Published: January 5, 2021
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Catalog Photos Courtesy Michaan’s Auctions
ALAMEDA, CALIF. – Michaan’s Auctions closed out 2020 with a 205-lot Winter Fine Sale on December 18 and a 577-lot Gallery Auction on December 19. Between both sales, the sell-through rate was about 75 percent with a combined total for both days clocking in at $1,590,000.
“It was a really nice end to a very difficult, crazy year,” Allen Michaan said, speaking on the phone two days after the sales ended. “We’ve seen a lot more online bidding and buying activity, like many auction houses, but the consignment side has been curtailed because of Covid. Because we can’t hold the monthly Alameda Point Antiques Faires that we did pre-Covid, we have made up for some of that by putting more stuff from our Annex up on Michaan’s Live.”
Leading the sales was a Tornek-Rayville TR-900 Military diver’s stainless steel wristwatch that sold to an East Coast private collector, bidding on the phone, for $90,000. The watch had originally been owned by an Army veteran who had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He gave the watch to the consignor, a family friend and neighbor, who now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area when they were learning to dive. The back of the watch was engraved “If Found Return To Nearest Military Facility.” According to the auction house, only 1,000 watches were produced and, due to the radioactive material used on the dial, the military destroyed most of the watches they received back. It is believed that there are only an estimated 30 to 50 examples left in existence. Another timepiece in the sale – a self-winding Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer stainless steel wristwatch – sold to a private collector for $13,200, several times its estimate.
Michaan’s director of jewelry, Elise Coronado, was pleased with the results, noting that despite a small section of just 25 lots, all sold and many sold above their estimates. Bringing some impressive bling to the sale was a diamond and platinum riviere fringe necklace that featured more than 54 carats of VVS and VS-clarity and colorless or near-colorless diamonds. The necklace was from the estate of third-generation San Franciscans and philanthropists, Mortimer Fleishhacker Jr and his wife, Janet; estimated at $70/90,000, it was accompanied by its original Laykin’s box and brought $84,000 from a local collector. Selling for $25,300 was a Cartier Art Deco sapphire, diamond, enamel and platinum brooch that also came from a San Francisco collection; it sold to a private collector on the East Coast bidding on the phone.
Fine art started strong, with “Indian Summer-Russian River” by Christopher Chambers Brown (American, 1865-1942) selling to a collector in California for $17,220; it was underbid by another collector in California. The circa 1920 oil on canvas work, which measured 30 by 40 inches, had been purchased in 1983 from Studio Santa Barbara and had been exhibited with the American Federation of Arts Exhibit: California Artists. Illustrated in a 1925 issue of The Studio Magazine, the work was consigned from a private collection in Piedmont, Calif.
The undisputed star of the fine art section was “Pool Made with Paper and Blue ink,” a lithograph in colors on wove paper by David Hockney (British, b 1937). Numbered 671/1000 and accompanied by the book, Paper Pools, which was also numbered 671, the lot had provenance to the Susan Sheehan Gallery. According to Jenny Wilson, Michaan’s senior fine art specialist, seven phone bidders competed for the lot, which finally sold for $49,200 to a buyer in England.
A painting titled “The Bather” and attributed to the circle of Jean-Leon Gerome (French, 1824-1904) had been owned by W. Robert Morgan, the founder of the Triton Museum of Art in Santa Clara, Calif. A lack of documentation and history, and the opinion of an expert on Gerome who deemed it not to be by the artist’s hand, led Wilson to be cautious with her valuation of $7/10,000. Despite that, the work drew competition on six phone lines from London to Los Angeles and it finally sold for $39,975. Wilson said afterwards she would not be surprised if further research reveals this to be correct.
The family of Leo Huberman, a friend of Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975) consigned four works to the sale: an oil on canvas landscape, an ink-and-wash work on paper titled “The New Proprietors,” and two lithographs, “The Race” and “Strike.” The landscape, which realized $25,400 from a buyer bidding on LiveAuctioneers, had been thought to have been lost and was authenticated by the Thomas Hart Benton Catalogue Raisonné foundation; it will be included in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné. Cumulatively, the Benton works in the sale achieved a total of about $60,000.
Consignment to Michaan’s may have saved three bronzes by Antoine-Louis Barye (French, 1795-1875) from being destroyed in a wildfire. They were consigned from a private collection in Sonoma, Calif., an area that was subsequently threatened by wildfires; the three works sold for a combined total of $16,912.
When Michaan’s has regional fine art, whether in the Fine sales or in the more modestly value Gallery sales, it finds the right, often regional, buyers. Works by two Czechoslovakian artists – Jiri Sopko (Czechoslovakia, b 1942) and Olbram Zoubek (Czechoslovakia, 1926-2017) – both saw interest and competition online and on the phones from the Czech Republic. Zoubek’s untitled lead figure realized $11,400, while Sopko’s “Untitled Blue Heads” sold to a Czech bidder, for $13,530. The gallery sale offered three works by or attributed to Canadian artists and saw interest from Canadian buyers for each. “Abandoned Homestead,” signed by A.Y. Jackson, realized $9,840; while “Temagami” in the manner of Frederick Grant Banting and “Fairy Lake, Near Huntsville” by a follower of Franz Hans Johnston both sold for $5,535.
The strong results were not limited to fine arts, with several pieces of decorative arts bringing surprising results. Furniture and decorative arts specialist, Jill Fenichell, said that an Eighteenth Century Italian harpsichord with painted frame that was described in the catalog as “completely unplayable” was all original. The lavishly carved and painted piece had come from Historic Filoli and saw early interest from Europe, finally selling to a European buyer for $20,910.
Fenichell was pleased to have eight pieces of Polia Pillin midcentury pottery that were offered in six lots; all sold for a total of about $5,000 against a cumulative low-high estimate of $2,9/4,100. A pair of Marcel Breuer Wassily armchairs for Knoll had come from a Marin County residence and Fenichell said they had hardly ever been used. Considerable competition pushed the chairs to sell to a local buyer for $3,300, well past the estimate of $800-$1,000.
Asian fine and decorative works of art were on offer in both sales. “Female Scholar and Attendant,” was attributed to Leng Mei (1677-1742) and came from a San Francisco collection that had acquired it from the Le Vieux Manoir Gallery in Paris in 1998. The hanging scroll painting, which was characterized by Fenichell as “gorgeous,” brought $18,000 from a first-time buyer bidding on the phone; it was the top price paid for a Chinese painting. Selling well beyond its estimate was a large Chinese famille rose Hu vase with gilt iron-red scrolling cloud-form handles and an enameled scene depicting deer in a mountainous landscape. It brought $6,600 from an international collector bidding online.
Michaan’s next sale will take place in February.
Prices realized include the buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house.
Michaan’s Auctions is at 2751 Todd Street. For information, www.michaans.com or 510-740-0220.
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