Helen M. Turner (1858-1958) of Louisiana was an important American Impressionist noted for sensitive interior scenes featuring women and children. Sold for $92,250, The Moth (27½" x 19½"), signed and dated 1918 by the artist, will be included in the catalogue raisonné being prepared by Kaycee Benton.
Among the attractive Middle Eastern offerings was this pierced steel plaque (24¼" wide) with tendrils and Islamic calligraphy that brought a strong $11,070 (est. $1200/1800).
Emerging from a private collection in New Orleans, this 20" x 13" watercolor, Fly Fishing, signed by Kentucky Impressionist Paul Sawyier (1865-1917), brought $27,060 (est. $10,000/15,000).
This Carrara marble sculpture of a seated girl bore the date 1820 and the name of Swiss sculptor Jacques Pradier. Sold for $4920 (est. $1200/1800), the figure would be perfect for a sheltered spot in a French Quarter courtyard.
This untitled work by Thomas Downing is about 70" square and brought $34,440 (est. $10,000/15,000). Another by Downing (not shown), titled Djema (84¾" x 147"), from 1972 and with a chevron of color dots, sold for $13,530 (est. $7000/10,000).
In a Friday evening opening session of more than 400 Asian lots, the standout was a quietly elegant Chinese porcelain nine-piece scholar’s desk set with Hung Hsien mark (1915-16) that sailed past a $3000/5000 estimate to reach $25,830. The treasure came from the estate of James Julius “J.J.” Killough III of Houston, a collector profiled in the catalog, who had lived for many years in Hong Kong.
A most unusual lot consisted of three tiles from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, 1916-23, and two pieces of related ephemera. The terra-cotta artifacts in the Mayan Revival style sent bidders beyond the $200/400 estimate to a final $4920. The hotel was demolished in 1967, although sections survive as a museum reconstruction in Japan.
Boss clock of the auction was this all-American heavyweight, made in the late 19th century by the Grand Rapids Clock & Mantel Company. The ornately carved mahogany tall-case model with an eight-day movement achieved $29,520 (est. $15,000/25,000).
New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, Louisiana
Photos courtesy New Orleans Auction Galleries
Movie franchises, such as Batman, Star Trek, and Superman, often get a new lease on life after a reboot. Different actors in the principal roles and a fresh script can lead to great success. The New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG) got a reboot in 2012, and the November 30-December 2 sale was billed as the Grand Reopening Auction.
In June 2012, Houston businesswoman Susan D. Krohn purchased the assets of the auction house, including the name and the lease on the gallery at the corner of Magazine and Julia Streets. For president of the company, she put in place Ashton Thomas, a long-time associate in her Brooke Staffing Companies enterprise. The “new” NOAG under their leadership is a separate entity that can set up fresh contracts with consignors. The “old” NOAG, which was in bankruptcy, continues to seek a resolution of its affairs under a trustee.
In a conversation Thomas explained that although the purchase took place before the July and October sales, the December event was the first project the new administration had organized from start to finish. “The December sale was the first one where we had the time to plan it and do it the way we wanted to. And it was Christmas—we had a chance to throw a nice big party for the opening.”
The party even had a glamorous “celebrity guest,” Joanne King Herring, a good Texas friend of Susan Krohn. A profile in the auction catalog cited her autobiography, Diplomacy and Diamonds, and many movie-goers will remember the episode from her life portrayed in Charlie Wilson’s Warwith Julia Roberts, as Herring, and Tom Hanks.
In the time-honored New Orleans tradition, the December sale came with a hefty catalog of diverse material. More than 1700 lots were offered over a three-day period, with a Friday evening session entirely devoted to Far East inventory. The mix would be familiar to collectors who follow the market in the Crescent City—American, European, and Asian antiques drawn principally from the last three centuries.
Thomas outlined NOAG’s future direction. “Our main draw is the appeal of grand estates; we want to keep doing that. As far as what we specifically would like to sell, we find the real authentic antique Asian material does really well. We like jewelry. We love fine art and paintings. If our customers are buying it, we certainly want to sell it.”
Part of the business has always been that task of recognizing what is currently selling best. While Asian remains appealing to an international audience, Thomas noted, “The huge Continental furniture style is not quite as in vogue as it once was. We recognize that and will try to get away from that a little bit. But if people come to our doors, we’re not going to turn them away.”
