Published: January 25, 2022
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Willis Henry Auctions
ROCKLAND, MASS. – Will Henry held his first sale of 2022 on January 15 with an auction of 310 lots. Nearly half of the offerings were from one consignor in Newburyport, Mass., – a descendant of the Belknap family – but the auctioneer also listed contributions from New England, New York, Maryland, Cape Cod and South Shore, Mass. Prices didn’t reach the sky, but there was quality everywhere you looked.
There were about 30 people in the room for the sale, Henry said, but much of it sold online to bidders elsewhere in the country who required shipping. Henry noted that this is more commonplace now than it used to be.
Tying for the sale’s top lot at $8,125 were things of different fancies. One was a cubist oil painting that the auction house titled “Man With Dog,” attributed to Fernand Léger. The work would be from the artist’s “Animated Landscape” series, or “Paysage Anime.” A verbal provenance from the Geiss estate is all it had: “three young female students traveled to Paris in early 1930 and met Léger at his studio, one of them returned with the painting ‘Man with Dog’ and her daughter inherited it.” The metallic figure stands beside the more natural dog, the National Gallery of Art writing, the “mechanized image of the body…grew from his harrowing wartime experience (the shiny tubular limbs derived, he said, from ‘the barrel of my gun’).” The other highlight was a full-bodied copper cow weathervane measuring 32½ inches long, its belly showing a glint of gilt but otherwise appearing in a fine mottled verdigris.
“It was in such nice color – and big,” auctioneer Will Henry said. “It came out of a nice collection in Maryland. It was in great condition, just a great representation of a cow. When I went to the house, the cow was on top of the tavern table. I said, ‘Wow, those are really great.'”
That tavern table finished as the leading piece of furniture in the sale at $5,850. The Eighteenth Century example with a scrubbed oval top was in an old raspberry red painted surface with some traces of olive green. The table had a stretcher base and splayed turned legs with pegged construction and button feet.
Birds chirped along with a $1,375 result for a 22-inch-high bird tree with 15 colorful songbirds perched on its branches. A Canada goose decoy in a preening pose from Prince Edward Island would sell for $625.
Other highlights in furniture included a Chippendale mahogany wing chair from Boston, circa the Eighteenth Century, that went out at $4,225. With provenance that it had been found in Connecticut was an early Eighteenth Century shoefoot hutch table in original red paint that sold for $3,438. More formal was an Eighteenth Century candlestand in figured mahogany with a serpentine plum top, a vase and ring turned shaft and a tripod base with pad feet – all for $2,000.
From the Belknap descendant collection was a pair of Nineteenth Century portraits by Zedekiah Belknap (1781-1858) that went out at $5,312. The male and female portraits were marked for Elizabeth Metcalf Marsh (1778-1868) and Martin Marsh (1777-1865) of Providence, R.I., who owned The Norfolk Hotel in Dedham, Mass.
“All the paintings had filtered through his family,” Henry said. “His mother was a collector, and he had purchased things as well. It was a really wonderful house in Newburyport, it was like walking into a museum. He had the portraits all over the house up to the second and third floor, up through the stairwells. There were miniatures on up to enormous portraits.”
A pair of watercolors attributed to Joseph Shoemaker Russell (1795-1860) would rise above estimate to take $5,525. Born in New Bedford, Mass., the artist became a Philadelphia staple in 1818 when he opened an oil shop on Chestnut Street to sell the whale oil from his birthplace. The artist’s watercolors have sold as high as $23,750 in the past, so two works for this tidy price was a reasonable sum. They were both unsigned, though one, which featured a scene possibly of a Quaker Meeting House, was dated 1848. The other, featuring a campus of some sort, was unsigned and undated. Henry said they sold to a long-time folk art collector who remembered their appearance at a Skinner auction decades ago.
Rising to $2,375 was a Nineteenth Century Masonic apron with rich symbolic imagery painted on hide. At top was an all-seeing eye, which oversaw a pair of worldly pillars, the Masonic compass with a G, an anchor, scythe, bee skep, a ritual platform and more. It measured 17 inches high and came in a frame.
In red clay was a seated lion originally found in New Hampshire. The lion featured a nice flowing mane and folky appearance, which pushed it above the $400 high estimate to take $1,820. A three-piece barber sign with middle section reading “Chas. Stoll” sandwiched between two red, white and blue striped panels, went out at $2,000.
Stoneware was represented with 34 examples over 20 lots. Top among them was a 3-gallon jug by J. Norton & Co with a cobalt-decorated pheasant on a tree stump. The whole rose 15½ inches high and brought $3,750. Cobalt birds were popular among other examples too: a 3-gallon crock with a blue spotted bird by Edmonds & Co took $2,340, a blue parrot on an F.B. Norton & Co 5-gallon crock sold for $1,250, and a long-tailed pheasant on a two-handled crock without a maker’s mark took $1,063.
Henry does about three to five sales per year and his next will be his Shaker auction, which will occur in the spring.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For additional information, 781-834-7774 or www.willishenryauctions.com.
September 26, 2023
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