Published: July 20, 2021
Review and Onsite Photos by W.A. Demers, Additional Photos Courtesy Butterscotch Auction
BEDFORD, N.Y. – A wide variety of objects from several prominent local estates crossed the block at Butterscotch Auction on July 11, including items from the estate of William D. Wixom (1929-2020), a well-known art historian who served as the chairman of the department of medieval art and the Cloisters at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1979 until his retirement in 1998. The auction of more than 750 lots sold about 600 of them, approaching an 80 percent sell-through rate and a total of $925,000. “It was a great result for a sale that had no six-figure item,” said auctioneer and appraiser Alexander Fonarow afterwards. “For the normal items, things that average $700-$1,200, it was solid across the board, with rugs doing incredibly well, probably due to the strong housing market.”
The top lot of the sale was a Royal Octavo edition of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America and The Quadrupeds of North America, New York and Philadelphia, 1840-44 and 1849-54, uniformly bound as one 10-volume set. Estimated $28/36,000, the set went out at $53,680. It once belonged to the noted ornithologist John Eliot Thayer (1862-1933) and was sold with a bound catalog of Thayer’s collection, compiled by Evelyn Thayer and Virginia Keyes and privately printed in Boston in 1913. The set, along with other important books and fine bindings, came from the 30-acre estate of a Greenwich, Conn., family and was won by a private collector in Bedford Hills, N.Y.
A large, single-owner collection of Continental and Old Master paintings formed a significant part of the fine art category. Among the Old Master offerings was “Bacchus and two females,” a pen and ink on paper that was matted in a gilt carved frame, which nonetheless found believers, rising to $43,920 from a $1/1,500 estimate. “This is the second time in recent years that this has happened, ” recalled Fonarow, checking back through the firm’s database to find a July 2018 sale of a Seventeenth Century chalk-on-paper work attributed to Jean-Antoine Watteau that hammered for $19,000. “And, you know, the same New York buyer that bought that drawing also bought the one from this sale. Paul Marinucci, our auctioneer, has said, ‘I never regret taking an Old Master drawing as a consignment.'” From a private Purchase, N.Y., collection the drawing was 14¼ by 18 inches overall.
A private collection from New Canaan, Conn., contributed another anonymous outperformer. It was an oil on canvas from the Nineteenth Century with no apparent signature, though described as “in the manner of Louis Jean Francois LaGrenee,” depicting Vertumnus and Pomona. The subject appealed to European sculptors and painters of the Sixteenth through the Eighteenth Centuries, centering on the Roman myth that told of Vertumnus, the god of seasons who could change his form at will, tricking the goddess Pomona into talking to him by disguising himself as an old woman and gaining entry to her orchard to seduce her. Measuring 30 by 38½ inches overall, the painting leapt from an estimate of $1,5/2,000 to finish at $10,370.
Among other notable paintings was William Sommer’s (American, 1867-1945) portrait of girl with a basket of apples that bidders pushed to $12,200 against a $1/2,000 estimate. The mixed media on paper, signed lower right, framed, 26½ by 22 inches overall, came from the Wixom estate, attesting to Wixom’s passion for art that went well beyond the medieval world. Brendan Ryan, auctioneer and appraiser at Butterscotch, observed that while Sommer’s abstract works are desirable, this watercolor, exhibiting a high level of finish and a bravura signature, was probably one the artist was proud of as he bridged his regionalist period into something more surreal. “William Wixom had a personal relationship with Sommers and had a number of his works. I’m glad we were able to get this one from he family.”
There was much presale interest in a still life by the famed French painter and co-founder of Fauvism, Andre Derain (1880-1954). “Still life with fruit on a plate,” an oil on board signed lower right, verso with old inventory label was bid to $7,930. It had been given to John D. Barrett by Paul Mellon and descended to the current owner from Greenwich, Conn.
A midcentury De Sede “Non-Stop” sofa, covered in rare red leather, was discovered in a Mount Kisco, N.Y., estate. It bested its estimate by a factor of three, finding a buyer at $19,520. Bidders could find items from a roster of contemporary designers represented in the sale, including Willy Rizzo, Brueton, Arne Jacobsen, Vladimir Kagan and Hans Wegner.
On the other end of the furniture spectrum, an early Nineteenth Century English regency sofa table, black ebonized ground decorated with ornate overall pen work, with two drawers and two frieze drawers, splayed legs with brass caps and casters, took $28,060. Measuring 28½ by 64 by 26½ inches, it came from a private New Rochelle, N.Y., collection.
Leading the decorative arts category was a Nineteenth Century chased silver and enameled singing bird box that surprised when it flew from a $2/3,000 estimate to realize $32,940. Of Swiss origin and with scrolling blue and black enamel decorating the lid with flowers in reserves, it also featured a painted porcelain plaque showing a landscape with lakeside cabins in front of a mountain, along with engraved decoration on all sides and bottom. It had been purchased at Parke-Bernet Galleries in 1953 and came with the original catalog for that sale where it was acquired.
A rare Eighteenth Century American pewter flagon inscribed on the front, “The Gift of Mr [Moses Gerrish/John Greenleaf/Muhepane Harlon/ Jeremiah Pierson] to the 3rd Church in Newbury, January h 1727/28” received a lot of presale interest and was hoisted to $7,930.
Several Native American baskets collected by Wixom, as well as a collection of Native American pipes inherited from his brother-in-law, the equally prominent museum curator, author and collector of Native American objects, Ralph T. Coe (1929-2010), were featured in the sale. The pipes are almost all from the Hopewell culture of Ohio (circa 100 BCE-500 CE), which makes perfect sense, considering that both the Wixom and Coe families have roots in Cleveland, Ohio. Highlights included two Naïve American head pipes, one from Perry County, Tenn., another from Graves County, Ky., which brought $3,660 and $5,124, respectively. A Native American human effigy pipe sold for $3,172, and a three-piece lot comprising Native American bird pipes went out at $4,636.
Every Butterscotch sale features a range of estate jewelry, and the top sparkler here was a 2.36-carat circular brilliant cut diamond ring that was bid to $20,740, while an antique diamond and sapphire line bracelet made $15,860.
Additional highlights, each commanding $12,200, included an antique Bidjar carpet, a large Belgian tapestry from the late Sixteenth Century and a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk. A 95-piece set of Royal Copenhagen china left the gallery at $10,980, and a Queen Anne giltwood girandole mirror sold for $7,320.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The next auction will be conducted in November, date to be announced. For information, www.butterscotchauction.com, 914-764-4609 or 914-595-6749.
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