Published: February 23, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Brunk Auctions
ASHEVILLE, N.C. – Brunk Auctions offered 335 lots in an Emporium sale on Thursday, February 11 and an additional 830 lots in a two-day Premier sale Friday and Saturday, February 12-13. Of the 1,163 lots that crossed the block, nearly 95 percent of them found buyers and the house achieved a $4,390,197 sale total, well ahead of its approximately $2/3 million estimate. Bidding was available on three online platforms with more than 3,000 registered online bidders who competed against absentee and phone bidders; in-the-room bidding is still prohibited.
“We had tremendous interest leading up to the sale; it was exceptional,” Andrew Brunk said. “It was a remarkably strong sale from front to back. We had critical mass and we offered previews by appointment; a lot of people took advantage of that and made the trip to see things. We’re getting a lot of signs of real strength in the market.”
Brunk Auctions is the latest auction house to offer works from the estate of Robert K. Johnson, this time more than 135 lots from his Aiken, S.C., house were on offer on the first day of the Premier sale, spanning the categories of silver, Chinese export, carpets, porcelain, glass, books and English and Irish furniture. This last category saw particular strength, capturing several of the sale’s top prices, including the highest price in the sale – $159,900 – for an Irish George II carved mahogany side table that the catalog described as “rare.” The table had previously been offered for sale at Sotheby’s New York in 1992 where it was acquired by Mallett, Inc., who sold it to Johnson. In addition to that, the table had been featured in an exhibition titled “Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690-1840” at the Art Institute of Chicago and illustrated in Irish Furniture by The Knight of Glin and James Peill. It had been estimated at $30/50,000, a value enticing enough to attract phone and internet competition from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. It sold to a collector in the United States who was bidding on the phone.
“I wasn’t really surprised. He had very deep pockets and bought the best from some of the top dealers. There were a lot of ‘A-plus’ quality objects and the response shows there’s money out there for top quality things in almost every category. It really had the attention of the market and we had a lot of international interest,” Brunk said, reflecting on the response to items from Johnson’s estate.
The luck of the top lot stayed with several other pieces of Johnson’s Irish furniture in the sale. An Irish George II mahogany games table, circa 1740, that had also been exhibited in the Art Institute of Chicago exhibition as well as featured in Irish Furniture brought $86,100 from a trade buyer in the United States bidding on the phone. Two pairs of Irish armchairs were offered separately, both from a large set of seating furniture commissioned by Joseph Leeson, the first Earl of Milltow for Russborough in County Wicklow. One pair brought $56,580, more than three times its high estimate, from a trade buyer in the United States who also acquired the other pair for $54,120.
Johnson’s taste in mirrors was exemplary. A pair of China trade painted mirrors, both the circle of Spoilum, one depicting a view along the Pearl River at Canton, the other showing the Hongs of Canton, was characterized as rare and brought $123,000 from an international trade buyer, bidding by phone. If those mirrors were not to your taste, perhaps a pair of George III carved giltwood mirrors attributed to William and John Linnell, circa 1765, that descended in the Bowes family and relate to a pier glass mirror at Uppark in West Sussex, as well as a white-painted example acquired for Burghley House in Lincolnshire by the Ninth Earl of Exeter. A trade buyer in the United States, bidding by phone, prevailed, taking the pair to $56,580.
“I was very happy to see that there was lots of private collector interest in the sporting pictures. It’s been a part of the market that’s been a bit anemic. The condition and quality were good and the connection to the duPonts didn’t hurt,” Brunk said of sporting art, which was another dominant category in the sale. More than a dozen lots were from a duPont family estate in Charlottesville, Va.; the collection featured works by some of the most prominent sporting artists, including John Emms (British, 1843-1912), John Frederick Herring Sr (British, 1795-1865), George Armfield (British, 1808-1893), George Wright (British, 1860-1942), John Sargent Noble (British, 1848-1896), Michael Lyne (British, 1912-1989) and Jules Moigniez (French, 1835-1894). Leading the category was John Emms’ painting “New Forest Buckhounds and a Terrier in the Kennel After the Hunt,” which achieved $147,600 from a private American collector bidding online; it was followed by a painting of a rooster with two hens by John Frederick Herring Sr, which flew to $41,820 from a trade buyer in the United States, bidding on the phone.
