Thursday, January 24, 2013

Antiques Week 2013 At Last, Part II

Sotheby's Americana Preview
The next stop on our auction house preview perambulation was at Sotheby's on the Upper East Side.

Sotheby's has a lot more on display in their showrooms this Antiques Week than Christie's does.  In my experience, these two major auction houses trade places every other year or so in bringing in the most Americana to sell during Antiques Week.  This year it was clearly Sotheby's turn to shine.

When one enters the exhibition rooms at Sotheby's one is confronted by a monumental Federal-era clock attributed to Simon Willard (1753-1848), as seen in the following photograph.  The clock's case is thought to have been carved by none other than the master carver Samuel McIntire (1757-1811).  Even though the clock's face appears to be rather over-restored, at least to this writer's eye, it didn't detract from the timepiece's magnificence one bit.  A nearly identical one is in the collection of the White House, in Washington, D.C..

A massive eagle-mounted carved wall clock
attributed to Simon Willard and Samuel McIntire, ca. 1810
($25,000 to $50,000 estimate)

Please note the Samuel Gragg bentwood armchair, ca. 1810 (estimated $6,000 to $12,000), on the left of the preceding photograph, Dear Reader, and the two klismos chairs in the foreground attributed to the Finlay Brothers of Baltimore, ca. 1810-1815 (estimated $80,000 to $120,000 for each).  This is serious stuff, indeed.

"A View of Mount Vernon with the Washington Family on the Terrace"
ca. 1796, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe
($500,000 to $700,000 estimate)

I was rather taken with this pencil and wash drawing of Mount Vernon by Benjamin Henry Latrobe (1765-1820).  It once hung at Mount Vernon (it was a gift of the artist to George Washington the year before he died) and really should be returned there, I think.  I hope the good ladies of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association are feeling flush these days and will find their way to returning the drawing to where it belongs, on the banks of the Potomac River.

There were any number of Audubon prints in the Sotheby's sale, four of which can be seen in the preceding photograph.  I'm often amazed at the prices such prints go for, with very rare ones sometimes selling in excess of $100,000.

Portrait of Henry B. and Mary Jane Soggs, ca. 1830s,
painted by Ammi Philips

One of the highlights of the Sotheby's sale is this double portrait of a brother and sister painted by the New York itinerant artist Ammi Philips (1788-1865).  It is estimated at an aggressive $250,000 to $300,000, which is far more than the $25,000 to $50,000 that a single person's portrait by this artist typically sells for in such sales.

A collection of decorative mid-19th century Italian gouaches

I confess that I was more taken by an assembled collection of early 19th-century gouaches of scenes in Italy.  I particularly like the pair of paintings in the upper middle of the preceding photograph, depicting the watery interior of Grotto Azzurra in Capri (estimated $5,000 to $10,000 for the pair).

One of a pair of very fine and rare Federal chairs attributed to
Thomas and John Seymour of Boston, ca. 1808-1812
($25,000 to $50,000 estimate for each)

The Sotheby's sale includes some outstanding chairs attributed to the Seymours of Boston.  The chair shown here is one of a pair, although they are being sold separately.

One of a pair of very fine Federal chairs
attributed to Duncan Phyfe
($5,000 to $15,000 estimate for the pair)

Personally, I prefer the much more reasonably estimated chairs in the sale attributed to Duncan Phyfe, which were once owned by Berry Tracy, the former curator of the American Wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The chair shown above, also one of a pair, has the very desirable hairy paw feet that pushes prices for Phyfe chairs (and furniture in general) through the roof, and justifiably so—as they are killer.  These Phyfe chairs are estimated to sell for a mere $5,000 and $15,000 for the pair (a bargain relative to the Seymour chairs, in my view).  Even though Darlington House is packed to the gills these days, I'm sure I could find a place for the Phyfe chairs, at least if I really had to . . .

The preview is full of rooms loaded with furniture and decorations

In addition to examples of best-quality furniture made by name-brand cabinetmakers, the Sotheby's sale includes lots of good, hearty, unlabeled, unattributed, and handsome furniture that would make any homeowner proud.

