Published: August 14, 2018
Review by Karla Klein Albertson
NEW ORLEANS – Although summer is often miscast as lightweight down time for auctions, a hot weather sale can set off fireworks if a firm captures the right estates. The July 28-29 event at the New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG) presented 1,050 lots over the weekend for a strong total of $2.6 million. That figure was achieved with the help of dozens of five-figure offerings and a stunning six-figure diamond. Sales at NOAG are known for their creative mix of treasures from different fields, but – as is the case across the country – art and jewelry proved the strongest categories. The art on the block ranged from Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century academic paintings to Twenty-First Century works by sought-after regional artists.
For art experts, the most important of the four estates profiled in the catalog was the collection of American, English and Continental portraits, portrait miniatures and silhouettes assembled by Professor Carroll Raybourne Ball, PhD, of Hillman, Miss. Tessa Steinkamp, long-time auctioneer and director of auctions at the firm, had known Dr Ball over many years and wrote in her introduction: “His passion for miniatures, silhouettes, fine portraits and American classical furniture made a lasting impression on me, helping me understand what it truly means to collect.” Among the British portraits offered on Saturday, the star was the unsigned but exquisitely detailed “Portrait of a Wealthy Gentleman Holding a Gold Snuff Box,” third quarter of the Eighteenth Century, which surpassed its $2/4,000 estimate to bring $30,000.
Offerings from Ball’s outstanding silhouette collection were presented on Saturday and Sunday, the most distinguished of which were executed by French artist Auguste Edouart (1789-1861) who worked for families in the British Isles and the eastern United States. An introductory page with the artist’s biography noted that Ball acquired examples from dealer Peggy McClard of Houston and Hanes and Ruskin in Old Lyme, Conn. Many pieces in the sale came from Edouart’s own personal collection, salvaged from a shipwreck in 1849. In addition to the picture of the Clarke and Andrews families illustrated, an 1837 silhouette by Edouart of the dowager Susannah Willes Holyoake at her spinning wheel sold for $6,000 ($1/1,500).
Contemporary paintings, presented in a substantial bloc on Sunday, featured not only top prices for the best-known artists, but many collection-starters in the $1,000 to $5,000 range. Among these affordable lots were works by Louisiana artists including Clementine Hunter (1886/7-1988), George Dunbar (b 1927), Arthur Silverman (b 1923), Francis Xavier Pavy (b 1954) and James Michalopoulos (b 1951). In a higher bracket, a painted aluminum sculpture by Ida Rittenberg Kohlmeyer (1912-1997) – “Mythic Turret #7” – sold for $25,000, and “Shrove Tuesday,” a painting by Georgia artist Bo (James William) Bartlett III (b 1955), for $23,750.
In July, more than 200 lots of the 1,000-plus sale were examples of estate jewelry with a selection of watches and luxury purses in the mix. The majority of these lots came up on Sunday morning, the traditional bling time at NOAG. As always, there were all sorts of under-$10,000 possibilities in the buyer’s choice line-up. A massive solitaire, however, drew the loudest applause when a 17.60-carat marquise-cut diamond became top lot of the sale at $170,800. A selection of emerald and diamond pieces yielded a pair of squared ear clips for $21,960. In addition to the $32,500 evening bag pictured, there were four Hermes “Birkin” handbags in various leathers, which sold from $15,000 to $7,812 each.
Beyond art and jewelry, there were stellar five-figure prices across many categories – furniture, silver, timepieces and Asian art. Greg Kowles, who oversees the diverse consignments, told Antiques and The Arts Weekly after the sale, “It wasn’t a sale that was just geared for one audience; it crossed a lot of territory and a broad interest level. The key to all of it is having estimates that are conservative and not intimidating to buyers. There was a good crowd, and we tend to hold a crowd pretty well because it’s a fully catered day with a spread and an open bar for everybody all day long.”
A personal favorite among the successful lots was the silver Neoclassical ewer by Philadelphia silversmith Simon Chaudron (1758-1846), which sold for $32,500 ($1,8/2,500). “We thought it was going to do well because leading into it, there were a lot of phone bidders signed up to go after it,” Kowles said. “We knew there was going to be competition, but that was pretty exciting.” Nor was he surprised when, near the sale’s end, a billiard table from the Gilded Age sold for $35,000. “That table has sold for between fifteen and a hundred thousand dollars. That was the premier model that Brunswick made, and that form is highly coveted by billiard collectors – it doesn’t show up that often on the market.”
In the Sunday afternoon Americana section, interspersed with Dr Ball’s portraits, miniatures and silhouettes, there were excellent furniture buys as well. A Rococo Revival rosewood Chickering & Sons square grand piano, 1880-85, brought $8,750 ($1,5/2,500). The key was playability – the instrument had been professionally restored. A Classical mahogany sofa, circa 1825, upholstered in pale green silk with dolphin-carved arms sold for $4,500 and a rosewood Rococo parlor suite in Meeks “Hawkins” pattern took $6,875. Garden furniture and statuary is always appealing in light of New Orleans’ year-round tropical climate. Two offerings came from the featured Houston estate of John Elliot Bradshaw: the patinated bronze group of the Four Seasons, 69 inches high, brought a high estimate $8,437 and a bronze fountain ornamented on three levels with cavorting putti took $3,500.
All prices, as reported by the auction house, include buyer’s premium.
After a lighter August 25 Cakebread Decorative Arts and Design sale, NOAG will offer their next major estates auction on October 13. For more information, www.neworleansauction.com or 504-566-1849.
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