Published: February 7, 2012
This year, Christie’s scheduled a series of sales of American furniture, folk art, silver and related Chinese Export art that stretched from Thursday, January 19, to Tuesday, January 24. Including a complete set of John Jay Audubon’s Birds of America , the week generated $24,816,375 for the Rockefeller Plaza auction house. As they say in New Orleans, laissez les bons temps rouler.
Birds Of America
Justly celebrated as a landmark accomplishment, Audubon’s pictorial record of the continent’s native fauna has been prized ever since engravings of the original watercolors first began appearing in the 1820s. Complete editions of Audubon’s Birds of America sold publicly in 2000 and again in 2010, when examples realized $8,802,500 and $11,542,683, successive auction records for printed books.
Christie’s had high hopes for the Duke of Portland set, so called because the 435 hand colored engravings bound in gilt-tooled morocco leather were most likely acquired by the fourth duke soon after 1838. The four, double-elephant size volumes had remained in the family ever since. Estimated at $7/10 million, the set, which was marketed with a standalone, hardcover catalog, sold to a private American buyer for $7,922,500, making it the third most costly printed book at auction.
Townsend Documents Cabinet
Milwaukee, Wis.-based Chipstone Foundation is known for taking bold direction. The decision by its board of directors to sell an apparently unique blocked front, shell carved documents cabinet signed by the master himself, John Townsend, prompted enthusiasts of Eighteenth Century American furniture to ask, “Why?”
Reached in Milwaukee, Chipstone’s executive director Jonathan Prown explained that the foundation funds a range of educational initiatives while still actively collecting.
“The simple truth is that Chipstone is an organization that has continued to grow and evolve. We have multiple examples of Rhode Island block and shell furniture. We wanted to raise a substantial amount of money to expand our holdings of contemporary craft, an area of programming for us,” said Prown.
The diminutive Newport, R.I., cabinet is Townsend’s earliest known work with a tripartite block and shell façade, dating to 1755 to 1765. Chipstone Foundation founders Polly and Stanley Stone originally bought the piece from John Walton. Dealer G.W. Samaha tendered the winning bid here of $3,442,500, making it the second highest price at auction for the maker and the top lot at Christie’s January Americana sales.
Collection Of Mr And Mrs Joseph K. Ott
Auction catalogs have come a long way in recent decades. Containing a well-written preface by Yale’s Garvan curator of American decorative arts Patricia E. Kane and an excellent profile by Christie’s consultant Martha Willoughby, Christie’s meticulously assembled guide to the collection of Mr and Mrs Joseph K. Ott is a lasting contribution to American decorative arts scholarship.
Known socially as Darby, Joseph Ott was born in Providence, R.I., in 1929 and was active in the state’s cultural life, serving as president of the Rhode Island Historical Society between 1970 and 1973. A lifelong enthusiast of Rhode Island decorative arts, he and his wife Anne restored a historic house on Providence’s Benefit Street, filling it with Rhode Island furniture of the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.
Word has it that both houses were eager to sell this storied assemblage, but landing the collection may have come at a cost. The Ott collection was 53 percent sold by lot, 51 percent sold by dollar. Nearly half of the 51 lots offered failed to find buyers on the first go round, a result that the trade attributed to steep reserves. Several major successes nevertheless brought the overall total to $3,746,750.
“While the market was selective, we are very honored to have represented the Ott family and are pleased by the result of the marble top table by John Goddard, which set a record for the form at $2,098,500,” said John Hays, deputy chairman of Christie’s North America. Other choice specimens included a Newport dining table, attributed to John Goddard, with open talon ball and claw feet, $542,500; a hooped arm Rhode Island armchair with a lobed back, one of two known, $362,500; and a Rhode Island tall case clock in a shell carved case with works by Seril Dodge of Providence, $242,500.
Christie’s small selection of silver was well-received, with 76 lots generating sales of $2,028,000 and resulting in a very modest buy-in rate. Not a year for early silver, pieces by Tiffany & Co. carried the day, accounting for eight of the top ten lots.
Interestingly, the appeal of the series’ most contested offering was historical, not aesthetic. A silver-plated Sheffield wine cooler and four bottles ordered by George Washington for Mount Vernon shot up to $782,500, selling to Gary Hendershott, a Little Rock, Ark., specialist in historical Americana. Hendershott’s chief competition came from Seth Kaller, a historical documents dealer from New York. What makes this cooler especially desirable is that Washington gave it to his friend and colleague Alexander Hamilton, who served with Washington as secretary of the treasury from 1789 to 1795.
Chinese Export Art
“All the ingredients of success were in the salesroom today †excellent quality, great rarity and the provenance of a wonderful, old collection,” specialist Becky MacGuire said of Christie’s single-owner, cataloged sale on January 24 of Chinese Export porcelain from the collection of the 11-term congressman from New Jersey, Peter H.B. Frelinghuysen, the grandson of collectors Henry and Louisine Havemeyer and the nephew of Shelburne Museum’s founder, Electra Havemeyer Webb.
Assembled with the help of David Sanctuary Howard, the late British authority in armorial wares, the Frelinghuysen collection realized $1,109,250 on 139 sold lots. Only 21 lots passed.
The top lot was a spectacular hong bowl of circa 1785. At 16 inches in diameter and decorated with views of the Canton waterfront, including the hongs of Sweden, Britain and France, it sold to an American collector for $104,500, well exceeding the $40/60,000 estimate.
Frelinghuysen delighted in rare subjects. Novelties included a circa 1775 punchbowl decorated with a view of Gray Monk’s Square in Copenhagen, $74,500; two unique enameled dishes, $35,000, bearing detailed views of the Whampoa Anchorage and the hongs at Canton; a unique, circa 1800 depiction of golfers on a Scottish links-style course, sold to the US trade for $32,500; and a pair of circa 1784 “Battle of the Saintes” bowls, $32,500, depicting the famous British naval victory.
Buoyed by international demand, Christie’s various owners session of Chinese Export art reached $1,287,375. MacGuire noted interest in high-quality famille rose porcelain, followed by classic China Trade painting and Qianlong period porcelain birds and animals. A pair of famille rose jardinières led the session, selling to a European collector for $146,500, nearly trebling the high estimate.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.christies.com or 212-636-2000.
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