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Elijah Pierce Carving Breaks Auction Record

Julie Schlenger Adell | April 2nd, 2014

Presidents and Convicts, 1941, sold for $87,500 (est. $10,000/15,000), setting a record auction price for carver Elijah Pierce. Born in 1892 to a former Mississippi slave, Pierce eventually settled in Columbus, Ohio. He was a barber, a lay minister, and a wood carver and is best known for his religious carvings. This carved and painted wood relief, 33½" x 24 7/8", signed “Elijah Pierce,” is inscribed “To Boris/ 1961/ +/ 1971/ Convicts/ + Uncle Sam” on the reverse. The carving sold to a “foreign buyer,” said a Doyle spokesman. Pierce died in 1984.

Sneden’s Landing, Palisade, New York by John Henry Hill (1839-1922) was bought for $8750 (est. $1500/2500) by a bidder in the room. The oil painting, signed “J.H. Hill” lower left, is 20" x 15 7/8". Sneden’s Landing is a hamlet in Rockland County, New York, on the west bank of the Hudson River. It was named after the Sneden family, which in the late 17th century ran a ferry service with John Dobbs, for whom Dobbs Ferry was named.

This English pearlware jug of American interest, 1800-20, sold to an Internet buyer for $3438, well above the $300/500 estimate. The 7" high jug has a yellow band at the neck and handle and is decorated with the “Arms of the United States” to each side and the motto “Free Trade and Sailors Rights” under the spout.

An Internet bidder purchased Luigi Lucioni’s Still Life of a Pewter Mug with Walnuts and Hazelnut on a Ledge, 1930, for $11,250. The presale estimate was $2000/4000 for the 10" x 8¾" oil on canvas laid to board.

Doyle New York, New York City

Photos courtesy Doyle

An auction with “nice” American paintings and “so-so” furniture was held at Doyle on Wednesday, April 2. The audience, made up of collectors, dealers, and the occasional passersby coming inside to view the action, was offered landscapes, marine paintings, and still lifes from the 19th and early 20th centuries to mesh with the 18th- and 19th-century furniture and decorative arts.

The paintings sale trumped the furniture, which was described as “very thin” by one dealer who was previewing the sale.

A world auction record for carver Elijah Pierce was realized when Presidents and Convicts, a painted wood relief, sold on the phone to a foreign buyer for $87,500 (includes buyer’s premium). According to a Doyle spokesman, the former record for a Pierce work at auction was $74,750. 

The sale totaled $1,004,094. The Upper East Side auction house had a presale estimate of $675,275 to $1,038,725. Eighty-eight percent of the lots sold. It is customary for post-sale offers to be made on passed lots, said Anne Cohen DePietro, director of American art at Doyle for the last eight years.

“This was the best auction since I’ve been here,” stated DePietro. “I’m very pleased.” Doyle restructured this sale, she explained, by putting the art and the furniture together to appeal to a targeted market.

Thirty people were in their seats when the painting auction began promptly at 10 a.m. Phone bidding was the route of choice for the art, followed by absentee bidding.

The furniture auction began two hours later without a break for lunch. People wandered in and out of the room as the sale progressed.

Many of the furniture and decorative arts sales were made by Internet buyers, especially those lots priced at under $1000. It has become the preferred way to buy among many dealers, decorators, and private buyers.  A few furniture dealers in the room also bought several items at or below the lowest estimates.

“Small things are always popular,” said David A. Gallager, Doyle’s director of American furniture and decorative arts. A Federal mahogany diminutive chest of drawers, 20½" high x 20¼" wide x 12¼" deep, sold to a buyer in the room for $5000 (est. $2000/3000). The same buyer also purchased more than a dozen other items, including two English relief-molded pottery jugs, each molded with a Federal eagle, the larger inscribed “Peace and Plenty,” together with a similar urn-form vase for $1188; a set of three Federal mahogany side chairs for $2375; a Federal mahogany and satinwood card table for $2000; a needlework picture depicting the White House for $1375; and some lamps and a mirror.

Another dealer in the auction room purchased three American school paintings; a Federal mahogany and satinwood tambour secretary bookcase for $1500; a Federal marquetry-inlaid mahogany fold-over games table for $1000; a Chippendale pine corner cupboard for $1000; a Chippendale cherry corner cabinet for $1063; a Federal inlaid mahogany Pembroke table for $625; and a Canton blue and white porcelain platter for $313.

Silver items, ceramics, some folk art, including quilts and samplers, Chinese export porcelains, and rugs as well as Audubon, Currier & Ives, and topographical prints rounded out the sale.

Doyle New York will hold its next American paintings, furniture, and decorative arts auction in September 2014. For further information, go to Doyle’s Web site ( or call (212) 427-2730.

This Levi Wells Prentice landscape, Adirondack Lake, sold to a phone bidder for $17,500, well over the $5000/7000 estimate. Prentice (1851-1935) was a self-taught artist who was raised on a farm in the Adirondacks. This oil on canvas, 10" x 18", signed lower right, was part of the collection of Jerome M. and Rhoda S. Fischer.

Fresh Peanuts by Victor Dubreuil sold to a phone bidder for $20,000, well over the $4000/6000 estimate. Dubreuil is best known for trompe l’oeil images of money tacked to a wall or spilling from barrels. This 8" x 10" oil on canvas was painted circa 1890. Born in France, Dubreuil was living in New York City by 1886. Little is known about his life, said DePietro, Doyle’s director of American art.

Gracing the front cover of Doyle’s auction catalog was Connecticut, Rocks and Pools (Dogs in a Stream), 1926, by Percival Leonard Rosseau (1859-1937). The oil on canvas, signed lower left, 28 3/8" x 34 1/8", sold on the phone to a midwestern buyer for $93,750. According to an expert in the field of dog paintings, “There was a question about the panel behind the canvas,” which brought into question the painting’s condition, which was “not pristine.” Nevertheless, after viewing the painting, which had originally been under glass, the expert said he “wasn’t surprised it went for $75,000 [before the buyer’s premium],” adding, “That’s a very strong price for a particular subject matter. It’s a retail price.” Doyle had estimated the Rosseau at $30,000/50,000. The catalog description referenced the inscription on the board backing, which reads “28 x 34 Price $1,200/ ‘Connecticut’ Rocks and Pools/Paul, Captain France/Henna and Sammie.”

There was active bidding for this Massachusetts 18th-century Chippendale walnut chest of drawers, 33¼" x 40¾" x 20". A phone bidder was the eventual buyer at $3438 (est. $800/1200).

The Adirondacks, another Levi Wells Prentice landscape, sold for $28,125 (est. $5000/7000) to a phone bidder. Anne Cohen DePietro, director of American art at Doyle, said the Prentice paintings were “fresh to market and in original condition.” Signed “L.W. Prentice” lower right and 20" x 16", the oil painting was part of the Fischer collection. The artist moved in 1883 from upstate New York to Brooklyn, where he made frames, taught art, and began painting still life compositions.

On the Beach, East Hampton, 1916, by Edward Percy Moran (1862-1935) sold to a phone bidder for $11,875 (est. $3000/5000). The oil on canvas, 14 3/8" x 20", had been owned by Mark Hampton, a New York decorator, and then descended to the consignor. Edward Percy was the son of marine painter Edward Moran and the nephew of Thomas Moran. The family of painters was among the first artists to establish studios in East Hampton and Greenport, Long Island.

Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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