Published: June 8, 2021
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Hindman
CHICAGO – Antiquities are in bloom at Hindman. In his first sale as director and senior specialist of the antiquities department at the Chicago auction house, Jacob Coley put together a $1 million auction. It was the third sale the firm had mounted from the newly-formed department.
Coley had previously worked as the managing director of the ancient art department at Colnaghi – reintroducing the world’s oldest commercial gallery to the United States by opening a branch with Carlos Picón in New York in 2017 – and prior to that was a member of the Greek and Roman art department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“What interested me most was the opportunity to work with more material,” Coley said. “Colnaghi was blue chip, but I believe the middle market was largely being ignored in America. They have that structure in the United Kingdom, but not necessarily in the United States. When I was approached by Hindman, they also recognized that there was a way to fill that gap.”
Coley was happy with the results from his first sale.
“I think at first glance, the strength of the sale was in the classical portraiture,” he said. “From Ptolemy III to Trajan, we had a great representation of Greek and Roman portraiture. The top five lots showed the desire for mid-size to large marbles. But if you look closer, you’ll see the ancient pottery and glass performed really well.”
The sale found its leader at $137,500 with a Roman marble sculpture of Eros riding a dolphin. The work measured 29½ inches high and dated circa the First to Second Century CE. It had a line of provenance that reached back to the 1970s. Coley said the image of Eros with a dolphin is prolific throughout time, beginning in antiquity and progressing through the Renaissance, when these images were rediscovered and reproduced. “Then there was the condition, quality and execution of the work – the quality of the face and rendering of Eros,” Coley said. “At times the dolphins can be depicted as quite monstrous, but this one has more charm than some of the others.”
The midsection of a Roman marble Satyr would best its $45,000 high estimate to land at $75,000. Measuring 18½ inches high, the Second Century CE statue featured the nude satyr’s rear end and front, the high relief hair creeping up his legs like a pair of thigh highs. The satyr’s phallus had been chipped off at some point in the past. Coley noted the sexual allure of the mythological beast’s midsection, which he cataloged as a “lower torso.” “To achieve decorum we called it the lower torso,” Coley said, noting he fielded some humor from a number of clients.
Other Roman highlights included a marble portrait head of Emperor Trajan, 11 inches, that sold for $43,750. A Second Century CE bronze depicting Venus brought $22,500, while a marble portrait of a man sold for $22,500. At 27½ inches high, the life-size portrait also dated to the Second Century CE and was notable for its cloak, which the firm said was “pinned around the shoulders in a fashion often affected by princes and notables in military or high civic service.”
With provenance dating back prior to 1906 was a Greek marble panther head circa the Third to Second Century BCE. The auction house said it once belonged atop a full-size marble panther, a figure often depicted alongside Dionysos. Bidders took it to $68,750. Coley pointed to a similar figure deaccessioned by the Albright-Knox Gallery at Sotheby’s in 2007. “This one is without a doubt from the same attic workshop,” he said. “The theory is that these could have been a pair, although the neck breaks differently. It’s possible, based on the archeological evidence where animal pairs are commonly found in burial plots or along demarcation boundaries.”
Other Greek items would do well, including $56,250 paid for a marble funerary stele featuring Eurynome that was illustrated in Clairmont’s 1993 title Classical Attic Tombstones. The central image in the recessed panel features two figures clasping hands, a gesture of farewell. Coley dated it to the Fourth Century BCE. A Greek marble portrait head of Ptolemy III, the third pharaoh of Egypt during the Ptolemaic dynasty, would sell for $37,500. Ptolemy III was responsible for reuniting Egypt and Cyrenaica and the dynasty would reach a crescendo under his rule. The sculpture dated to circa 180-222 BCE and was 7¾ inches high.
Objects that were from old collections or featured exhibition history were popular among buyers. Taking $43,750 was a Cycladic marble reclining female figure measuring 10½ inches high. It was among the earliest pieces in the sale, dating circa the Third Millennium BCE or later. The work had at one time been attributed to the Stafford Master by Pat Getz-Gentle, though she would rename the artist to the Louvre Sculptor. It had been published in four books and exhibited three times.
Also from old collections were some of the high flying Ancient Egyptian lots. Selling for $37,500 was a wood mummy mask, only 4¾ inches high, that dated to the Third Intermediate Period, circa 1070 to 712 BCE. The work featured an old inventory label for Dikran Kelekian. “We went to the Kelekian archive and the number matched the inventory,” Coley said, proving it was cataloged pre-1926. Dikran Kelekian was among the earliest dealers to introduce antiquities to the American market when he established a gallery in New York City in 1893.
Selling for $37,500 was a painted wood figure of the Egyptian god Ptah-Sokar-Osiris, 19½ inches tall. The work had provenance to the collection of E Towry White, a late Nineteenth Century Egyptologist. It had also passed through the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The firm wrote, “Ptah-Sokar-Osiris was a conflation of three separate deities, all of whom were identified with fertility and regeneration as well as death and burial.” Coley noted that it still had mineral fragments in the pigments, which would reflect light when illuminated.
Coley was able to dig up a few discoveries in his research on certain objects. At 29 inches high, a Roman marble sculpture support with a male torso would have been lightly described as fragmented, the figure missing his head, arm and leg. “Looking at it, you want to know what this is,” Coley said. He soon found a comparable piece, “Hunter with Dog,” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Inv. 1984.167). The comparable example depicted the figure holding a club in one hand and a hare in the other, a wild boar dead on the ground and a dog lunging upward to get the hare from his master. “What was fragmentary at the time, turns into something much more,” he said. It sold for $12,500.
Two Roman mosaic fragment panels sold near each other in separate lots at $10,000 and $10,625. Coley noted, “These are just humble mosaic fragments, but they were published in A. Michaelis’ 1882 book, Ancient Marbles in Great Britain. Michaelis was an archeologist and ancient art scholar and that book is a major title, a seminal work. He went around to all the treasure houses in England and cataloged their antiquities collections – we know of a lot of these old British collections because of his efforts.” Mosaic panels from this same floor are currently on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In leaving New York City, Coley departed one of the more active trading centers for antiquities in the United States, though he noted that the Midwest holds its fair share of bounty.
“The Midwest has a healthy interest in ancient art, and that statement is substantiated by the amount of Midwestern collections consigned to this sale. We had two Midwest private collections and one of them was quite important.
“Overall I’m very pleased with the results,” he concluded. “There were good results in cultures that aren’t necessarily the strongest – people were willing to go outside Greek, Roman and Egyptian.”
The department’s next sale will take place in mid-November. All prices reported include buyer’s premium. For information, www.hindmanauctions.com or 312-280-1212.
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