Published: November 23, 2010
Gene Shapiro is sitting pretty in the heart of Manhattan’s “Art Capital” these days, having established a niche for fine art auctions here nearly a year ago, after earning a following for fine art, primarily for Russian paintings.
Already well known to collectors of Russian art, Shapiro held his most recent auction on November 3, the second in his new auction gallery at 506 East 74th Street, which handily proved that his collector base is growing and expanding.
When asked about his future plans for the auction house, Shapiro said, “We were very happy to see a lot of new buyers from the Upper East Side and around Manhattan visit us during the exhibition and participate in the auction. Our permanent location in Manhattan is quickly becoming a new destination for the enormous collector base of Manhattan.”
The November auction was dubbed a success by Shapiro, who said the auction had a good crowd in-house and heavy action on the phones and online from international buyers. The top lot, not surprisingly, was Russian avant-garde artist Aristarkh Lentulov’s oil on canvas, “Avtoportret s naturschitsami (Self-Portrait with Artist’s Models),” 1917, which had five phone lines on it at one time and achieved $50,400.
The painting came out of a private collection and with a certificate of authenticity and, in the end, was repatriated to Russia.
Shapiro was born in Russia and immigrated to America at the age of 3 with his family, so his affinity for Russian art is obvious. While Russian artists may dominate the headlines and an auction’s “top ten,” choice European and American paintings are liberally offered here.
“We concentrate heavily on Russian art, it is our main specialty, certainly not our only specialty, though,” he said. As evidence of that point, an oil on canvas by Sigmund Menkes (Polish American, 1896‱986) titled “Seated Girl with Pitcher,” was a standout in this auction, nearly doubling its high estimate to realize $11,400. The painting is on its way back to Poland.
American artists were also well represented in the sale, led by an oil on linen laid down on Masonite by Provincetown artist Robert Bliss (1925‱981), whose erotic “Three Standing Boys,” fetched $11,400, and Thomas Sully (1783‱872) with a widely exhibited oil on canvas portrait of Ann McCrea Foster Wirgman, 1842, 20 by 17 inches, that brought $7,800.
A pair of John Francis Murphy (American, 1853‱921) paintings, both titled “House in Montigny,” 1886, featuring similar views of the same house, were small gems in the auction. The 10¼-by-14-inch oil on canvas paintings each sold within estimate at $3,000. “They were exquisite little works and had a lot of interest,” Shapiro said, noting the paintings bore the Babcock Galleries label.
Russian bronzes always perform well at Shapiro Auctions, and the category leader was Evgeny Alexandrovich Lanceray’s bronze “Peasants from the Province of Riazan returning from the Fields,” 1871, 12½ inches tall, that performed solidly within estimate, selling for $27,000. Another Lanceray bronze, “Cossack Bidding Farewell,” 15 inches tall, achieved $14,400.
Proving interest also ran high to European bronzes, a fine bronze with a medium brown patina by Antonio Pandiani (Italian, 1838‱928) crossed the block. “Beethoven,” 373/8 inches, inscribed on the base, was a sale standout, selling just above its estimate at $10,000.
Besides the top-grossing Lentulov, several other Russian artists played a major role in the auction, including auction favorite David Burliuk (Russian American, 1882‱967), who was represented in the sale with two paintings that performed above estimate, each selling at $16,800. The oil on canvas works had a lot of impasto, and were reminiscent of van Gogh, who was a chief inspiration for Burliuk. “Greenpoint, Long Island,” 1946, came out of a New Jersey collection and sold to an international buyer and “Still Life with Flowers,” 1945, had ACA Galleries provenance.
Other Russian paintings that did well were Richard Karlovich Zommer’s oil on canvas “Bedouins at a Campsite,” which took $12,000, Grigory Kapustin’s “Nochnoi Lov (The Night Catch)” at $11,400 and Sergei Soudeikine’s oil on Masonite, “The Singer,” which doubled its low estimate to sell for $10,800.
As Shapiro’s collector base grows, it is also expanding. Known mostly for fine art †whether Russian, European or American †decorative arts, which was a small portion of his auctions, is growing exponentially in interest.
“We did mostly paintings before. We are now branching out into decorative art and decorative art is doing very well,” Shapiro said. Several fine examples were represented in this auction and buyers can expect to see even more in the future.
Coming out of a Washington, D.C.-area collection was a Russian gilded silver and cloisonné enamel set of 12 spoons and two tea glass holders, Ivan Saltykov and N. Alekseev, that realized $8,400.
A decorative arts highlight was a Shashka saber, Dagestan, late Nineteenth Century, that was a real sleeper. The Kubachi-style engraved and niello mounts sword with numerous inscribed designs along the blade was conservatively estimated at $500/700 and went out at $6,600.
A single-owner collection of some 75 early Soviet posters was the last across the auction block and performed well overall, with nearly every example selling above estimate. “Krasnaya Armiya Yavlyaetsa / Armiey Bratstva / Mezhdu Narodami (The Red Army is an “Army of Brotherhood” among the nations)” was estimated at $400/600 and attained $1,560.
Other posters in the collection that soared above estimate included “Tyly Voyuyut (Behind the front lines, they are fighting)” illustrated by Alexander Dovgal and a Ukrainian poster, “Viyut Vitry, Viyut Buyny, Azh Derev’ya Gnutsa (Tempestuous winds are blowing, making trees bend before them).” Each was estimated at $500/700 and fetched $1,560.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
Gene Shapiro will hold his next major auction in February. For more information, www.geneshapiro.com or 212-717-7500.
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