Korean folding longevity screen, 18th or early 19th century, ink and mineral pigments on silk or linen, $603,750.
A pair of 18th-century carved cinnabar vases with red poppies on a yellow ground easily passed the $800/1200 estimate, starting at $5000 and finishing at $9200.
An eight-piece Aesthetic Movement walnut parlor suite by Herter Brothers (armchair shown) consisted of two men’s armchairs, three smaller women’s armchairs, two side chairs, and a settee. The arms ended in lion-head masks on carved foliate and inlaid supports, and the hairy paw feet rested on raised casters. When the bidding ended, it easily passed the $15,000/20,000 estimate, finishing at $35,400.
It seems impossible to sell a significant collection of Rockport art without including the works of Emile Gruppe (1896-1978), and the Gale collection had several. However, this 30" x 36" oil on canvas, titled Evening Light, Vermont, came from another source and led the Gruppe works at $19,550, more than doubling the estimate. It had been exhibited at the Geraci Galleries of Rockport in 1978. Julia photo.
Pair of leather fire buckets painted with eagles and ribbon banners reading “Mechanic Fire Society” and “William P. Gookin,” $36,800. Julia photo.
An Antonio Jacobsen (1850-1921) portrait of the New York harbor pilot boat Fannie, 24" x 42", flying an American flag, with several sailing vessels and a steamer in the background, signed lower right with Jacobsen’s full Hoboken, New Jersey, address, and in the original gilt gesso frame, more than doubled the $15,000/20,000 estimate with a price of $52,900.
James D. Julia, Inc., Fairfield, Maine
Artworks on the first day, Americana and other antiques on the second, and Orientalia on the third were offered at James D. Julia’s three-day auction from January 30 to February 1 in Fairfield, Maine. Over three-quarters of the roughly 1800 lots offered found new homes, and the final three-day tally came close to $4 million. About 15% of that value was centered on a single item.
The first day of the three consisted entirely of artworks, anchored by a 120-piece collection of New England and Cape Ann school art gathered by John F. Gale. On January 12, Julia held an exhibition of Gale’s collection at the Rockport (Massachusetts) Art Association, appropriately held in the Hibbard Gallery. Technically it was part one-owner-collection show and part auction promotion with over 120 paintings shown and a lecture by Antiques Roadshow regular and fine art and antiques appraiser Colleene Fesko. Over 500 viewers attended, and after the auction, James Julia credited a good deal of the success of the sale to the Rockport exhibition. The Gale collection brought just under $1 million.
The Gale collection offered 26 paintings by Aldro Thompson Hibbard (1886-1972). All the Hibbards sold, and most of them topped their estimates by substantial margins. The native Massachusetts artist was one of the founders of the Rockport, Massachusetts, art colony. A Hibbard winter village scene with an arched bridge crossing an icebound brook, 30¼" x 36¼", found a buyer at $25,300 (includes buyer’s premium). A 40" x 49" mountainous winter landscape with a New England village nestled in the valley sold within the $30,000/40,000 estimate for $33,925, and a 9" x 11" coastal seascape in a molded wood Guido frame, inscribed on the reverse “To Johnny Vander Meer, Just a memo of the first ‘Art Lesson’ in Boston, A.T. Hibbard, July 13th 1939,” sold for $31,050.
One of the standout items from the second day was an amazing gold-rimmed hinged box, about 3½" long, with an inset profile cameo of an African woman with a ruby earring and diamond necklace, carved to resemble the hollow head of a sculpture. Flanking the cameo were pieces of what the catalog called moss agate, and around the outside edge were 24 oval agate cabochons, bound by the gold trim. Curiously, moss agate refers to a specific semiprecious quartz gemstone that contains no organic matter, although the agates here clearly contained semblances of tiny moss or lichen fronds. It easily crushed the $1500/2500 estimate and finished at $31,050.
Another lot that took off was a pair of circa 1839 red-painted and decorated fire buckets that caught fire and edged just over the low end of the $35,000/45,000 estimate bringing $36,800. Each had an eagle shield and two banners reading “Mechanic Fire Society” and “William P. Gookin.” The backs were marked with an 1811 date and were numbered 1 and 2. According to the listing, Gookin (1813-1857) was admitted into the Mechanic Fire Society in September 1839 and served as its president in 1854 and 1855. In the 1839 Portsmouth, New Hampshire, directory, he was listed as a draper and tailor in partnership with his father, Samuel, but by 1841 the partnership had been dissolved.
