Published: February 5, 2019
Review and Photos by Laura Beach
NEW YORK CITY – The Winter Show, which completed its ten-day run at the Park Avenue Armory on January 27, turned 65 this year. To commemorate the occasion, The Magazine Antiques solicited the recollections of prominent regulars, whose thoughts are published seriatim in the show catalog. Philadelphia Museum of Art curator Alexandra Kirtley was so proud of her first pre-graduate school Winter Show acquisition, a Chinese export plate purchased from Wayne Pratt, that she has never removed the price sticker from its back. Patrick Bell of Olde Hope Antiques remembers the time he sold several pieces from his stand to Oprah Winfrey, only to find a crowd had gathered to watch.
Exhibitor Arthur Liverant’s comments are the most striking. The Connecticut dealer writes, “My memories go way back, starting when I was just a kid – the years my father exhibited at the Winter Show, from 1959 to 1970… there were seemingly hordes of dealers, some wonderfully eccentric, like the Andrews sisters from Rhode Island – two tiny women whose long mink coats virtually swept the floor. Every year it seemed there was a catastrophe of some sort: blizzards, strikes – a taxi strike one year, a newspaper strike another year, and, worst of all, a garbage strike a third, with literally mountains of trash piled up all over the city, complete with rats and a mind-altering stench.”
Yes, the Winter Show has never been for sissies. Erratic weather is one of its most reliable features. No show demands more of a dealer; none is potentially more rewarding. As Bell told us, “This show was life-changing for us. I wanted to get to the top, and this was – and is – it.”
This year’s fair was beautifully managed by a team led by co-chairmen Lucinda Ballard and Michael Lynch with executive director Helen Allen and associate executive director Michael Diaz-Griffith.
Forthright and friendly, Allen, an experienced events manager who took over the fair benefiting East Side House Settlement in April, earned top marks from exhibitors for her organizational skills and attention to their needs. Five thousand years of art and antiques – or design, as some now prefer to call it – filled 67 stands impeccably appointed with objects ranging from American paintings, furniture and folk art to antiquities, artist-made jewelry, fine-art photography and vintage toys.
Despite its brilliance and polish, the 65th Winter Show felt a bit blue, with sales seemingly on the soft side, at least through the show’s first seven days. An impending storm canceled flights and caused some collectors to cut short their visit to the city on the show’s first weekend. The fair fell a week earlier this year, over the Martin Luther King holiday, which may have kept some area residents away. America was in the grip of a government shutdown. Investors are uneasy about the near-term future of the markets. Technological disruption has upended retailing, as evinced by empty storefronts on New York’s Madison Avenue. It has also fractured the media, leading to superficial reporting on the show. Having lavished attention on the event for decades, editors at New York’s paper of record now seem to regard most selling exhibitions as unworthy of their attention, as if the objects themselves are tainted. The Winter Show is eclectic and needs to be, its variety and specialization in keeping with current taste. Still, the departure of prominent Americanists has left gaps in what was once the show’s chief specialty and what remains, despite reporting to the contrary, the broad foundation of the domestic market for art and antiques.
All involved are keenly aware of the challenges facing traditional shows in a trendy world. Most Winter Show exhibitors, many of whom head generations-old family firms, sanguinely take the long view. Management is working assiduously to broaden the show’s reach through digital-savvy marketing (web videos, social media campaigns and a Winter Show app developed by Cuseum, available through the App Store) and to develop imaginative programming that connects with new audiences and keeps existing constituencies engaged throughout the year. These initiatives will take time and sustained effort to fulfill their promise. Suggestions are afoot that would make the show less expensive to produce, which in turn would make it more attractive to exhibitors, current and prospective.
The gate was up, according to management. It reached a five-year high on opening night party and a ten-year high for weekend attendance. Museum night was active, and Chubb Night notched a new record. “Big picture, we are back on the road to 25,000, our pre-recession attendance,” a spokesman for the fair said.
“My favorite evening at the show is Young Collectors Night,” said Evan Lobel of Lobel Modern, whose sales included a Philip and Kelvin Laverne patinated bronze and pewter coffee table and a Stalagmite floor lamp by Vladimir Kagan. Gemini Antiques concurred. “We gave out 75 cards during the evening,” said toys specialist Leon Weiss, whose sales included two Noah’s Arks, the second snapped up 40 minutes after it arrived on the floor. “We also sold lots of old toy soldiers,” added Ray Haradin, partner with Leon and Steven Weiss in the specialty auction company RSL.
Several exhibitors mounted thematic displays. There were works by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth at Adelson Galleries. Celebrating its 80th year, Galerie St Etienne contrasted colorful, childlike paintings by folk artist Grandma Moses with subdued but decidedly adult nude drawings by Austrian Modernists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele. A critical mass of documented pieces by Ernest Gimson prompted Martin Levy of H. Blairman and Sons to emphasize work by the English Arts and Crafts architect and designer. Highlights included a Gimson octagonal table, chest of drawers, pair of brass sconces and a weathercock.
Furniture was a winner for London antiquary Apter-Fredericks, which wrote up a rare pair of circa 1800 lacquered Chinese export Pembroke tables related to a dressing case at the Peabody Essex Museum and a George III pagoda-shaped dumbwaiter of circa 1770. Hyde Park Antiques sold a late Eighteenth Century library table and an Irish walnut armchair. Ben Macklowe noted his gallery’s sale of an Ãmile GallÃ© etagere to “one of the great Art Nouveau collectors who comes to the show every year.”
