by Ian McKay, email@example.com
Before launching into this month's selection, which is strong on antiquities but also includes two forgotten Dollies, two Russian posters, two Chinese flutes, two naval frigates, one Charles X box, one warming tapestry, and an old model medical aide, may I, as usual, wish M.A.D. readers, one and all, a Happy Christmas and a Good New Year.
The Dolly Sisters, as modeled by the Romanian-born sculptor Demetre Chiparus, circa 1925. It sold for $440,030 at Bonhams on November 14.
Identical twin sisters, Yancsi and Roszika Deutsch were born in Budapest, Hungary in the last decade of the 19th century, but in 1905, when they were 12 years old, their parents immigrated to America. The move to the New World had a dramatic effect on the sisters' lives, for within little more than a year they had made their vaudeville debut in Boston, presumably encouraged by their mother, who had been a dancer, and by 1911 had joined the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway.
The great showman paid them $350 a week, saying, "You can't do much, but you're cute." That was some understatement. The girls may not have been particularly talented—their act, it seems, was pretty much limited to posing together like matching bookends in exotic costumes and make-up—but they were exotic, beautiful dolls, and wealthy admirers, in America and in Europe, fell over themselves in competing to lavish money and gifts on the girls, who had by now changed their names to Jenny and Rosie and were known to all as the Dolly Sisters.
Few have heard of them today, but in their time they were the ultimate celebrities. In France they played the Folies Bergère, the Moulin Rouge, and the Casino de Paris, and their European tours brought them yet more distinguished and wealthy fans. William Randolph Hearst, Diamond Jim Brady, and boxer Jack Dempsey were all smitten. The Prince of Wales (who as Edward VIII gave up the throne for the love of Wallis Simpson) was linked with the Dollies, as were both King Alfonso of Spain and his son, according to Gary Chapman's 2006 biography, The Delectable Dollies. A Belgian steel magnate, Jacques Wittouck, was yet another devotee.
I have to admit to having been among those largely unaware of the existence or fame of the Dolly Sisters, though I was almost unconsciously familiar with them through a rare and highly desirable Art Deco sculpture by Demetre Chiparus.
It was the appearance of a rare example of this striking bronze in a Bonhams sale of November 14, 2012, and an article by Neil Lyndon published in the salesroom's house magazine, that brought the girls to life for me. Lyndon observed that "…it didn't take the Dollies long to grasp that engaging the interests of extremely wealthy men was an easier and more rewarding way to earn a crust than hoofing it on stage." They both married and divorced, very profitably, in their twenties, but there seemed to be a never-ending flow of besotted and wealthy admirers on hand to pick up all the pieces and pay the bills.
In the summer of 1922, they appeared for six weeks at the Hotel Royale in Deauville, the fashionable casino resort on the north French coast, and there they earned a reputation as "the most inveterate and nonchalant gamblers and most lavish money spenders in Europe."
It was, of course, their admirers who kept them draped in jewels and picked up the bills—principal amongst them was Harry Gordon Selfridge, the American-born retailer and founder of the famous London department store. Hopelessly in love with Jenny, he let the sisters keep all their winnings and made up all their losses—an arrangement that no doubt helped him along the way to losing his fortune.
It had to end one day, and as the roaring twenties turned to the years of depression, so it did. In 1933, Jenny, who seemed to attract even more admirers than her sister, was badly scarred in a car accident and sold her jewels to finance operations intended to restore her looks. In June 1941, she hanged herself in a drab Hollywood apartment.
Two years later, Rosie sold the movie rights to their lives, but the resultant The Dolly Sisters, starring Betty Grable and June Haver, flopped. Rosie died in 1970, embittered by the fact that nobody in America remembered them anymore.
The Chiparus figure of circa 1925 offered by Bonhams stands 29" high and is thought to be one of only five of this size made. Double figures such as this were, and still are, more expensive than single figures, and this one sold for $440,030.
The 28¾" high greywracke figure of the goddess Isis that was bid to $5,930,495 by Daniel Katz at Christie's South Kensington on October 25, setting a new auction record for any Egyptian work of art.
