Purchase Story

Splash on the Wall, a Flash on the Hand

New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, Louisiana

Photos courtesy New Orleans Auction Galleries

What’s selling right now?” At any auction house carrying varied merchandise, the current answer to that eternal market question is “art and jewelry.” New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG) has demonstrated its faith in this fact by adding separate focused sales of fine art and jewelry to its calendar. Furthermore, in its more general estates auctions, those two specialties often dominate the list of top bids. The sale held in NOAG’s Arts District showroom on October 14 and 15, 2017, presented over 1100 lots, including hundreds of examples of furniture and decorative arts, but only art, jewelry, and strong offerings of silver tableware consistently were able to break the five-figure barrier.

Turning first to the artistic “elephant in the room,” only one lot went on to break the six-figure mark. An 1878 Louisiana bayou painting with cattle—cataloged as probably Bayou Teche at Oaklawn Plantation—sold with buyer’s premium for a monumental $275,000, over a $75,000/150,000 estimate. The sober landscape (18¼" x 30" framed) by William Henry Buck (1840-1888) came out of a New Orleans collection and was purchased by another serious collector of southern regional painting. Born in Norway, Buck came to the United States around 1865, settling first in Boston, but he soon moved on to New Orleans. There he studied with Richard Clague Jr., one of the most important figures in southern landscape painting, and throughout the 1870s and 1880s Buck produced his characteristically somber views of Louisiana’s lush waterways. Recently, he has broken out of the “southern regional” straitjacket to become an important American artist on the national market.

Sugar kettles are a signature element in Louisiana garden settings, and sometimes they are converted into fountain basins or lily ponds. This 66" diameter example brought $3500 (est. $1400/1800). Americana expert Tom Halverson explained its appeal: “It’s a desirable large size, but beyond that it’s stamped by Leeds and Company of New Orleans. There aren’t a lot of marked Leeds kettles. They were the major New Orleans foundry.”

Useful for the long gallery of your stately home, this 18th-century portrait of Prince Charles Edward Stuart or “Bonnie Prince Charlie” (1720-1788) sold for $40,000, far beyond the $1500/2500 estimate. The painting (28½" x 24") was cataloged as one of many copies of a portrait commissioned by Charles’s father, James, from Italian painter Antonio David (1698-1750) while the Stuarts were living in exile in Rome.

The sale featured successful lots of English as well as American silver. Nothing is more useful in New Orleans than a big punch bowl, and this one has a molded rim. The George II bowl (8" high x 12½" diameter) is hallmarked 1759-60 by William Cripps, London, and it sold for $5000.

Jelena Restovic James, one of NOAG’s painting experts, explained the strong points of this particular Buck: “William Henry Buck is an important Louisiana artist, so the name alone is going to bring money. The painting has everything that is quintessentially Louisiana landscape art—the giant beautiful oak tree, which is a signature point, the cattle, the house in the background—it has everything you want to see in a nineteenth-century painting of this type. And, unlike European landscapes, the number of examples is limited—they’re very rare. Southern art collectors are very passionate about these paintings.”

Elsewhere, there were fine art blocks to appeal to every sort of collector throughout the sale, with the 19th- and 20th-century American art offered on Sunday. Saturday featured intriguing examples of old master type stately paintings that caught the bidder’s eye. A well-framed Italian school portrait of a gentleman wearing a ruff, once in the collection of Dr. Arthur D. Little of Brookline, Massachusetts, brought $10,625 (est. $1000/1500). An exquisitely detailed late 16th-/early 17th-century British school “Sheffield portrait” of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots (1542-1587) sold for $13,750 (est. $3000/5000). Decorating the catalog cover, a late 18th-century Italian school oil on canvas depicting “The Kingdom of Flora”—116½" x 72¾"—brought a mid-estimate $10,625.

Noted southern landscape painter William Henry Buck (1840-1888) signed and dated this landscape of a Louisiana bayou settlement with live oaks and cattle in 1878. The well-reasoned catalog entry suggested that it may depict Bayou Teche in the vicinity of Oaklawn Plantation near Franklin. Among the most sought-after of regional works, the Buck view sold to a serious collector for $275,000 (est. $75,000/150,000).

