Published: March 10, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy of Kaminski Auctions
BEVERLY, MASS. – Paintings topped both days of Frank Kaminski’s February 22-23 sale. Provenance was especially impressive, and there were treasures both days. The sale included selections of Asian and European porcelains from the estate of Alfreda Rochelle Thomas, whose family had been one of the world’s largest dealers in fine porcelains and antiques going back to 1859. She was a collector of paintings, especially still lifes, and prices were strong. There were also numerous items that had been owned by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and items from the estate of Nelson Rockefeller. These offerings were supplemented with additional Asian items, other paintings, quality custom made furniture and more. The crowd in the salesroom was not large, but there was internet activity on almost every lot, plus active phone bidding and absentee bids.
A Nineteenth Century China Trade painting brought the highest price of the Asian items sold on the first day and turned out to be the highest price of the sale. Titled “Kitchen of a Mandarin’s Palace,” the oil on canvas had been purchased at Sotheby’s in 1985 and had previously been exhibited at the 1979 Berry-Hill Galleries show “Merchants, Mandarins and Mariners: Nineteenth Century Paintings of the China Trade.” As might be expected from the painting’s title, it showed a kitchen scene, with some of the people eating and some working. It exceeded its high estimate of $9,000, finishing at $31,200. Leading the second day was a painting by German artist Lovis Corinth (1858-1925), whose work synthesizes impressionism and expressionism. Selling for $21,600, the painting was a scene of two white horses plowing a field, guided by a farmer. During Germany’s Third Reich, Corinth’s work was condemned by the Nazis as degenerate. In 1937, Nazi authorities removed 295 of his works from public collections, and transported seven of them to Munich, where they were displayed in March 1937 in the “Degenerate Art Exhibition.”
Several pieces of Asian porcelains sold on the first day were pleasant surprises, far exceeding their estimates. A Chinese blanc-de-chine vase on a wood stand with a Daoguang mark on its base, 12¼ inches tall, was estimated at $1,800 but earned $26,400. Also selling well over the estimate was a 15½-inch Chinese blue and white dragon vase painted in deep blue with dragons and flower scrolls below bands of ruyi heads. With a blue Qianlong mark on its base, it brought $8,400. Also doing well was a Nineteenth Century famille rose brush pot with lotus flowers and ancient poems. It was signed Xiyuan, with a copper-red seal mark and sold for $4,500, well over the $800 estimate. Select Asian books also did well. A Japanese 12-volume boxed set on calligraphy labeled “Library of Yamanaka & Co.” earned an unexpected $4,200. No publication data was provided.
Much of the Asian porcelain sold on the first day and most of the porcelain sold on the second day came from the personal collections of the late Alfreda Rochelle Thomas of Palm Beach, Fla., who died in 2019. She was once married into family that owned and operated J. Rochelle Thomas, Inc. , a dealer in fine porcelains and works of art, holding royal warrants from the Queen Mother and Queen Mary (both of which sold separately in this sale). The firm was founded in London in 1859, later opening stores in New York City and Palm Beach. The firm sold to, and advised, some of the wealthiest collectors of the Twentieth Century. Several items in the sale were things that Alfreda had purchased at Sotheby’s single-owner sales of the collections of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Nelson Rockefeller and others. She also purchased at other New York auction houses. Some of her paintings had been bought at the Hammer Gallery, and some original bills of sale were available to buyers. She had the good taste and the financial means to own the best of whatever she was interested in.
Bringing the highest price of items in the Rochelle Thomas collection was a coffee table with a pietra dura inlaid top. It had a central cartouche of a floral designs and side panels with birds and vines. The mahogany base had a carved apron and cabriole legs. It earned $18,000. Rochelle Thomas had a particular liking for paintings by Fernand Renard, a French painter (1912-1990) best known for his still lifes. She owned about a dozen of his works, several of which were in this sale. Many were hung side by side during the preview. Renard had been born in Paris and believed he was destined for better things, although his first commission was for a large poster of Laurel and Hardy. He was a prisoner during the war, 1939-1945, and he later achieved success with numerous solo shows after being released. Kaminski’s prices generally exceeded other recent auction sales. “Bouquet au Vase Bleu” realized $6,600. It had been purchased in 1968 from Hammer Galleries for $11,000. Renard’s painting of an interior earned the same price and a similar scene had been sold by Doyle’s in 2013 for $1,375. Rochelle Thomas also collected works by Bradi Barth (1922-2007) and Fleur Cowles (1908-2009). Cowles was fond of painting big cats surrounded by floral compositions. Her “Crowned Tiger” brought $1,920, well over the estimate. Not from the Rochelle Thomas estate but selling for $16,880 was an unsigned work by Benjamin West (1738-1820), labeled on the back “Achilles standing over the body of Hector,” then “Seige of Troy – Sir Ben West.”
Rochelle Thomas had an interest in British royalty and bought several items at the 1997 sale of the property of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. One item, a circa 1920 belt clasp of the Welsh Guards with the Sotheby’s tag still attached, realized $450. It was bought by a satisfied collector in the room with an interest in military items. He had done his homework on the item and located a December 8, 1947, copy of Life magazine picturing the duke on the cover, with the clasp. The sale also included the boxed, two-volume set of auction catalogs for the Windsor sale, which sold for $150. Other items related to the English royal family included the signed royal warrant by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother appointing J. Rochelle Thomas “Dealers in Fine Porcelain,” granted to Alfred Peter Rochelle Thomas, June 1953, which realized $510, and another dated 1951 by Queen Mary, with the same subject matter. It brought $360. An interesting chair probably went to a happy buyer. When, in 1981, Prince Charles married Diana Spencer, the government of Bermuda commissioned a set of four Chippendale-style side chairs with specially embroidered seats as a wedding present. Only two of the four are in private hands and the one that Kaminski had earned $840. There were books relating to Diana and some on English porcelain. Sevres porcelain of Buckingham Palace and Windsor Palace, from the collection of J.H.B. Webster, published in 1870, finished at $330.
A few days after the sale, Frank Kaminski said, “I really had fun with this sale. Going through the [Rochelle] Thomas estate was like treasure hunt. I never knew what might be in the next closet or in the next drawer. That’s what makes this business so interesting. The sale ended up very well for us, and more than 500 bidders competed. I thought prices were strong, especially on some of the paintings and also on the Asian material. I’d have to say we’re pleased.”
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For information, 978-927-2223 or www.kaminskiauctions.com.
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