The symbolic attribute of Athena and her Roman counterpart, Minerva, the owl represents the goddess' judicious wisdom. In Athens, the cult of Athena—-the city's patron deity—-was central to the religious fabric of the city. In Rome, Minerva joined Jupiter and Juno to form part of the Roman Capitoline Triad, worshipped in a temple on the Capitoline Hill as the supreme protectors of the city and of the empire. Owls appear on the coinage of Athens as well as on countless black- and red-figured vases, while in Roman art they also appear in sculpture.
But, said Christie's, a Roman marble owl of this scale (20½" high) and quality is a rare survivor from the 1st century A.D. and may well have come from a temple to Athena, perhaps in Rome. In the 1960's it was in a Belgian collection, but by the '80's had reached the U.K. It sold at $407,985 to an American collector.
Is this the head of Demetrios, "Besieger of Cities"? Well, no one can be sure, but at Christie's last October this monumental (30" high) marble head of a Hellenistic ruler sold for $1.69 million.
A 13" tall Egyptian giltwood figure of an ibis with glass eyes and a bronze tail with incised feathers. Dated to circa 664-630 B.C., the late period to Ptolemaic period in Egypt, it sold to an American collector for $166,335 at Christie's.
Antiquities sales are among my favourites, so I hope that in this season of goodwill I might be forgiven for indulging myself with a rather large selection from the latest round of sales in London—especially as those late October 2012 antiquities sales brought a record bid for any item of Egyptian art. In so doing, it also became the most expensive lot ever sold at Christie's South Kensington and helped push the total for 228 lots in their October 25 sale to just over $13 million.
The object of artistic and financial worship in question was a 28¾" high greywracke statue of Isis dating from Dynasty XXVI, that is to say circa 664-515 B.C. Greywracke, by the by, is a variety of sandstone generally characterized by its hardness, dark colour, and poorly sorted angular grains of quartz, feldspar, and small rock fragments.
The goddess is shown seated on a throne, her hands resting on her lap and holding in her right hand an ankh-cross, the key of life. Wearing a tightly fitted, ankle-length halter-neck dress, she has almond-shaped eyes, a delicate straight nose, and full lips pulled into a slight smile. She wears a tripartite wig, overlaid by a vulture headdress and surmounted by a sun disc between cow's horns.
Inscribed on four sides of the throne on which she sits is a magical incantation for the splendidly titled "Royal Acquaintance, Ptahirdis, True of Voice, son of Wepwawetemsaf, begotten of Merptahites."
Acquired by a French diplomat in Alexandria in the 1840's, and sold by a descendant, this Isis figure may be related to a figure of Osiris bearing the same dedicant name, Ptahirdis, that is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston but could well have come originally from the same workshop.
It is also stylistically very close to another famous statue in the Cairo Museum that came from the tomb of Psamtek in Saqqara, dating to the late Dynasty XXVI, and would have been used as a healing statue. Those visiting the courtyard of the tomb would pour water over the magical texts in order to be healed and protected from venomous animals.
The present statue might therefore have been placed in an open space accessible to anyone who needed to call upon the goddess' magic-perhaps in the temple of Isis at Giza, or in the open courtyard of Ptahirdis' funerary complex.
The Isis cult goes back to the early days of the Egyptian civilization and spread throughout the Mediterranean during the Roman period. Isis personifies the mother, protector, and magician.
In Egyptian mythology, Isis ruled with her brother and husband, Osiris, acting as Regent when he was absent, but then he was kidnapped and murdered by their brother, the jealous and violent Seth, who had his body parts scattered along the Nile. Isis tracked down all the parts-excepting the phallus, which had been eaten by a Nile crab-and, desiring to give her murdered husband an heir, she used the secrets of mummification, or embalming for the first time to restore him to eternal life.
Isis took the form of a bird, flapping her wings to reanimate Osiris and in due course became pregnant with Horus. She then hid in the marshes of Khemmis in the Nile Delta to prepare for the birth and protect her son from the attacks of Seth by using her powerful spells and magic.
"I am Isis, mistress of Khemmis, efficient of magical utterances in secret places. Geb has given to me his magical power to act as protection for Horus thereby. I know how to seal the mouth of every serpent, how to turn back every lion with [my] power on the desert, to act against crocodiles in the river, every reptile which bites in their holes. I shall repel the venom […] I shall give air to the throat with the magical power."
