Published: November 19, 2019
Review and Onsite Photos by Greg Smith, Catalog Photos Courtesy Shapiro Auctions
MAMARONECK, N.Y. – As we were walking through Shapiro Auctions’ brand new gallery at 566 East Boston Post Road, less than an hour before the start time of the firm’s inaugural sale at the location, a man walked through the double doors with a bottle of champagne in his hand. He gave Gene Shapiro, owner and auctioneer, a warm embrace, handed him the bottle, and with a big smile on his face, he said, “we need to cheer.”
A new chapter had begun for the auction house that Shapiro started in 2007, when he opened up shop in New York City.
The firm’s fresh digs, a three-story, 21,000-square-foot building, has its roots in retail, when it was built in 1928 to serve as a department store. Shapiro has plans to utilize the entire location as he updates it into a modern sales room that reaches clients around the world.
Released from the physical limitations on space imposed by New York City real estate, Shapiro’s move is strategic: once focused principally on fine art, the auction house will employ a new business model that aims to serve the estate needs of the Westchester and Greater New York area. “We’re shifting into the estate business in terms of selling entire estates and personal property solutions of all kinds,” he said. “We feel now is a good time to do this, a lot of people are downsizing, and older generations are divesting property and there’s a lack of resources to help them do that. Here we’ll be doing everything from fine art and jewelry to furniture.”
While the firm opens up its categories, it has no plans of leaving any of its hard-won market share behind. It will continue to be a reliable outlet for Russian and European art.
“We still have a lot of niches and specialties in terms of what we sell. And we have a global focus,” Shapiro said. “It will take a little time to become known in Westchester, but we have a global brand.”
Any other changes to Shapiro’s model are small enough to be measured in decimals, as the auctioneer said when he approached the podium to address his long-time clients who followed him out of the city for the first sale: their move offered a small decrease in sales tax, 8.875 percent in Manhattan and now 8.375 percent in Westchester.
The varied sale offered 794 lots between both days, treating bidders to European, Asian, American and Russian fine art with select antiques and furniture. It would gross $3,050,000 in total sales.
At the top of the sale was an oil on canvas painting by Russian artist Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), which sold to a private collector for $375,000.
The 50-by-35¾-inch painting, titled “The Herzegovian on Lookout” and dated 1876, was exhibited at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts in Autumn of 1876. It was also featured in literature six times since 1877.
“A lot of Russian paintings lack provenance and history because things weren’t published as much during Soviet times. This is an exception because it was illustrated in so many older books, so it was a known work. And it was large and impressive and in good condition,” Shapiro said.
Three other Russian paintings would ascend to the six figures. “A Young Sorceress,” a 49-5/8-by-44-1/8-inch oil on canvas by Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945) brought $156,250. It had been exhibited at the 1909 exhibition “XXXVII exhibition of Wanderers” in St Petersburg. Following behind at $131,250 was Petr Konchalovsky’s (1876-1956) 23-3/8-by-31¾-inch oil on canvas titled “Panorama of Novgorod.” The most recent work of the group, Andrei Mylinkov’s (1919-2012) 33-by-43-3/8-inch oil on canvas “Russian Landscape” went off at $115,625 on a $7,000 high estimate.
Russian decorative arts were well-represented with a $56,250 result for a Russian porcelain vase, 16-3/8 inches high, from the Imperial Porcelain Factory in St Petersburg, circa 1914. The vase featured a winter landscape with birch and evergreen trees on a white ground. Over tripling the $20,000 high estimate at $75,000 was a Russian silver and cloisonné enamel kovsh, which was from the Gish workshop and dated to 1908-1917. The kovsch was large at 10½ inches high and featured motifs of mythic animals, gold-headed rams, a bogatyr on horse and others.
“That’s something we will always be selling as well,” Shapiro told us, referring to the Russian fine and decorative art. “Russian will always be a good portion of our business. And I’m happy to be here for the greater population of collectors and dealers who may not deal with Russian art. We’re a resource.”
The first day of the sale saw bidding across genres.
