Published: November 5, 2019
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. – Accounting for 207 lots in Rago’s 972-lot auction weekend October 18-20 was the firm’s annual Outsider & Fine Art, Curious Objects sale cataloged by Outsider Art specialist and dealer Marion Harris. The auction is known for putting forth a dynamic range of material from established and anonymous Outsider artists while incorporating folk and contemporary art that pad the aesthetic of the curious. The sale would gross $351,531 with a 65 percent sell-through rate.
The auction’s expected top lot, a Morton Bartlett molded, carved and painted plaster figure titled “Day-dreaming girl,” 20 inches high, would not gain enough traction to sell at the $100/150,000 estimate and wound up passed. Of the 16 total Bartlett figures, three plus this example are the only works in private hands. A Bartlett figure sold at a recent edition of Art Basel for $100,000.
What came in its place was Adolf Wölfli’s 1922 untitled work, colored pencil and pencil on paper, 16½ by 13¾ inches, that finished at $27,500. Wölfli’s artistic output was found within a five-part illustrated personal mythology he began in 1908, filling 46 books in 25,000 pages by the time of his death in 1930. Marion believed this work came from that body. He also produced what he called “bread art” on individual sheets that he would sell to make spending money. The work here had provenance to the late Outsider dealer Phyllis Kind.
A group of three sequential display boxes by English artist Edward Hart (1847-1928) featuring two taxidermied squirrels as Victorian or Edwardian boxers from the “Prize Fight” series would go out above estimate at $17,500.
Two works from Italian Carlo Zinelli (1916-1974) sold near or above estimate. An untitled double-sided mixed media on paper, 19½ by 27-3/8 inches, featuring repeated farm animals amid a Sheppard and crosses, sold at $13,750. An untitled double-sided gouache on paper, 27½ by 19½ inches, with blue and purple and gold tones, would sell at $11,250.
Rising above the $3,000 high estimate was a 32-inch-high pine, gesso and tempera figure, cataloged as in the style of Mexican santero Jose Benito Ortega, that brought $10,625. Ortega made santos for small chapels, meeting houses and village homes in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado from the 1870s to the early 1900s. Titled “Nuestra Señora de la Soledad,” the figure had provenance to the Steve Miller gallery and the Griffin collection.
Two works from Mattie Lou O’Kelley would sell above estimate. An untitled oil on canvas night scene landscape, 28 by 39½ inches and dated 1977, would finish at $11,250 over a $7,000 estimate. A 1981 oil on canvas, 24 by 26 inches, featuring a farm house table interior scene, would sell at $6,875. O’Kelley began painting at the age of 60 and was first exhibited in the gift shop of the High Museum in Atlanta, Ga.
“The Wölfli had a great response,” sale specialist Marion Harris told Antiques and The Arts Weekly following the auction. “And the Zinellis and the Purvis Young. Blue chip outsiders rose to the top, it’s fair to say that.”
While the 2018 auction and select additions to the 2019 outsider sale at Rago featured objects that fall under the “curious” category, Harris said that the sale will focus more on Outsider and fine art in the future.
For additional information, www.ragoarts.com or 609-397-9374.
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