Review and Photos By Laura Beach
MIDDLETOWN, R.I. — Technically, the Newport Antiques Show is not in Newport. It might as well be. To get there, a typical visitor crosses the Claiborne Pell bridge, drinking in the most quenching views of a sail-garnished Newport harbor; inches through the historic city center, with its crush of summer visitors; passes Bellevue Avenue, home to the town’s famous mansions; and sideswipes frolicking Easton’s Beach.
More spectacular views of sea and shore await in Middletown at St George’s School, the Newport Antiques Show’s comfortable, commodious home for most of the past decade. At its latest installment there over the fourth weekend of July, the Newport Antiques Show exhibited its signature flair, at the same time contending with the problems that resort shows experience: getting visitors to think seriously about buying art and antiques while on holiday.
The fair is chaired by Anne Hamilton and managed by Diana Bittel. Ralph DiSaia serves as facilities manager. Hamilton and Bittel, both from the Philadelphia area, wield sizable social and organizational clout in both cities and it shows. For its size and gate, the Newport Antiques Show is one of the most interesting events around: glamorous, luxurious, festive, colorful, knowledgeable and rooted deeply in the historical traditions of both cities, which have been culturally and financially linked almost since their founding. Benefiting the Newport Historical Society and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County, the fair is a choice setting for fine arts and marine artifacts, especially, but is also a notable source for garden ornament, jewelry, ceramics, furniture and accessories.
Given Newport’s seafaring prowess and yachting history, it is no wonder that marine art and the fine and decorative arts of the China Trade are big business here. Litchfield, Conn., dealer Jeffrey Tillou stole the show with “Paddlewheel Ship Thomas Powell,” a first-rate ship’s portrait by John and James Bard that is illustrated in A.J. Peluso Jr’s classic text on the artists.
Bittel, who deals at shows and privately from her home in Bryn Mawr, Penn., covered her walls with American, English and Chinese marine paintings, pairing the works on canvas and paper with folky shell art and sailors’ woolworks.
“Shell-decorated porcelain was the rage between about 1820 and 1830,” New York dealer Paul D. Vandekar said of the fanciful English Worcester porcelain decorated with applied and painted shells that ornamented his shelves.
At Maria & Peter Warren Antiques, A.J. Warren displayed delicately floral Chinese and English teapots whose designs echoed one another, the consequence of cultural exchange.
The universal love of blue and white porcelain found form at Imperial Fine Books and Oriental Art, where a distinctive five-piece Kangxi garniture was for sale.
Offering a miscellany of pond yachts, ship models, marine clocks and other seafaring items, White’s Nautical Antiques of North Yarmouth, Maine, was a popular spot for browsing on opening night.
Michael Leslie of the Falmouth, Maine, gallery Port ‘N Starboard covered the waterfront with highlights ranging from classic ships’ portraits and a gilded eagle carving to an academic Francis Palmer view of West Point on the Hudson River in New York and a folky diorama depicting a contest between the schooners Mabel and Maria.
Few dealers are more passionate about their work than James Kochan, a historian and former museum professional who has cultivated a following for naval and military art and artifacts. With the US Naval War College just a few miles away on Cushing Road in Newport, Kochan brought a wealth of English and American historical material, from Robert Dodd’s 1791 oil on canvas view of the 1783 Battle of Cuddalore and John Opie, RA’s, compelling portrait of the 13-year-old midshipman Graham Moore to James Frothingham’s portrait of American General Matthew Clarkson and the gold-headed cane of John Hancock.
Kochan brought his best, in part motivated by this year’s loan show, organized by the Museum of the American Revolution. The new institution will open in Philadelphia in 2017 two blocks from Independence Hall and across the street from Carpenter’s Hall, where the Continental Congress first met. Loan show organizers brought such foundational objects from the collection as “The March to Valley Forge, December 19, 1777” by William B.T. Trego, 1883.
Newport’s year-round population is less than 25,000, but, as home, in the Nineteenth Century, to one of the nation’s first art colonies and, currently, several nationally prominent dealers, the city favors American art.
William Vareika, whose gallery on Bellevue Avenue is a beacon for historical American art, wowed visitors with John Loring Brown’s monumental “View of the Ruins on the Sea Shore at Porto d’Anuzio with a Distant View of Nettuno looking toward Terracina,” 1850, and, from nearly a century later, “View of Manhattan from the Weehawken Electric Ferries Company” by Ernest Lawson, 1927–1929.
Fellow Newport dealer Roger King, whose gallery is at Bowen’s Wharf, retailed works by William Trost Richards, Edward Bannister and George Hitchcock, among others.
Few things were lovelier than The Cooley Gallery’s large watercolor on paper “A New England Pasture” by William Trost Richards.
Nautical themes headed to the Continent at Rehs Galleries, which offered Jean Dufy’s “Quai de la Planchette a Honfleur.”
Gary Sergeant of Woodbury, Conn., and Charleston, S.C., flanked “Pulling For Shore” by William Merritt Chase with works by Abbot Fuller Graves and Hayley Lever.
A master at mingling fine and decorative arts, James Kilvington hung a 1910 trompe l’oeil painting by Philadelphia and West Chester, Penn., artist George Cope above what appears to be an Eighteenth Century Irish slab top serving table with cabriole legs and shaped skirt.
With a nod to the Museum of American Illustration Art on Bellevue Avenue, Roberto Freitas featured a Norman Rockwell oil on paper preparatory painting for an 1948 Saturday Evening Post cover.
Bruce Emond of Village Braider Antiques brought paintings by the recently rediscovered Twentieth Century abstract expressionist George J. Rogers.
Represented by Hill-Stone, Arader Galleries and Ursus Prints, works on paper were a strong suit, as well.
Newport’s opulent past dictates a certain formality here. Featured by Georgian Manor Antiques, Jayne Thompson and new exhibitor Philip Colleck, Ltd, English furniture was ascendant. American furniture made news at Jeffrey Tillou, Diana Bittel, Hanes & Ruskin, Roberto Freitas, Ed Weissman, and SAJE Americana, among others. Summer furniture — stone, iron and wicker — was prevalent at Village Braider, Antique American Wicker and Francis J. Purcell.
Newport is not above having a good time. Consummate pro Stephen Score displayed summertime joie de vivre, stocking his stand with colorful painted furniture and accessories, quirky carvings and tributes to the Stars and Stripes.
And Newport being a dressy town, jewelry dealers Sue Brown of London, Johanna Antiques of Kingsville, Md., and Three Golden Apples of Newport are said to have sold well.
“Next year will be our tenth,” Bittel said in a Monday morning wrap-up. “We are already working on booking hotels and making other arrangements for 2016. The Newport Antiques Show just sets up so nicely. It’s gorgeous and we’re excited.”
For additional information, www.newportantiquesshow.com or 401-846-2669.