A selection of Vietnamese works was led by the 28¾-by-39-3/8 oil on Masonite “Vase de Chine” by Le Pho (Vietnamese/French, 1907-2001) that finished at the top of its estimate at $56,250. Behind at $40,625 was Vu Cao Dam’s (Vietnamese/French, 1908-2000) 1983 work “Divinité.” From the same artist was “Les Promis,” which sold at $32,500.
The Vietnamese offerings were padded by works consigned by Dr Tuan Anh Nguyen, the former minister of finance of South Vietnam, scholar, author and diplomat for the US State Department. All had been purchased directly from the artists. Three oil on canvas portraits by contemporary artist Nguyen Trung (Vietnamese, b 1940) all finished above estimate and were led by “Portrait of Maggie Nguyen,” 31-5/8 by 31½ inches, at $12,350; “Eva,” 31-3/8 by 25¾ inches, $12,350; and “Memory,” 31¾ by 31¾ inches, $11,700. Two sculptural works by Twentieth Century Vietnamese artist Mai Chung both featured fragments of war. “After the Bombing,” a 1965 work fashioned with metal salvaged from a plane shot down by the Communists would sell for $780. “Still Stand Firm (Bullets),” another 1965 work, was made with empty shells used in American M16 rifles, collected by the artist during the Tet Offensive. It sold for $975.
From that same collection came three Chinese Qing dynasty porcelain bowls, all made for the Vietnamese market, with royal provenance. All three were once in the collection of Vietnamese emperor Bao Dai, the 13th emperor of the Nguyen dynasty. From there they passed to the collection of Prince Nguyen De, who was the chief of staff to the emperor, and were then gifted to Dr Tuan Anh Nguyen. All bowls were of similar 2½-inch-high proportion, but two of them featured a two-character mark and a blue background depicting a dragon flying in the clouds. They sold at $715 and $488. The third, which featured a six-character mark with a blue flying five-claw dragon and alternating suns on a white background, went out at $6,500.
Finishing at $46,875 was a double-sided gouache on paper, 10 by 8 inches, by African American folk artist Bill Traylor (1854-1947). The work came from a Harlem, N.Y., estate and had provenance to the Luise Ross Gallery in New York City, which began showing Traylor in the 1980s. It featured a monochromatic black man in a top hat holding a cane on the front and a woman in a polka dot dress to the back. Shapiro said the work sold to an important private collection.
A work by German expressionist artist Gabrielle Münter (1877-1962) received a significant amount of presale attention. “Stille Ecke am See (Lake Iseo),” an 18-5/8-by-12½-inch gouache on paper sold for $34,375 following its endorsement by Dr Isabelle Jansen of Gabriele Münter- und Johannes Eichner-Stiftung, the artist’s foundation. The painting came from a European collection. Münter had a relationship with and studied under Wassily Kandinsky, and was a founding member of the expressionist group Der Blaue Reiter.
“What has always been amazing to see, and at the same time it makes me proud, is that we can have as much success with Vietnamese paintings as African American folk art and Russian Nineteenth Century masterworks,” Shapiro said. “So in terms of art, we’re doing very well with everything.”
And that is likely due to Shapiro’s broad reach in Europe and Asia.
“I’m happy to see that our plan is working in terms of selling successfully to the broader international audience. Telephones and internet are incredibly important. So many things sell to the broader international audience. We had many internet and telephone bidding wars, so certainly the business is changing but we’re well positioned to deal with that.”
Chinese objects found competitive bidding. Rising far above the $6,000 high estimate to bring $35,750 was a sancai-glazed figure of a judge from the Ming dynasty, 32-5/8 inches high, that sold to an internet bidder, underbid by the phone. Selling for $15,000 to a bidder in the room was a gilt-bronze figure of Buddha Shakyamuni, 12¼ inches high, from the Ming dynasty and dating to the Sixteenth to Seventeenth Century. A gilt Sino-Tibetan bronze Guanyin figure from the Nineteenth Century would sell for $9,100 to an internet bidder. Both of those figures hailed from the same Armenian American estate.
Following the sale, Gene Shapiro was happy with the results. “This was the first auction in the new premises, and it could have gone either way. But everything went superbly, so we’re just going to take it from here,” he said.
All prices reported include buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For information, 212-717-7500 or www.shapiroauctions.com.
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