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Park, Backus, and Thieme Pace McInnis Sale

Mark Sisco | August 12th, 2013

Small (4½" x 5¼") oil painting by Korean artist Park Soo-Keun (1914-1965), $119,025.

Anthony Thieme oil on canvas, White Birches in an Autumn Landscape, $21,850. McInnis photo.

Albert Ernest “Bean” Backus (1906-1990), oil on canvas of a Florida landscape, $20,700.

The original paint of the matching flame graining on the drawer fronts was the key that pushed this Dunlap school Queen Anne chest-on-chest to $16,100, well over the $8000/12,000 estimate, despite some damage to the bandy-legged base.

A small one-drawer lift-top Maine blanket chest in sponge-decorated shades of green paint, with an inside till, sold for a strong $6900 (est. $2000/4000).

This early 20th-century carousel horse, attributed to the Herschell Spillman factory, in its original paint and complete with the original tail, leather straps, and iron foot pedals, sold for $18,400 (est. $7000/12,000) to an Internet bidder. A clipped obituary from an unknown Florida newspaper contained a handwritten note explaining that it was bought from the son of fantasy artist Paul Riba (1912-1977).

Silver cann by 18th-century Philadelphia silversmith Philip Syng, $13,800.

John McInnis Auctioneers, Amesbury, Massachusetts

John McInnis holds marathon auctions. His August 12 sale in Amesbury, Massachusetts, offered about 750 lots that were divided into a daytime session that focused mostly on art and Americana and an evening Orientalia section. The sale was topped by a single painting that soared well past $100,000.

An important silver cann by early Philadelphia silversmith Philip Syng (1703-1789) opened the sale. Syng is most noted for his creation of the silver inkstand that was used in the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the United States Constitution in 1787. The inkstand is on display at Independence National Historic Park in Philadelphia. Auctioneer John McInnis noted that the cann had been inaccurately appraised as highly polished pewter worth $50. This time, accurately assessed, it brought a rousing $13,800 (includes buyer’s premium), well over the $5000/10,000 estimate. It was double stamped by the maker on the base and engraved “Ann Newbold.” By family tradition, it had been passed down from Thomas Newbold (1760-1823), who served as a U.S. representative from 1807 to 1813.

The centerpiece of the sale was a small painting done in muted brown and gray tones by Park Soo-Keun or Park Su-geun (1914-1965), who is an important figure in Korean art. There is an entire museum dedicated to his art that was built at his birthplace in Gangwon Province, South Korea. McInnis has visited the museum and spent some time with the artist’s son. Beginning at a young age, Park produced works that depicted common people in ordinary and often agrarian tasks. He usually painted in a heavy impasto style. His works have drawn prices in the high hundred-thousands of dollars, and McInnis has sold several for over $400,000. This particular work was a 4½" x 5¼" image of five men seated in a circle. Although it was not signed, there was a partly legible inscription on reverse and a 1963 date. McInnis stood solidly behind the work. “I guarantee the authenticity of this painting,” he promised. “The painting is right as rain. We competed against a New York auction house for this.” McInnis also allowed the winning bidder 45 days to verify the authenticity with the Korean Art Appraisal Association. With a seemingly attainable $120,000/160,000 estimate, the painting sold for $119,025.

For decades the identity of the folk artist known as Bernier the Lumberman of Saco, Maine, remained unknown. Research by the Saco Museum revealed him to be Joseph Romuald Bernier (1872/ 73-1952), a Canadian immigrant who came to the United States in the 1880’s with his father. His work is characterized by a thick paint finish often with checked lines that give the carvings a distinctive texture. McInnis offered a 36" high and wide carved and painted eagle, perched over a captured songbird, with two other birds climbing the tree trunk, that was illustrated in a two-page article in the summer 2010 edition of The Magazine Antiques. The article noted that Bernier appeared in a Biddeford, Maine, “Men’s Census” as a “day laborer” through 1921. According to family history, he was crippled around 1923 when a falling tree broke his back while he was working as a lumberjack, which caused him to lose the use of his legs. In 1932, the same census directory listed him as a woodworker. This eagle is the largest Bernier work to come to market, but in the magazine article relatives recalled a 4' or 5' tall floor lamp carved in the form of a tree full of songbirds. However, with an optimistic $40,000/60,000 estimate, the big bird went unsold with no action at $20,000.

Works by two painters each topped $20,000. Massachusetts and California artist Anthony Thieme (1888-1954) was represented with four paintings in the sale. They were led by a 22" x 39" oil on canvas, White Birches in an Autumn Landscape, that sold for an over-estimate $21,850.

The later work of Albert Ernest “Bean” Backus (1906-1990) is focused almost entirely on vivid Florida landscapes. He was largely self-taught but also studied at Parsons School of Design. He was associated with the Highwaymen through his student Alfred Hair and is thought to have influenced many of the self-taught artists who are known as a part of that group. He also was associated with the Indian River school artists, some of whom were his students. The A.E. Backus Museum & Gallery in Fort Pierce, Florida, features the largest group of his original paintings. Here a 30" x 40" landscape showed a Florida wetland with a grove of towering trees under dramatic clouds. It sold within the $18,000/24000 estimate for $20,700.

For more information, visit ( or call (978) 388-0400.

This ten-drawer cherry highboy, with a molded crest, scrolled apron, pad feet, and matching pinwheel carvings in the upper and lower sections, sold under estimate for $5175, partly because of an overly cleaned surface.

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

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