Christie's had thought that the figure might get close to $1 million but were delighted when it was bid to a record-breaking $5,930,495 by the London art dealer Daniel Katz.
Given the same sort of estimate as the Isis figure was a colossal Greek marble head of Apollo dating from the Hellenistic period, circa 3rd-2nd century B.C. It has been suggested that this impressive, 30" high head may represent Demetrios, "Besieger of Cities" (337-283 B.C.), the son of Antigonos, who had inherited Asia Minor in the breakup of Alexander the Great's empire that followed his death in 323 B.C.
Demetrios launched successful campaigns against other would-be successors to Alexander's rule, the Ptolemies and Seleucids, in order to extend his influence into Greece and Macedonia. Amid the turmoil and dynastic rivalry of this period, Demetrios acquired a reputation for both his warlike nature and his tactical ingenuity. It is said that to aid an attack on Rhodes in 305 B.C. he devised, or at least improved on a design by Polyidus of Thessaly, a wheeled siege tower, named "Helepolis," that stood over 125' tall.
Flowing, leonine hair, deep-set almond eyes, and furrowed brow deliberately reflect Alexander's famous portrait type and imbue the head with the grim grandeur that befits a formidable "besieger of cities," as well underlining in visual form the desired link with his illustrious predecessor.
Demetrios is often portrayed with the horns of a bull, sacred to his patron deity, Poseidon, and in this head two small horns protrude at the hairline. There is also a recessed band across the crown that would have allowed the insertion of a now missing headpiece.
The head sold anonymously at $1,690,340.
These two major lots are seen among the accompanying illustrations, along with other Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and Central Asian antiquities from the Christie's sale, plus a few from the Bonhams sale of October 24.
Almond eyes were everywhere in the antiquities sales and are seen here in the features of a 9¾" high Egyptian painted wood mummy portrait of a full-lipped woman whose centrally parted hair has loose locks across her forehead and with "Venus" rings visible on her neck. Her jewellery includes hoop pendant earrings and an open chain necklace with pendant, and it is just possible to see that she is wearing a dark blue tunic under a red mantle. Probably from the cemetery of er-Rubayat in the Fayum (a rich agricultural district, between the main Nile valley and the desert oases, that was a centre of royal activity in the Middle Kingdom and later periods), it dates to the Roman period, circa 2nd-3rd century A.D.
It was once part of the collections of Theodor Graf (1840-1903), a prominent dealer of Egyptian antiquities who was originally a Viennese carpet dealer with a branch in Cairo but expanded into supplying antiquities to museums and private clients. In 1887, he acquired 330 Fayum portrait panels from the area around er-Rubayat, 90 of which formed a touring exhibition prior to sale in Europe and America.
This one sold for $108,340 at Christie's.
We usually refer to them as the "Three Graces," but to the Greeks they were the Kharites, and to the Romans, the Gratiae—personifications of grace and loveliness. The motif of three nude maidens standing in alternating front and back view was a creation of the Hellenistic period and became increasingly popular in Roman art. Their youthful beauty and innocent virginity is emphasised, together with their sisterly closeness. They often hold attributes of flowers, fruit, or garlands and alternating front and back views also suggests a dance, which alludes to their association with pleasure and the arts.
This 27" high Roman marble relief, probably dating from the 2nd century A.D., came to auction at Christie's from a Spanish collection and sold for $813,960 to an American collector.
Forty and more years ago this 26" high Roman marble male torso, dated to circa 1st-2nd century A.D., was in a French collection, but it came to Bonhams from an American collector who had acquired it at an Armory show in New York City in 2005. Highly stylized in its treatment of the figure's musculature, it probably depicts the young Heracles. It sold at $232,200.
Dating to the 5th century B.C., this penannular-form gold bracelet with lion-head terminals exhibiting flattened ears, detailed facial features, and incised manes hails from eastern Greece. Like the Trojan silver cup featured elsewhere, it was once part of the Fondation Thétis collections in Geneva. It sold for $75,475, the high estimate, at Christie's.
"And the whole night long, swift Achilles, taking a two-handled cup in hand, drew wine from a golden bowl and poured it upon the earth…," wrote Homer in describing the funeral of Achilles' beloved comrade, Patroclus, in the Iliad, and this might be just the sort of cup or bowl that Achilles was using. Two-handled cups of this shape were found in some numbers in Early Bronze Age Level II (2500-2200 B.C.) excavations at Troy. They were called depas cups by the pioneering German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, after Homer's use in the Iliad of the term depas amphikypellon in reference to a two-handled cup.
