Published: November 14, 2017
Review and Photos by Jackie Sideli
PORTSMOUTH, R.I. – It was an auction unlike any other, and it was pure Mike Corcoran – the auctioneer at Gustave J.S. White – who runs his auctions in ways unique to him: no catalog, no descriptions, no list of the lots and, of course, with no internet anything. All the lots are laid out on tables, no special lighting, and if you want to see what is offered, you had better come to the gallery and look for yourself!
The October 25 auction was filled with the paintings and drawings of William Trost Richards (1833-1905), an American Pre-Raphaelite painter who was associated with the Hudson River school. They came from the estate of Edith Ballinger Price (1897-1997), who was a granddaughter of Richards.
Corcoran was offering 13 paintings and 103 drawings, most of which came from the Brooklyn Museum, where they had been placed on loan by Price in 1997; none had ever been offered for sale either privately or at auction, before this sale.
There were about 30 people in the auction gallery for this small and focused sale, and with some very strong bidders on the phone from Pennsylvania and New York, Corcoran said prior to the sale, “They are great.”
The top lot was a spectacular oil on canvas, which measured 48 by 36 inches. It was a depiction of Donegal, the west coast of Ireland. The painting sold quickly, achieving $132,000.
An oil on board depiction of the Conanicut, R.I., cliffs that measured 8½ by 15½ inches sold to a customer bidding by phone. The painting was signed “Wm T Richards, September ’99,” and achieved $28,800. An unusual four-panel painting, “Cedar Swamp Pine, Matunuck, Rhode Island,” which was a view of the family camp, finished at $22,800.
Corcoran and Paul Murphy, his assistant, made a trip to the Brooklyn Museum to collect drawings and came home with two more drawings than expected, one of which was a framed watercolor by Fidelia Bridges (1834-1923), who, according to Corcoran’s explanation during the auction, was Richards’ girlfriend. Bridges was a successful artist herself. The little watercolor measured 10½ by 18½ inches, and it was signed “F. Bridges 1902.” It opened at $5,000, to the telephone, and sold to a buyer on the phone for $24,000, with four phones competing.
At one point in the telephone bidding, Corcoran told the person handling the phone that “the auction’s today!” meaning “get a move on.”
A lovely oil on canvas, painted by Anna Richards Brewster (1870-1952), William Trost Richard’s daughter, was signed on the lower right. It was framed in an exquisite Newcomb-Macklin frame, and measured 19½ by 15½ inches. The painting caused lots of action, and finished $9,600. A smallish oil on board, signed WMT Richards, sold in just one left bid, achieving $5,400. Another oil painting, “A View of the Coast of Ireland,” measuring 30 by 20 inches, brought $9,000.
At one point in this sale Corcoran declared, “More action!” Each person in the small crowd was completely involved. It was a serious sale with very specific contents.
A man standing at the edge of the crowd was bidding on, and purchasing, many of Richards’ drawings. At the end of the auction, it turned out that “Harry,” as Corcoran referred to him, was Harry Shaw Newman II, from the famous Old Print Shop on Lexington Avenue in New York City.
Among the drawings brought back during Corcoran and Murphy’s trip to the Brooklyn Museum was a small work that reached $7,800. Another was a pen and ink, which was signed on the lower left Wm Trost Richards, and was an exquisite scene of Newport; it opened at $1,000, and sold for $2,400. A drawing of a rock formation made $3,600, and another group of Richards’ drawings sold for $1,800.
Another way this was like no other auction, Corcoran does not use bidding numbers during his sales. He has a phenomenal memory and if you have purchased at his sales in the past, he remembers you. He will call out to Elsie, his assistant, who has been with him for 65 years, “Smith! $2,500!”
The paintings and drawings were laid out on tables – no lighting, no hanging on walls – just art and plenty of it.
All the prices given include the buyer’s premium.
The Gustave J.S. White Company auction galleries are at 1674 and 1676 East Main Road. For more information, 401-841-5780. No website; if you find a website online, it is for a realty company of the same name.
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