Published: July 3, 2007
Skinner opened the summer season with a June 3 sale rich in American portraiture, large and small. The 670-lot session totaled $2,360,939, including buyer’s premium, the tally helped along by record auction prices for two Boston wall clocks by E. Howard.
Primitive likenesses by Ammi Phillips, Robert Peckham and Zedekiah Belknap, along with miniatures by Mrs Moses B. Russell, led the way. A new discovery, a pastoral view inscribed “The House that Jack Built,” signed “W.M. Prior” was off to Nantucket following its sale to a collector for $24,675.
“We are happy with results. As with any auction, there were highlights, wonderful surprises and some bargains in the mix,” said Skinner executive vice president Stephen Fletcher. Furniture in less-than-perfect condition was, on the whole, a good buy.
The session got off to a good start with four miniature watercolors on ivory attributed to Russell. The first, a double portrait of Nellie and Fanny Hall, went to the phone for $15,275. Later, a mixed group of European and American miniatures consigned by a descendant of the miniaturist Martha Buttrick Willson Day drew bids ranging from $147 for an Italian miniature on ivory of a boy in blue to $5,581 for a cased, circa 1820, miniature of a gentleman wearing a stickpin.
The big news was Skinner’s cover lot, a beautiful portrait of 16-year-old Augusta Maria Foster, painted around 1836, most likely by Ammi Phillips. The work is from the itinerant’s desirable Kent period, known for its elegant and highly stylized juxtapositions of well-dressed women and dark, monochromatic backgrounds.
The painting, which depicts Foster in an off-the-shoulder beige dress edged in lace, is closely related to one auctioned by Sotheby’s in January for $264,000 and to another, illustrated in American Anthem , that is in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.
“Augusta Maria Foster,” estimated at $40/60,000, sold by phone for $314,000 to two dealers bidding in partnership. The underbidder was portraits specialist Joan Brownstein. The Newbury, Mass., dealer studied the painting, which had been laid down on Masonite, at great length. She concluded that minor condition issues †subtle background work and in-fill in the upper corners of the canvas †were inconsequential relative to the overall strength of the image. Phillips’s handling of the sitter’s neck and shoulders is, in this instance, particularly successful.
The other key portrait, Deacon Robert Peckham’s 1831 depiction of four children of Oliver Adams of Bolton, Mass., was a gem of historical documentation, capturing in its many details a landscape view, interior decoration and the names and birth dates of the children pictured, as well as others deceased. Based on its past success with Peckham, Skinner put an estimate on the canvas, later laid down on Masonite, at $150/250,000. The 26¼-by-21¼-inch work passed in the room, but later sold privately to a Texas collector for $116,000.
“It is a real New England portrait of a family †charming, gentle, beautifully composed, near perfect in its palette with perhaps a hint of melancholy,” said Fletcher.
A Belknap girl with a doll, $31,725, rounded off Skinner’s portraits selection.
Attributed to Midwestern painter Charles A. Vaughn, “Sunday Morning in The Kitchen,” a Kentucky genre scene, was acquired by an institution for $29,375.
Skinner’s reputation for clocks has grown since specialist Robert Cheney joined the firm. This round, the Brimfield, Mass., expert parlayed two E. Howard of Boston clocks to record auction prices. The first was a No. 36 Wall Regulator, a circa 1889 example in near mint condition. It went to a phone bidder for $143,500, more than quadrupling its high estimate. Selling points included an astronomical dial and a four-jar mercury pendulum with etched grape leaf designs.
“This clock was cared for, but not too cared for,” said Cheney, whose father and grandfather were familiar with the piece, long in Worcester County, Mass., going back to the 1930s. A second Howard clock, a No. 10 or Figure 8, fetched $12,925.
“Howards have been aggressively collected for years. Good condition is what is really sought these days,” Cheney explained.
Dating to circa 1765, a Chester County tall case clock by Isaac Thomas (1721‱802) of Willistown, Penn., brought just over high estimate, $64,625. Thomas is known for his quirky sarcophagus hoods.
Furniture, particularly if refinished or with minor repairs or restorations, seemed a bargain. A beautifully proportioned Chippendale cherry desk and bookcase with a bonnet top, flame finials, fluted pilasters and paneled doors sold to an Illinois collector for $9,988. The piece was refinished and had restorations to its base.
Skinner offered an assortment of candlestands from $500 and up. Three high chests of drawers, two of them bonnet tops, brought prices ranging from $23,500 to $28,200.
Essex, Mass., furniture authority Clark Pearce claimed a reeded mahogany drop leaf table attributed to Thomas Seymour for $24,675. Two other Seymour pieces, a dressing chest and mirror, garnered $16,450, and, late in its period, a carved Seymour sideboard brought only $3,055.
Chairs spanned the gamut. Three elegant Rhode Island Federal side chairs with kylix splats doubled their high estimate, going to $52,875, notwithstanding a replaced crest on one chair; six bow back Windsor side chairs in green paint fetched $19,975; and ten tiger maple seats with boldly scrolled arms and saber legs made $9,988.
American pottery remains a bright spot in the market. The brightest of all was a rare green glazed redware jar with lid, 10½ inches tall, that sold to Massachusetts dealer David Wheatcroft for $29,375.
Mocha was also well received. Highlights among nearly 30 pieces included a barrel-form seaweed decorated jug, 67/8 inches tall, that brought $8,225.
Marine and China Trade items included two companion Rafael Corsini gouaches depicting the American bark Juniata in the port of Smyrna, $27,025 and $11,750; Antonio Jacobsen ship’s portraits of the Larchmont , $24,675, and the Circassia , $32,900; a China Trade oil of the Centennial in Hong Kong, $23,500; and Ralph Cahoon Jr’s “Sailors Netting Fish and Mermaids,” $23,500. Only 2¾ by 33/8 inches, an unillustrated and unattributed oil on board painting depicting sailboats at sunset took the audience by surprise when it crossed the block at $19,975.
Other surprises included a mid-Twentieth Century eagle plaque by Artistic Carving Company, $18,800; a decorated slide lid box, ex collection of Don Walters, $16,450; an unusual molded copper sphinx weathervane estimated at $6/8,000 that brought, $76,375; and a carved wooden automaton clock, ex collection of Allan Katz, $21,150.
Prices include the buyer’s premium. For information, 617-350-5400 or www.skinnerinc.com .
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