Published: September 26, 2017
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack
CAMBRIDGE, MASS. – Prices continue to improve at New England auctions. At CRN’s September 10 sale, estimates were surpassed in several categories as bidder interest was strong. Although the attendance in the salesroom was not more than 40 or 50 people, several phone lines were in use throughout the sale and numerous internet bidders provided strong competition. American furniture prices were strong, paintings did well, Asian material exceeded estimates, as did silver, tea caddies and more. Auctioneer Carl Nordblom’s business model is different than some other auction houses. He owns a portion of the material he sells and is out shopping and competing for the merchandise he wants. The sales are fast-paced and very few items are passed. He was pleased with the gross of more than $550,000.
As expected, leading the sale were two works by self-taught artist Bill Traylor (American, 1854-1949), who was born a slave. Both were done about 1939-42 and had been stored away for more than 35 years. One, a pencil and crayon on cardboard, of a woman scolding (?) a man, finished at $39,600. The second, a gouache on brown paper, depicting a man, a snake and an unidentifiable beast, ended at $31,980. Both exceeded their estimates and each opened at $10,000. One sold to a phone bidder and the other went to an internet bidder.
Traylor’s work is well-known in the Outsider art world. There have been several solo exhibitions, and the Smithsonian is planning a major show of his work next year. From its website: “Traylor’s works balance narration and abstraction and reflect both personal vision and black culture of his time.”
Both Traylor works were from the estate of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Ed Giorandino, who had been a staff photographer for the New York Daily News. Giorandino’s son Frank inherited the Traylors in the early 1980s, at which time the works were tucked away, unframed and forgotten. Upon Frank’s death in 2015, his widow, for decades herself a collector of Americana and folk art, rediscovered the Traylors. Nordblom had sold other material for the family and they were comfortable having him sell the Traylors.
Good American furniture was strong at both the recent Northeast and Skinner sales and continued strong at Nordblom’s. At least four phone bidders competed with one in the room and one on the internet for a Philadelphia Chippendale mahogany serpentine chest of drawers, circa 1785. It was attributed to Jonathan Gostelowe, a contemporary of Philadelphia cabinetmakers Thomas Affleck, Benjamin Randolph and William Savery. His work was the subject of a 1926 article by Joseph Downs, who served as curator of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later at Winterthur, which appeared in the Bulletin of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There was an inscription inside the bottom drawer of the chest, which stated, in part, “This chest belonged to my mother from 1761…”. Estimated at $8,000, it quickly reached $21,600.
Also going well over estimate was an Eighteenth Century Newport Queen Anne mahogany wing chair, cataloged as “all original, pristine condition.” It brought $15,990. An internet bidder took a New England Queen Anne mahogany corner chair for $3,998. A diminutive Connecticut fan back Windsor armchair, circa 1775-1805, with scrolled ears, widely splayed legs and an old surface, went to Connecticut dealer Ryan Fox for $540.
Nordblom personally likes Nineteenth Century carved Chinese furniture and there were several pieces in this sale. He has developed a following for these pieces, and almost all brought prices in excess of the estimates.
Topping the selection, at $7,380, was an ornately carved Nineteenth Century settee with a dragon pierce-carved crest above a back carved with dragons, bats, three pierced carved medallions and ornately carved arms ending in dragon heads. The apron was carved with birds, and the cabriole legs had floral carved knees ending in large paw feet. It was more than 5 feet wide. Not far behind was a pair of carved hardwood display cabinets with double glass doors and an open carved crest and carved feet. The cabinets earned $6,600, while an ornately carved center table, with an inset marble top and gadrooned edge, overall open carving of dragons on the apron, leaves on the pedestal and legs ending in dragon heads, reached $4,500.
Nordblom sales often start with a selection of American and European paintings and lot #1, finishing at $10,200, turned out to be the highest priced painting in the sale. It was an oil on canvas by William Hahn (American, 1829-1887). Signed and dated 1872 and titled “A Prize Pair,” it depicted a pair of black horses, with three young boys in suits, one riding a wooden tricycle, a barn and a white dog. A portrait of Peter Allen, attributed to John Greenwood (American, 1727-1830), earned $4,500. Written on the reverse was some information about the sitter, indicating that he died in 1779. It had an Israel Sack provenance and had been pictured in volume I of American Antiques from The Israel Sack Collection. There were three works by French artist Paul-Emile Pissarro (French, 1884-1972), the youngest son of Camille Pissarro. This highest price of the three, $3,300, was achieved by “berge en fleur,” an oil on canvas.
Asian and other ceramics, did well, with three Twentieth Century pieces by Dutch ceramicist Karel Christiaan Appel (1921-2006) going to phone bidders. Primarily known as an Expressionist painter, Appel experimented with ceramics and sculpture. Selling for twice the estimate was a brightly colored 6-inch vase, decorated with four expressionist abstract faces, which finished at $3,300.
Chinese export porcelains included an oversized Nineteenth Century Rose Mandarin punch bowl decorated with panels of figures in garden pavilions, birds in flowering fruit trees and the interior was decorated with a continuous figural scene. It had a wide floral and butterfly border, was 21 inches in diameter and realized $12,000, in spite of a small, faint hairline. Ryan Fox, Stiles Antiques, Woodbury, Conn., bought three pairs of Rose Mandarin vases, paying $1,680 for a 17½-inch pair with applied foo dogs and dragons. A Meissen cabinet plate, hand painted with military scenes, including the Austro-Prussian war and the Boxer Rebellion, had more online bids than any other item in the sale, reaching $960.
Topping the silver selection, selling for $5,100, was a circa 1925 silver-plated fruit bowl marked with the monogram of noted designer Josef Hoffmann, and it was also marked “Wiener Werkstätte / Made in Austria / 900.” A 9½-inch George I silver side-handled chocolate pot, made by J. Marsh of Exeter, circa 1725, finished at $4,920. It contained 21 troy ounces of silver, had a raised molded cover with finial, scrolled goose neck spout and a molded stepped base.
After the sale, Nordblom said of the results, “I was really glad to see the American furniture do as well as it did. It feels like that market may be turning around.” He added, “The Chinese furniture was well received, and, of course, I’m pleased with what we got for the Traylors. Some things may have slid under the radar, but overall, it was a good sale and prices were where they should have been.”
For additional information, www.crnauctions.com or 617-661-9582.
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