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Karla Klein Albertson | April 19th, 2013

Top lot among the donated works sold to benefit WLAE-TV, the local public broadcasting station, was 7th Ward Cinderella, a 40" x 30" oil on canvas by James Michalopoulos (b. 1951). It brought $15,375.

One of the many 20th-century artworks that did well was this atmospheric Man in Blue, Playing a Guitar by William Tolliver (1951-2000), a 44" x 60" oil on canvas that sold for $23,370 (est. $7000/10,000), a record auction price for the southern artist.

Wreck of the Old ’97, 1944, a popular lithograph by Missouri artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), signed in pencil at lower right, doubled its high estimate to bring $11,070.

The most important piece of local history in the sale, Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans (New Orleans: Pelican Bookshop Press, 1943) sold for $16,605 to benefit the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. A joint project of artist William Spratling and writer William Faulkner, who shared a New Orleans house back in the day, the book was signed by 41 of the 43 personalities that Spratling had sketched for the publication.

No New Orleans auction would be complete without a good antique map of the Mississippi River. This matted and framed example, “Course of the River Mississippi, from the Balise to Fort Chartres; Taken on an Expedition to the Illinois, in the latter end of the Year 1765. By Lieut. Ross of the 34th Regiment; Improved from the Surveys of the River made by the French,” printed in London in 1775, spilled over its $1500/2500 estimate to bring $5658.

Judith Leiber bags are a staple of NOAG sales. The best one this time was this shirred ivory karung snake convertible frame bag, perfect for an evening on the town, that sold for $1599 (est. $300/500).

Many families have a standard silver flatware service for eight or 12 and rarely use it. This mighty 341-piece set by Reed & Barton, the 26 complete place settings and serving pieces housed in two chests, passed from one entertaining New Orleans family to another for $36,900. The Art Nouveau pattern Love Disarmed was designed in 1899, but this set is a later reissue. More party accessories (not shown) from the same consignor included a $9840 set of 18 sterling silver wine goblets, 9" high and made in Israel, and a $5658 set of 18 modern American sterling silver julep cups, 4¼" high and decorated with horse heads.

New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, Louisiana

Photos courtesy New Orleans Auction Galleries

New Orleans auctions are like Creole cuisine. When preparing a gumbo or étouffée, the cook starts with familiar ingredients such as shrimp, chicken, and rice, but delicious results come from skill in seasoning and putting them all together.

The April 19-21 sale at New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG) had plenty of the basics, including decorative furnishings and fine art, but it was the addition of unique local material and the arrangement of the lots that made it interesting. As always, everything gets put into one huge sale, and the more than 1575 lots realized a total of just over $2 million.

Nevertheless, each session contained specialized sections, whether devoted to garden furniture, silver, jewelry, or clocks, so interested bidders could drop in and out of the action. A trend that continues is the inclusion of more 20th-century and contemporary paintings, prints, sculpture, and photography, which appeal to a different group of bidders than does 19th-century fare. Many of these lots were by local artists and offered a new generation the opportunity to assemble a collection of southern regional art for the future.

NOAG president Ashton Thomas received his auctioneer’s license as part of settling into life at the auction house. He steps in to help the other regulars at the podium, Tessa Steinkamp, Robin Ruiz, and Davin Boldissar. Thomas said, “I actually like it a lot more than I thought I would when I went to get my license. It’s not what I expected. There’s a whole psychological side to it—keeping your audience comfortable with the process, keeping them engaged. It’s more than just counting through the numbers and hitting the hammer, and I’m certainly still learning.”

Thomas has also discovered that he has favorites among the lots. He likes the style and bold colors of the modern works, but he is also extremely interested in the historical ephemera related to the region, such as maps, documents, and printed material. A selection of ephemera offered in the Friday evening session included a rare bound archive of L’Abeille de la Nouvelle-Orleans, or The New-Orleans Bee, with French and English editions for the bilingual city from January through June 1848; it brought $984 (including buyer’s premium). A few lots later a circa 1816 American engraving promising A Correct View of the Battle Near the City of New Orleans, 19¼" x 25½" (sight size), sold for $1599.

“Americana for us is regional southern Americana,” Thomas continued. “We did two things this sale that we’re excited about and we’d like to do more of in the future.”

