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Grant Wood's Original "Radical" Brings $284,800

Clayton Pennington | March 23rd, 2014

The Radical by Grant Wood sold for $284,800 to a phone bidder. The original drawing still had the Vincent Price collection labels from Sears, Roebuck and Co. on the reverse. Pennington photo.

A phone bidder paid $6000 (est. $500/700) for this lot. On the left is a red transfer-printed 1790-1810 creamware mug, standing 4¾" high, with “Dancing Dogs” and showing a jester with a hoop for a dog and a monkey. The smaller mug is a porcelain red transfer-printed “George III King of Great Britain” portrait mug, circa 1760.

Unmarked but probably by Dixon, Austin & Co., 1820-26, the Four Seasons in a set of Staffordshire pearlware, enamel, and pink lustre-decorated female figures sold for $6600, easily topping the $800/1200 estimate. The figures were 8 5/8" to 8 7/8" high. Northeast Auctions had sold an identical set, impressed “Dixon, Austin & Co.,” on August 2, 2009, for $3042. Pennington photo.

“Its biggest problem is it’s not by Benjamin Frothingham,” said one furniture expert, noting that the maker Jacob Forster is not as well known as his fellow Massachusetts cabinetmaker. The labeled mahogany reverse-serpentine chest with blocked ends from Charlestown, Massachusetts, ex-Sack, sold to an absentee bid for $21,600. Three times previously it had been bought in at auction. It appears in Sack, Vol. VII (pp. 1934-35) and was once owned by Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell Taradash. The intact label in the top drawer is the more elaborate of the two types of labels Forster used; a simpler Forster label appears in the June 1966 The Magazine Antiques, p. 841. A pair of oil on canvas portraits of Forster and his wife, Rebecca Vose Forster, attributed to James Frothingham, each 28" x 23¾", estimated at $3000/5000, was passed at the sale but sold afterward to the buyer of the chest.

“I’ve had three—they weren’t like this. This is in exceptional condition,” said Bourgeault as he opened the bidding for the Lehmann Kadi lithographed tin toy, also known as “Busy Coolies.” Rich and Pat Garthoeffner gave it a good run, but ultimately a phone bidder was the winner, paying $2280 for the 7" 1912-27 German toy. The estimate was $800/1200.

Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Photos courtesy Northeast Auctions

Grant Wood’s original depiction of “the Radical,” drawn for a special 1936 edition of Sinclair Lewis’s novel Main Street, sold for $284,800 (includes buyer’s premium) at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on March 23.

A savvy buyer had bought it sometime between 1962 and 1971 for $2500. That’s how much Sears, Roebuck and Company charged for it when the mail-order giant’s chain of department stores offered fine art, selected by actor Vincent Price. (Think about it; how many artworks have a Sears provenance?)

This was Wood’s first portrait of the character Miles Bjornstam (the Red Swede)—called the saddest figure in Main Street—and not the one published in the special edition of Main Street. Its location was unknown as late as 2004, when the exhibition Grant Wood’s Main Street was held at Iowa State University from January 13 to August 7. The catalog for the exhibition, written by Lea Rosson DeLong, noted, “According to the 1975 pioneering study of Grant Wood by James Dennis, Wood had an earlier concept of The Radical that was much more sympathetic. Dennis wrote…‘Wood finally decided to discard his first compassionate treatment of the handyman.’”

The exhibition catalog stated that “this earlier drawing is today unlocated.” What was known is that it had once been owned by Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, who donated it to a local art association, where it was sold. Northeast’s Monica Reuss, a fine art, marine, and China trade decorative arts specialist, nailed down that it was the Riverside Art Association and was sold in a benefit auction in 1962. From there, it went to Vincent Price and was offered at Sears. The original tag on the back read, “I’ve always admired his work and am thrilled to be able to present this beautiful work to you.”

The graphite, colored pencil, chalk, and ink drawing on 20¼" x 15¾" brown paper came to Northeast Auctions from the estate of New Jersey State Senator and Mrs. Walter H. Jones. Senator Jones died in July of 1982. His New York Times obituary noted that for two decades he was “one of the most powerful politicians in New Jersey.” His wife, Alice, died in November 2012. All the bidding for the Grant Wood was on the phone, with Northeast’s Rebecca Davis talking to the winning bidder, who paid $284,800, well above the $90,000/150,000 estimate. The buyer was a private collector from around the Washington, D.C., area.