From the 20th century, there were 12 lots of patinated and polished bronze animal sculptures by Dutch-born artist Loet Vanderveen (1921-2015); all had been purchased from the artist for a private midwestern collection. A sleek roaring lion sold for $5000; a pair of cheetahs went for $3250; and a sublime Ark with a lineup of elephants to monkeys on the deck sold for an impressive $16,250 (est. $1500/2500). Prints were also in the mix—Femme au Bouquet, a 1967 lithograph signed by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), brought $16,875 (est. $6000/9000), while The American Dream, a limited-edition volume with 30 silkscreen prints by Robert Indiana (b. 1928), brought $16,250.

As always, the Sunday session opened with almost 150 lots of jewelry and watches, almost all examples of the “estate” as opposed to “antique” variety. Even in this hot category, buyers persist in being choosy about what they select for personal display. A flower-burst 18k yellow gold ring with a 2.54-carat round diamond at center sold for $27,500, as did the previous lot of diamond stud earrings. More inventive was a pair of hanging diamond earrings with emerald-cut aquamarines in the drops for $10,625. Jewelry sales from the October section and a fine jewelry, furs, and accessories sale on November 18, 2017, guaranteed happy holidays for the winners, and, if values hold, resale possibilities when fashions change.

Silver, both English and American, was another category that performed well, thanks to some exceptional offerings. An enthusiastic expert in his field, Charles C. Cage is the NOAG silver specialist and also the firm’s office manager. He said after the sale, “It’s the really good stuff that sells—good, collectible stuff. Run-of-the-mill pieces—people shy away from them. They want the best of the best. It doesn’t happen often, but when someone walks in with a Jensen Blossom tea set—wow!”

A silver star of the sale was this tea and coffee service—six pieces including the tray—purchased by a New Orleans collector at the Georg Jensen (1866-1935) shop in Copenhagen in 1935. The sculptural pieces in the Blossom pattern designed in 1908 came with a copy of the original sales slip and sold for $22,500 (est. $18,000/25,000).

The six-piece Jensen Blossom tea and coffee service with bud finials and ivory handles sold for $22,500 to a private buyer. The set included the original oval tray (23½" x 14¼") with buds within the openwork handholds. The organic sculpture pattern was designed by Georg Jensen (1866-1935) in 1908. The lot was accompanied by a photocopy of the original bill of sale from Georg Jensen Solv in Copenhagen, dated December 2, 1935, to Charles Rosen of New Orleans, Louisiana. Cage noted, “That we had a copy of the original bill of sale was pretty astounding. Mr. Rosen bought it at the Jensen shop in Denmark for 1800 kroner. That’s the granddaddy of Danish modern silver design.”

Cage continued, “Something that I think is fantastic, because you don’t see them that often, was that complete ice cream service.” The set, with a rectangular tray (17" x 11¼") and 12 round plates, was made by Dominick & Haff, 1901-03, and was retailed in Philadelphia by J.E. Caldwell & Co. The undulating rims are decorated with hydrangea flowers in high relief. Memories of summer and ice cream in a Gilded Age style for $5500. At the top of the silver lots, however, was a great 217-piece Tiffany & Co. flatware set in the Renaissance pattern that sold for $37,500 on Sunday afternoon. The original fitted case held 15 place settings with extra forks and spoons and all the appropriate serving pieces; the pattern was designed in 1905 by Paulding Farnham (1859-1927).

An untitled view of sailboats (36¼" x 23¾") by French-born painter Françoise Gilot (b. 1921) was the top art sale on Saturday at $57,500. Although Gilot is an artist, critic, and author in her own right, she is perhaps best known as the muse of Pablo Picasso, with whom she lived from 1943 to 1953 and bore their children, Claude and Paloma. The seascape is signed and dated 1977, at which time she was married to polio vaccine researcher Jonas Salk, whom she had met in La Jolla, California. This painting was consigned from a Houston collection. Gilot’s art has been exhibited at the Mann Gallery in New Orleans recently.

Surpassing all the European and American furniture in the October sale, this simple Chinese rosewood altar table, late 19th/early 20th century, brought $10,313 (est. $600/900).