This silver depas cup, 6" wide, including handles, sold for $156,670 to a European dealer at Christie's.
Something from a lower price range, this Hellenistic bronze horse muzzle, dated to the 2nd-1st century B.C., sold for $6995 at Bonhams. The openwork scrolling decoration has a central cruciform motif, and the two side straps exhibit ring attachment loops.
Yet another ex-Thétis lot in the Christie's sale was this Ziwiye gold plaque fragment. This was a name that meant nothing to me, and as the catalogue offered no guidance, I had to look elsewhere. It seems that in 1947 the Ziwiye hoard, comprising gold, silver, and ivory objects, was uncovered on the shore of Lake Urmia in the Kurdistan province of Iran. The hoard, dated to circa 700 B.C., contained objects in four styles—Assyrian, Scythian, proto-Achaemenid, and provincial native pieces—and as such highlighted the situation of the Iranian plateau as a crossroads of cultural highways, not least of them the old Silk Road.
Measuring 3 3/8" tall, it is embossed with recumbent goats and stags, set within an interlaced design incorporating lion masks, and has a perforated border above. Valued at $8000/11,000, it sold on the day for $75,475.
Long and well-established provenance is very desirable where antiquities are concerned, and this 5¼" high Egyptian limestone head of a pharaoh, a Dynasty VI to XII piece of circa 2300-1794 B.C., was acquired by a French aristocrat, Charles-Mélchior, Marquis de Vogüé (1829-1916), at some time before 1910 and passed by descent to the vendor. After a youthful career in diplomacy, Charles-Mélchior de Vogüé studied archaeology and travelled to Syria and Palestine. At Christie's the head went to an American collector at $234,000—ten times the low estimate.
Formed of a single heavy sheet, the Greek bronze helmet seen at left is of the Chalcidian type and dates from the late 4th century B.C. A helmet that was once part of the Axel Guttmann collection (but not in the 2002 and 2004 Guttmann sales at Christie's), it sold well at $52,275 in this year's King Street sale.
The other helmet pictured is an Illyrian bronze example of the 6th or 5th century B.C.-sent for sale from an American collection—which Bonhams sold for $19,980, but the Christie's sale saw a similar helmet sell at $36,250.
This 17¾" high Greek bronze hydria is a costly version of the more familiar pottery water jar and is the sort of thing that might have been given to brides as wedding gifts and probably used only for special occasions or religious rites. The siren at the base of the pouring handle is characteristic of a large group of 5th century B.C. hydriae, and this one was catalogued by Christie's as dating to the mid-5th century B.C. It sold at $176,000 to an unnamed European institution.
There will be more Chinese works of art in next month's column, but as a trailer I have included here a couple of musical instruments that made much higher than expected sums in Paris and London auctions.
The André Meyer collection, sold by Sotheby's in Paris on October 16 and 17, 2012, was principally one of musical manuscripts and what was billed as the most important collection of printed scores still in private hands in Europe. It was these that made the really big sums, but Meyer's collection also included pictures, furniture, and other items—among them the 19th-century, Qing Dynasty instrument seen at left, which was described as a "flute" but looks rather like a set of Pan pipes in the form of a pair of wings.
Chinese influence on auction sales is everywhere nowadays, and this one was no exception. This red lacquered and gilt wooden instrument, 15¾" wide, the pipes corresponding to the musical notes marked by the Chinese characters they bear, was expected to sell for $4000/5250 but sold in the end for $48,175.
Chinese ceramics from the collection of Peter and Nancy Thompson, sold at Sotheby's on November 7, 2012, included the Dehua flute seen above. Moulded in the form of a hollow bamboo stalk, the traditional material used in the manufacture of the xiao or flute, the 17th-/18th-century porcelain instrument was considered with a $20,000/30,000 estimate, but it sold for $289,910! Dehua, in Fujian province, was famous for its white porcelain wares, copied in the 18th century by Meissen and often referred to in Europe as blanc de chine.
The hunting tapestry of the early 16th century, possibly Parisian, sold for $156,380 by Christie's.