According to Brunk, the most buzz in the sale circled around a William and Mary table from Boston, circa 1710-30, which was one of about 90 lots of ceramics, late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth Century American furniture and early British and American paintings from the collection of Dudley and Constance Godfrey. The Godfrey’s had acquired the table at a Skinner sale in 1995 for $8,000. The table related to one owned by the Taradash family, an example handled by Sack that differed in the shaping of the top and rails, which is now in a private collection. Because the table was “so over the top and so good,” people had some concerns but Brunk sent the table to Susan Buck at Williamsburg, who did scientific analysis that confirmed that the top and rails were original. It brought $133,300 from a private American collector who beat out several other collectors. Other notable results from Godfrey’s collection were a William and Mary desk and bookcase that sold to a private collector for $36,900, while ceramics from the Godfrey’s collection was led by a circa 1702-17 English salt-glazed silver-mounted stoneware jug, probably London, that went to an American private collector for $14,760.
The second day of the Premier sale saw offerings of craft and Modern art, Southern and American decorative accessories, furniture, and Native American artifacts, with Southern furniture being one of the marquee categories. The day was led by a Federal walnut desk and bookcase, possibly made in the Athens, Ga., area, circa 1800, that came to Brunk from a private Georgia collection. The piece is documented in the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts and according to Brunk’s catalog, is arguably one of the finest surviving Georgia desk and bookcases from the Federal period. After heated competition, it sold to Colonial Williamsburg for $98,400, nearly four times its low estimate.
Tara Chicirda, Colonial Williamsburg’s furniture curator, said “We’re really excited to acquire this piece. It is the first high-style piece of Georgia furniture to enter our collection and was an opportunity to get a new furniture form from the Georgia Piedmont. Not only does it have design influences from Charleston – with specific links to the work of Robert Walker’s shop – but the interior of the secretary comes directly from a London design source. We are able to acquire this secretary and bookcase through the generosity of donors who have provided dedicated gift funds for furniture acquisitions: The Sara and Fred Hoyt Furniture Fund and the TIF Foundation in memory of Michelle Iverson. Like all of our Georgia furniture, this secretary will be available to view on our online catalog (emuseum.history.org) once it has been fully photographed and cataloged. It will appear in future exhibitions in the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.”
Other examples of Georgia furniture followed. A Federal sideboard brought $39,360, a Federal dining table made $8,610, and a small inlaid writing table for $12,600. North Carolina examples could be found in a Queen Anne walnut tea table for $29,520, an inlaid Pembroke table at $15,990, and a tall case clock with an arched dial, the boss inscribed Marcel Boloquet New Bern, that timed out at $9,840. Virginia furniture was best represented by a Queen Anne mahogany drop leaf table from Virginia that finished at $22,140.
Fine art on the last day was indisputably commanded by French/Japanese artist Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968) who was represented by just six works but of which, three brought prices that placed them in the top ten lots for the day. “Bathing Nude” brought $73,800, “Vierge à l’enfant” rose to $56,580, while “Chaton (Kitten)” purred to $51,660. All of the works in the sale by Foujita were from the same collection, had been acquired directly from the artist and all had been examined by the authority on Foujita.
“We had good retail interest in the Cropsey, Durand and McEntee; all three sold to private collectors. Twentieth Century works of art were also really solid,” Brunk said referencing highlights on the last day, which included several Nineteenth Century landscapes by American artists as well as Twentieth Century works of art.
Noteworthy additional results include an Art Deco mixed metal panel by Winold Reiss (German American, 1886-1953), which had been designed for the Alamac Hotel in New York City and executed by Ormos & Bardosy in 1924. Titled “The Falconer,” it flew past its high estimate and landed with a private collector in the United States, bidding online, for $27,060.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Brunk Auctions’ next sale will offer a Virginia collection of coins and is currently March 12-13.
Brunk Auctions is at 117 Tunnel Road. For more information, www.brunkauctions.com or 828-254-6846.
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