Published: September 26, 2023
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring; Photos Courtesy Nye & Co
BLOOMFIELD, N.J. — Nye & Co welcomed September with nearly 1,000 lots offered in its Estate Treasures Auction, September 13-15; by the time the final gavel fell, the house had sold a combined total of approximately $780,000. The sale marked almost exactly 20 years since John Nye opened his own auction house, following a tenure at Sotheby’s in New York City that concluded with him helping oversee the Americana department.
“Twenty years ago, I sat in my new office and thought, ‘Hmmm. This is going to be fun.’ It’s still fun! Going out on house calls is fun, dealing with people is fun. It’s a bit more confusing because the market has changed in that one doesn’t always know what will ‘pop’ or not. One of the biggest sea changes has been the move to online auctions, which happened before Covid, but which allowed auctioneers to keep selling. We’ve been rolling with the punches and adapting as things change…and will keep doing so.”
He characterized the $1.1 million realized in 2018 for Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Unconscious Patient (An Allegory of the Sense of Smell),” which he discovered in a New Jersey basement, as “a life-changing event.”
Most auctions don’t unearth surprises at quite that level, but Nye was still pleased with the results of this most recent sale. A sizeable chunk of the offerings — about 375 in total — were from a private Princeton, N.J., collection, which had been assembled over the second half of the Twentieth Century by one of New Jersey’s preeminent industrial families. The family’s matriarch donated her house and contents to benefit an educational institution.
A significant number of the sale’s top lots were from the Princeton collection, including the top lot that was offered on the first day, a luminous composition by Le Pho (French/Vietnamese, 1907-2001), “Mother and Child, ‘Le Couture,’” an oil on silk composition that was dated during the artist’s Romanet period. After considerable interest in the form of absentee bids, it soon came down to a battle between online and phone bidders, finally going to a bidder in California bidding on Invaluable, for $115,200, nearly doubling its estimate.
Following in price was Severin Roesen’s (American, 1815-1872) vertically oriented floral still life that achieved $44,800 and sold to a private collector in Florida. It was one of three works by the artist, though the others were two horizontally oriented examples featuring fruit in reticulated baskets that sold for $21,760 and $23,750.
Nelson Shanks (American, 1937-2015) is best known for his nudes and portraits of such celebrities as Princess Diana, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Luciano Pavarotti. Nye’s sale offered his 1973 portrait of a parrot on a birchbark stand, which was also from the Princeton collection and additionally boasted provenance to the Fair Gallery and Allentown Art Museum. It flew from its $3/5,000 estimate to $28,125 and a new home with a Midwest collector who outbid a phone bidder who had known the artist.
Not all of the Princeton collection was fine art. Topping the collection’s selection of decorative arts was a silver gilt box with singing bird that Nye and his colleague, Andrew Holter, carefully took apart to discover it was signed and numbered by Charles Bruguier (Geneva, 1788-1862). According to Nye, it received “lots of presale interest, finally selling to the London trade” for $25,000.
A week prior to the sale, the New York Times ran the obituary of a woman named Patricia Caulfield. This relates to the sale in that she was the photographer and a top editor of Modern Photography in the 1960s who sued Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987) for using her photo of hibiscus blossoms for his famous “Flowers” series. One of Warhol’s offset lithograph prints from the series was offered in Nye’s sale and sold to a private collector in Florida for $25,600.
There are surprises in every sale and in Nye’s estimation, one of the biggest ones of this particular one was the $16,640 realized for a center table made by Gerald Bland that had been expected, prior to the sale, to sell between $400/600. Characterized by Nye as “the ultimate make-do,” it was constructed from a drop-leaf table on a black metal base. Bland was formerly in the English furniture department at Sotheby’s but has, since 1987, owned a company that offers, according to the firm’s website, “one-of-a-kind pieces created by melding antique and contemporary elements.”
Nye has included in four previous sales traditional American furniture from the collection of Providence, R.I., dealer and collector Stanley Weiss. Nearly two dozen lots from Weiss crossed Nye’s block in this sale, led at $10,625 for a Classical rosewood and mahogany grand harmonicon that Nye said was “a rare form.” It was labeled Francis Hopkinson Smith (1792-1872) of Eastville, Va., dated to circa 1830 and was probably made in Baltimore. According to the catalog note, there are about 30 of Smith’s harmonicons known to survive. It sold to a private collector in the South who beat out lots of competition.
Nye & Company’s next Estate Treasures auction will take place October 18-19.
Prices quoted include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. For information, email@example.com, 973-984-6900 or www.nyeandcompany.com.
December 5, 2023
December 5, 2023
December 5, 2023
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm