Published: February 5, 2019
Review and Photos by Rick Russack
PITTSFIELD, MASS. – John Fontaine was lucky on January 19. A major winter snowstorm that had been predicted for the weekend held off until late Saturday evening. The forecast may have kept some people from attending the sale – the crowd in the room was not large – but that did not appear to have significant impact on the prices.
The 455 lots included a Russian carved amber chess set, which was the highest grossing item in the sale, Belter and other quality furniture of the period, a collection of early cellos, paintings, Tiffany lamps, jewelry, Grand Tour marbles and bronzes, Black Forest carvings, a carved walnut figure that had belonged to Katharine Hepburn, gold coins, silver, European porcelains, some odd-ball items and much more. There were a number of large, quality decorative items. Catalog descriptions were thorough and detailed. About a dozen items finished with five-figure prices. Three internet platforms were in use and phone lines were busy. The sale grossed $1,000,044.
Russian objects led the day. At $54,450, the top price of the day, was a carved amber chess set attributed to master carver Alexander Krilov, (or Krylov) whose works are in the restored Peter the Great’s Eighteenth Century Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace, St Petersburg. The chess pieces were carved as imperial Russian figures, 32 of the playing squares were decorated with reverse-etched battle scenes, and the set was housed in a four-drawer case with carved finials. It included a set of checkers as well. Also included with the chess set was a 13-inch amber carved figure of a well-dressed woman on a plinth, signed and dated by Krilov. Finishing at $6,655 was a large silver kovsh with hand-chased filigree, a bezel set with nine colorful gemstones and an imperial double-eagle figural handle. It was stamped in Cyrillic with the hallmark of Peter Carl Faberge. Selling for the same price was another Russian silver kovsh engraved with multiple names inscribed in Cyrillic lettering and with the maker’s mark of Mikhail Ovchinnikov. Two boxed Order of St Vladimir medals earned $9,680.
Bringing the highest price of the European paintings was a Russian landscape by Ivan Fedorovich Choultse (1874-1939). It was titled “Autumn River,” set on a riverbank with sunlight highlighting the trees in their fall colors. It realized $42,350. A colorful winter landscape by Russian American artist Constantin Alexandrovitch Westchiloff (1877-1945) brought $3,328, and a marine painting by Hungarian American artist Albert Szatmar Nemethy Sr (1920-1998) of the steamer Trojan, which belonged to the Hudson Navigation Company, reached $2,118.
Four of a small group of early cellos brought five-figure prices. They came from a New York home and had been collected by the consignor’s father, who stopped buying in the 1950s. Since then, they had been stored in a closet. At $42,350, sharing honors with the Russian painting as the second highest price of the day, was an early example with an old finish, signed and dated on a paper label indicating it had been made by master violin and cello maker “Carlos de Tononi fecit Bononiae in Via S. Maniuli, 1706.” Interestingly, before his death, Tononi modified his will to provide for his funeral, requesting that the proceeds from the sale of one of his cellos be used to pay for the funeral mass. A later example by the same maker, dated 1730 and not in as good condition, realized $22,900. The collection included other cellos, including an example by Vienna maker Michael Ignatius Stadlmann (1756-1813). It was signed on a paper label “Michael Ignatius Stadlmann Kaiserl. Konigl. hof Lauten und Geigenmacher in Wien 1808” and it sold for $29,040.
Fontaine’s sales often include Tiffany lamps and quality Victorian furniture. This sale included pieces made by John Belter, Horner, Wooten and others, and lamps by Tiffany and others. Fontaine took a moment to discuss a large J.H. Belter pierced and carved “Fountain Elms” laminated rosewood sofa. It was more than 88 inches wide and the defects, which were minor, were meticulously described in the catalog and online. He mentioned that although the upholstery was in tatters, it was the original covering of the piece – a rare occurrence. It sold within estimates, bringing $23,595 from a phone bidder.
Other Belter pieces included a “Fountain Elms” side chair with original finish, which attained $4,840, and a “Milwaukee” armchair with a heavily carved open back and original finish, which realized $7,260. A heavily carved R.J. Horner “Winged Griffin” partners’ desk with original finish reached $9,680. It was 56 by 37 inches. A refinished walnut Queen Anne three-hinge Wooton desk with minor condition issues earned $3,933. There was also a massive, heavily carved quarter-sawn oak dining table, more than 6 feet wide with 15 leaves, which would open to 22 feet. It finished at $5,445. One can only imagine the home that it came from. A Tiffany & Co. nine-tube grandfather clock in a heavily carved oak case, attributed to R.J. Horner, had a 12-inch dial and Westminster chimes. With original finish, the clock brought $11,495.
Tiffany lamps included a Spider table lamp and a double student lamp with 12-inch Acorn shades. The Spider table lamp, with a 15-inch shade went out at $15,125. The catalog noted that it had 41 pieces of replaced glass. The double student lamp, with ten heat cracks, finished at $6,353. Both were signed on shade and base. A 24-inch-diameter leaded hanging lamp shade in the colorful Grape pattern and made by John Morgan & Sons of New York City earned $4,840, well over the estimate.
Appropriate decorative items included bronzes, marble sculpture and large pieces of ceramics. A huge pair of two-tone bronze, six-light gas floor torchieres, more than 6½ feet tall and decorated with mythical faun busts and gilt-bronze filigree arms, realized $27,225. A cobalt blue Zsolnay vase, just under 32 inches tall and decorated with three-dimensional sea shells on a signed matching base 34 inches tall, attained $6,050. An unsigned carved alabaster statue, “The Rape of Polyxena,” more than 6 feet tall with its base, sold for $10,285, and a large Black Forest carved hall tree with large figure of a bear looking up a tree at a bear cub, both with glass eyes, realized $7,260.
A few days after the sale, Fontaine said that he thought it had been a good sale. “I was surprised at some of the prices for the Oriental rugs,” he said. “A Heriz, [about 10 by 12 feet] sold for more than $6,000. That’s the kind of price we used to get for them a few years ago. The Russian things did well, and I knew the chess set would be a home run. Anytime we go over a million, I’m satisfied with the day.”
Fontaine’s is a family business. John Fontaine’s parents were in the antiques business and his father conducted auctions. Almost 50 years ago, at the age of 12, his father had him do some selling, and he’s been doing it ever since. He has also co-authored a book on Handel lamps. Daughter Mia is the office manager and her sister Dina and brother John both work for the company, which runs about six sales a year. Mia’s daughter, three-year-old Maria, who entertained the audience with her singing, may one day be the fourth generation of the family to be involved with the business.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.fontainesauction.com or 413-448-8922.
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