Published: May 4, 2016
Review by Rick Russack
Catalog Photos Courtesy Willis Henry Auctions, Inc
PLYMOUTH, MASS. — As Willis Henry opened his April 16 auction at the Hotel 1620, he looked out at the packed salesroom and said, “This is the past. Auctions don’t draw crowds like this anymore.” He meant auctions that accept online bidding, resulting in fewer participants in the room. This sale, however, had a good turnout owing to a wide assortment of fresh material: folk art, marine art, good paintings, whaling items, walking sticks, a major collection of silhouettes, folk art reference material, books, Hingham buckets, stoneware, silver and more. The sale grossed more than $240,000.
Marine paintings led the way and a portrait of the American steam and sail, four-masted ship The Spain by Antonio Jacobsen (American, 1850–1921) was the top grossing lot of the sale. It was a good-sized painting, 29 by 43 inches, in its original walnut frame. Signed, with his New York address, the painting sold for $15,600 to a buyer in the room. Another ship portrait, this one by Joseph Heard (British, 1799–1850), depicting the three-masted American packet ship Tuscarora under full sail, brought $6,600. The ship was lost in a severe storm near Cadiz, Spain, in 1873 and became famous at the time due to the captain’s efforts to save the ship.
A watercolor ship portrait of “Barkentine William Cobb Entering Palermo, 1875” signed Giuseppe Monasteri, finished at $1,800. There were 12 figures on the ship with a harbor and a lighthouse seen in the background. An oil on board portrait of The Great Eastern by William Pierce Stubbs (American, 1842–1909) earned $6,300. The iron sail and steam ship was the largest ship afloat when it was built in 1858. It could carry 4,000 passengers and no larger ship was built for more than 40 years.
There were other interesting paintings. A group of folky paintings of cows and sheep went home with Bill Taylor and his wife. Three paintings of cows were in one lot, which earned $1,170, and the sheep sold for $1,140. The paintings were done by Peter Foss. Taylor had done his homework on these paintings and knew that, while not a prolific painter, a painting by the artist is in the collection of the Smithsonian, and it had previously been in the collection of Herbert Wade Hemphill, noted folk art collector. Taylor said that he was impressed with the detail in the paintings, particularly in the sheep painting, and felt that he had gotten a very good buy.
Enthusiasts of horse paintings had two good ones to consider. Both were signed by Edward P Buyck (Belgian American, 1888–1960), whose works are in the permanent collections of the White House. Both were portraits of race horses. A portrait of Man O’ War, considered to be one of the greatest horses to race, went for $2,040 and included the horse’s history. The companion painting, also a head portrait, depicted Omaha, winner of the Triple Crown in 1935, and realized $1,320. Both had been in the collection of Ed Clerk. A portrait of a gentleman with blue eyes by William Mathew Prior finished at $2,400. Signed and dated 1849 on the back, the sitter was identified as Ira Allen, aged 53.
Folk art included a carved maple cigar holder similar to one pictured on page 81 of John Hale Bellamy, Carver of Eagles. It had a detailed carving of a rooster, along with a barrel for the cigars and a basket for matches. It went out for $1,080. Three weathervanes included two full-bodied roosters and an eagle. One of the roosters, with a red painted comb and original gilt surface, on blue/green plinth, went for $1,200, and the other rooster fetched $870. The eagle, with a 29-inch wing spread and original gilt surface, made $1,920.
Will Henry told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that one painting in particular could be considered Outsider art. It was a colorful oil on canvas titled “Honeymoon,” depicting a young woman lying on a bed and a young man with a bouquet of flowers entering the room. It was done by Pegeen Vail Guggenheim (American, 1925–1967) signed “Pegeen” and dated 1946. Pegeen was the daughter of Peggy Guggenheim, founder of the well-known art museum in Venice, Italy. Pegeen’s work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art and in several exhibitions of the works of women artists. She committed suicide in 1967. This painting may have been a bargain, reaching $3,300.
Folk art collectors had the opportunity of acquiring some unique reference material. Howard Fertig, collector and scholar, spent many years collecting all the information he could find on silhouettes, folk painters, miniatures and Ammi Philips. With Mary Black, he authored Revisiting Ammi Phillips, Fifty Years of American Portraiture, published by the Folk Art Museum in 1994, in an absurdly small edition of 250 copies. His research material on Phillips comprised 20 three-ring binders that included every fact, advertisement, article and newspaper clipping that he could find, along with slides of all the Phillips paintings he had located. The group sold for $5,280. A similarly comprehensive archive on silhouettes, comprising more than 30 three-ring binders brought only $330 and 30 additional binders of material on dozens of folk artists achieved $720.
Whalebone items included scrimshawed teeth, several walking sticks with carved whalebone handles and a piece that drew quite a response from the audience. Described as a “tooth extractor,” it was a shaped wrought iron shaft, one end of which had a hinged tooth gripper in the form of a small hand. The handle was turned whalebone. Henry took a moment to be sure those in the room understood just how primitive a dental tool it was. It sold for $660 and it may be a while before another one turns up.
A carved whalebone block with original ropework, discussed in Norm Flayderman’s Scrimshaw and Scrimshanders, sold to a buyer in the room for $1,200. The collection of about 15 whalebone canes saw examples generally sell in the $200 to $500 range, but one earned $1,560. It had a whalebone and hardwood tapered shaft, terminating in whalebone carved as a clenched fist holding a snake with carved scales and a forked tongue. A scrimshawed whale’s tooth, depicting a bearded gold miner, titled “California Joe,” seemed reasonable, selling for $660.
The word “eclectic” accurately describes the assortment of antiques in this sale. A once-working steam scale model of a coal-fired steam engine and tender reached $5,760. Built by George Denny, Crafton, Penn., in 1921, the brass, steel, sheet metal and glass model represented the Buffalo Limited in service on the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Rail Road. It was more than 5 feet long and came with track.
You might not expect an Albrecht Durer woodcut at a Will Henry sale, but he had one. “Samson Fighting With The Lion” was originally printed circa 1496–97 and, according to the catalog, this impression dated to around 1580. It achieved $4,800. Also perhaps unexpected, was a Louis Icart drypoint etching, “Coursing II,” depicting a woman with whippet-type dogs. It was signed and dated 1929, and was #303 of an edition of 500, realizing $600.
Among the antiques dealers attending the auction was Brian Cullity, who was seriously injured in an automobile accident last November. Fellow dealer Paulette Nolan, using an online fundraising site, raised around $10,000 for Cullity. He told Antiques and The Arts Weekly that he wanted to thank all those who contributed to the fund, “especially Paulette for doing it. I’m extraordinarily grateful for the support, and the surprising outpouring. I couldn’t have done it without that support. To this day, I’ve no recollection of the accident or the first month in the hospital.” He has resumed doing shows.
After the sale, Will Henry commented on sale results. “The size of the crowd was really a surprise. We had stuff from a few good estates and I think that brought out the crowd. Bidders in the room took home a lot of stuff and we always like to see that.” When asked how things like the Durer woodcut came to be in the sale, he quipped, “You just never know what will turn up in an estate. That’s the fun of this business.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.
For additional information, www.willishenryauctions.com or 781-834-7774.
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