I'd much rather furnish my house here, instead of at Crate & Barrel

Much of the furniture on display is estimated to sell for reasonable prices, considering its quality and rarity.  And what a value it is in today's markets, where mass-produced mid-20th-century options frequently cost substantially more!  These days, antiques are really quite reasonable, indeed.

A gilt bronze shelf clock depicting George Washington,
ca. 1800, attributed to Jean-Baptiste Dubuc (1743-1817)
($40,000 to $60,000 estimate)

What one will not find at a bargain basement price, though, is this superb example of a French gilt bronze Washington clock made for the American market, which Reggie would be more than happy to own should he have the extra jack required to cover the hammer price it is expected to go for.  I suspect the clock—a trophy piece if there ever is one—will go for well above the estimate when the hammer falls.

The sale includes numerous examples of superior-quality,
mid-19th-century Gothic Revival furniture

I was intrigued to see an excellent assortment of American Gothic Revival furniture at the Sotheby's preview.  It almost made me want to go out and buy an Alexander Jackson Davis (1803-1892) designed villa along the Hudson River to furnish.  I wonder . . . is that my life's next challenge?

An American two-handled presentation trophy
made by Dominick & Haff of New York, 1913;
given by the terms of J. P. Morgan's will
to members of the Corsair Dining Club
($15,000 to $25,000 estimate)

The Sotheby's sale has cases and cases of silver holloware, stemware, and presentation pieces.  Do you really believe no one wants silver any more?  The estimates were sufficiently high, in my view, to indicate that Sotheby's believes there are still serious collectors out there who would like to own it.

Case after case of silver is on display

I was interested to see there are a number of lots in the Sotheby's sale consigned by the Brooke Astor estate.  Disposing of the mother lode of Mrs. Astor's silver, china, crystal, furniture, jewelry, art, etc.,  has taken many, many months and any number of auction houses to effect.  I wonder, is this the last of it?

One of 24 cut and giltware wine glasses in a
95-piece lot of Astor family glassware,
ca. second half 19th century
($4,000 to $6,000 estimate)

I believe these wine glasses may have once graced the table on Vincent Astor's yacht Nourmahal.  For but a few thousand dollars they, too, can grace your dining room table.

Next: A Visit to the New York Ceramics Fair

Photographs by Reggie Darling


  1. Can I make an admission? I love the Gothic Revival. Just a few pieces, not a whole room, but there is something so compelling about the stuff.
    Do you know Lyndhurst? Would like those Astor glasses too... just don't make them like they used to. Just read one of the Astors had silver for hundreds, can you imagine??

    Thanks for the tour (love the Seymour chairs too... breathtaking lines).

    1. Dear LPR: A little bit of Gothic Revival goes a long way, much like Mission furniture I think. I haven't been to Lyndhurst in years, must remedy that soon. Thanks, Reggie

    2. hahaha Just like federalist furniture. I'm a fan a of a mixture of styles. Too much of any one style is too much for me.

    3. A friend of mine, Howard Zar, is the new director of Lyndhurst. He also has a wonderful house in Athens.

  2. I love to follow you and Boy in your glorious pursuit. I'd like to see you take a mobile home around the country, investigating antique shops:).

    As if. But it'd be so much fun to read.

    1. The very thought of Boy traveling across country in a mobile home makes me roar with laughter. I'd love to see the look on his face!! Thanks, m'dear for giving me that chuckle this morning. RD

  3. Hello Reggie, My favorite piece here is the Latrobe Mount Vernon, although I find that estimate somewhat shocking. I am sure that 90% of it reflects the Washington connection, although my interest in it stems from the Latrobe association.

    I also admire your choice of the Grotto Azzurra gouaches.
    --Road to Parnassus

  4. Reggie, oh dear, I had the same laughter at the idea of you and Boy traveling across the country to Antique Auctions in your Mobile Home! It seems you get around enough; and to the best places!

    Art by Karena

  5. Do people actually sit in $50,000 chairs or do they just look at them?


  6. I'm very much enjoying this week of antiquing with you. I love Gothic Revival, too, but agree that a little goes a long way. A Gothic study would suffice for me.

