Fine Art & Folk Art Highlight Julia’s February Auction

Fairfield, Maine, February 6 & 7, 2009. The antiques market has changed over the years. Tastes change. Times change. Economies change. Amid this change, a constant is that those with money will likely remain in money. And rather than invest in a sketchy stock market, many are shifting to quality tangible assets. As consignors, it is wise to “give the people what they want”. Yes, Joe the plumber may be holding off on buying that $200-300 whatsit, but his wealthy older brother knows that this is a time for action. But that means quality, rarity, and condition and Julia’s recent auction supplied all three to an eager buying public. There were certainly bargains to keep astute bidders at the ready. But there were also a great number of strong prices that brought the final tally to over $1.5 million.

Of the 1,200+ lots in this quality offering, much interest was expressed for both fine and folk art. The latter category included numerous weathervanes such as a rare leaping stag attributed to Harris & Company of Boston. This molded copper example featured zinc ears and antlers caught leaping over a fallen tree and shrub. Fresh to the market from a Massachusetts estate having descended through the family, it leapt past its $15,000-25,000 estimate to sell for $83,375. Masterful woodwork included an American carved and painted tobacco store counter figure in full feathered headdress, tunic, robe, and moccasins. From the Chad Richards Estate of Camden, Maine, it sold for $17,250 against an estimate of $8,000-12,000. Other folk art included a lot of Willie Ross miniature decoys. Ross was from Chebeague Island, Maine and known for his simplicity and folky forms and created this set of miniatures as a gift to a family member. They were passed down through and consigned by the family, and until now unknown to exist. Ranging in size from two inches to four inches, one couldn’t help but be impressed by the craftsmanship. The lot of eight went to a collector at the upper end of its $5,000-8,000 estimate for $7,762. An unsigned folk art portrait of a Massachusetts sea captain’s daughter holding a bird caught the eye of several bidders, ultimately finishing up at $5,462 versus a $2,000-4,000 estimate. And from the Richards’ Estate, an early 20th Century Maine folk art carving of a man, woman, and dog in a canoe paddled its way to $3,105, exceeding expectations of $1,000-1,500.

The splendid offering of paintings from the previous day covered a wide array of subjects by many of the collecting world’s more sought after American and European artists. Gracing the cover of Julia’s exquisite catalog for this auction was New England favorite and Julia staple Emile Gruppe’s “Water Lilies”. More prominently known for his harbor scenes, this, one of his less frequently visited subjects is believed to be one of only three known lily pond works by Gruppe. Clearly influenced by Monet’s impressionist works, it featured a large pond filled with clusters of green lily pads and colorful flowering buds. It sold within its $30,000-40,000 estimate for $34,500. Works from other Rockport-Gloucester School artists included contemporary artist Thomas Nicholas, whose “Clearing Storm, Essex” provides the viewer a look across a snow-covered shoreline towards the Massachusetts village while clearing blue sky advances from the left. This delightful work sold for $11,500 against an estimate of $10,000-15,000. Fellow New Englander Eric Sloane’s oil on masonite winter scene of several snow covered barn buildings reflect traces of long sunset shadows working their way up the walls. This exquisite work sold for $14,950, midway through its $12,000-18,000 estimate.

Ship portraits included an unsigned portrait of the schooner “Water Lily”, a two-mast black hulled ship shown in full sail across a wavy sea. Coming from the estate of Chad Richards, it tripled the low end of its $5,000-10,000 estimate to sell for $15,525.

An assortment of several works by Earl Cunningham included a variety of scenes such as a marvelous folk art rendition of a large red roofed covered bridge spanning two green land masses as canoes and schooners fill the foreground. Fresh from a New England home it was a good buy at $13,800. The artist’s wild, almost childlike, and mildly abstract works also included a tropical marsh scene with blue and orange grasses and a canal reflecting the setting sun. This piece changed hands within expectations of $8,000-12,000 at $8,625.
This auction marked the third of three sub-collections Julia’s sold on behalf of the Geraldine Gaba Estate of Scottsdale, Arizona. The proceeds of the collection are earmarked for charitable distribution to the American Cancer Society, the University of Arizona Medical School, and the Phoenix Zoo. Her massive and varied estate included exquisite dollhouses, miniatures, and glass (sold in November) as well as a select grouping of early California and Western art offered most recently. Included was a fine oil on canvas scene by Edwin Deakin of a massive mountain range overlooking a waterfall and lake while a Native American woman tends to a campfire. It surpassed a $10,000-20,000 estimate to sell for $24,150. William Keith’s western landscape showing a lake nestled among the foothills with rocky ledges in the foreground brought $17,825 against an estimate of $10,000-15,000.

Other Western art, from a private Maine collection, Don Kingman’s “17 Mile Drive, California, 1954” was an outstanding watercolor of a marshy area with trees, birds and grasses against a dusky sky. Illustrated in a book on the artist’s works, it sold within its estimate of $10,000-20,000 for $13,225. A separate grouping of modern western works from a private New Hampshire collection added to the assortment. Frank McCarthy’s “Hostiles at Bear Wallow” depicted three Indian braves who appear to be tracking man or beast through a small rocky canyon. Executed in stunning realism, it sold within a $5,000-10,000 estimate for $8,050.

