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Four Days and $5.8 Million

Mark Sisco | August 20th, 2013

This oil on canvas portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale brought $130,350. Sisco photo.

This Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze image of Shadakshari Avalokitesvara, a primary representative of Buddhist compassion (“Lord of the Six Syllables”), brought $438,450.

This 14¾" diameter Ming Dynasty porcelain bowl brought $124,425. Sisco photo.

This relatively small (3" tall) Chinese translucent jade celadon vase from the late 19th or early 20th century, estimated at $400/600, sold for $59,250.

This Imperial gilt bronze seal from the Qianlong period with provenance through U.S. Navy Rear Admiral William A. Sullivan brought $154,050. Sisco photo.

This 18th-century Chinese cloisonné censer with three feet in the form of elephant heads, reticulated decorations of dragons, and lingzhi (fungus or mushrooms), and with scrolling lotuses on a turquoise ground did well. With old gilding removed, it quickly made nonsense of the $500/700 estimate and finished at $26,070.

This gilded copper grasshopper was the top seller of the weathervanes. The catalog suggested that it may have been by W. A. Snow & Company of Boston, and with lots of old verdigris and gilding on the surface, it flew past the $10,000/15,000 estimate and landed at $26,730.

James D. Julia, Inc., Fairfield, Maine

Photos courtesy James D. Julia

James Julia’s four-day blowout sale in Fairfield, Maine, this year on August 20 through 23, is the centerpiece of Maine’s unofficial “Antiques Week,” when auctioneers line up to compete for the end-of-summer bucks. Julia’s auction racked up about $5.8 million for its best summer closing sale to date. Although the buyer’s premium is now raised to 18.5%, bidders were still anxious to play, and only about 430 of nearly 3000 lots failed to find new homes, for a sell-through rate of better than 85%—not bad for a multimillion-dollar sale.

Each session of the four-day event had its own focus, from artworks and Americana in the front half, to Victorian and later items, then to Orientalia on the fourth day. Each day had its own set of blockbuster breakout winners. Tuesday was labeled “Art Day,” and the top lot was a 36¼" x 29¼" portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale (1778-1860). The canvas liner was inscribed in pencil “Painted by Rembrandt Peale 1857 from original portrait of Washington 1795” and “Copy from original canvas and relined by G. Anton, 1932.” The provenance had it descending through the Romanov family of Russia. With minor chips and inpainting, it sold somewhat below the $150,000/200,000 estimate for $130,350 (including buyer’s premium).

Early American silver came on strong toward the beginning of the second day. A two-handled silver cup by Boston, Massachusetts, silversmith George Hanners Sr. (1696-1740) was marked with his name within a rectangle, and the side of the cup was engraved “The Gift of Coll. Eleazer Flegg/ to the Church in Wooborn 1726.” It was on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 1910-11. Here it settled in at $24,885 (est. $8000/10,000). A silver beaker from the same church, a circa 1740 example by Jacob Hurd (1702/03-1758) of Boston, had been on loan to the museum at the same time. It has an inscription reading “The Gift of/ N-Saltonstall and R-Cotton/ to the first Church of Christ in/ Wobourn.” It sold for $20,145.

The most spectacular fireworks happened, not unexpectedly, on day four, when often the estimates and the final prices were worlds apart. A Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze image of Shadakshari Avalokitesvara or “Lord of the Six Syllables,” closely associated with the mantra om mane padme hum, was from the brief Xuande period (1426-35) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It was common practice to insert offerings into the base of such statues, and four offerings (or requests) were included in this early one, of which three were described as “not [having] been disturbed from their original presentation.” The fourth was in the shape of a gold acorn enclosed in a silk pouch. The small (8" tall) image carried an estimate of a mere $3000/4000, but when the hammer came down, it had sold for an astronomical $438,450.

An intricate Imperial gilt bronze seal was dated the third year of the reign of the Chinese emperor Qianlong (1711-1799), pinning it to 1738-39. The seal was cast, carved, and chased in deep three-dimensional relief of a central dragon, surrounded by eight other smaller, similar images. Two panels on the 6¾" square sealing surface were impressed in both Manchu and Chinese characters, indicating that it was created to mark the plain white banner for the hierarchy of the Manchu military system. Cast in an alloy of copper, silver, gold, and tin and thoroughly fire-gilded, it was consigned by a nephew of Rear Admiral William A. Sullivan (1894-1985), who was honored with the unofficial titles of the “Father of Navy Salvage” and the “Commodore of Sunken Ships.” According to the consignor, his uncle spent considerable time in China prior to World War II. Sullivan founded the U.S. Navy’s deep sea diving school and is credited with raising the wreck of the French ocean liner S.S. Normandie, which was seized in New York harbor to be converted to a troop carrier but caught fire and capsized in 1942. The spectacular seal, coming with a notarized statement from the consignor attesting to its acquisition by the admiral, and in near-mint condition, easily surpassed the $20,000/30,000 estimate and finished with a commanding $154,050.

The location of an item in Julia’s large auction hall often yields a clue to its potential value at auction. An early 15th-century Ming Dynasty porcelain bowl, with blue “heaped and piled” delicate scrolling floral and vine decorations and with a slightly lobed body and scalloped rim, was centered prominently in one of Julia’s high-value display cases. This gave the hint that the auctioneers knew in advance that the $800/1200 estimate range was just a wee bit low. The 14¾" diameter wide-footed bowl sold for an amazing $124,425.

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Two similarly sized (21½" x 25¾") oil on canvas winter landscapes by Ivan Fedorovich Choultse (Russian, 1877-1932) sold well. Choultse painted in Italy, France, Finland, and Switzerland as well as his native Russia, creating a large body of landscapes and gaining recognition for his luminous snow scenes such as these. The trees backlit by a winter sun brought $47,400. The winter mountain scene fetched $35,550. Both were slightly under their estimates and went to the same very happy buyer.

This 18th-century Chinese blanc de chine seated figure holding a silver ingot, 8¼" tall, estimated at $200/300, sold for $20,655.

This Chinese hanging scroll by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965), ink on paper, shows a recluse crossing a narrow bridge over a waterfall shaded by pink blossoming plum trees. It sold for $77,025 (est. $4000/6000). 

Here’s another Oriental lot that was presented with a nowhere $600/800 estimate. This pair of Qianlong period (1735-96) cloisonné vases, 15" tall, in flattened gourd shape with pierced decorations of chrysanthemums, prunus, peonies, and lotuses, representing the four seasons, and with stylized bats and other floral arrangements, all on a gilded and turquoise background, brought a final price of $77,025.

Warren McArthur (1885-1961) is sometimes considered the pioneer of tubular steel furniture.  He started his metal furniture business in Los Angeles in 1929 and a few years later produced this stainless steel chromed chaise longue. Nobody cared about the stained and shredded cushions. With the original paper labels beneath each arm reading “WARREN McARTHUR FURNITURE/ LOS ANGELES, CALIF./ PATENTS PENDING,” it rolled past the $2000/3000 estimates, all the way to $23,700.

This American powder horn from the French and Indian Wars era shows remarkably detailed maps of buildings, forts, and towns along the Hudson River from New York north to Albany and beyond, presumably showing where the maker, George Waldron, had traveled. The horn sold for $10,655.

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

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