Born in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Loet Vanderveen (1921-2015) had an enduring interest in the portrayal of animals. After serving in World War II, he eventually came to the United States, working first in fashion design and then turning to sculpture. After moving to California, he began to make ceramic animals and later cast them in bronze, using the lost wax technique. The sale presented 12 lots of his work, mostly a single animal or pairs of a single species, but Ark, signed and numbered 56/150, was the most desirable offering, bringing $16,250 (est. $1500/2500).

“The American Dream” is an artist volume published by Marco Fine Arts Contemporary Atelier in 1997 that is illustrated with 30 color silkscreens by Robert Indiana (b. 1928). Six of these, including (not shown) Marilyn Monroe/Norma Jean Mortenson, 22" x 17", are removable and signed and numbered in pencil. This is number 7 of the 30 artist proof copies printed in addition to the 395 that were published, and it brought $16,250 (est. $10,000/15,000).

While art, jewelry, and silver are humming along, furniture of all sorts is a more problematic category, with the good news being that buyers can get excellent deals on substantial pieces of case and seating furniture. While American furniture has had strong past sales in New Orleans, collectors are now lured only by exceptional rarities. Before the sale, Tom Halverson, the firm’s longtime Americana specialist, commented, “For young collectors, furniture seems to be pretty much a functional thing to them—not art, as some of us would see it. They seem to be more focused on the fine arts.”

One of his favorite lots was an eye-catching Aesthetic Movement ebonized cabinet with metal inlays that he had attributed to Pottier & Stymus, New York, 1882-83; the case piece ended up bringing $2375 (est. $1500/2500). “I’m kind of into P. and S., and this checks off a lot of the boxes for their work of that period,” said Halverson. “The use of silvering around the bevel of the etched glass, the mixed-metal inlay banding. I think this is around 1882, and you don’t see a lot of that mixed-metal inlay—it was long thought to be Herter in many cases. It appeared around 1878, and interestingly, this pattern shows up on a table I have from around 1878-1879.”

The first four of seven octavo volumes of The Birds of America from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories by John James Audubon (1785-1851) with J.B. Chevalier and printed by E.G. Dorsey/Liberty Street, 1840-42, sold for $11,875.

Before his dogs turned blue, Louisiana painter George Rodrigue (1944-2013) owned a terrier/spaniel mix named Tiffany, shown here in her natural coloring and habitat. The work (30" x 23¾"), formerly in a Lafayette, Louisiana, collection, sold for a strong $81,250 (est. $40,000/70,000), while the next lot—a blue version of Tiffany (not shown)—brought $42,500 (est. $25,000/40,000).

He continued, “What you’re seeing these days, instead of coming out of the old families, we’re now starting to get furniture out of collections that were assembled. If I still had a house with a twenty-eight-foot dining room, I’d be all over that walnut banquet table. It’s not often that you find this strong of a Renaissance table with the original leaves. A similar dolphin foot has shown up on a couple of other tables, including one that we sold here a year or two ago, but this is a better, more fleshed-out version of it. The eight leaves take it to 208¼"—it’s a monster stretched out.” For fewer guests, the table works well in its 60" diameter compact round form—an attractive and useful purchase at $3000.

New Orleans Auction Galleries CEO Susan D. Sarofim is from neighboring Texas, and for the October sale she brought in Houstonian Randolph Holford to share his distinctive style as guest auctioneer. In the catalog photo, he stands before a microphone in a Stetson hat with the Lone Star flag behind him. He serves as the official auctioneer for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and Sarofim said before the sale, “Having watched Mr. Holford at the Houston Rodeo for many years, I know he is able to create and sustain a respectful yet entertaining rapport with his audience. NOAG’s bidders will definitely appreciate his unique style.”

Information on the New Orleans Auction Galleries schedule of estate and special focus sales can be found at (www.neworleansauction.com).

Looking as if she had just stepped out of one Louisiana artist Jose-Maria Cundin’s paintings, the polyester resin sculpture of Rosita by Cundin (b. 1938) from 1976-77 (33½" high) sold for $15,000 (est. $12,000/18,000). The work came out of a private Houston collection and had been purchased from the artist.

The original Tiffany fitted case held 217 pieces of flatware in the Renaissance pattern designed by Paulding Farnham in 1905, well worth the final price of $37,500 (est. $20,000/40,000). After laying the table for 15 diners, the only thing left to figure out is, what’s for supper?

Originally published in the January 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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