Published: April 11, 2017
Review and Photos by Greg Smith
WOODBURY, CONN. — It was a nice surprise to see roomfuls of modernism on offer at Schwenke Auctioneers, a contrast to the usual for the auction house in the heart of the “Antiques Capital of Connecticut.” When the right estates converged on Tom Schwenke, the auctioneer saw the opportunity to create a first for his firm: a 366-lot Modern & Design sale of fine art, furniture and objects, all hailing from the Twentieth Century.
It does not take long for an auctioneer to learn new material. “It’s a lot of fun, and a challenge at the same time, to get into new areas,” said Schwenke. “And the nicest part about it is the learning curve. In this industry, we’re all quick studies.”
This is the firm’s second foray into a midweek sale, the first having come in February with another specialized sale that featured Asian and ecclesiastical material. Standing at the podium before the sale started, Schwenke said, “We’ve resisted the trend to online auctions because we see the live auction as a service to our consignors, but we’re considering everything now.”
Indeed, a Wednesday afternoon sale was a hybrid of the online-only model and a live sale, as it precluded those with work obligations from attending but provided them with the opportunity to preview beforehand and bid online or by absentee and phone. More than 6,500 online bidders were checked in for the auction and many of those people found no qualms with leaving bids online. A number of the lots had plenty of presale interest, a few with 20 or more bids before the lot even crossed the block.
An expert of Federal furniture, Schwenke had never seen so much color in his auction gallery. “It was a blast,” he said. “That auction hall looked so good I couldn’t believe it.”
The sale featured a number of consignors from around the tri-state area, including one from 35 Sutton Place in New York City, private collections in Scarsdale and White Plains, N.Y., and another from Southbury, Conn. One of the largest troves of modern and contemporary artworks in the sale came from an unnamed New York interior designer, architect and author.
The sale’s top lot went to a Pablo Picasso “Face and Owl Vase” that quadrupled the high estimate and went out at $25,620. The piece generated solid presale interest, reaching 16 bids and $16,000 on LiveAuctioneers alone before the sale had started. It took form on a partially glazed earthenware vessel and, as the name would suggest, the piece featured a human face on one side and the full body of a perched owl on the other. The work was editioned 96/200 with the Madoura stamp, executed in 1958 and stood 9½ inches high. It was sold to a phone bidder from France against the internet and another phone bidder, making its way back home to where it was made. The work came from a New Haven estate and had been in the family for a while, according to Schwenke. Also from that estate was another Picasso work, an earthenware “No. 86 Bird Plate,” 10-inch-diameter, that depicted a white standing shore bird. It landed just above the high estimate at $3,048, scooped up by an internet bidder in England.
Twentieth Century Georgia (American) artist Lamar Dodd received a complimentary result for a cityscape that brought $12,065 over a $2,000 high estimate. The piece featured black outlined buildings in gray and white with splashes of colors before a yellow sky. It had been entered into the 1952 Southeastern Annual Exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and will return to that city in the care of its new owner who resides there.
Modern furniture from Milo Baughman, Melchiorre Bega, Tommi Parzinger, Lorin Marsh, Eero Saarinen, Rene Prou and others found solid results that were in line with the currently consistent modern market.
A set of six “X” back dining chairs in mahogany by Tommi Parzinger for Charak Modern went just over high estimate at $2,795. Designers like Parzinger have a universal appeal across genres, his work exhibits a proper modernism that can fit in with both eccentric pieces and reserved settings alike.
Falling into that same genre was a Donghia sectional sofa that brought $2,040. The piece had more than 20 bids across the platforms prior to the sale and reached just over high estimate. It was upholstered in a textured diamond lattice cream fabric.
“I don’t want to sell these if they’re not going to bring a lot of money,” said a consignor to Schwenke, in regards to a set of ten reference books on French designers. He replied, “What’s ‘a lot’?” “I don’t know,” the consignor said. Now they do. The lot wound up at $2,074, fitting nicely within the definition of “a lot.” The group featured books on Rene Herbst, Sieges D’Emilio Terry, Jean Royere, Jules et Andre Leleu, Maxime Old, Gilbert Poillerat, E. Printz, Andre Arbus, Jacques Quinet and Pierre Chareau.
A marble occasional table on a conical base rose up in surprise to many, besting the $400 high estimate to land at $2,928. The table had a very clean form, from the warm beige color to the fact that not a single other material, aside from marble, could be seen on the piece from any angle.
Thick Lucite seems to draw the attention of nearly every designer these days and a pair of table lamps in the sale were no exception. Rising above a $700 high estimate to land at $1,920 was a pair of solid Lucite table lamps with double sockets on a chrome stem and finial.
Signed to a friend of the designer on the underside of the seat, a Ross Lovegrove “Go” chair received interest and competitive bidding from the room before it went to an online bidder for $570. The chair has received a few design awards, including best of NeoCon in 1998 and named as one of Time magazine’s best products of the year in 2001. To the bottom of the seat, Lovegrove wrote in marker, “For my great friend Tom, Organic Dreams. Forever. NY, May 005, Ross.”
Two lots from Italian ceramicist Bruno Gambone found new owners in the sale. Finishing at $1,080 was a monumental vase that stood 27½ inches high with a white glaze and design to the center of the body that resembled a vertical standing building. In another lot were two smaller vases, each with the same rectangular body and black glaze but with different incised designs to them. They brought $420 together.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. The firm’s next sale is on April 26 and features fine Americana and folk art. For general information, www.woodburyauction.com or 203-266-0323.
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