Now for the piece that blew everything else away. It was a folding longevity screen, about 82" x 165", listed as Korean Yi Dynasty, probably 18th or early 19th century, and decorated with ink and mineral pigments on silk or fine linen with scenes of the garden of longevity, filled with cranes, tortoises, deer, and more. The background was done in a Song period style, in blue and green with landscapes of mountains, rivers, and waterfalls. The estimate was only $3000/5000, but there were at least a score of phone bidders hanging in as bidding passed $160,000. At $230,000 there was still a circus of activity, and heads were swiveling in the crowd, trying to catch the cell phoners who were competing with the phone bank, and none of them seemed inclined to quit. Somebody jumped it to $300,000, then to $350,000, and again to $400,000, but the competitors wouldn’t give in. At least 15 bidders were still in play when a Korean gentleman on the floor who flew in specifically to examine the screen and bid on behalf of another Korean collector raised his card. He simply jumped in and grabbed it for a final price of $603,750. Asian arts department head James Callahan commented that had the screen been proven to be Chinese rather than Korean, it could well have topped $1 million.
An item that was obviously underestimated from the get-go consisted of a hardbound 146-page handwritten account of a Civil War-era cruise aboard the U.S.S. Lancaster, titled Two Years in the Pacific, written by Marine Second Lieutenant Frank D. Webster, beginning on October 3, 1864. With a few drawings, watercolors and bookplate etchings, Webster described in detail an incident on November 11, in which a secret expedition of boats from the Lancaster captured a party of Confederate officers aboard the Union passenger steamer Salvador off the Panama Bay. The captured men had planned to seize the Salvador for the Confederates and convert her into a raider to capture Union gold shipments from California. The Confederate captain, Thomas Egenton Hogg, was sentenced to death for violating the rules of war but later had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment. He spent part of his sentence in Alcatraz and was finally released in 1866. Webster’s voyage took him to San Francisco where he first heard the news of the assassination of President Lincoln, then on to the Hawaiian Islands where there was a “formal presentation to His Majesty King Kamehameha V.” Also included was a leather-bound photo album with an image of the U.S.S. frigate Lancaster inscribed “Presented to me by Gunner Watkins, October 26, 1864” and numerous other photos, one of which may have been of Webster himself. When I saw the stingy $400/600 estimate, I knew I had to take a run at it, and I bid well over the estimate, but I was heavily outgunned. It finally sold for $5605, still a bargain for such a historic account.
For more information, visit Julia’s Web site (www.jamesdjulia.com) or call (207) 453-7125.
A lot of two sepia watercolor old master paintings was one of the standout surprises on the first day of the auction. One showed a young woman in a diaphanous gown, and the other depicted two fair maidens being protected from a satyr by a nude man wielding a club. Both were matted and under glass. The smaller (5½" x 6¼") portrait was identified on the reverse as “Daphne-Guereino (1590-1666)” while the larger (9½" x 12¼") painting had a FAR Gallery, New York, label. The underbidder was confident that the smaller work was by the Italian artist Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (1591-1666), known as “Il Guercino,” or “The Squint-Eyed.” That would account for the aggressive bidding, which chased it well beyond the lowly $500/1000 estimate all the way to $31,050.
This is one of those Oriental items that came out of nowhere and just kept going and going. It was a carved tortoiseshell seal paste box, enclosing a translucent emerald green jade ring. With a four-character seal on the base, it was estimated at a mere $500/700 and cruised sky-high to $21,850. Julia photo.
The top art lot on the first day, outside the Gale collection, was this oil on board by French artist Victor Gabriel Gilbert (1847-1933). Signed lower left, the 15" x 18" painting showed a Parisian street scene with a flower vendor, a horse-drawn trolley, and a stylish young woman stepping across the street. Gilbert spent his entire life in Paris where he focused on such thoroughly detailed street portrayals, usually featuring flower vendors and elegant young women or children. This one nearly tripled the $8000/12,000 estimate, closing for $34,500. Julia photo.
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest