Published: September 10, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Thomaston Place Auction Galleries
THOMASTON, MAINE – The three-day “Maine and Beyond” summer sale at Kaja Veilleux’s Thomaston Place Auction Galleries, August 23-25, drew the kind of bidding that summer sales in Maine used to bring. It doesn’t hurt to have the quality of material that Veilleux and his staff put together for this sale. A strong assortment of American paintings, one of which, a large marine scene by John Stobart, topped the sale at $111,150, included works by Andrew Wyeth, Jasper Cropsey and, in a situation that doesn’t happen often, included a painting done by the auctioneer’s wife, Cali Veilleux.
An important collection of fire memorabilia produced the second highest price of the sale, which also included early automobiles, tribal material, sculptures, Tiffany items, jewelry and watches, Asian material and more.
Three internet platforms were in use and produced many winning bids, several phone lines were active throughout and numerous absentee bids had been left. The sale included more than 1,400 lots. Numerous items sold for more than $10,000 and, according to the gallery, bidders from more than 30 countries participated. The sale grossed just under $3 million, and some items that were passed may yet sell.
Clearly, paintings led the sale. There were far more than “New Orleans, 1871” the oil on canvas by Stobart. The painting, signed and dated 1979, depicts large sailing ships and several sidewheel steamboats, one of which is the Natchez, flying an American flag. As Veilleux was selling it, he commented that the consignor had paid $250,000 for it. An ink and watercolor on paper done in 1948, titled “Birchwood” by Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) depicted a pile of chopping wood at Broad Cove Farm in Cushing, Maine, a property owned by the artist’s father-in-law, Merle James. It brought $52,650. “Starrucca Viaduct,” an oil on canvas by Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900) signed and dated 1864, went for $81,900. The bridge, near Lanesboro Penn., was completed in 1847-48, and at the time was considered the world’s largest stone arch railroad viaduct in the world. It is still in use today. The painting was cataloged as “probably a study for his 1865 masterpiece by the same name.” Each bringing $29,250 were “Stranded” by Armin Carl Hansen (1886-1957), depicting two fishermen in a small boat in rough seas, and an 1860 view of Mount Washington from North Conway, painted by Otto Somer (1811-1911).
It isn’t often that an auctioneer sells a painting done by his wife, but Cali Veilleux’s “Cadenet Poppies, Provence, France” sold for $1,404. She’s an accomplished artist and a recent solo show of her work sold more than 45 paintings.
Fine arts included numerous sculptures and other works by Robert Laurent (1890-1970). There were several alabaster sculptures, all from one collection; one 19 inches tall of a squatting woman with her arms wrapped around her head earned $25,740. A preening cat sculpture by Laurent brought $8,775, and a preening dove sculpture finished at $7,605. There were also drawings by the same artist, as well paintings by his son, John Louis Laurent (1921-2005). The senior Laurent has been quoted on Wikipedia, saying, “The beauty of alabaster is its transparency. This is what gives it life and vibration.” His work is in the Smithsonian and other museum collections.
A significant lifetime collection of fire-fighting memorabilia included a wonderfully elaborate presentation leather parade helmet dated 1851. The helmet had been kept in a safe by its owner, an attorney who just decided it was time to sell. The helmet was, in fact, the second highest priced item in the sale, bringing $99,450. It was in very fine condition with an engraved silver plate reading “Presented to/Capt. Charles Carter/by the Volunteers of/Melvill Engine Co./No. 13/ as a Token of the Regard and/Esteem for him. 31 March 1851.” The helmet was surmounted by a gilded three-dimensional reclining greyhound. The front panel had a portrait of Boston patriot Thomas Melvill (1751-1832), who was a prominent merchant in Boston, a close friend of John Adams and John Hancock, a member of the Sons of Liberty, a participant in the Boston Tea Party, a major in the Continental Army and also grandfather of Moby-Dick author Herman Melville. He was fire warden of the Boston fire department from 1779 to 1821. The helmet had additional painted panels and decorative painting and bore the label of a Boston manufacturer of trunks. Six phone lines were active for the helmet.
The collection included several paintings, folk-art carved fire engines, a painted fire bucket with a portrait of John Stanhope Damrell, chief of the Boston fire department, who was called a hero of the 1872 Boston fire. It earned $2,340, and there were also lithographs, badges, fire-related photographs, fire horns, paintings of buildings on fire, including an unsigned one of a building in the New York city fire of 1835, done after a lithograph by J.H. Bufford.
Folk art offerings included traditional things like weathervanes, and decidedly nontraditional things. One of the traditional items was a weathervane with a 38-inch-tall Indian chief with a headdress and a bow and arrow, which earned $33,930. It was attributed to Mott, based on a catalog illustration and it had an old gilt surface. It was one of several weathervanes. As for the nontraditional, there was a large, colorful life-size carving of a motorcycle with King Neptune and a mermaid that had been created by inmates of the Maine State Prison. It was inspired by biker culture artist David Mann’s painting titled “Neptune’s Ride.” This one-of-a-kind carving was started in March 2006 and was completed in December 2006 with more than 1,500 hours of labor by inmates.
King Neptune, Shannon the Mermaid and the motorcycle were carved of 834 board feet of native Maine basswood. The carving was more than 6 feet tall, 5 feet deep and more than 10 feet long. It must be going to a large home or a museum, and its new owner paid $11,170 for it. Included was a book detailing the construction from start to finish. The proceeds from this sale will go to the state of Maine, since the carving was produced by inmate labor.
While on the subject of “large,” sitting outside the gallery was a hollow body, hand hammered American eagle weathervane with a wingspread of more than 5 feet and standing 7 feet 6 inches tall. It wasn’t terribly old but had a nice verdigris patina and sold for $2,925, probably a whole lot less than was originally paid for it. As for where it might go – that’s a good question. The traditional pieces included two carved fish market signs that had been used in Manasquan, N.J., from the 1930s through the 1950s. One in the form of a flounder sold for $3,510, and the other, perhaps a tuna, sold for $4,388.
Thomaston Place sales often include a variety of Asian and ethnographic items. This time, the most sought-after item in this category was a Thai niello legged compote with four elephant head legs and with silver and gold decoration on a black lacquer field. Dated about 1870, it realized $15,210, far over the estimate. Also bringing $15,210 was a Burmese sandcast head of the Buddha, late Toungoo period (1347-1593). It was bronze, with enameled eyes and wearing a distinctive headband with squared elongated ears, pierced for missing jewels. A pair of Chinese Nineteenth Century Qing dynasty porcelain bowls, with a Daoguang period mark (1821-1850) decorated with figural and landscape scenes, went out at $14,040.
A few days after the sale, Veilleux said, “You better believe we’re happy. It was like auctions used to be with plenty of active bidders. That fire helmet was incredible. I’ve never seen anything like it. I told the consignor that it should go for $100,000 and I was pretty close. The guy was delighted. The first day of the sale was primarily works by Maine artists and it was 92 percent sold. My wife, Cali, suggested that we should get more involved with works by local artists and she was right. The room was nearly full for all three days, and the three internet platforms and the phone lines kept everyone busy and created a feeling of very active participation. It was a $3 million sale – gotta love it. We’re going to get more involved with online-only sales, with a new division of the company, “Vintage Accents.” The first sale will be September 12 and will really be a continuation of this ‘Maine and Beyond’ sale. We had so much stuff that this made sense for us. It will be an ongoing project.”
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
For information, 207-354-8141 or www.thomastonauction.com.
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