Published: August 17, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Rafael Osona Auctions
NANTUCKET, MASS. – “It was an exciting two-day sale, with competitive bidding in all categories,” said Carolyn Walsh, director of exhibitions and marketing at Rafael Osona Auctions, commenting on the firm’s event on August 7-8. A high point during the first day of the auction was the sale of a pair of Eighteenth Century Chinese export porcelain baluster vases with covers over the telephone to a long-time Osona friend and gentleman collector, intended as a surprise gift for his wife. Reaching $54,900 all-in, the 21-inch-high vases featured blue underglaze, ten cartouche-shaped on-versa pieces reserved from a chicken skin ground, applied leopard handles, foo lion finials and were embellished with gilt detailing.
Osona’s signature August sale is known for presenting a wealth of offerings from far-reaching corners. On offer over the two days were choice properties that ranged from Rembrandt etchings to Abraham Lincoln and Civil War US Treasury “redbacks,” several works by leading “Nantucket Renaissance” painter Anne Ramsdell Congdon (1873-1958) and the Cape’s own Ralph Eugene Cahoon Jr (1910-1982), collections of Canton and Chinese export porcelains and lots of scrimshaw and sailor-made items.
The first day was led by a Cahoon oil on Masonite, “The Sea Fairies,” depicting a view of three mermaids on a buoy, lighthouse and clipper in the distance, which sold for $67,100. It was inspired by lines in an Alfred Tennyson poem: “white limbs, unrobed in a crystal air, sweet faces, rounded arms, and bosoms, prest to little harps of gold,” and it was signed lower right R. Cahoon, in a molded gilt frame, 31 by 24 inches. Selling to a local collector on the Cliff, it was one of three paintings offered by Ralph Cahoon and the cover piece for the catalog.
There was a rare opportunity for collectors seeking works by Congdon; of six paintings of hers in the sale, four had been given to a relative by the artist and had descended in the family to the present time. They were being offered to coincide with a recently opened exhibition, “Anne Ramsdell Congdon’s Nantucket Renaissance” presented by the Nantucket Historical Association. Congdon was active on Nantucket from 1926 through the late 1940s.
The top selling Congdon work was an oil on board “View from Mill Hill,” with figure, presumably Ruth Haviland Sutton in the foreground and Nantucket harbor in the distance. In a molded wood frame, unsigned and measuring 14¼ by 18½ inches, the painting was bid to $61,000 by a local collector. Also by Congdon and taking $42,700 from another collector, was the oil on board “Killen’s Wharf,” 1934. In between the cottages on Killen’s Wharf, the green stern of the fishing boat Doris can be seen, one of Congdon’s favorite subjects. The painting was signed and dated lower right and was 9½ by 8 inches, minus the frame.
Cape Cod, summer and Cahoon go hand in hand. In addition to the top selling “The Sea Fairies,” there was more from the artist among the highlights. An oil on Masonite, “Quail Hollow” is a charming scene depicting three mermaids selecting fruits and vegetables from a quaint farm stand, “Quail Hollow,” in Sandwich, Mass. The painting was set in a Nineteenth Century oak leaf carved frame with gilt liner. It changed hands at more than $30,000.
Fetching more than $20,000 was “Sailor’s Surprise,” an oil on Masonite with a Chinese export interior scene in which a sailor and his mermaid sit at her chinoiserie dressing table overlooking the Hongs at Canton, China. Fittingly, it was presented in a carved and gilt Chinese export period frame, circa 1800, signed lower right R. Cahoon.
Known for his signature luminous coastal scenes that feature an iconic red-sailed catboat, Modernist Robert Stark, Jr (American, 1933-2014) was represented in the sale by an oil on canvas “Red Sail Off the Point,” depicting the boat on calm Nantucket waters, luminous sky overhead. Signed lower left R. Stark and in molded gilt frame measuring 16½ by 28½ inches, the painting sailed to $30,500.
Significant among the Chinese export porcelain on offer was a set of 13 Rockefeller pattern dishes, circa 1805, comprising two small platters bearing arms of Seton of Abercorn. Each piece was enameled in Mandarin palette with a different vignette of figures at various pursuits, iron-red landscapes alternating with sepia riverscapes and vignettes of birds in wooded settings. The set displayed varying states of wear to enamels and gilding; one was plate cracked and glued, and three had hairline cracks. Despite the minor condition issues, bidding was contentious for the lot and the set was bid to $28,575, more than ten times high estimate.
On Day 2, the marine auction’s scrimshaw category was led by a historically relevant pair of sperm whale teeth, circa 1846: one depicted a 28-star American flag above a portrait of George Washington – presumably commemorating the annexation of Texas to the Republic. The companion tooth was engraved with a courting couple, the reverses showing American and French barks, circa 1846. The antique patriotic whale tooth realized $7,930; the same collector bought a pair of polychromed Nineteenth Century whale teeth for $10,370.
Prices, with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house.
For additional information, www.rafaelosonaauction.com or 508-228-3942.
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