Published: February 15, 2011
Antiques “Made in Asia” led Brunk Auctions’ sale on January 8‹. Objects from Japan, Tibet, Korea, Nepal, India and Thailand were all represented in the early hours of the 882-lot sale. But, as was typical of the past three years, Chinese antiquities succeeded in stealing the show.
The lot with the highest presale estimate lived up to expectations †way up. Around 1855, “View of the Bund at Shanghai,” a large unsigned oil on canvas was purchased in Hong Kong and transported to the United States. The consignor purchased the painting attributed to Chow Kwa (Chinese, active 1850‱885) 138 years later at Sotheby’s New York. The painting is a finely detailed and accurate depiction of the Shanghai skyline and ships in the harbor, including an American steamer. The painting, estimated at $60/90,000, opened at $50,000, its reserve, and then soared to a record high $483,000.
The second record was for Chinese carpets with silk and metal thread. There were two of these circa 1900 imperial carpets in the sale. Both were in excellent condition and were probably purchased in China. Seventeen phone bidders were on the line when they came up for sale. The first to sell depicts imperial dragons in the scalloped central medallion and in the four corners. An inscription at one end cites the Ning Shou Palace, a Ming dynasty structure renovated in 1689. The carpet opened at $10,000 and sold to a bidder on the Internet for a record $207,000.
In a large central lozenge and in the corners and ends of the second carpet were cranes, sea serpents, waves and clouds. All are surrounded by a double Greek key border. It, too, has an inscription at one end referring to its use in an unnamed palace. It opened at $12,000 with multiple phone and Internet bidders and sold for $161,000 to the same Internet bidder who purchased the Ning Shou Palace carpet.
The Chow Kwa painting and the silk and metal thread carpets were consigned by a grandchild of Elizabeth Russell of Connecticut. They came from a larger collection that originated with Samuel Wadsworth Russell, the founder of Russell & Company. That enterprise was the largest trading house in China from 1842 until its close in 1891.
The sale’s third record was a signed glass crown sculpture by Harvey Littleton (American, b 1922). The 12 parts of the crown were blown, cut and polished by Littleton, a man widely regarded as the father of American studio glass. While at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he taught noted glass artists Dale Chihuly and Martin Lipofsky. Littleton retired to North Carolina and received the North Carolina Living Treasure Award in 1993. The crown more than doubled its presale estimate and set a new record for the artist when it sold for $50,600. It came from the collection of Philip and Charlotte Hanes of Winston-Salem, N.C. Philip Hanes was chief executive officer of Hanes Dye and Finishing from 1964 to his retirement in 1976. He and his wife are noted for their leadership and generous support of the arts in Winston-Salem.
Chinese jade did well. Two lots from the 29-lot Bridge to Heaven collection acquired by the late Pauline McCord Bishop were clear standouts. The first is a ceremonial ruyi (scepter) from the Qing dynasty with gray green celadon coloration. The fine detailed openwork on the ruyi, a presentation piece meant to bestow good fortune, is paper thin in places. It sold within estimate for $27,600. The other jade leader is a burnt “chicken bone” mountain from the Ming dynasty. Colors are white with pink spots from manganese inclusions. There are conifers on the mountain with a river at its base. The jade mountain rose from a humble $3/6,000 estimate to $34,500.
Closer to home was a North Carolina cherry and poplar two-piece secretary-with-bookcase from around the turn of the Nineteenth Century from the Hanes collection. The upper and lower cases are extensively inlaid, including three drawers with elaborate flourishes. The pilasters are also inlaid, a distinctive characteristic of the later work of the Catawba Valley furniture-makers known as the “fluted pilaster group.” The secretary-with-bookcase sold to Colonial Williamsburg for $55,200, making it the top lot of the 41-lot Hanes consignment.
After the sale, curator of furniture for Colonial Williamsburg Tara Gleason Chicirda remarked as to where the secretary-with-bookcase fit in the museum’s collection. “We are very strong in Southern furniture, but one area needing augmentation was Piedmont, N.C. This piece is a great example of neoclassical furniture from the North Carolina Piedmont. It filled a hole in that area.” After conservation, the secretary-with-bookcase will be on exhibit in the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum.
Of the 130 paintings in the sale †39 American, 91 continental †two far exceeded their presale estimates, the classic definition of “surprise.” A large oil on canvas painting, “Officers at a Military Outpost During the Crimean War,” attributed to Pierre-Mathurin Pétraud (French, 1808‱880) opened at the lower end of its $4/8,000 estimate. It left that far behind and finished at $46,000, the second highest painting after the Chow Kwa. Also finishing strong was Samuel Spode’s “Gentleman on a Horse.” In a Twentieth Century giltwood frame, the British equestrian painting with Stonehenge in the distance galloped from an estimate of $3/6,000 to a $36,800 finish.
One silver lot was especially noteworthy. A Francis I sterling tea service with tray sold for $31,050 after a $14,000 opening bid. With marks for the American firm of Reed and Barton between 1951 and 1953, the set consisted of a hot water urn, matching coffeepot, teapot, creamer, waste and water pitcher. There were no monograms.
“It was our biggest sale for several years,” said president Robert Brunk, referring to the $3,043,072 sale total. Prices reported include the 15 percent buyer’s premium.
The next sale at Brunk Auctions is March 12 and 13 when a second group of jade from the Bridge to Heaven collection will be offered. For information, 828-254-6846 or www.brunkauctions.com .
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