Published: February 18, 2003
By Bob Jackman
BOSTON – On January 25-26 Skinner conducted an auction featuring Asian and European decorative arts and fine ceramics at its Boston gallery. The preview and auction were well attended, and most lots were strongly contested. A Nineteenth Century inro, whose black lacquer surface had a barklike texture, was top lot at $25,850.
Sales for the weekend were $1,630,495 with 89 percent of 1,750 lots selling.
Fine ceramics and European lots were auctioned on Saturday, and Asian goods went to the block on Sunday. It was the first Skinner auction that combined these three fields.
Ceramics specialist Stuart Slavid commented, “There is a significant amount of crossover between buyers interested in Continental wares and buyers interested in Asian rdf_Descriptions. About 25 percent of our telephone inquiries have sought further information about both a Continental lot and an Asian lot. We have many international clients, and a larger sale gives them more motivation to get onto a plane and come over.”
Slavid also noted, “A sale of this magnitude became possible when we expanded the Boston gallery. In the past we could have a sale of 1,000 lots, but not of 1,700 lots. We will likely combine the several areas in some future auctions, but not this summer. The Asian sale is scheduled for June, and the Continental sale will be in July.”
The Asian segment of the sale was highly successful, with sales exceeding $660,000, a new high for Skinner’s Asian department. While Asian specialist Jim Callahan was delighted with the record price achieved, he was more excited about the high percentage of lots that sold. “In general, Asian auctions are notorious for having many lots that fail to sell,” said Callahan “Skinner has been sending a message that our Asian auctions are real auctions, and that the merchandise will change hands.”
Callahan pointed out that there were client reserves on very few rdf_Descriptions. “Of the 750 Asian lots in this sale, only 20 had reserves,” he said. “We indicate there are no reserves by printing a low estimated selling price range. Some people think an auction estimate is the same as an appraisal. It is not. By law, an rdf_Description cannot have a reserve higher than the bottom of the estimated selling price. Dealers flew here from California and Asia because they read the catalog and understood that these rdf_Descriptions were actually being auctioned. It is remarkable to sell 90 percent of an Asian auction.”
A South Carolina family made the most dramatic consignment in the Asian sale. They sent two inro storage boxes filled with a collection of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Japanese inro, many with matching ojime and netsuke. The collector’s notes indicated that the last inro in these boxes was added in 1935, and works in the collection were described as part of a pre-World War II collection.
While all inro in the South Carolina collection did very well, the most successful was the Nineteenth Century example that sold for $25,850, against an estimate of $1,200 to $1,400. “The value was in the surface texture and workmanship,” said Asian specialist Callahan. “It had a lacquer surface with a texture similar to bark. That texture is very difficult to create in lacquer that is usually applied with a brush. This effect was probably produced by precisely applying alternate wet and dry layers of lacquer in quick succession. The design is one of restrained elegance. The materials were not expensive, but the workmanship was intense.” The surface was further decorated with dragonflies composed of lacquer and mother-of-pearl.
The inro storage boxes were themselves fine Meiji works of art. One box with Japanese notations indicating that it had belonged to Baron Morimasa Takei brought $8,225. It was an exceptional example of design and the craft of lacquer ware. Virtually every technique of working lacquer was incorporated into the surface of the box. The other storage box was early and decorated with painting. It sold for $2,585.
The top netsuke at $14,100 was a 41/2-inch depiction of a Tartar hunter carved from elephant ivory. At the preview, one sophisticated collector picked up this netsuke and exclaimed, “My heavens, what marvelous detail!” The work was extremely sculptural and dramatic. Japanese artisans first produced netsuke in the late Sixteenth Century, so this Eighteenth Century work was also an early example in comparison to other works now on the market.
There was a small group of Santos in the auction, and they did very well. The most exceptional lot, containing three Santos heads each about seven inches high, sold for $15,275.
The fine ceramics selections placed strong emphasis on English works, with representative works from France, Germany, Holland and Italy. Within the gallery, the standing-room-only crowd bid aggressively against one another and persistent phone bidders. A smattering of lots went to absentee bidders.
A fine but small selection of delftware sparked intense bidding. Topping the field at $8,813 was a circa 1710 English charger with polychrome decoration depicting Adam and Eve. With a diameter of 133/4 inches, it was large for the period. The clay was a deep buff color, and the charger was thought possibly to have been produced in Bristol. Another Bristol delftware polychrome charger had tulip decoration and sold for $7,050.
During the preview Stuart Slavid noted, “English delft usually sells for higher prices than Dutch delft.” That was borne out when a circa 1690 Dutch charger featuring the king and queen in blue and white sold for $4,994.
Another strong area of the ceramic auction was Eighteenth Century Staffordshire pottery. A circa 1765 creamware teapot in a pineapple design sold for $7,050, against an estimate of $1/1,500.
Another teapot from the same period featured large, stylized roses atop a black mesh laid over a green field. It sold to a bidder in the room for $5,581.
Within the field of Staffordshire pottery, there was a small but exceptional selection of agate ware. Again, two opposite teapots from 1750 did equally as well. One was fashioned in the design of a robust shell. Its surface was boldly colored with swirling bands of cream, rust and gray. The thickness of lines swelled and narrowed. That uncommon teapot sold for $4,935.
A contrasting example was a geometric teapot with softly curving sides and light veining suggesting a hint of agate. The understated work was in the rare diamond form. As a true rarity and as a wonderful integration of form and coloring, that teapot sold for $4,406.
European Decorative Arts
European decorative art lots were interspersed among ceramic lots through the first 300 rdf_Descriptions on Saturday. They then continued for the next 700 lots.
The most exciting European furniture lot was a circa 1800 George III linen press. The lot went to a phone bidder for $9,988, with Max Webber as the underbidder in the gallery. The case of the piece was fashioned from mahogany. Panels and drawer fronts were finished with satinwood veneer of exceptional figure. Pilasters flanking the doors and a simple domed pediment exuded a calm Neo-classical grace. While 91 inches high, the simple, elegant lines and fine proportions made this linen press less imposing than some other examples.
Matching antique bookcases are uncommon, and a slender George III pair sold for $8,813. They were a spiffy pair with fine design. Glazing on the doors were three lights wide, but with a stylish touch. The top and bottom rows of lights were of conventional size while the two middle rows were unusually tall. This vertical emphasis was further accentuated by strong rope molding on either side of the doors. Their exceptional height (104 inches) made the narrow width (28 inches) more pronounced. Their paired relationship was left-handed and right-handed doors to the bottom cabinets.
Dealers and collectors bid steadily for a deep selection of furniture decorated with marquetry and parquetry. An Italian Neo-classical commode led that field at $6,463. It featured a parquetry diamond field that transversed the two lower drawers. Inlaid within those diamonds were a light square and dark diamond producing an eight-point star. Surface decoration elsewhere incorporated extensive and exotic inlays.
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