Published: December 23, 2008
On October 25 and 26, John Sollo and David Rago hosted an auction of more than 1,060 lots of Twentieth Century Modern that was one of the most in-depth auctions of its kind to date. The ambitious sale, representing more than 340 individual artists, offered something for every one of the 718 online, 200 absentee, 270 telephone and 150 in-house bidders.
According to Rago Arts partner Miriam Tucker, bidders were registered from across the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, South America, the European Union and Slovenia. Gallery turnout was moderate, but the buyers who came were serious, and a good percentage of lots hammered to the audience.
The sale exceeded its $4/5 million presale estimate, realizing $5.2 million. David Rago was especially pleased with the number of lots sold, which totaled 70 percent, making the sale the most successful Modern design auction in America since June.
Furniture items led the day, yielding five of the top ten selling lots. The topper was an architectural cabinet made by Greene and Greene that sold for $348,000. It was considered to be the finest piece of Modern furniture that Sollo Rago had ever offered. The large standing architectural cabinet was the personal property of Charles Summer Greene, who was the firm’s chief designer, 1894‱922. The historically significant piece was designed between 1907 and 1911 and created by master woodworkers Peter and John Hall, who were commissioned to craft the cabinet completely by hand of fumed Honduras planked mahogany inlaid with iridescent glass squares. The rare jewel retained its original finish and pristine condition. It measured 72½ by 57½ by 23½ inches.
Other exciting furniture pieces that commanded top prices included a T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings three-tiered Mesa coffee table in walnut veneer. The unusual table opened the bidding at $30,000, and sold for $66,000 to a phone bidder from France. George Nakashima’s work is always in demand, but a unique English walnut dining table had special meaning as it was created by Nakashima for his close friend, photographer Ezra Stoller. The exceptionally graceful table had a free-form top fitted with straight rosewood keys on trestle base and sold for $84,000.
A price of $184,000 was paid for a Nakashima Minguren II dining table with an East Indian laurel gate top over an American black walnut base with butterfly joints to the plank legs. This rare example of Nakashima’s work was from the Rockefeller Japanese House in New York.
The leading lot for artist Phillip Lloyd Powell was a stacked walnut laminate dining table with an elliptical slate top on a gilded support. This exceptional piece topped its high estimate of $25,000 to realize $33,600. Powell died this past March, but not before seeing his work come to the forefront in recent years and recognized for its great importance in the Modern movement.
Paul Evans had a good run. The top lot for the artist was an outstanding wall-hanging, sculpture-front cabinet made in 1973. It was finished with a natural cleft slate top and sold in-house for $72,000. Another desirable piece by Evans was a wall-hanging, sculpture-front credenza that had two bifold doors with patinated, welded and pierced designs. This very rare Evans form is one of three ever produced and yielded a price of $54,000.
Fine art of interest included a Harry Bertoia 14-inch untitled bush-shaped sculpture that was made in 1974 of bronze and copper and came from a private Pennsylvania collection. It topped its high estimate of $40,000 to realize $51,000. A Bertoia Sonambient beryllium copper and brass sculpture that measured 40 inches high was accompanied by a handwritten receipt from Bertoia, and sold for $45,000. An elegant 19½-inch bronze figure titled “A Girl Tying Her Hair” from the Susse Foundry, Paris, brought an astounding $24,000 against a high estimate of $7,000. A monumental Art Deco galvanized, welded steel sculpture of a diver on a polished steel pedestal base was, as is with many pieces of spectacular size †102 by 84 by 34 inches †something that had to be seen to fully appreciate its excellence. Not surprisingly, it overreached its high estimate of $9,000 to a price of $14,400.
A signed Jack Earl figural ceramic sculpture, “Jacked Up Pants,” 1979, was John Sollo’s personal favorite lot of the sale. Earl’s work rarely comes to auction, and this strange and wonderful piece that was 27 inches tall reached $9,600, exceeding its high estimate of $7,000. A Ralph Bacerra glazed ceramic sculpture from the “Animal” series, circa 1976, brought $12,000.
An untitled gouache on paper by Antonio Zoran Music that depicted abstract African animals in typical “Kalahari” tones sold for $19,200. Some of the heaviest bidding of the weekend was for two Alexander Calder tapestries, “Sun” and “Moon,” which both sold far above their high estimates, at $6,000 and $10,200, respectively.
There were many items of special interest in the sale. A set of 14 lacquered screens designed for the set of the Regency Enterprises film Copy Cat , 1995, were mounted to a set of panel louvers for the film (each panel measured approximately 14 by 22 feet). Competition for this lot, estimated at $2,5/4,500, resulted in a realized price of $14,400. A pair of burlwood patchwork entry doors with cast bronze faux wood grain handles made in 1972 by Whittlewood soared past the high estimate of $4,000 to achieve $12,000.
One sleeper item was an attractive William Lescaze chromed steel counterbalance table lamp with a white paper shade. It was estimated at $2/4,000, but active bidding pushed it to a price of $7,800. A pair of 10¼-inch-high three-arm faceted silver candelabras stamped Jean E. Puiforcat with Minerva and E/P hallmark overreached its high estimate to achieve $28,800. A Higgins screen comprising 24 glass roundelays was a riot of color that typified the breakaway boldness of Modern design. The 48-by-17½-inch piece sold for $3,240.
Modern jewelry is a new venue for Sollo Rago. Topping this section was a striking geometric Josef Hoffman/Wiener Werkstätte brooch made in a sterling silver set with malachite and turquoise that sold for $15,600 against a presale high estimate of $4,500. Leading a group of Ed Wiener jewelry was a dazzling sunburst design yellow gold gemstone pendant/brooch with a central oval cabochon garnet and 14 precious and semiprecious gemstone accents. A price of $9,600 was achieved for this item. Another Ed Weiner 18K gold and diamond bracelet made of cast biomorphic links that were accented by 24 bright circular cut diamonds, 1975, commanded $5,400.
Ceramics did exceedingly well. Leading this category was an early 6-by-10-inch Natzler folded bowl covered in purple and turquoise with a flowing lava glaze on a frothy ochre ground that achieved a price of $22,800. A group of Claude Conover stoneware outdid itself across the board. Chief among them was a 21¼-by-15½-inch stoneware vase with incised patterns, titled “Sapat,” that realized $13,200. The same price was paid for a 22½-by-12-inch four-sided stoneware bottle with impressed patterns, titled “Tukub.”
Beatrice Wood items also performed well. A particularly appealing tea set covered in a vibrant blue volcanic glaze topped the high estimate and achieved $6,600. A Betty Woodman glazed earthenware urn covered in mottled majolica glaze with cold-painted red drips brought $7,200. A highly unusual ceramic machine-form teapot covered in a copper glaze made in 1989 by Steven Montgomery doubled its high estimate by realizing $8,400.
Prices reported reflect a 20 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 609-397-9374 or www.ragoarts.com .
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