Published: October 3, 2017
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Rago Auctions
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. – It was a long and gratifying weekend for Rago Auctions as the firm played host to a seven-section sale over the weekend of September 22-24. More than 1,400 lots crossed the block throughout the three days, spread between three single-owner collections in addition to the firm’s usual “Mid-Mod,” modern ceramics and glass, early Twentieth Century design and Modern design sections. When the dust settled, the auction weekend grossed a total sales figure of $6,035,844, including the buyer’s premium.
With an 82 percent sell-through rate, David Rago, partner and co-director of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century decorative arts and design departments, was content with the results.
“It was like a war, and we definitely won,” said Rago following the sale. “We sold most of the major items and we got a lot of play on everything else. We didn’t win every battle, but any time we do $6 million in a weekend, we’re pretty happy.”
The sale was led with a piece of furniture that Rago knows quite well: a Paul Evans sculpture front cabinet that went out the door at $200,000. The sculpture front cabinets remain the highest-priced works of any produced over the New Hope maker’s lifetime, and Rago has sold more than 20 of them. Some vary by color, subject or the stylized elements that pattern the face, but this one was special due to its size. The hanging cabinet measured 98½ inches in length, making it longer than most others the artist produced. Due to their nature, Rago rarely sells more than one to the same buyer. “That’s the thing about a piece this size, this massive, this brutal – you’re kind of one and done,” he said. The cabinet takes the sixth highest Paul Evans result in the auction house’s history.
Another Evans piece raised a few eyebrows in the sale, a patinated green copper, enameled wood and marble top cabinet that brought $37,500 and sold to Dorsey Reading, Paul Evans’s lead fabricator and shop manager. Rago said, “Dorsey walks in and I said to him, ‘I assume you made that.’ He said he did and that he would, in turn, be buying it back. And he did. Reading said it was the only one, a one-of-a-kind piece, and in all my time, I’ve never seen that technique or that patination on another. People just loved that.”
The second highest result in the design sale went to contemporary master Wendell Castle. Castle’s trompe l’oeil furniture stands separate from an oeuvre that mainly explores the free form. But representationalism looked good on him, and his well-known Ghost Clock is a testament to that, sitting on the second floor of the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A $53,125 result for a lifelike carved wood umbrella stand, circa 1977, stood in agreeance.
One of the strongest areas of the sale emerged in early Twentieth Century lighting, with a Greene and Greene lantern that went sky high, eclipsing the $60,000 high estimate to bring $143,750.
“I’m always surprised when I get anything by [Greene and Greene],” said Rago. “What does come out usually stays in California. But this is two auctions in a row that we’ve had exceptional results for this material. There’s not a lot of it out there, it’s always hard to find.” The 1903-04 lantern came from the Jennie A. Reeve house in Long Beach, Calif., and featured a yellow-green slag glass shade held in a copper frame with foliate overlay under a pagoda-style roof and hung from a set of four chains. While other architects of the period ventured into commercial production, Greene and Greene never did, instead opting for site-specific, unique decoration that never saw the light of the day outside of their commissions.
From the same period, Buffalo, N.Y., maker Charles Rohlfs accounted for five lots in the sale, four of which sold. At the height of the offerings came an impressive carved and cutout, tall back hall chair that featured red enameling. It brought $46,250 to a phone bidder. “On a scale of 1 to 10, it was a 9½,” said Rago. Another standout was an oversized sofa from the Danziger collection with a chestnut, slatted frame and curvaceous arm supports along the outside walls. In a bidding war between a designer and a museum, the museum took it home at $28,750.
The single-owner sales logged higher sell-through rates than the general sections, with 89 percent for the Mark McDonald collection, 92 percent for the Danziger collection of early Twentieth Century design, and a near-perfect 97 percent for the Lexora collection of Lalique glass.
The Lexora collection saw four pieces of Lalique exceed $20,000. At the top was a Tortues vase featuring textured, repeating turtle shells bulging throughout the entire body in a purple-hued Alexandrite glass, which finished at $30,000. Behind, a red Escargot vase sold for $25,000, a bright blue violet Martin-Pêcheurs vase brought $23,750 and a dark amber Serpent vase achieved $20,000.
“Ever since Mark [McDonald] and his partners Ralph Cutler and Mark Isaacson opened Fifty/50 gallery in New York on June 17, 1983, with the first-ever Eames retrospective,” said James Zemaitis in the sale’s catalog foreword, “Mark McDonald has been synonymous with museum-quality works of 20th Century Modernism.”
The McDonald section was the second sale from the prolific dealer’s inventory, the first at Sotheby’s in 2011, and maybe his last, or perhaps second to last. McDonald’s spirit in the field may well never cease. The section was led with a rare Kem Weber ‘Silver Style’ four-piece tea set with stepped bodies that resembled the towering skyscrapers emerging in the late 1920s skyline. It was only the second complete set to appear on the market and, accordingly, it brought $46,875. Following behind was a first edition Eames ESU-400 standing cabinet that doubled the high estimate to land at $36,250, and a Nakashima Conoid coffee table in walnut and rosewood that found a new home at $30,000.
“We have the highest sell-through rate of any regional in the country,” said Rago. “The sale attracted six different museums bidding in the auction. Overall, the market seems pretty solid.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.
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