Published: November 29, 2022
Review by Z.G. Burnett, Photos Courtesy of Millea Bros Auctioneers
BOONTON, N.J. – From November 16 to 18, the Millea Bros’ Select auction took place, dividing each day and more than 1,000 lots by category. Day One focused on Modern and contemporary art and design, as well as African and Oceanic art. Day Two was occupied by Asian, Native American, British American and British art, books and letters. Continental art and antiques, carpets, antiquities and silver were Day Three’s categories. Each of these sales’ top lots sold within or well over their estimates, some to exponential figures. The overall buy-through rate was about 95 percent and the total of all three sales was $2.8 million against its $1.6 million estimate.
Alexander Calder (American, 1898-1976) had two paintings that sold in the top three lots of Day One, both of which came from the same consignor. The highest selling of these was “The Pheasant,” which surpassed its $30/50,000 estimate to sell at $93,750. Before joining the previous owner’s collection, the gouache painting was originally a gift from the artist to environmentalist, writer and explorer Nicholas Guppy (1925-2012). The second Calder in the sale, “Victory,” was an earlier example of the artist’s work given to Edgard Varèse (1883-1965), a French composer who spent the majority of his career in the United States. The painting sold within its $30/50,000 estimate at $51,250. Both paintings are registered in New York’s Calder Foundation.
Between the Calder paintings was an unexpected second highest lot, at least in terms of its estimate; a flute spirit figure, which sold for $58,750 against its $800-$1,200 estimate. Also known as a wusear, these figures were placed on the flutes of the Mundugumor/Biwat people on the East Sepik, Yuat River, Papua New Guinea, used as effigies to “speak” through the music. The wusear’s consignor acquired the figure from John J. Klejman (1906-1995), a Polish-born American collector and owner of the J.J. Klejman Gallery (active 1950-74).
Another lot in the first day’s sale was unusual by itself, but also for fine and decorative arts sales such as this; an original cartoon drawing by Charles Addams (American, 1912-1988) titled “Walking the Dog” that sold for $22,500. Creator of The Addams Family, Addams’s career began in 1932 when his first comic drawing was published in The New Yorker. This drawing appeared in his weekly column, “Out of This World,” published by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, and later in Addams anthology Nightcrawlers (Simon & Schuster, 1957).
Day Two’s top lot was a watercolor Breton street scene by John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925) which bid to $84,375, more than four times its high estimate of $12/18,000. Although technically an American artist, Sargent’s upbringing and adult life was multinational in his training and traveling. He was a prolific watercolorist during these journeys due to the portability of the medium and its fast drying time. Last on the market when the consignor bought it at Parke-Bernet in 1959, the work is listed in the Smithsonian’s Inventory of American Paintings database.
The king of Day Three was a surprise; a Seventeenth or Eighteenth Century painting of “Christ Carrying the Cross” from the Spanish colonial school that rose to $21,250 from its $600/800 estimate despite the lack of a visible signature. Finely painted with gilt on the edge of Jesus’ robes and altar cloths, there was also a coat of arms in the center of the of the bottom textile. Next in the price list was a similarly monumental painting, a portrait of Don Diego de Fonesca attributed to the circle of Diego Velásquez (Spanish, 1599-1660), at $16,250 ($7/10,000). This painting was in the Château de Villandry collection in Villandry, Indre-et-Loire, France, which was restored by the Spanish doctor Joachim Carvallo (1869-1936) and is still in the possession of Henri Cavallo, his great-grandson.
Prices quoted with buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Millea Bros is now accepting consignments for its February auction. For more information, 973-377-1500 or www.milleabros.com.
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