Published: October 8, 2019
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Skinner Inc.
BOSTON – Skinner began its fall season September 26-27, with a two-day auction of American and European works of art, offering a variety of prints, photographs, paintings and sculpture from Old Master through contemporary.
The top lot in the sale was an unframed, unstretched oil on canvas from Norman Wilfred Lewis (1909-1979), which sold for $183,000. The 38-by-56-inch work dated to 1966 and was estimated at $10,000. It was consigned from a private Massachusetts collection. Lewis helped form the artist collective Spiral, which took focus of the African American artist’s role in the Civil Rights Movement and the art world in general. The painting was executed in the year that Spiral disbanded.
Making big waves in the sale was modern art like the Lewis work and Wolf Kahn’s (b 1927) “Purple Tree Screen,” at $35,670, an example of the luminous landscapes for which Kahn is best known. One of the sale’s key components, however, was a selection of about 25 works from the collection of the late Justin “Bud” Lyman Cobb III, rich in marine paintings, New England landscapes and coastal views and illustrations by artists including Clifford Ashley, Harry Neyland, Aldro Hibbard, Emile Gruppe, Antonio Cirino, Anton Otto Fischer and Jack Lorimer Gray, among others.
Cobb, who was 92 when he passed away this past April 21, had 40 years in the antiques business, operating Captain’s Quarters Antiques in Amherst, Mass., and exhibiting choice marine paintings and sailor’s and ethnographic art at many shows throughout the Northeast. His specialty in maritime art and folk art combined his love of the sea with a fascination with history. A tireless traveler to antiques shows throughout New England, he was a familiar face at auction houses across the region.
On the show circuit, Cobb developed a wide network of fellow collectors and dealers and assembled a collection of marine and landscape paintings by artists prominent in these themes from auction houses, art dealers and private collections across New England. He was naturally drawn to the classic ships portraiture of W.P. Stubbs, S.F.M. Badger and others who so evocatively captured the Golden Age of Sail in New England, but thanks to his early upbringing in Vermont and Massachusetts, he also developed an interest in the natural environment, the countryside, villages and harbors. He was drawn to artists like Emile Gruppé, Carl W. Peters, Aldro Hibbard and the Modernists of the Cape Ann School.
Robin Starr, Skinner’s vice president and director of American and European works of art, characterized Cobb as an “Old School” dealer. “In many ways, this was a nostalgic collection of lovely, accessible, mostly well-known but secondary artists,” she said.
For example, she added, there were about a half dozen of the illustrative paintings by Anton Otto Fischer (1882-1962), whose “Fire Aboard Ship,” bringing $3,075, captured the drama of a shipboard conflagration in the 20-by-40-inch oil on canvas. It was signed lower right, titled and dated 1925 on a label from Schoonover Studios Ltd, Wilmington, Del., affixed to the back of the frame.
Autumn in all its splendor was captured in Harry Neyland’s (1877-1958) appropriately titled “Autumn’s Splendor,” aswirl with the rich golden and orange hues of the season. Signed “Harry Neyland” lower right, the 18-by-24-inch oil on canvas left the gallery at $6,765.
Used as an illustration in a 1931 Berwind-White Coal Mining Company calendar for January, February and March, Clifford Ashley’s (1881-1947) “Bark Canton Outward Bound from New Bedford,” oil on canvas, 27 by 36 inches, sold for $3,321. It was signed “CW Ashley” lower left. Ashley was an American artist, author, sailor and knot expert, whose Book of Knots was an encyclopedic reference manual with directions for and illustrations of thousands of knots.
Cobb was not married to all things maritime, as evidenced by an Aldro Thompson Hibbard (1886-1972) winter landscape, “Sawmill at Winter,” that captured the chilly silence of the dormant operation. Signed “A.T. Hibbard” lower right, with two stamps from the artist’s estate and four authentication stamps from Elaine Hibbard Clark on the reverse and on the stretcher, the 24-by-32-inch oil on canvas realized $3,567.
There were two works from Antonio Cirino (1889-1983) in the sale. The top selling one, bid to $1,230, was “Fishermen in a Boat,” signed “A. Cirino” lower left, with labels from the Darvish Collection and DeBruyne Fine Art, both Naples, Fla., affixed to the backing. The other, bringing $738, was a snowy landscape, “Two Bridges in Lincoln, Rhode Island,” an oil on canvas measuring 20 by 24¼ inches.
By Emile Albert Gruppé (1896-1978), the Cobb collection contributed “Covered Bridge, Winter,” signed “Emile A. Gruppé” lower right, oil on canvas, 20 by 24 inches at $4,305 and “Harbor View,” an 18-by-20-inch oil on canvas that made $3,998.
Not part of the Cobb collection, a large (18 by 30 inches) oil on canvas by Fitz Henry Lane, “Vessel Returning from Surinam,” depicting sailing vessels tossed on ocean waves under cloud-filled skies with a view to a distant coast and lighthouse, sold for $92,250. A native of Gloucester, Mass., Lane was a highly regarded Nineteenth Century painter and lithographer noted for his marine and coastal scenes.
Ralph Eugene Cahoon’s “A View of Provincetown, Mass,” was another maritime highlight outside of Cobb’s collection, the oil on Masonite depiction of the harbor teeming with ships, sailors and fanciful mermaids going out at $24,600.
Beyond these and the aforementioned Lewis and Kahn works, Starr said she was thrilled by the performance of the prints session on September 26, which totaled more than $600,000 for 155 lots, with a 91 percent sell-through rate.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium, as stated by the auction house. For more information, www.skinnerinc.com or 617-350-5400.
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