American impressionist Henry Ward Ranger’s portrayal of a farmer on an oxcart traversing verdant pastures beneath large trees harvested $7,475 (est. $6,000-8,000). And a large oil on canvas scene by Thomas Doughty featuring a riverboat heading upstream against an autumn backdrop sold for $9,200 (est. $8,000-12,000). For the more urban minded, Martha Walter’s street scene showing several pedestrians passing a museum with large arched porticos was a great find. It sold for $10,350 against expectations of $5,000-7,000. And a street scene by Guy Wiggins entitled “Winter at the Plaza” shows a single horse-drawn carriage with driver waiting by a monument in the city square. This piece sold for $9,775 versus a $6,000-8,000 estimate.

In the American illustration category, the original poster art for a circa WWI ‘feed the children’ campaign by Jessie Wilcox Smith was a wonderful example of her work. Depicting a young girl and boy slicing large loaves of bread for a long procession of starving urchins, it sold within its $20,000-30,000 estimate for $24,150.

From the Chad Richards Estate, other American art included Ernestine Fabbri whose interior scene of a young woman knitting by a window sold for $8,625, ignoring an estimate of $1,000-2,000. And a pencil drawing by John Singer Sargent of a winged cherub blowing horns in a doorway sold for $8,050 versus a $1,000-2,000 estimate.

These joined a fine offering of European and Russian art, highlighted in part by Konstantin Gorbatov’s colorful scene of a line of sailboats reflected in the blue and green ocean below. Coming in with an estimate of $15,000-25,000, it found a buyer at $13,800. Austrian painter Franz Unterberger’s gouache scene of a village nestled among the cliffs along the Mediterranean coast sold for $6,325 over expectations of $3,000-5,000.

Three dimensional art featured a marvelous Franz Bergman cold painted bronze table lamp in the form of a domed Arab tent. The high detail of the sculpting and painting of the draped tent and interior figure is of the finest quality, helping to bring the final price to $9,717 against a $5,000-10,000 estimate. Of the other bronze pieces, a charming pair of bookends depicting a girl and boy with arms outstretched as if the books they’re supporting are a prop in a game of hide and seek. The pair brought a respectable $5,175 within a $4,500-6,500 estimate.

The second session was a fabulous assemblage from various estates including more from the Geraldine Gaba Estate. Her terrific collection of Historical Staffordshire in blue and white with desirable American scenes offered a rare opportunity. Amassed over 50 years of collecting Mrs. Gaba took much pride in her rare ceramic plates, teapots, pitchers, sugars, and the centerpiece of the collection an important Belleville soup tureen with cover, undertray, and ladle. From Enoch Wood’s “Views of the Hudson” series, the set featured brilliant scenes of historical New York and sold for $14,950 against a presale estimate of $8,000-12,000. A restored monumental and rare Blue Staffordshire trade sign in the form of a milk pitcher was another grand opportunity. Perhaps the largest of its type to exist, this massive advertising/pottery crossover piece from the early 1800s featured several vignettes of English life decorating the exterior. Exceeding expectations of $2,000-3,000, it sold for $6,210.

Other fine antiques included a medley of early American and Victorian furniture and accessories such as a fine coastal Massachusetts Chippendale mahogany oxbow chest of drawers that sold for $10,925 against a $10,000-15,000 estimate. Also worthy of note was a first-rate New England jeweler’s astronomical regulator clock. This unusual timepiece in a Gothic beehive case with circular upper door contained a large steel dial with separate hour and seconds dials. It kept time with its $4,000-6,000 estimate to sell for $4,600.

The auction also featured numerous fine English and American silver pieces including a Paul Storr covered soup tureen with its original liner. This outstanding double handled vertically ribbed oval body, decorated with grape clusters and trailing vines on elegant claw feet, was the epitome of elegance. It shined at $38,525 versus an estimate of $30,000-50,000. American silver included a Tiffany & Company flatware service set for twelve in the “Shell and Thread” pattern. Having descended through the same Maine family since its creation in the early 1900s, the 96-piece set sold for $5,175, on par with its $5,000-7,000 pre-auction estimate.

The sale was rounded out by marvelous miscellany and a selection of over 30 Oriental rugs including a Kashgai Oriental rug profusely decorated with dense polychrome floral vinery. This lush example brought $8,625 against expectations of $7,000-9,000. A carved ivory figure of a scholar from the Ming Dynasty, and one of China’s earliest ivories, sold for $5,750 against an estimate of $5,000-7,000.

Other miscellany included an extensive autograph album featuring actors, authors, and historical personages from the late 1800s was a sleeper, selling at $5,060 (est. $1,000-2,000). And an outstanding Gendron Packard pedal car from the 1920s with classic styling and all the bells and whistles brought a solid $10,350 (est. $7,500-9,500).

Julia’s upcoming auctions include an important firearms auction March 16 & 17 including the renowned collection of Dr. J.A. Murphy. In June, Julia’s will conduct their glass & lamp and toy & doll auctions. And their next antiques and fine art auction will take place May 9. Julia’s is currently accepting consignments for these and other upcoming auctions. Call immediately for inclusion in these exciting sales. For more information, contact their offices at 207-453-7125. James D. Julia, Inc., P.O. Box 830, Dept. PR, Fairfield, ME 04937. E-mail: jjulia@juliaauctions.com.