Great big tapestries, their colours still bright off the loom, were ideal for cheering up great baronial halls or keeping the drafts out of your castle drawing room—but they did not come cheap!
In 1515, the Vatican spent more than five times as much on tapestries to line the walls of the Sistine Chapel as they had paid, three years earlier, to have the ceiling painted by Michelangelo, according to an article on "Tapestries Today" by the head of Christie's furniture department, Marcus Rädecke.
The article focussed principally on the theme that tapestries are back in vogue with today's less conservative furnishings buyers, who "…may have a 16th century hunting tapestry and set it off with Deco furniture." Just as well then that the salesroom's October 31, 2012, selection of tapestries—part of one of their "500 Years of Decorative Arts Europe" sales—contained the tapestry pictured here.
Woven in wools, the 9'10" x 14'8" tapestry depicts mounted huntsmen and hounds pursuing a stag across a wooded landscape with a lake and castle beyond, all within a beige and blue border.
Citing an article written by Thomas Campbell for the catalogue of a 2002 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Tapestry in the Renaissance, Christie's point out that colouring and stylistic features of the figures suggest an early 16th-century French, possibly Parisian, origin.
Few examples of that early period survive, and much more research and study will need to be done before attributions to workshops, let alone designers, can be made with any degree of certainty. The fact that weavers in France did not have to sign tapestries, as was the case with their Flemish counterparts after 1528, does not help, and though tapestry workshops existed in Paris, Tours, Toulouse, Nevers, Bordeaux, and the Marche region, they must have had a much riskier existence than those of Flanders.
Paris was the most important weaving centre and counted as many as 40 master weavers in the mid-16th century, but few would have received a steady stream of commissions. Most maintained only small workshops, frequently cooperating on commissions or subcontracting work to colleagues.
Christie's also noted that a tapestry with related stag hunt and similar figure along the left edge of the tapestry had been sold by Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York City in 1968, while in 1984 they sold a related tapestry from Thornby Hall in Northamptonshire. These, and another sold by Christie's New York in 2008, are so closely related in weave and design, said the department, that they are likely to emanate from the same workshop as the one offered in October.
There were losses to the dark brown and black wools, with some restoration and re-weaving, as well as restored cuts and patches, but it sold for a mid-estimate $156,380 to a European collector.
The Charles X singing-bird and musical portrait box that sold for $287,665 at Bonhams on November 14-pictured closed and open to show the singing bird.
Founded in 1738 on a farm in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the clock, watch, and automata business created by Pierre Jaquet Droz survives to this day and, now part of the Swatch Group, has moved back to the Swiss town where it all began. As the company's Web site reveals, they still make novelty timepieces featuring birds—"The Bird Repeater" wristwatch is prominently featured—but the object we are concerned with here is something made a little over 200 years ago.
Pierre Jaquet Droz's reputation was made in 1758, when, in company with his father-in-law and a hired hand, he drove from Switzerland to Spain in a specially constructed carriage that contained six of his finest clocks. After a wait of many months, they were finally presented to Ferdinand VI, and so impressed were the king and his court with Droz's workmanship, a few days later Droz was paid 2000 gold pistols for the clocks, which then entered the royal palaces in Madrid and Villaviciosa.
Thereafter, the clocks and automata made by Droz, his son, Henry-Louis, and Jean-Fréderic Leschot (the son of a neighbour whom he took on when his mother died, and whom he came to regard as his own) were exhibited at royal courts across Europe and Russia—with a workshop opened in London in 1774. Special commissions earned the firm an international reputation that even reached China, where examples of their work can still be seen in the Imperial Palace collections.
For some, the singing bird boxes the Jaquet Droz firm made are without equal in their technical and artistic achievement, and though the box seen here, probably a direct commission dating to the years 1799-1802, was actually made a decade or so after Pierre Jaquet Droz's death in 1790, it remains an exemplar of what the firm could produce and a demonstration of the number of different crafts and skills employed.
The gold, enamel, and split-seed pearl case of this box was made by George Reymond & Cie, but the singing bird and musical movements are the work of Jacob Frisard, and according to the Bonhams specialists, his core talent lay in the cutting, preparing, and milling of cams and cam-stacks to a degree no one had seen before.