    1. Hello MDR: I agaree, I think a gothick study would be sufficient! RD

  7. Oh Reggie, that clock is very fetching! I think it would even cure my myopia. A stunning piece indeed.

    I'm so looking forward to your post on the ceramics fair, and of course, to see what if anything, tempts you.

    Do bid on those wine glasses for me!All I need is MAGNIFICENT.I will cahnge my name to match the initals!Lets see.........Wandessa Adoreamenti!There you go!That works!Hope you get to bid on an item and take it home to DARLING CASA!

  9. Love the double portrait and most everything else as well. The rugs are beyond exquisite, especially the very large one in picture #10. Is there a show with dealers going on at the Armory as well? Will you be going, if there is one?

  10. Nice American Gothic items, that table would go nicely with The Chair my parents have. And I would enjoy sleeping in that bed.

  11. I know the extremes are out of favor these days, but there's something very satisfying in a thoroughly Gothic room, though I've never had to live in one. I seem to remember some serious Gothic fans getting published when I was a kid in the 80s, bucking the sea of le goût Rothschild, but I haven't seen one of those interiors in years. Time for a revival?

    And yes, I prefer Sotheby's to Crate & Barrel (and have only ever bought a vegetable peeler at the latter), but there's a pretty big leap in price between even the most modest offering a Sotheby's and C&B -- I'll have to stick to my estate sales, fleas and junk shops and live vicariously through you. Thanks for the view!

    1. Hello NH: Thanks for your comment. You would be surprised, as I was, to see how low some of the hammer prices were for some of the furniture in this sale. Rather a lot went for very low prices, and rather a lot went unsold. Bargains were to be had! Reggie

  12. What treasures..I too hope the Mount Vernon goes back to its home.

    I too love those Federal chairs, that huge rug and the fierce looking children but those very heavy cut Astor glasses really intrigue me ..must be the pink. Do you think Mr Astor designed them ?

    Finally Ive never heard the expression "extra jack" before...always something to lesrn from you Reggie

  13. The klismos chairs are my favorites. I was turned on to them years and years ago by the late, great designer Kalef Alaton who used them quite often in his designs.

    I really enjoy reading your posts, Reggie. Sheer delight. Being a transplanted New Yorker now living in Atlanta, it keeps me up to date on what I'm missing!


    1. Dear April Dilbeck, thank you for your comment. I think it is virtually impossible to improve on the beauty of a klismos chair -- the most perfect form imaginable, I believe. Reggie

  14. I think the McIntyre attribution on the clock is more wishful marketing than scholarly conclusion, personally--though it matters not a bit to me, as it makes me completely, utterly week in the knees, so wonderful an example it is of what is marvelous about the Federal period.

    Not that I'd kick that Latrobe drawing of Mt. Vernon out of bed...

    1. Hello TDED -- apparently a lot of people agree with us, the clock was hammered down at $74,000 or so, I believe. The Mount Vernon picture went for $625,000. Reggie

  15. Dear Reggie,

    I was excited in all senses of the word when I saw that you had praised the pair of side chairs with paw feet attributed to Duncan Phyfe, formerly owned by Berry B Tracy. None-the-less, our representative was the successful bidder and they will soon be accepted as a gift from our organization to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. So they have found a good home.

    John J. Tackett
    President, Decorative Arts Trust

    1. Hello John, I am thrilled that the Phyfe chairs have found a good home in Memphis. Thanks for letting me know! Reggie

  16. I think that Mr. David Wiesand of the McLain Wiesand workshops in Baltimore needs to whip you up one of those Baltimore Chairs a la the Finley Bros. I will get him right on it.

    1. Actually, Meg -- can I have eight of them please? I'd like to change out our regular dining room chairs with David's Finlay chairs in the summer, which is when I think they would look divine! RD

  17. What fun! I enjoyed going to the show with you!


  18. Hi Reggie,

    The Washington Post reports that Mt. Vernon was able to buy the Latrobe painting for $600,000, thanks to an anonymous donor. Details here:

    1. Hello Anon -- thank you for this update, I am thrilled the Latrobe picture has been returned to Mount Vernon, where it truly belongs. Rgds, RD


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