Christie’s was selling works from William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation and the Louis-Dreyfus family collections of Outsider Art, with proceeds from the sale of foundation works to benefit the Harlem Children’s Zone. This was the inaugural sale of what is expected to be a multiyear collaboration between the Foundation and Christie’s, which held a non-selling exhibition of highlights from the collection in the fall to generate early interest. This was a winning strategy, particularly for modestly valued works, such as those by Purvis Young, Clementine Hunter, Leopold Strobl and Nellie Mae Rowe, whose “Orange Mule Prancing” and “Shopping in Vinings Georgia” both sold for $22,500 and set a new auction record for the artist.
The Louis-Dreyfus’ collections included many works by perennial favorite and Outsider “Old Master” Bill Traylor and one of his works – “Woman Pointing at Man with Cane” – brought the second highest price in the Outsider sale, and a new record for the artist. When Hays got to the lot, he quipped “We’ve all been there,” before selling it for $396,500 to a collector in the room and underbid by a private collector bidding in the room. Speaking after the sale, Jeffrey Gilman, president of the William Louis-Dreyfus Foundation, said, “Both the foundation and the Louis-Dreyfus family are delighted with the results of Friday’s auction. The foundation sold 33 pieces for a total price of $396,000, with all lots selling.” One of the foundation works, a work by Bill Traylor, sold for a record price at auction. Other works also achieved good prices. The bulk of the proceeds from the Foundation works will be donated to the Harlem Children’s Zone.”
Aside from a few works consigned by individual sellers, the Outsider section also included three larger collections, including that of Larry Dumont, which offered Martin Ramirez’s “Untitled (Horse & Rider)” that sold for $112,500 ($30/50,000) and George Widener’s “Megalopolis 181,” which set a new record for the artist when it sold for $40,000 ($12/18,000). This sale was the second for Christie’s to feature works from the Namits collection, which is another multiyear, multidepartment consignment, and presented 24 lots, the highlights of which were “Sneakin’ In” by Thornton Dial, finishing at $56,250 ($25/50,000) and “William Hawkins’ “Steer and Dog,” which exceeded estimates when it sold for $52,500 against an estimate of $15/30,000. Zimmerman confirmed that works from the Namits collection would be sold in the next Outsider sale. Towards the end of the sale were 13 lots from Bonnie Grossman’s Ames Gallery, from Berkeley, Calif., a 13-lot collection of works strong in the masterful draughtsman-like pieces of A.G. Rizzoli, whose “Irwin Peter Sicotte Jr, Symbolically Delineated The “Sayanpeau,” lead the Grossman lots when it sold for $50,000 ($30/60,000).
As an emerging market, many of the artists in the sale have scant or no history selling at auction and estimates were intentionally conservative to encourage bidders. Zimmerman described this strategy afterwards as giving the works the maximum exposure she can and letting the market decide what works are worth. By conducting the sale in tandem with the Outsider Art Fair, which takes place at New York City’s Metropolitan Pavilion, Zimmerman gives the works in her sale the greatest possible exposure to potential buyers.
The enthusiasm in the saleroom was palpable, with several lots closing to applause from bidders, including one private collector who let out a howl after he won Bill Traylor’s “Fighting Dogs” for $68,750 against an estimate of $50/80,000; the same bidder would go on to acquire William Edmondson’s “Head of a Woman” for $110,000 ($30/50,000).
Outsider Art garners international interest and Zimmerman had purposely scheduled the Outsider section in the morning to accommodate international bidders. Several works sold to international bidders, including Bill Traylor’s “Goat, Camel, Lion and Figures,” circa 1939, which finished to applause in the saleroom when an online bidder in Canada bought it for $125,000 ($75/100,000); Charles Dellschau’s “4373 / 4374, May 1919” double-sided work ($8/12,000) was pursued by several online bidders from the United Kingdom and one ultimately prevailed, taking it for $20,000. Several lots were propelled to higher prices from international underbidders in Germany and Switzerland, further underscoring the worldwide interest in the material.
Commenting after the sale, Zimmerman said, “I was thrilled with the results of Christie’s’ Outsider Art auction last Friday. The sale attracted buyers and bidders from all over the world, including the United States, Europe and Asia, many of whom were new to the category. We also saw strong interest in works at all levels of the Outsider Art market, from pieces by exciting emerging artists to those by “old master” outsiders who have recently been subject to major museum retrospectives. I’m very excited to grow our Outsider Art sales in the coming years and to continue Christie’s leadership position in this field.”
