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Americana at Bonhams

Lita Solis-Cohen | September 25th, 2013


This maple desk-on-frame, probably Massachusetts, 1680-1710, 40" high x 26 1/8" wide including molding, has an Israel Sack provenance and is illustrated in Albert Sack’s Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (1961) as an example of “best” form. It sold on the phone for $37,500 (est. $10,000/15,000).

This pair of chased brass-overlaid teak side chairs designed by Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) and made in Ahmedebad, India, 1881-82, sold for $242,500 (est. $50,000/80,000) to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, underbid by New York City dealer Margot Johnson. The chair without casters is 34 5/8" high overall with a seat height of 16 3/8" and seat depth of 22". The pair once stood in the front hall of de Forest’s New York City town house and was later owned by William Randolph Hearst.

The catalog cover lot, a Johnstone & Jeanes mahogany expanding round dining table, circa 1850, stamped “Johnstone & Jeanes, 67, New Bond St., London,” sold for $122,500 (est. $120,000/180,000). Robert Jupe and John Johnstone patented the design of this “Jupe” table in 1835, but the partners had a falling out in 1840, and Johnstone formed a new partnership, Johnstone & Jeanes, in 1842.

This late 19th-century bronze hanging lantern that came from the El Mirasol mansion in Santa Barbara, California, sold for $40,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). The pierced top rises above elephant heads over a suspended pierced body with dragons. Approximately 69" tall x 21" at its greatest diameter, it had been exhibited at the Museum of the City of New York from December 2005 to May 2006.

El Mirasol was an estate built for Mary Herter, the widow of Christian Herter. Her son, Albert Herter, and his wife, Adele, decorated it; both were well-known artists. When Mary died in 1913, Albert and Adele turned it into a hotel and then sold it to Frederick C. Clift. It eventually became a retirement home for elderly elite, and Albert Herter died there in 1950. The building had two attic fires in 1966, and the lantern, which borrows designs from Japanese, Middle Eastern, and Indian art, was removed before the house was demolished in 1969.

This mid-18th-century New York state cherry dressing table with a dark stain, pointed pad feet, and notched corners, possibly Hudson River valley or Long Island, 29½" high, the top 30" x 21½", sold for $15,000 (est. $3000/5000). The deep drawer and blocky tapered foot point to a New York origin.

Portrait of a boy and girl, American, 19th century, faint stencil on the back “…Morris/ No…,” 36" x 29", $27,500 (est. $5000/7000).

Bonhams, New York City

Photos courtesy Bonhams

Bonhams in New York City offered 107 lots of Americana at the end of a long sale of European furniture and decorative arts on September 25. Those who had come to the city for Christie’s morning Americana sale had plenty of time to pick up a sandwich and make it to Bonhams to bid on furniture and folk art. Some of the furniture that had not sold at previous sales was reoffered with more reasonable estimates, and there were some additions from consignors on both coasts.

The very last lot in the sale provoked a fierce bidding battle. A pair of Lockwood de Forest chairs in the Indian taste was knocked down to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts for $242,500 (including buyer’s premium), underbid by Margot Johnson, a specialist dealer in Aesthetic Movement furnishings, bidding on the phone from Paris.

John Henry Rice, curator of South Asian and Islamic art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, did the bidding on the phone. “I was the one that brought the chairs to the attention of Sylvia Yount, curator of American art. I pushed their acquisition,” said Rice on the phone after the sale. “They fit well into our collections; we have a fine collection of South Asian art and of American Aesthetic Movement. After they come from conservation, perhaps we will show one chair in the South Asian Indian galleries and the other in the American galleries. They are ninety-nine percent Indian in design,” he said. (De Forest wrote that he copied them from an Indian silver chair.)

Johnson said she saw the chairs just two days before leaving for France and decided to buy them for stock, hoping to sell them to two different museums. “They are incredibly rare, in such good condition, needing some regluing and fabric for the slip seat,” she said.

Johnson said she did not think that the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts would be bidding. “I had just sold Virginia a Herter chair with mother-of-pearl inserts, made for the parlor of the W. H. Vanderbilt house, with its original upholstery. I bought at the Charlton Hall sale last year, and one went to the Met and the other to Virginia,” she said.

Johnson, who spends part of each year in retirement in France, said she buys only museum-quality furniture. “I just got the Tiffany chair made for the Havemeyers that I bought at Michaan’s auction of the Garden Museum in California last year. I sold it to Mr. Takeo Horiuchi and its mate to the Met. This was the first time I could buy a chair back from a museum.”

Since last spring, Bonhams had been showing the pair of side chairs made in Ahmedabad, India of hammered and chased brass over teak. The design was executed from drawings made by Lockwood de Forest in 1881 of a hammered silver Indian chair.

Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932), a partner in Associated Artists with Louis Comfort Tiffany and Candace Wheeler, was a tastemaker and a painter. In 1900 de Forest placed these chairs in the entry hall of his house at 7 East 10th Street in New York City, where they remained until 1922. Roberta Mayer, in her 2008 book on the career of de Forest, described how the contents of the de Forest house were sold at American Art Galleries in 1922. “‘The sale of ‘The Lockwood de Forest Collection of Rare East Indian, Persian and Syro-Damascan Art and Curios’ was not a roaring success,” she wrote. “De Forest hoped the sale would bring $50,000, and it brought around $11,000.”

Mayer, on the phone after the sale, said the chairs were lot 498 and described as “with open back with baluster supports terminating in pineapple motifs…legs with square molded feet, enriched entirely with chased scrolling, loose seats in patterned woolen fabric,” and they sold for $280. A note in the American Art Galleries catalog explained that that they were replicas of Indian craftsmanship, made of teakwood covered in brass, which is chased after its application to wood and made in de Forest’s workshops in Ahmedabad, India.

“The buyer at the de Forest sale was Joe Willicombe,” said Mayer. “Only when the consignor of the chairs told Bonhams that they had been bought at Gimbel’s in 1941 at the sale of the William Randolph Hearst collection under the direction of Hammer Galleries did we figure out that Willicombe was Hearst’s assistant during this time when he was buying in quantity art and furniture for San Simeon.”

Mayer said, “Not only do I love these chairs—I pictured a third chair of this design, now at the Met, on the cover of my book—but I am so pleased that new historical information was brought to light. Based on the materials at the Archives of American Art, we had known that de Forest designed chased brass furniture while in India in 1881. When he sold these two chairs at auction in 1922, he was then seventy-two years old and ready to retire to Santa Barbara, California, to paint. What we did not know, until the auction, was that they went to William Randolph Hearst, another passionate collector, albeit with a much bigger budget. That was an exciting discovery, and I could not be more pleased that these two chairs are now at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.”

There was considerable museum interest in the pair of chairs because they show the impact of Indian craft traditions on the work of de Forest and the Orientalist movement at the end of the 19th century in America. Moreover, they are so well documented, coming from Lockwood de Forest’s house, which was called “The most Indian house in America” in House Beautiful in 1900. For a thorough discussion of de Forest, his travels in India, and his work as a designer, read Roberta Mayer’s Lockwood de Forest: Furnishing the Gilded Age with a Passion for India (2008).

Aesthetic Movement furniture and furnishings have sold well at Bonhams over the years. At this auction a 69" tall bronze dragon lantern, the epitome of Aesthetic Movement taste, sold for $40,000 (est. $25,000/35,000). Borrowing from Middle Eastern, Japanese, and Indian art, it was decorated with elephant heads and dragons and once hung in the entryway to El Mirasol, the lavish estate built in Santa Barbara in 1909 by Mary Herter, the widow of Christian Herter, and decorated by their son, Albert Herter, and his wife, Adele, both renowned artists. The lantern remained at El Mirasol until the house was demolished in 1969.

Several large folk portraits in the sale came from the estate of actress Eve Arden. A portrait of a boy and girl went to the trade for $27,500 (est. $5000/7000). A Prior-Hamblen school portrait of a family—mother, father, and daughter—sold for $6875, and a portrait of a boy with a dog in a landscape, attributed to Susan Waters, sold for $18,750 (est. $7000/9000) to a bidder on the phone.

Furniture prices were erratic. A Massachusetts maple desk-on-frame, 1680-1710, illustrated in Albert Sack’s Fine Points of Furniture: Early American (1961) as an example of “best” form, sold on the phone for $37,500, but furniture with any excuses sold below expectations. An early 18th-century New England drop-leaf table with turned legs sold for $1000, a slant-lid Pennsylvania desk went at $3125, and a pair of 18th-century walnut Philadelphia side chairs with strapwork splats sold for $4000; they had been offered before.

Of the 106 lots of American furniture and decorations offered, only 55 (51.9%) sold for a total of $319,063. For more information, contact Bonhams at (212) 644-9001; Web site (

Mahogany tilt-top tea table by Thomas Burling, New York, circa 1775, 28" high, the underside of the 30¼" diameter top bearing a printed paper label, “Made And Sold By/ Thomas Burling/ In Chappel Street/ New York.” Deaccessioned by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco to benefit future museum acquisitions, it sold for $10,625 (est. $3000/5000). Only one other labeled Thomas Burling tea table with a birdcage is recorded, and its whereabouts are unknown. According to the catalog, Charles Montgomery (1910-1978) called this table “of great importance as a document of New York style.”

This 43" x 29" oil on canvas portrait of a boy and a dog in a landscape, similar to works by or attributed to Susan Waters (1823-1900), who worked in New York and Pennsylvania, sold for $18,750.

Aesthetic Movement incised and enameled brass six-light chandelier with Longwy ceramic cylinder, probably New York, late 19th/early 20th century, 70" tall x 33" diameter, $4000 (est. $2000/3000).

This 33½" x 24½" (sight size) silk and linen needlework sampler wrought by Mary Tidball (born 1799), dated 1834 and with six verses, birds, bouquets, a house, trees, and flowering vines, sold on the phone for $21,250 (est. $6000/8000). It is one of a large group of samplers worked by girls with the Tidball name. According to Madelia Ring of Bonhams, Mary Tidball was a schoolmistress in Bethel Park (Washington County) in western Pennsylvania, and because she was 35 years old when she stitched this, Ring thinks it was done as a teaching sampler. Other samplers of similar size are related, but this is the only one done by the instructor late in life, perhaps as an example for her students. Tidball’s name was mentioned in Girlhood Embroidery (Knopf, 1993), but no sampler by her was known until this one turned up at Bonhams, according to Ring, who cataloged the sale.

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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