“Flower vases always speak to the imagination of collectors,” said Dutch dealer Robert Aronson, gesturing to a marked pair made in Delft at the Metal Pot factory around 1680. Spring was in the air at Arader Galleries, which led with Georg Dionysius Ehret’s original watercolors of colonial American plants. At Barbara Israel Garden Antiques, carved stone American eagles guarded Pierce Francis Connelly’s exquisitely rendered 1870 marble figure of Desdemona. Behind them burbled Edith Barretto Parsons’s “Frog Baby” fountain of about 1940.
Bernard Goldberg Fine Arts made an early sale of an extraordinary cut-metal aviary installation created by William Hunt Diederich around 1927 for a New York townhouse. Jonathan Boos sold his major Marsden Hartley oil “Off to the Banks” of 1936.
Three Winslow Homer watercolors – “Along the Road, Bahamas,” 1885; the brilliant “Adirondacks, Man and Canoe,” 1892; and the insouciant “Spanish Girl with a Fan,” 1885 – wowed visitors at Menconi + Schoelkopf, where John Singer Sargent’s portrait “The Countess of Essex” offered a frothy contrast.
Two artists indelibly associated with the American West, Georgia O’Keeffe and Wayne Thiebaud, headlined at Michael Altman Fine Art. Elle Shushan nudged the contemporary portraiture category forward with compelling works by Maxine Helfman and Bettina von Zwehl.
To French artist Louis Ambrose Garneray’s 1835 aquatints of the whale fishery, the only whaling images mentioned by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick, the Old Print Shop added three paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and Norman Rockwell, each marked in excess of $1 million.
Fingers crossed that Jeffrey Tillou returns to the show after his leave of absence this year. In Jeff’s absence, a fine selection of Caucasian rugs from his father Peter Tillou’s personal collection, plus weavings from the collection of Timothy McCormack, added to the excitement at Peter Pap Oriental Rugs. “We’re always busy here. With major auction houses cutting back in this specialty, our following is growing,” said Pap, who has done the Winter Show for 25 years.
Folk-art dealers pulled out all the stops. Olde Hope’s booth, its best in many years, featured two celebrated portraits of the Brewster children, Betsey and Sophia, by John Brewster Jr. The paintings descended in the Brewster family before G.W. Samaha acquired them. Olde Hope balanced the display with James Bard’s quintessential oil of the steamship America and one of the famous locomotive weathervanes of which three are known.
Stephen Score sold his most important piece, a 4-by-10-foot watercolor on plaster mural by Rufus Porter. The Boston dealer removed it from the Boyden House in Westwood, Mass., in 1982 and recently reacquired it before reselling it at the show to young collectors. “Porter scholars have known of its existence but not its whereabouts,” Score told us.
“The show has been very good, and the Americana Week auctions were the best buying opportunity of my lifetime after the Ralph Esmerian sale,” said Connecticut dealer David Schorsch, ticking off a list of sales that included a triple portrait of members of the McConahy family by Ohio painter David Brokaw, a Nantucket Windsor armchair, a two-door North Carolina cupboard, a sheet-metal Indian hunter and wagon wheel weathervane, a set of watercolor portraits of the Westcott family painted by Thomas Skynner and, to an institution, a German bible containing an ink on watercolor double-page religious text by Johannes Ernst Spangenberg (circa 1755-1814) for Jacob Schaefer, Easton area, Penn., circa 1785-90.
To Historic Charleston, Kelly Kinzle sold a French and Indian War map powder horn once owned by Captain Charles Fornin Richardes of the 95th Regiment. It is engraved with vignettes of Charleston, Fort Prince George and Fort Johnson.
Formal American furniture specialist Bernard and S. Dean Levy’s many sales included a three-shell blocked-front chest of drawer with molded tray top from Rhode Island or Connecticut; a Federal sofa table, possibly by John and Thomas Seymour, circa 1810; and a Chippendale side chair attributed to Nathaniel Gould of Boston, circa 1770.
Hirschl & Adler Galleries brought three pieces from its current gallery show, “Augmenting the Canon,” celebrating masterpieces of American Classical art and design. The works included a newly discovered Boston work table attributed to Isaac Vose & Son, with Thomas Seymour as foreman. Portraits of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart and James Sharples were other highlights.
American silver experts Spencer-Marks pulled off another coup, arraying Arts and Crafts silver from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass. Rarest of all were two silver-gilt pieces by New Hampshire maker George E. Germer. The Massachusetts dealers wrote up a Gorham tea and coffee set and Gorham “Narragansett” line bon-bon dishes, a Tiffany and Co. circa 1879 volcanic vase and a desk set that once belonged to Diamond Jim Brady.
In the underrepresented Latin American category, Robert Simon featured folky Cuzco School paintings and rustic blue-and-white patterned Mexican Talavera Poblana pottery. Ancient American art was the preserve of Spencer Throckmorton, who offered a 1100-500 BCE Olmec standing figure.
In the Asian field, Ralph M. Chait Galleries wrote up a pair of copper-red Kangxi period baluster vases, and Japanese art authority Joan Mirviss dispatched 65 ceramics works and 17 woodblock prints, some of them featured in her special display “The Five Elements,” honoring five Japanese masters of the art of clay.
“We’ve met and sold to an international crowd and made new clients,” said arms and armor specialist Redmond Finer, whose important sales included a pair of cannons and an Eighteenth Century mixed-metal Korean helmet for a high-ranking member of the royal household.
New to the show, sporting art expert Red Fox Fine Art of Middleburg, Va., dazzled visitors with paintings by Percival Rosseau, Frank Weston Benson and a delightful sculpture of a seated setter with woodcock, cast in iron by Wood & Perot Foundry, circa 1858.
“Rooted in the past, looking toward the future” is how Allen and company describe their mission, one more than met by the 2019 Winter Show.
For additional information, www.thewintershow.org.
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