American Furniture, Folk Art & Decorative Arts
American furniture and traditional folk art were offered in the afternoon of Friday, January 19, and the session started shortly after the Outsider Art session closed. John Hays once again took the start of the auction and presided over the sale of one of the most highly anticipated and iconic lots to cross the block that week: Ammi Phillips’ “Girl in a Red Dress with Dog,” one of four similar works executed by Phillips between 1830 and 1835. Estimated at $800/1.2 million, Hays opened the bidding at $600,000 but it did not take long for bidding to escalate to $1,692,500 when it closed to Colchester, Conn., dealer, Arthur Liverant, bidding in the room on behalf of a client. The underbidder for the lot was bidding on the phone. After the sale, Hays said the price had set the new world record auction price for an Ammi Phillips.
A few lots later, another iconic example of American folk art crossed the block: Edward Hicks’ “Peaceable Kingdom,” which had previously sold at Sotheby’s in 1991. Christie’s had also estimated the work at $800/1.2 million, and it, too, sold for $1,692,500, this time going to Woodbury, Conn., dealers David Schorsch and Eileen Michaelis Smiles, in partnership with Columbus, Ohio, dealer Austin Miller. After the sale, Schorsch said they had acquired the painting for stock.
For the most part, paintings outperformed furniture at Christie’s. A group of four portraits of children by Joshua Johnson from a descendant of the Wilcox, Perry and Buckley families of Maryland were highly popular. The first lot of the group – a pair of portraits of a boy and girl were estimated at $40/60,000 – were pursued to $420,000, ultimately all of the Johnson portraits were sold to the same phone bidder.
The top lot of furniture was the Powel-Griffitts family Philadelphia Queen Anne carved walnut compass-seat side chair. Described in the catalog as “magnificent in its pure, untouched state,” the chair is part of a larger set that has long-since been dispersed, with pieces now in the collections of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Winterthur Museum, the Henry Ford Museum, as well as five private collections. Hays opened the bidding on the chair at $170,000 and it battled between two phone bidders, ultimately going to a private collector bidding on the phone for $348,500 ($200/300,000). Another strong selling piece of furniture was the Howland family Chippendale mahogany blockfront chest of drawers, which sold to a private client for $137,500 ($100/200,000).
The energy in the saleroom was markedly more restrained during the afternoon session than it had been during the Outsider session, with the majority of the activity taking place on the phone or online. Several lots of high-valued furniture failed to sell, reflecting the market and the incentive for conservative estimates. Perhaps the best deal of the sale was snapped up by Andrew Rose, who bid $5,000 for the first of two Classical carved and gilded girandole mirrors from the Westervelt Company. The mirrors were offered as a parcel lot, giving Rose the option to purchase the second mirror for the same price he paid for the first mirror. He chose the option and took home two mirrors that were each estimated at $25/35,000 for a combined total of $13,000 once the buyer’s premium was added in.
Early Nineteenth Century furniture seems to be enjoying something of a renaissance and works from the Westervelt Company and the collection of Alan W. Feld, MD, as well as other sellers, generally brought better results than seen in previous sales. These include a Federal eagle inlaid candlestand ($15,000); a Federal mahogany dwarf tall case clock, the dial signed by Joshua Wilder and the case attributed to Abiel White ($37,500); a Federal barrel-back armchair ($40,000); a pair of Classical circular tables ($30,000); a Classical carved mahogany side chair attributed to Thomas Seymour for Vose & Son ($15,000); an accordion action dining table ($22,500); a Classical secretaire a abbatant documented to Duncan Phyfe ($30,000); a Neoclassical sculpted white marble fireplace surround ($87,500); a cellarette attributed to Duncan Phyfe ($20,000); a Classical parcel-gilt and ebonized armchair possibly by Duncan Phyfe ($60,000); the Stephen van Rensselaer pair of Classical bergeres attributed to Duncan Phyfe ($22,500) and a pair of Classical rosewood carved and parcel-gilt card tables with caryatid supports ($87,500).
George Washington and some of the other Founding Fathers still enjoy popularity on the marketplace, as evidenced by sales of Raimondo Trentanove’s marble bust of George Washington ($20,000); a Niderviller biscuit porcelain figural group depicting Benjamin Franklin negotiating the Treaty of Alliance with King Louis XVI ($27,500); three portraits after Gilbert Stuart, two of George Washington (the first selling for $47,500, the second selling for $21,250), the third of Thomas Jefferson ($118,750); a portrait of George Washington possibly by William Winstanley ($68,750); and Louis-Charles-Auguste Courder’s “Siege of Yorktown,” which was purchased by Mount Vernon for $43,750.
Of the 163 lots in the American furniture, folk art and decorative arts session, 134 sold, for a success rate of 82.2 percent and a total of $6,580,000. The 11-lot print group that concluded the session all sold, adding an additional $423,280 to the sale total.
Speaking after the sale, John Hays said “We are very happy with our results. We got a lot of data points from this sale – many pieces had been purchased at auction in the last 20 or 30 years – which gives us a chance to see how the market performs long-term. Iconic artworks that sold at the top of the market have been very resilient.”
Christie’s is at 20 Rockefeller Plaza. For more information, www.christies.com or 212-636-2000.
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