It has been recorded that Frisard would spend days sitting in forests around his home, armed with a quill and writing paper, trying his best in his own style of musical shorthand to capture actual birdsong sequences—the timing and pitch being directed by the pre-lining of the page in order to create a primitive but nevertheless pitch-correct "recording" of birdsong.
Once back in the workshop, this was then notated through the circumference of a cam, and onward through the spring-drive mechanism to ensure that a complete phrase was played back. Such was Frisard's passion for this recording method that when he started up business on his own in 1799, just before this box was made, he perfected a spirally milled cam which would play back the full-length notation without any of the unwanted pauses, however small, that would result from the switch between single rows of cams on a stack.
As well as the continuous birdsong that results, this box also offers a separate barillet musical movement that plays an air called "The Shepherd and the Clouds."
Daniel Saint produced the portrait of Charles X, the exiled French king, who having fled revolutionary and Napoleonic France and set up home in England, continued to live a life of luxury and ran up vast debts by commissioning personal luxuries such as this. Some of these commissions are to be found in the royal collections of both England and France, though most were sold off following his death in 1836 to cover outstanding debts. The present box was most likely a gift from Charles X to someone whose support he wished to encourage or ensure.
At Bonhams on November 14, 2012, it sold at $287,665.
Ivory anatomical models such as this, which is just 8" long, or tall if you prefer, would have been used as teaching aides in medical schools. This one, believed to be of German or Austrian origin and to date from the 1770's, has arms that are hinged at the shoulders and a front torso section that can be removed to reveal separately modelled gut, womb, and embryo. The Wellcome Collection in London has a standing anatomical model of a pregnant woman in classical style, but there is a slightly surreal touch to this reclining figure, in which the lady boasts an elaborate period hairdo, complete with pearl decoration. It sold for $15,870 at Bonhams on November 14, 2012.
Suffering the indignity of having the White Ensign hoisted above the Stars and Stripes, the defeated USS Chesapeake is led into Halifax harbour by HMS Shannon in one of four coloured litho plates from a rare set of prints recording a famous engagement of the War of 1812 that sold for $21,790 at Sotheby's on November 15.
Over the 27 years that I have been producing a "Letter from London," I have inevitably and often found myself writing about the same sort of object or picture and indeed, given the length of time I have now been at it, on occasion about exactly the same item. This repetition also tends to be compounded, I admit, by personal preference, in that I am drawn to certain subjects, objects, artists, collecting fields.
In this month's "Letter," my major self-indulgence has been a real old favourite, the world of antiquities, but long-haul M.A.D. readers will also have noticed that amongst other areas for which I have shown a particular liking are all things nautical. And within that field, there is even a single event to which I have returned, time and again.
Had I more time, I could look back through all those file copies and see just how many times the 1813 action between the frigates Shannon and Chesapeake has featured, but getting on for well over 300 issues and around 1300 pages, it seemed a bit much. Let me just say that this was a naval action that seemed to inspire a lot of artists and modellers, and I know that I have several times before featured paintings, ship models, and even relics of the Chesapeake-Shannon incident on these pages.
But I have not, I think, featured a set of four coloured lithograph plates by Louis Haghe after the Scottish-born marine artist John Christian Schetky that were published in London by Smith, Elder & Co. some 17 years after the event.
The reason is simple; these plates are rare—in fact, unrecorded in the standard bibliographies. Sotheby's, who sold a set for $21,790 in a book sale of November 15, 2012, could trace just two institutionally held copies—those in Yale University's Sterling Memorial Library and in the collections of the New-York Historical Society—and one that came to auction in their New York rooms in 2000.
The latter was part of the Americana library of Laird U. Park, Jr., a collection that was inspired but not entirely focussed on the history of his native Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. In fact, in looking at my copy of the Park catalogue, I see that a note was made there of a set sold in 1917 by the American Art Association, but that still leaves this a real rarity.
For those who may be unfamiliar with the story, the USS Chesapeake was one of the original six frigates that formed the United States Navy, and it was from Boston, on June 1, 1813, that her captain, James Lawrence, sailed out to engage the British frigate HMS Shannon—though not actually in response to a written challenge from her commander, Captain Philip Broke, as is sometimes claimed. That challenge was delivered only after Lawrence had sailed.