The approximately 895-lot auction took place over two days and brought in a total of $1.56 million. The first day was devoted to mostly English, Chinese, and Continental antiques. The second day was primarily Americana. The sales started both days at a leisurely 1 p.m., allowing attendees to preview and then grab a lunch at one of many Portsmouth restaurants nearby. “It’s a more civilized time,” said Ronald Bourgeault, owner of Northeast Auctions.

A labeled Jacob Forster mahogany reverse-serpentine chest with blocked ends from Charlestown, Massachusetts, sold to an absentee bidder for $21,600. It has a tortured sales history. Reportedly when on the floor at Israel Sack, Inc. in New York City, it had a $450,000 price tag. When offered at the Sack sale at Sotheby’s on January 20, 2002, with an estimate of $150,000/250,000, it was passed. Sotheby’s tried again two years later, offering it on January 18, 2004, with a lowered $100,000/200,000 estimate; it was passed again. Sotheby’s gave it was one more try, offering it on January 22, 2011, with a $40,000/100,000 estimate. Again, no sale. The fourth time was the charm for an absentee bidder.

A walnut tray-top table from the Salem, Massachusetts, area demonstrated again that not all antiques go up in value. It sold for $25,200 to a private collector, within the $20,000/40,000 estimate. The table descended from Samuel Gardner (1712/3-1769) of Salem to his daughter Elizabeth Gardner Bridges (1750-1834) and stayed in the family until Northeast Auctions sold it in August 2003 to a collector from the Midwest for $104,250. The buyer in 2014 was a private, and Bourgeault said from the podium that it was “going back to the family.”

The auction included the Americana collection of Cynthia C. Brown of Darien, Connecticut, who died in August 2013. She was one of the founding members of the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut, when it was established in 1964 and continued to serve the mansion for over 45 years, including a stint as the chair of the board of trustees. Brown’s collection of China trade paintings will be sold by Northeast in August.

A New York Chippendale five-legged games table, ex-Sack, with outset corners, a gadrooned edge, cabriole legs, and ball-and-claw feet, estimated at $18,000/28,000, was passed on the day but sold after the sale for a price “close to the low estimate,” said Bourgeault.

“Business is definitely better,” said Bourgeault. “There is lots of retail activity. I think partly that’s due to the new price structure and the fact that there aren’t as many dealers out there buying.”

For more information, call (603) 433-8400 or check the Web site (

A phone buyer picked up a lot of tiger maple, paying $10,800 (est. $3000/5000) for this New England circa 1790 chest-on-chest that measured 5'9½" high, 42½" wide, and 20" deep.

 “Yes!” shrieked a woman as she stood up, hands raised in triumph, when her husband placed the winning bid for this dramatic 39" x 60" painting by John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916), titled Haying before the Storm. The New Hampshire couple collects American Impressionist paintings. They paid $18,000 for this picture with a Vose Galleries provenance. Forty-one lots later, the same couple won another painting, a portrait of four children attributed to Alvan Fisher, paying $9000. Again, the audience heard a loud “Yes!” It’s great to see unbridled enthusiasm for collecting.

An absentee bidder paid $21,600 for this 13¼" x 19¼" oil on board by Robert Salmon, signed “R.S. 1827.” According to Northeast Auctions, it’s listed in Salmon’s catalog of paintings in John Wilmerding’s Robert Salmon: Painter of Ship & Shore.

An order bid of $5100 was enough to win this 2¾" high Chinese export armorial brown Fitzhugh coffee cann from the Gabriel Henry Manigault service of Charleston, South Carolina, 1820-23. The estimate was $800/1200. According to Northeast, the service was probably ordered by his brother Charles Izard Manigault (1795-1874). The cann has initials “GHM,” the motto “Prospicere Quam Ulcisci” (Overlook Rather than Avenge), and a bust of a Native American wearing an ostrich plume headdress. Northeast has sold several pieces with the Manigault crest over the years. In August 2009, the auction house got $29,250 for a 7 7/8" diameter armorial plate. In March 2009, a 9¾" diameter armorial plate sold for $19,980. In August 2002, another 9¾" diameter plate that had been professionally repaired brought $6900, and a rare 9¼" square plate sold for $24,150. In August 1997, an ogee-shaped serving dish brought $7762.50. In New York in January 2014, Christie’s sold a soup plate with the Gabriel Manigault crest for $16,250. Gabriel was a captain in the War of 1812, serving on the staff of General George Izard, to whom he was related.

This ball-and-claw-foot drop-leaf breakfast table with a shaped apron and cabriole legs, dated as circa 1780, from the Salem-Marblehead area sold to an order bidder for $9120. It was a small beauty—standing 27" high, 35" long, and only 13¼" wide when closed.

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

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