Sotheby's Americana Week Auctions New York
Jan 14-24, 2022
Published: October 12, 2021
Review by W.A. Demers, Photos Courtesy Kimballs Auction and Estate Services
HATFIELD, MASS. – On October 3, Kimballs Auction and Estate Services presented a huge assortment of antiques from a Sag Harbor, Long Island, N.Y., estate with select additions from homes from all over New England. The bulk of the 557-lot sale came from the Sag Harbor estate, but auctioneer Douglas Kimball observed that there was synergy from another featured estate, that of the Bentley family. “The Bentley estate had jewelry, art and silver, so it complemented the Sag Harbor material nicely,” he said.
Leading the sale was a portrait by Ammi Phillips (1788-1865), a “Portrait of William Northrop Bentley.” From the Bentley estate, the painting brought $42,000 from David Schorsch, the Woodbury, Conn., dealer. William Northrup Bentley was born on July 9, 1777, in North Kingstown, R.I., and died of cholera on May 26, 1849, in Chicago at the age of 71. He was a proprietor of a hotel, Columbia Hall, in Lebanon Springs, N.Y., and when he retired in 1845, he moved to Chicago with his daughter and her family aboard the steamship Constitution.
“We were thrilled to have acquired this singular work by Ammi Phillips at such a reasonable price, as we were prepared to pay a significantly higher price,” Schorsch told Antiques and The Arts Weekly. “It communicated to us on many levels. Despite the fact that Phillips was incredibly prolific, we have only handled a small number of his portraits. Only a very few really speak to us.
The characterization of the sitter’s face, his unusual reddish brown, rather than the typical black suiting, the incredible scenic decoration painted on the crest of the side chair, the impeccable condition of the canvas remaining on the original strainers, and it having descended in the family of the sitter and totally fresh to the market are some the factors that combine in making this a truly first-rate Phillips portrait, circa 1818. That Mr Bentley is depicted holding a book comprising the two pamphlets of The Horrors of Slavery bound together is an extremely rare inclusion in any American portrait, folk or academic, and speaks to the degree that abolition played in this man’s identity and his life. Bibles and newspapers are typical and generic props seen in Phillips portraits that shed little information about the sitters. The prominence of The Horrors of Slavery within the context of this portrait is incalculable. A light cleaning of an old streaky and darkened varnish, along with an appropriate period frame will return this gorgeous portrait to its radiant original glory.”
Phillips also painted a portrait of Bentley’s wife and daughter, which was offered at Sotheby’s in 2018 and is now in the collection of the American Folk Art Museum. One wonders if someday the family portraits will be reunited.
Estimates in this auction were consistently low, affording many upside surprises along the way. Also from the Bentley estate, a rare early Korean Chosen pottery jar with a teakwood lid with a carved amethyst, 6 by 9 inches tall, ignored a $100/800 expectation and finished at $25,200.
Fine art highlights included a pencil-signed James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) print “The Doorway.” The first state, 13-by-17-inch (framed) print, property from the Bentley estate, earned $11,250 against a $3/6,000 estimate. Like the Whistler etching in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the print depicts richly ornamented panels that surround a central void and invites the viewer into the shadowed interior of the Palazzo Gussoni, with a sunlit courtyard glimpsed beyond.
Another original signed first state print also came out of the Bentley estate. It was by James Jacques Joseph Tissot (French, 1836-1902) and depicted an elegantly attired woman walking through a wooded path looking over her shoulder. Tissot was born in Nantes, studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris under Ingres, Flandrin and Lamothe and exhibited in the Paris Salon for the first time at the age of 23. His first characteristic period made him a painter of the charms of women. Framed at 18½ by 29 inches, it went past its $100/800 estimate to bring $4,200.
A Nineteenth Century Botticelli copy in a Victorian frame by Claire Atwood, 42½ by 28 inches, found a buyer at $3,750, and a pencil-signed Salvador Dali print, “The Three Hippies” depicting three nudes in a sylvan setting, 40½ by 32½ framed, sold for $3,438.
The Sag Harbor estate weighed in with some choice furniture lots. Leading them was a Nineteenth Century Chinese huanghuali wood table, 38 by 19 by 32 inches, that was estimated $100/800 but commanded $7,800.
A Federal-style marble top carved giltwood console table, 69 by 22 by 36 inches, carried an $800-$1,600 estimate but was bid to $4,063, while Midcentury Modern fans pursued a signed Gordon Russell rosewood sideboard, 84 by 18 by 33 inches, which also brought $4,063.
Sag Harbor also disgorged a couple of Nineteenth Century three-tier mahogany servers, one of which brought $3,438 and another that ended at $2,813.
In the decorative arts category, Sag Harbor contributed a chip carved girandole mirror, 28 by 8 by 45 inches, taking $3,438, and an antique copper steer weathervane on stand, 28½ by 4 by 16 inches, leaving the gallery at $5,100.
Additional highlights included an antique leopard skin blanket, 70 by 85 inches, $2,813; an 8-by-10 Cambo Monorail camera outfit with extra lenses, $2,400; and a two-piece Tiffany & Co sterling silver meat tray, 13½ by 11 by 2 inches and 40.26 troy ounces, $2,500.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house. For information, www.kimballsauction.com or 413-549-8300.
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