Published: February 18, 2020
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Potomack Company
ALEXANDRIA, VA. – Presented before 1,396 registered bidders, a wash, pen and ink, watercolor and conte crayon depiction of two gentlemen drinking by French artist Honoré Daumier (1808-1879) generated much interest at the Potomack Company’s live sale of fine art and antiques on February 8, selling for $156,250 and is heading back to Europe.
Titled “Les Buveurs,” the 8-by-9½-inch watercolor was created between 1860 and 1864, its two figures from everyday life set against a neutral background. It had come out of a French private collection since the Nineteenth Century and by descent to the consignor. It was emblematic of much of the fine art offered in the early session of sale – in other words, there was much Nineteenth Century European art crossing the block – but it was not reflective of what was really trending at this auction house that is celebrating more than 12 years as a leading DC-area source for collectors, dealers, estates, historic institutions and museums.
Yes, look here and note that a middle market contemporary work, John Nieto’s (American, 1936-2018) “Cimarron Buffaloes,” 1997, was the fourth highest selling lot in the live sale that totaled more than $500,000, about half of what was realized in Potomack’s quartet of sessions. Nearly doubling its high estimate, the hallucigenically hued acrylic on canvas from 1977 realized $23,750. Known for his use of intense primary colors and bold brushstrokes in depictions of Native Americans and Southwestern scenery, Nieto imbues his subjects with an electric energy that is instantly recognizable. Collectors throughout the United States and abroad prize his work, and it was a private collector on the phone who wrested it from an underbidder on the floor, according to the firm’s president Elizabeth Wainstein. “We’re very pleased with the modern and contemporary results,” she said, noting Nieto’s crossover appeal to both contemporary and Native American art categories.
There were other outliers in the Modern and contemporary space doing well, including Emil Bisttram’s (American, 1895-1976) “Cactus,” 1943, that jumped beyond its $1,2/1,600 expectation to sell for $5,937; 1974’s “Stem Christie” by Helene McKinsey Herzbrun (American, 1922-1984), an oil on canvas going out at $1,625 against a $700/900 estimate; and Paul Cadmus’ (American, 1904-1999) white ink on black paper depiction a young man playing the clarinet that eclipsed its $1,600 high estimate to finish at $4,875.
Another strong performer in the sale, said Wainstein, was American artist Patricia Tobacco Forrester (1940-2011), whose dreamlike 1999 watercolor terracescape with provenance from the Jeffrey M. Kaplan collection, Washington, DC, at $2,200 epitomizes the direction the auction house is taking.
There’s a good reason for this market shift, according to the auction house, as it recently hired Frederick La Violette, who spent two years in Sotheby’s Modern paintings department in New York, to put together its middle market Modern/contemporary department and auction. La Violette participated in several record-breaking sales while at Sotheby’s. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania where he focused on art market trends from the Nineteenth to the Twenty-First Century and earned a BA in visual studies. He’s a native of Old Town Alexandria and a graduate of St Albans School in Washington, DC. [See accompanying article.]
Potomack is aiming to develop a strong market in Modern art, represented by such DC-area contemporary artists like Herzbrun, drawing master Cadmus, Bisttram and Forrester. In fact, the firm has an auction coming up in June with a strong modern session.
Returning to the February sale, however, two works by George Grosz (1893-1959), the German “bad boy” caricaturist of Berlin life in the 1920s, were among the top lots. “Bockbier,” 1929, a watercolor, reed pen and pen and ink on paper, 18 by 24½ inches, was bid to $38,750. And in the same medium at 23 by 17¼ inches, a scene of an artist and his nude female model brought $28,125. Both works had come out of a local collection.
Not making headlines in this sale, there were nonetheless some notable furniture pieces, pursued mainly by a combination of floor and phone bidders. The highest selling was a New England Chippendale cherrywood blockfront chest on chest, probably Massachusetts or Connecticut, third quarter Eighteenth Century, that fell mid-estimate at $11,875. It featured an upper case with bonnet top, broken arch pediment and spiral turned finials over single fan carved drawer flanked by two short drawers and four graduated drawers below, all flanked by fluted pilasters. Its lower case had four graduated and blocked drawers on a molded base resting on bracket feet and it stood 78¾ inches high.
On the Continental side was a Francois Linke Louis XV-style mahogany bombe commode, late Nineteenth/early Twentieth Century, which pulled in $8,750. Two other American pieces of note were a Rhode Island Chippendale walnut secretary bookcase, inscribed circa 1780 with an illegible marking on the underside of its bottom drawer, which fetched $7,500, and a New England Chippendale tiger maple and maple chest on chest, third quarter Eighteenth Century, that brought $5,625.
There was more art. A seductively imagined “Nymph” by French artist Henri Pierre Picou (1824-1895), oil on canvas, 54 by 35½ inches elicited a more than eightfold result of $9,750 against its $800-$1,200 estimate, while a Chinese School (Nineteenth Century) “Blooms,” ink and wash on silk laid down, 62 by 85¼ inches, doubled its high estimate to finish at $8,125.
An even better performance was achieved by a European School (Nineteenth Century) artist’s self-portrait. The 24½-by-19-inch oil on canvas, framed, was estimated just $600/900 but was bid to $6,250. “Good looking sitter and of the period,” quipped Wainstein as to the reason for the self-portrait’s success. The same price was attained for a portrait by British artist Thomas Sully (1783-1872), whose “Sarah” oil on canvas measured 20 by 14 inches. Another British artist, Arthur Batt (1846-1911) skillfully portrayed “Mustard and Pepper,” depicting a pair of hounds that warmed a bidder’s heart to $5,700.
Among the decorative arts on offer, a Banks & Biddle silver repousse seven-piece coffee and tea service that descended in a family generated bidding interest and made $5,312. Included was a squat ovoid coffee pot, teapot, kettle on footed stand with burner, covered sugar, creamer and open sugar.
A Korean painted eight-part screen earned $5,000, and a Boston baby grand piano designed by Steinway and accompanied by a bench sold for $4,687.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. The Potomack Company’s next auctions are coming up on April 25, comprising both live and online sessions.
For information, 703-684-4550 or www.potomackcompany.com.
In addition to the recently hired Modern and contemporary art specialist Frederick La Violette (pictured here), the Potomack Company is fielding other strong talent.
Isabelle Craner has worked at the company assisting the director of fine arts and the director of marketing Anne Craner. Isabelle, who is fluent in French, earned a BA degree in history with high honors on her thesis about Isabella d’Este. She is a native of Old Town Alexandria and graduated from the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC.
As director of fine arts for the firm, Anne Craner oversees the sale of works of art, including paintings and sculpture. With more than 25 years of experience in the field, she plays a leading role in the Potomack Company’s acquisition, management and auction of significant works that have included paintings by Albert Bierstadt, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder, Honoré Daumier and Washington Color School. Anne was previously curator at the Phillips Collection in Washington, and spent 14 years as research associate in European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art working on Nineteenth Century blockbuster exhibitions, including, Goya, Degas, Seurat, Origins of Impressionism, Juan Gris and Picasso Classico. She is fluent in both French and Spanish.
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