Published: September 22, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy W.A. Smith, Inc.
PLAINFIELD, N.H. – Billed as an “Auction Extravaganza,” W.A. Smith’s post-Labor Day sale on September 13 was all of that, bringing out the firm’s best finds from this summer. There was art from a Sunapee home, estate jewelry, silver and European antiquities, antique automobiles, even a couple of John Deere tractors. Pairing up to bring the sale’s top price was an unassuming two-piece lot comprising a French miniature commode and bronze nude that was bid to $413,000. It was certainly an extravagant price. Normally, such pieces, however desirable, would fall into an auction’s mid-level ranks, but there was obviously more here than meets the eye. The French marble top miniature commode had ormolu mounts, and the nude female bronze figure was 10 inches high atop a wooden pedestal base. That’s where the catalog description left off.
Smith was unable to provide an explanation of why the lot went stratospheric. An online search reveals a similar copy of the female bronze – identified as “Venus Urania” – at Russia’s State Hermitage Museum. The museum’s example is by an unknown sculptor, first half of the Seventeenth Century – a copy of the original by Flemish sculptor Giambologna (1529-1608). The Hermitage’s copy was transferred to the museum in 1925 from the house of Shuvalov, but the provenance of the copy sold by Smith remains as elusive though desirable as the Roman goddess herself.
There were several fine art highlights in the sale. An original ink sketch by Henri Matisse depicting a reclining woman and titled “Odalisque” was bid to $70,800. It was signed lower right “Janvier ’28 Henri Matisse.”
Italian artist Luigi Lucioni (Italian American,1900-1988) was born in Malnate, Italy, an alpine region north of Milan, but emigrated to the United States with his family in 1911 and in later years split time between New York City and Manchester, Vt. His oil on canvas, “The Weathered Barn,” signed and dated 1947, went out at $53,100. Fetching $38,350 was an oil on canvas still life by him titled “Dahlias and Apples,” dated 1931, signed and dated lower left.
A large Nineteenth Century well-painted oil on canvas view of the Hudson River with figures, boats and township in background found a buyer at $29,500, while William B. Hoyt’s (b 1945) large oil on canvas applied to panel depicting red barns and cows in snow, titled “Snowy Breakfast,” earned $17,700. It was signed “Wm. B. Hoyt.” Hoyt is a contemporary artist originally from Vermont, now living in Rhode Island, who paints in a realistic tradition. His work has been showcased in Maine, New York, Rhode Island and can be seen at www.wmbhoyt.com.
John Frederick Peto (1854 -1907) was an American trompe l’oeil (“fool the eye”) painter who was long forgotten until his paintings were rediscovered along with those of fellow trompe l’oeil artist William Harnett. Although they knew each other and painted similar subjects, their careers followed different paths. Peto was born in Philadelphia and studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at the same time as Harnett. Peto never had a gallery exhibition in his lifetime but sold his paintings to tourists. Today, his name is nearly synonymous with the technique of exploiting the fallibility of human perception, so that objects in the painting, rendered in actual size and using the shadow of the objects, suggest depth without the eye seeing actual depth. In this sale, Peto’s oil on board still life, a depiction of chamber stick, pipe and book, took $11,800.
Fetching the same price was a Nineteenth Century American school folk art profile portrait of a child holding a pocket watch against a green painted backdrop.
European fine art was represented by an Old Master’s School Italian oil on wood panel of an enthroned Madonna and Child, which went out at $15,340, and an oil on canvas by French artist Paul Emile Pissarro (1884-1972), “Le Port de Dieppe,” leaving the gallery at $14,160.
The “extravaganza” sale promised antique and vintage automobiles and farm tractors and did not disappoint. Leading the motorized parade was a 1948 Oldsmobile Woody wagon, the original SUV beach wagon, which putted off at $47,200; a 1927 Model T Hack Woody-style handcrafted body in maple and oak and auto made by Ford, all in wonderful condition with title, which realized $12,980; and two John Deere tractors were desirable to bidders. The first was a 2008 John Deere 3320 enclosed tractor with 317.6 hours, which sold for $23,600, and the other was a 1998 John Deere tractor with 587 hours, model 855, with backhoe #7, and model 70A front end loader that took $16,520.
Bidders afflicted with “GAS” (guitar acquisition syndrome) chased a Gibson ES 335 electric guitar, serial no. 73856, Kalamazoo Mich., to a final price of $12,980.
Jewelry highlights included a lady’s 4-carat diamond ring commanding $26,550; a diamond, ruby, sapphire and emerald brooch in platinum by J E. Caldwell settling at $17,700; and a stunning riviere platinum necklace, set with 99 old European round cut diamonds garnering $11,800.
Other notable lots included an antique floor model celestial globe on a carved mahogany stand holding a bronze socle, $16,520, and a late Nineteenth Century game cock weathervane that scored $14,160.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.wsmithauction.com or 603-675-2549.
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