The first was to auction a donated book of drawings, the proceeds of which benefited the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, located in the Warehouse Arts District of New Orleans. Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles: A Gallery of Contemporary New Orleans, number 217 from a first edition of 250 copies published in 1926 by Pelican Bookshop Press in New Orleans, was a joint project of housemates William Faulkner and William Spratling (who went on to design Mexican silver). Most important to the book’s value were the signatures of 41 of the people whom Spratling caricatured in the book—everyone but Faulkner himself and the artist Ronald Hargrave, who had moved away. Thomas added, “Speculation is that Faulkner was too ornery to sign it.” The book surpassed its modest $2500/4000 estimate to bring $16,605.

The second was a sale of works by living artists who had been profiled on Made in New Orleans, a local show on WLAE-TV public television, with the proceeds benefiting the station. Ashton Thomas said, “Steve Martin, who’s one of the hosts of the show, has a gallery down the street from us. He came in with this idea; all the artists featured on the show donated works. You don’t get to auction works by contemporary living artists that often, and I was happy to participate in this new form of fund-raising for the artistic community.”

Of the 15 lots of artworks by 13 local artists offered in the Sunday session, 11 of them sold. Highlights included 7th Ward Cinderella by James Michalopoulos (b. 1951) for $15,375; Swamp Dogs #2 by George Rodrigue (b. 1944) for $11,992; Bayou 4 by Hunt Slonem (b. 1951) for $10,762; The Gestural Croc by Alex Beard (b. 1970) for $5412; and Coin du Lestin 150 by George Dunbar (b. 1927) for $7995. Several works set auction records for the artists, and the endeavor realized $70,724 for the station.

Jelena James, NOAG’s specialist in paintings and works on paper, added that the process also benefited the reputation of living artists, whose works do not normally come to the auction block at this stage of their careers. “Overall for art, it was a pretty good sale,” James commented. “Certain artists did really well who’ve never sold before, and the decorative paintings with high estimates also sold well.”

This last mention refers to the strong prices realized for a number of estate paintings that came up during a long Saturday session of English and Continental furniture, decorative arts, and fine art. “Decorative” was the key word for an early 20th-century painting of playful putti after Peter Paul Rubens with an elaborate custom-made frame that featured additional cherubs; the 45" x 79" oil on canvas fetched $34,440.

Some of the paintings, along with 19th-century American furniture and a number of items in various French styles, were part of a featured consignment of the contents of the Robinson Mansion in the Garden District of New Orleans, which at the time of the auction was up for sale. One painting clearly visible in photos of the interior was a well-framed early 20th-century portrait of a stylish young woman. Simply cataloged as American school with no name for the sitter or the artist, the 83" x 42" oil on canvas, Moonlight, brought $24,600. James noted, “For an unsigned painting, that did really well. Somebody loved the subject matter. It’s not easy to sell these giant, expensive unsigned portrait paintings.”

Although this might be a subjective interpretation, the contents of New Orleans auctions seem to reflect a buying and selling population that loves to entertain, go out, and party. In this spring auction there were big blocks of garden statues, urns, fountains, and seating for clement nights out in the courtyards; antique dining room furniture for elegant suppers at home; and wearable diamonds and pearls for nights on the town.

Most impressive was the success of the silver offerings, including several extensive sets. Most notable, a 341-piece set of Reed & Barton sterling silver flatware in the Love Disarmed pattern sold for $36,900. Which brings us back to the table and the fact that New Orleans auctions, like the cuisine, can be quite tasty.

For more information, contact New Orleans Auction Galleries at (504) 566-1849; Web site (

This 13" high Shearwater Pottery vase—thrown and glazed by Peter Anderson (1901-1984) and decorated with a regional design featuring a crab and pelican with lower fish border by his brother Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), circa 1940—surpassed its modest $14,000/18,000 estimate to bring $31,980.

Sculptor Lynda Benglis (b. 1941) received a B.F.A. in 1964 from Newcomb College in New Orleans and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975. Consigned from a local collection, this signed 17" x 26" gilded and painted ceramic wall relief, Gold Luster, brought $17,220.

Each sale’s vast midsection of English and European antiques usually includes some decorative paintings, but this April they were so in demand. Cataloged as from the circle of Peter Lely (1618-1680), the well-painted 50" x 40" unsigned oil on canvas “Portrait of a Lady at the Well, Probably the Actress Nell Gwyn” (the plaque on the frame mentioned Lely and Gwyn) really stomped its $10,000/15,000 estimate to reach $78,720.

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

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