Published: October 16, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy Marion Antiques Auction
MARION, MASS. – Frank McNamee and Dave Glynn are co-owners of Marion Antiques Auction. The company usually mounts two to three sales a year, with nearly all merchandise coming from local estates. To say they were surprised by one of the last lots in the October 10 sale would be an understatement. A drawing of an unidentified gentleman, initialed I.L. and dated 1652, had a brief description and an estimate of $200/300. After about ten minutes of bidding, the drawing sold for $514,800.
At the $200,000 point, Glynn, who was conducting the auction, paused to say, “It looks like we underestimated this one.” After the sale, we asked a specialist in Old Master drawings if he could provide additional information. “I think the drawing is by Jan Lievens [1607-1674], a close colleague of Rembrandt. It is consistent with other signed portrait drawings by him. His portrait drawings are rarely on the market, and the price is consistent with a similar drawing, which I think was in the Taubman collection. I suspect it went to a private buyer or dealer.” Additional research indicates that the three-quarter length drawing was possibly a study for a portrait Lievens did of Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp, commander of the Dutch navy and victor in major battles against both Spain and England. Works by Lievens are in several prominent European museums. The drawing was well publicized, appearing in all the presale advertising, and photographs were emailed to buyers the company thought might be interested.
An interesting group of material came from the estate of Sir Robert Marx, an internationally known explorer and marine archeologist who wrote more than 50 books and hundreds of articles. Marx led the excavation of the sunken city of Port Royal, Jamaica, and discovered more than 5,000 shipwrecks in more than 60 countries, including the HMS Bounty. He also organized two voyages of Viking ships from Europe to America to demonstrate the possibility of pre-Columbian trans-Atlantic contact. There were more than 50 of his nautical charts sold, divided into several lots. Ten Nineteenth Century charts of various locations earned $2,808. Two late Eighteenth Century heavy bronze ships’ spikes recovered from the HMS Bounty sold for $3,744. The Marx collection included several large Roman amphoras dating to around 50-100 CE that sold in the $300 price range, One, possibly a little later than the others, and possibly from a shipwreck, brought $878.
Staying with the nautical items in the sale, included was a collection of about a dozen Nineteenth Century navigating instruments. Topping the group was a cased inlaid ebony and whalebone octant with a scrimshaw dial. One of the whalebone inlays bore the initials “S.M.S.” It reached $11,115. A Nineteenth Century whale’s jawbone, more than 9 feet long, sold for $1,287. A near pair of giant clam shells, the larger being 31 inches wide, realized $1,872. An unusual sailor’s valentine with flowers and vines, dated 1858, in a rectangular frame, realized $3,510. Of the four large lithographs of Fall River Line steamers, the Mammoth Palace steamer Bristol, after a painting by Fred Pansing, finished at a reasonable $644. A companion lithograph by Currier & Ives depicting the steamer Pilgrim finished at $566.
The sale included a selection of more than 100 paintings, European and American, from Roger King Fine Arts of Newport, R.I. One of the paintings in that consignment, and not the most expensive, had a fascinating background. It was a small oil painting by Charles Henry Gifford, (1839-1904) depicting a setting sun over a river landscape in Fairhaven, Mass. It sold for $3,627. But the interesting part of the story is that the painting had belonged to the family of whaling Captain George Anthony of New Bedford, Mass., who helped organize and participated in an adventure that could be made into a movie. In 1876, Anthony’s ship Catalpa rescued six Irish Feninian prisoners from the notorious British penal colony in Western Australia in a ship masquerading as a whaling vessel. The ship, at the time serving as a merchant ship, had been bought specifically for the purpose of rescuing the prisoners. Captain Anthony refitted the ship as a whaler, actually engaged in whaling for a short time, and then participated in the carefully planned rescue. A 2013 article in Smithsonian Magazine called it “The Most Audacious Australian Prison Break of 1876.” It’s doubtful that the history had anything to do with the selling price, but the painting’s new owners can enjoy knowing its place in history.
The selection of American and European paintings was varied, including marine scenes, portraits and landscapes. Some were by local artists. Another Gifford, this one in a period gilded frame, a scene of a man in a sailboat at sunset, signed and dated 1880, brought $3,744. “A Reflective Moment,” showing a well-dressed woman reading a book on a porch by Italian artist Ludovico Cremonini (1815-1914) earned $2,925. A beach baptism scene titled “Baptism at Fort Phoenix” by Clarence F. Braley (1858-1925) depicted a well-dressed group of men and women on a beach and realized $2,808. Fort Phoenix was a Revolutionary War fort and is now a state park in Fairhaven, Mass.
Paintings also included a group of more than 20 miniatures from the same home as the Dutch drawing. Eliciting the most interest from bidders was an Eighteenth Century miniature of George Washington, signed Prewitt, likely to be William Prewitt (dates unknown), which realized $2,106. An unsigned miniature of Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, as a young officer, reached $410, and a Nineteenth Century miniature of an elderly woman wearing a bonnet, signed P.F. Cooper, reached $761. Cooper’s works are in the Smithsonian Museum and the National Portrait Gallery.
An unusual collection of more than 60 figural thermometers came from a local estate and included some rare examples. Some were sold singly, while others were sold in lots of three or four examples. A 10-inch gilt-metal obelisk form surmounted by an eagle brought $234 and a Grand Tour-era black stone example, inlaid with a pietra dura floral design, finished at $188. A 9-inch French bronze obelisk led the collection, finishing at $264. Lots with three or four examples sold between $100 and $300.
After the sale, McNamee said that he had been concerned about the auction being conducted without the normal gallery full of buyers. “There were six people in the audience, and we had 16 staff members present, but I’m pleased with the way the sale went. It was a first time for us, selling in the COVID era, but we used three internet platforms, several phone lines and we had plenty of absentee bids.
The early drawing was a late consignment, coming from the same home as the collection of portrait miniatures we sold. We were actually called in to look at a collection of hand-painted Limoges the woman, now about 90, had collected. We know that Limoges is out of favor today, but there were other good things. I had a good feeling about the drawing, and once we started publicizing it, we learned more about it and knew it would do well. We had a gross of more than $300,000 without the drawing, so together, it was strong day for us. The furniture did better than we thought it might, and the nautical collections and ephemera were strong. The figural thermometers didn’t do as well as we thought. There were some rare ones in that group, and there were other good buys throughout the sale. Our next sale will be in a building I recently bought that was once part of the Marconi wireless campus. It’s a wonderful old building and has plenty of space, which will make everything simpler for us.”
All prices include the buyer premium as stated by the auction house. For more information, www.marionantiqueauctions.com or 508-748-3606.
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