Asked about Americana, he continued, “We love it. The Internet makes it possible to buy anything from anywhere, but one of our strong specialties is the regional southern material, and we’d like to keep that. Again with the southern stuff, I think furniture is not the strongest area, but southern painting and fine art is doing quite well.”
Fine art produced the strongest prices in the sale, beginning with two regional paintings in the Sunday lineup. The Moth by Louisiana Impressionist Helen M. Turner (1858-1958) is a dream-like image of a young girl doubled in view by the mirror behind her. The painting brought $92,250 (includes buyer’s premium). Michele M. Carolla, NOAG’s specialist for paintings, works on paper, and photography, was pleased by the final price. “We had been a little worried because the prices haven’t been as strong in the last four or five years. But the Turner did very well; I think it was the third-highest price for a Turner.” She continued, “And we were happy with the Sawyier painting that we had.” Paul Sawyier (1865-1917) spent much of his life in Kentucky, returning there after studying in New York City with William Merritt Chase in the late 19th century. His watercolor view of Fly Fishinghad wide appeal for naturalists and, of course, anglers. The painting brought $27,060 (est. $10,000/15,000).
American art also produced an auction record for an artist. Thomas was delighted. “The most exciting lots in this sale were the three Thomas Downing [1928-1985] paintings, with one of them going for a record price.” The president admits he is no art historian, but the works grew on him. “I chuckled the first time I walked in the door, and they had hung the Grid Fivepainting—it was about a six foot by twelve foot canvas on the wall with sixty-six circles.” But as he walked by the three Downings every day, “I really became attached to them. I was glad they brought such good prices, but I was sorry to see them go.”
Michele Carolla explained, “The Downing paintings were from a Texas estate. The man who owned them knew the artist.” She referred to James Julius “J.J.” Killough III of Houston, profiled at the beginning of the catalog. She continued, “When Downing first started he received a lot of attention, because Clement Greenberg included him in a very significant traveling exhibition that he curated.” Carolla said that Downing’s fame has waxed and waned. “He was perhaps ‘lost’ while other painters became popular and highly collected. He is a Color Field painter and was associated with several regional Color Field groups. It’s a style that’s become a little more popular again, and he is one of the more affordable artists. He’s done well in recent years at auction. But we were thrilled and stunned when one of the paintings did so well here. We got national and international notice for Downing.”
As Thomas mentioned, no one is going to stop featuring Chinese material when it still sells so well. Furthermore, southern collectors were often world travelers, thus their consignments produce excellent Asian lots. Catalog readers can play a game this reviewer calls “Chinese Puzzling Prices,” i.e., noting the lots that most definitively blew away their low estimates. In this sale, for example, a carved jade archaic ritual disk sold for $11,070 (est. $500/800); a porcelain water pot, even with no photo in the print catalog, sold for $10,147 (est. $250/400); and a porcelain charger went for a stellar $17,220 (est. $500/800).
Consignment specialist Ireys Bowman, a veteran staff member at NOAG, handled many of the Asian artifacts from the large Texas estate consignments. She explained, “We could price them appropriately for auction purposes and watch them blow through the roof, which they did. It was amazing. We haven’t gotten prices like that for Chinese export porcelain in over seven years,” she said. “Both Texas estates had fabulous Chinese export, and one of the estates had some of the important Chinese-for-the-Chinese-market pieces. That’s how it goes; things just fall into place. You take a few things in, and suddenly it builds.”
The Downing paintings were placed near the end of the sale with other lots of contemporary fine art and furniture. The market for 20th century is another interesting development that is shifting the New Orleans mix away from traditional 19th-century material and that will attract a new generation of collectors. Ashton Thomas agreed. “Some of the more modern furniture is huge right now. Sometimes less is more. The simpler pieces are capturing quite a lot of money.”
NOAG plans to continue offering six auctions a year, one every two months, but that might increase in the future. Thomas may try some specialized smaller auctions. He began with a Bidders, Brunch and Bubbles sale on January 19. He said, “In February, we might specialize in southern art. We have some very nice southern pieces coming in. New Orleans is a perfect two-auction-house town, and we’re looking forward to this competition.”
For more information and a current schedule, log on to (www.neworleansauction.com) or call (504) 566-1849.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest