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Christie’s Posts $5.8 Million Fall Sale

Lita Solis-Cohen | September 25th, 2013

Queen Anne walnut compass-seat side chair, circa 1750, with carving by a contemporary of Samuel Harding, who carved architectural elements in the interior of the Pennsylvania State House (Independence Hall), sold for $579,750 to a phone bidder, underbid by dealer Leigh Keno on the phone. It was from the estate of Martin Wunsch, a New York collector. The side chair is similar to three similar chairs sold at the landmark Reifsnyder sale held at American Art Associates (later Parke-Bernet Galleries) in 1929. They have carved double volutes and shells on their crests, egg and dart carving at the base of the splat, compass seats with incurved shell-carved front rails, leaf-carved knees, and ball-and-claw feet. The chair’s seat frame is painted with the name “J. Miller” and“J.C. [or F] George [illeg.]n.” Its slip seat is the only replacement, and its rich deep brown patina, figured wood, and sculptural form made it desirable to this market. It is from a set of chairs closely related to five sets of these fully developed Philadelphia Queen Anne chairs. At Christie’s in January 2002, a similar walnut chair sold for $666,000 to a private collector. Christie’s photo.

On September 25 Christie’s sold the Westervelt corporate collection of mainly Classical American furniture along with consignments from the estate of New York collector Martin Wunsch and Americana from various owners. The sale achieved spectacular results. The total of $5,836,375 (with buyers’ premiums) was the highest for a mid-season Americana sale since the economic downturn in 2008 and showed new strength in the Americana market.

The sale was buoyed by the $579,750 paid by a phone bidder for a Queen Anne walnut side chair with exquisite carving by a Philadelphia carver, who must have seen the work of Samuel Harding and was inspired by it. Its rich brown patina, figured walnut splat, proportions, and sculptural qualities made it sought after by many collectors, who bid on the phone and in the salesroom.

“We offered a few things from the Wunsch estate to put our toe in the water to see what we could expect in January when we have scheduled the single-owner Martin Wunsch estate sale,” said John Hays, Christie’s deputy chairman and auctioneer for the first part of the sale. “We were encouraged by these results.”

“The strong sell-through rate and the prices achieved for Classical American furniture are a testament to the fact that collectors are eager to acquire works of exceptional quality and provenance,” said Andrew Holter, head of American furniture and decorative arts. Much of the material had been on the market recently, but it was in good condition and ready to go.

A Federal mahogany, golden maple, and églomisé cylinder desk-and-bookcase, probably made in Baltimore, 1800-10 or earlier, sold for $567,750 to furniture consultant Alan Miller, who confirmed that the Chipstone Foundation was the purchaser. Hays said four museums and three private collectors were competing for it.

“This piece of furniture makes the transition to the Federal style from the sculptural furniture that preceded it,” said Miller after the sale. “This is the most complete and articulate example of that change that uses pictorial églomisé completely integrated architecturally for a successful design. It is a monument, and it has no peer.”

Jack Warner, former CEO of the Westervelt Company, bought it at the 1995 Winter Antiques Show from Leigh Keno. Keno had acquired it from New Hampshire dealer Ed Weissman, who found it in Argentina and arranged to have it shipped to New York City in time for the show.

Federal desk-and-bookcase, probably made in Baltimore, 1800-10, with 47 églomisé panels, a tour de force of craftsmanship, sold for $567,750 to furniture consultant Alan Miller of Quakertown, Pennsylvania, bidding for the Chipstone Foundation in Milwaukee, underbid by a private collector on the phone. The interior is fitted with drawers and a central folio section; the lower drawers have lidded compartments. A clipping from the July 26, 1800, Philadelphia Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser is on the reverse of a panel. The central églomisé panel in the pediment is a replacement. This desk-and-bookcase was in the latest London taste of the period and is related to Baltimore furniture at the Maryland Historical Society and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The catalog essay suggests the possible first owner was General John Peter Van Ness (1770-1846) and his wife, Marcia Burnes Van Ness (1782-1832), whose father owned 700 acres on the Potomac River, much of which became the nation’s capital. Both John and Marcia Van Ness outlived their only child, and their estate was divided among John Van Ness’s three siblings and their children. One of John Van Ness’s brothers was Cornelius Van Ness. Cornelius’s daughter Marcia married a British diplomat, Sir William Gore Ouseley, who was posted in Buenos Aires, and they probably took the inherited desk-and-bookcase there. It was discovered by dealer Ed Weissman of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, who found it in Argentina and had it delivered to Leigh Keno’s stand at the Winter Antiques Show in 1995. There Jack Warner, the former chief executive of the Westervelt Company, bought it along with other furniture. Keno said the price was $385,000. Christie’s photo.

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

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