In the interest of adding something new to my previous articles, I repeat here the actual wording of Broke's challenge (quoted in Kenneth Poolman's Guns Off Cape Ann: The Story of the Shannon and the Chesapeakeof 1961), which, if nothing else, speaks eloquently of a very different age and of the courtesies that preceded slaughter.
"As the Chesapeake appears now ready for sea, I request you will do me the favour to meet the Shannon with her, ship to ship, to try the fortune of our respective flags. The Shannon mounts twenty-four guns upon her broadside and one light boat-gun; 18 pounders upon her main deck, and 32-pounder carronades upon her quarter-deck and forecastle; and is manned with a complement of 300 men and boys, beside thirty seamen, boys, and passengers, who were taken out of recaptured vessels lately. I entreat you, sir, not to imagine that I am urged by mere personal vanity to the wish of meeting the Chesapeake, or that I depend only upon your personal ambition for your acceding to this invitation. We have both noble motives. You will feel it as a compliment if I say that the result of our meeting may be the most grateful service I can render to my country; and I doubt not that you, equally confident of success, will feel convinced that it is only by repeated triumphs in even combats that your little navy can now hope to console your country for the loss of that trade it can no longer protect. Favour me with a speedy reply. We are short of provisions and water, and cannot stay long here."
Lawrence's action was a gallant but, in the end, costly gesture, for in just 11 minutes, 84 of the Chesapeake's crew, Lawrence among them, were dead or dying and a further 115 severely wounded. The British frigate lost 30 men and counted 56 wounded.
These rare plates documenting the engagement were drawn on stone by the master lithographer Louis Haghe, after drawings by Schetky. The first of the four shows the challenge, while two others show scenes from the short but bloody battle, and the fourth, reproduced here, shows the Chesapeakebeing towed into Halifax harbour after her capture.
She was later taken back to England, where the Royal Navy took her into service until 1820, when she was broken up and her timbers sold at Portsmouth dockyard. Some of her timbers were used in the construction of a watermill in the nearby village of Wickham. The Chesapeake Mill operated until 1976, but is now an antiques and crafts centre. What, I wonder, would Captain Lawrence and his men have made of that?
Like the set of these prints in the Laird U. Park, Jr. library, which had sold at $16,800, that seen at Sotheby's in London had the coloured litho plates mounted on larger sheets and retained the publisher's original blue wrappers, along with a sheet of descriptive text.
We had posters in the last "Letter," but I felt I really could not pass these two by just for that reason. The star turns in a vintage posters sale held by Christie's South Kensington on November 1, 2012, these avant-garde, constructivist film posters of 1929 are the work of the Stenberg brothers, Vladimir (1899-1982) and Georgii (1900-1933).
The poster featuring dismembered limbs and vertiginous views of Soviet tower blocks advertises The Man with a Movie Camera, an experimental, cinematically inventive silent film on one day's life and work in Odessa and other Soviet cities that has no story, no titling, and no actors, though the cameraman himself is often seen.
Made by the Russian director Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife, Elizaveta Svilova, at the Ukrainian film studio, VUFKU, the film is apparently "famed for its revolutionary use of Constructivist montage on the cinematic screen. Through superimposition, slow and fast motion, and split screen techniques, Vertov portrays both the cityscape and the human body with dynamism, merging the organic and the mechanic to create a dramatic image of the technologically advancing world," according to Christie's catalogue.
I wish I had known that when it was very recently shown on a U.K. television channel, Sky Arts, but I settled for something less challenging. Nevertheless, a clip I have since watched on line looks intriguing, and I hope it will come around again soon.
This poster, rated condition B+ and backed on japan paper, sold at $176,000, while $166,335 was paid for the far better known poster, also rated B+ but backed on linen, for the cinema classic by Sergei Eisenstein, The Battleship Potemkin, in which the ship's great guns are the dominant feature-"metaphorically recreating Eisenstein's vision [by contrasting]…the sailor, who stands tall atop the ship's artillery, with the overthrown officer, who plummets helplessly toward the sea." These sums far exceeded anything previously seen for their work.
For more on the Stenbergs and their posters, go to the Web site MUBI (http://mubi.com/notebook) and search for "Shafrazi" for a review by Adrian Curry based on an exhibition held in 2011 at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York City.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest