Published: May 18, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Stair
HUDSON, N.Y. – “I’m not petrified now,” Colin Stair said the week after his May 6 auction, in which he offered 376 lots from New York City-based antiques dealer Niall Smith in a sale titled, “The Neoclassicist: Niall Smith.”
He explained further. “Niall comes across in person as rather terrifying and wonderful all at once. I really wanted the sale to do well, and I don’t think it could have done better. He’s ecstatic and I couldn’t be happier. I gave it my all from the day we picked it up to the day of the sale. We really went after the decorator market and got lots of kudos from them and Instagram posts, which helped spread the word.”
Part of the efforts Stair and his team put forward included featuring on the Stair website a video interview between Niall Smith and author and antiques dealer Angus Wilkie, who met Smith in the late 1970s. The video is worth a watch and we called Wilkie for some of his remembrances of the man behind the collection.
“I’ve known Niall a long time – 40 years at least. He’s quite a character, quite eccentric but a very hard worker, with an indefatigable, voracious eye. He can be a formidable person and sets very high standards, so I know Colin wanted to do well for him. Dealer auctions can be tricky, but it was a very strong sale and I think he’s very pleased with the results.” Wilkie noted that when the idea of selling Smith’s shop inventory arose, he brought Stair in. “Colin went through and said he’d take it all. He really did a broom-sweep.”
It may have been the broom-sweep of the century.
The sale was successful by any yardstick, with more than 96 percent of lots selling for a sale total of $1,019,670 against an aggregate low/high estimate of $406,500/676,800. Stair noted that not only did international bidders participate heavily, but 20 percent of all bidders had never participated in a Stair auction previously.
English furniture secured several of the top prices, with a pair of Regency giltwood and ebonized convex mirrors leading the sale with a result of $29,520. Stair attributed the price to the rarity of surviving pairs of convex mirrors. A decorator on the West Coast paid $19,680 for a pair of Scottish George IV carved mahogany console tables made from particularly fine timbers. Quality was also a factor in the price achieved by a George IV mahogany center table, in the manner of Charles Heathcote Tatham (1777-1842), a British architect who studied classical architecture in Rome and Turin, Italy, in 1794. A trade buyer in New York City paid $17,220 for it.
“Grand Tour was what he is known for. I’ll never have that quality and quantity again,” Stair said, referring to the Neoclassical souvenirs – typically models in stone and metal or fine art – that were acquired in the late Nineteenth Century and early Twentieth Century during a cultural tour of Europe by young well-heeled American and English men as part of their education. While the collecting category is rather old-school and has not yet captured the attention of young collectors, Stair had ample competition for the superlative examples on offer.
A large late Nineteenth Century Italian micromosaic picture of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine that Smith had acquired nearly two years ago from an auction at Freeman’s exceeded the high estimate and sold to a local private collector for $18,450. A trade buyer from Sweden pushed bidding on an Italian Sienna marble and porphyry sarcophagus-form model of the Tomb of Agrippa to $14,750. A private collector in Canada took two hand colored engravings of ancient Etruscans, Greeks and Romans by Sir William Hamilton (1730-1803) to $11,685, just ahead of the $11,070 paid by a private collector in Connecticut to acquire an Italian School gouache on paper night view of Naples.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, 518-751-1000 or www.stairgalleries.com.
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