Published: June 16, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Millea Bros., Ltd.
BOONTON, N.J. – Categories were strong across the board at Millea Bros. Ltd.’s two-day “Select” auction June 4-5, with a total of 711 lots on offer. More than 92 percent of the sale sold from the podium, with a cumulative total of $2,147,740, nearly doubling the sale’s $1,220,900 cumulative high estimate. Bringing the most was a recently discovered early masterpiece by Russian painter Konstantin Andreevich Somov (1869-1939), which sold halfway through the second day of sales to an international buyer for $510,000. The work, considered the earliest example of a theme that Somov returned to repeatedly, had been exhibited in “Russian Art Exhibition” at Grand Central Palace in New York City in 1924, auctioned at Anderson Galleries in 1926 and had been in a private collection ever since-its whereabouts unknown.
The sale, which had initially been scheduled to take place in May, was delayed so final cataloging and photography could be done and made more difficult because of COVID-19 limited staffing. Side effects of the pandemic could be seen with the lack of a public preview, though specific items could be viewed by appointment, and bidders were not allowed to be present in the saleroom during auction. On the flip side, the house welcomed new bidders and buyers through increased registrants for online bidding. When asked about the distribution of buyers, the house said that in general, American art, antiques and design works sold to American buyers while the tribal and European items mainly sold internationally.
Mark Millea was upbeat a week after the sale. “As concerned as we were, this turned out to be a great sale for us. COVID has changed the way we conduct our lives and, unquestionably, our business. Thankfully, in spite of the uncertainty, people continue to value great things. This appears to be a constant – now, it’s time to find more.”
Approximately 125 lots of Asian works of art kicked off the first day, highlighted by a huanghuali table box that brought $12,000, a Burmese gilt shrine that was later converted into a mirror that realized $8,400 and a pair of Chinese flambe glazed double-gourd jars that made $12,000.
Snapping on the heels of the Asian works of art were African, tribal and Native American antiques sourced primarily from two collections, namely the estate of Nancy R. and Myron L. Mayer of New York City, and the collection of the Wright Art Trust. Both collections were well known for their diligent and careful assembly, with particular attention paid to research and provenance.
Kicking off the category and bringing the top price of the approximately 40 lots on offer was a ceremonial inlaid figural bowl from the Solomon Islands that finished at $39,600. Other tribal results that warrant mention were a Malagan Peoples bird-head ornament that made $22,800, a Baule Peoples gold mask pendant selling for $21,600, a Papuan Gulf gope board that went out at $38,400; and a Bambara carved Ci Wara headdress that topped off at $22,800.
Modern and contemporary fine and decorative arts rounded out the first day of offerings, notably a Jules Lelue and Raymond Subes sideboard that brought $6,000, a 1958 ink on tempera work by David Smith that sold for $22,800, a fun vermeil Iolas fork and spoon that settled at $3,900; a three-section bibliotheque attributed to Eugene Printz that spun to $13,200; a mixed media piece titled “Familie” attributed to George Grosz and John Heartfield that went out at $15,600 and a whimsical group of five Pulcini bird sculptures by Alessandro Pianon that realized a cumulative total of $37,500 against a cumulative low/high estimate of $15/25,000.
Nearly 100 lots of antiquities from Mediterranean and Pre-Columbian civilizations – comprised of about 60 lots deaccessioned from the Newark Museum and 30 lots from the estate collection of Nancy R. and Myron L. Mayer – got the second day of sales off to a strong start. Bringing $21,600 was a circa 1400 BCE Egyptian giltwood statuette that the Mayers had acquired from Mathias Komor. Another strong result from the Mayer estate was a circa Eighth Century BCE Greek Geometric period bronze votive statuette in the form of a bull that had been estimated at $300/500 but which charged to $5,400. A lot of ten ancient Roman bronze tools, deaccessioned from the Newark Museum and estimated at $300/500, hammered out at $6,500 ($7,800 with buyer’s premium). Also, from the Newark Museum, a lot of six ancient seals and tablets from various civilizations and periods, the largest measuring 4¼ by 2¼ inches, achieved $3,900.
Antiquities transitioned handily and chronologically into European and American fine and decorative art from the Renaissance to the early Twentieth Century, which made up the rest of the second day of the sale. European works saw strength in a watercolor painting by Edward Poynter, which more than quadrupled its low estimate to finish at $13,200, a pair of Italian carved and giltwood sea creatures that leaped past its estimate to land at $7,200, the same price paid for a gilt-bronze and lapis lazuli gueridon made by PE Guerin.
Highlights of American-made lots included a parlor table attributed to Pottier & Stymus that brought $16,800 and a Tiffany Studios Apple Blossom table lamp that sold within estimate, for $14,400. Bringing $12,000 – ten times its high estimate – was a drawing of a lady attributed to Mary Cassatt, while a still life by William Merritt Chase made more than ten times its low estimate to sell for $6,600. Bidders responded well to lots depicting animals, as exhibited by the $9,000 price paid for a folk sheet-iron leaping stag weathervane ($600/800) while a figurine of two doves attributed to Anna Pottery flew to $12,000. A giltwood peacock weathervane soared to $4,800, with a carved and ebonized figure of a horse strutting to $3,600.
Millea Bros., Ltd., will conduct a fashion sale in early July; the firm’s next Select sale will most likely take place in late October or early November.
All prices include the minimum buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house but may not include additional surcharges for bidding or payment methods.
Millea Bros., Ltd., is at 607 Myrtle Avenue. For information, www.milleabros.com or 973-377-1500.
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