Breathtaking Blooms: Phillips Could Sell a Circa 1905 Tiffany Studios Wisteria Table Lamp for $650,000

Tiffany, Wisteria Table Lamp

What you see: A “Wisteria” table lamp by Tiffany Studios, circa 1905. Phillips estimates it at $450,000 to $650,000.

 

The expert: Cordelia Lembo, Head of Design for Phillips in New York.

 

Where does the Wisteria design stand among Tiffany designs, in terms of its desirability when it was new, and its desirability now? The Wisteria lampshade’s naturalistic beauty has a broad appeal, outside of its historical and market contexts. It was one of the most popular and expensive shades in its time, and continues to be today.

 

How many iterations did Tiffany Studios make of this lamp? Is the table version the most popular? There are some slight variations in the shapes of the larger Wisteria table lamp shades, and then there is also the “Pony Wisteria” which is a miniaturized version.

 

Could you talk for a bit about Clara Driscoll, her importance to Tiffany, and how this Wisteria design testifies to her artistry? Clara Driscoll was Tiffany’s lead designer. She was behind some of his more elaborate and commercially successful shades, but it wasn’t until recent years that she has received the recognition she deserves. I highly recommend the book A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls for the full story of Clara Driscoll, her career and contributions to Tiffany. [A Wisteria lamp appears on the cover of the book.] She was a fascinating woman far ahead of her time in so many ways.

 

Could you talk a bit about what went into making a Wisteria? I get the impression that this shade was particularly labor-intensive. Yes, that is immediately evident in the intricate design which required around 2,000 pieces of glass. For me, the most fascinating aspect of Tiffany lamp production was the glass selection, a process in which a “glass selector” would choose the type of glass to be cut for specific placement on the lampshade. Even more than the design or glass-making processes, this is where you can see the individual perspective of the artisan.

 

This lamp dates to 1905. The Wisteria design was produced between 1901 and 1910. Does the date matter? Do collectors have a clear preference for Wisterias made early or late in the run? We’ve actually dated the lamp circa 1905, which is fairly standard dating for a Wisteria. Some lamps have certain indicators which, considered together, can give a more specific date within the window of production. As with some other Tiffany lamp models, the preference tends to be for earlier examples, but that is one factor among many.

 

How does this shade compare to other Wisteria table lamp shades that you have seen? What aspects of its color palette distinguish it? How does its appearance testify to the skill of the pair of artisans who assembled it? What strikes me about this shade is its delicacy and realism. The glass selector clearly intended to showcase the shape of individual blossoms. The paler pannicles [individual pieces of glass] can be interpreted as either a glittering background or white and pink blossoms. My favorite part about the lamp is that as light passes through the blue and purple glass, it colors the white glass a pale blue. These kinds of subtle and almost magical effects are one of the reasons that people are drawn to Tiffany.

 

I see in the lot notes that the shade has a tag that has the number 342, and the base is impressed with the number 342. Does that mean the shade and the base left the factory together, and have remained together? Or could it have left the factory with a different base and had the tree base swapped in later? “342” refers to the model number. I am not sure if this base and shade are an original pairing, though that is certainly possible. It would have originally been paired with a tree base. 

 

Phillips handled this particular Wisteria in 2012. How has the Tiffany lamp market changed over time? Are Wisteria table lamps even more desirable now than they were six years ago? The Tiffany market is one of the strongest and most consistent categories within 20th century design. A number of other Wisterias have come to market in the last five years, some of which have achieved truly exceptional results. This means that some of the collectors who were actively seeking to acquire a Wisteria no longer are, but also that these results have established certain benchmarks and brought visibility to the market, inviting new collectors to participate. The Design department at Phillips has a track record in bringing new audiences to established categories, and we are pleased to have the chance to introduce them to Tiffany.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate? As with any other, we took into account other auction results for similar examples, and in this case of course the 2012 result for this particular example.

 

How often do Tiffany Wisteria table lamps come to auction? Approximately 2-4 a year in recent years. But each one is unique.

 

What is the world auction record for a Tiffany Wisteria table lamp? I believe it is over 1.5 million USD, and there are more than a few results in the high six and low seven figures.

 

Does the lamp work? If so, what sort of bulb does it use, and how has its wiring changed over time? Are LED bulbs recommended now? If so, do LED bulbs change the appearance of the lit shade? The lamp does work, it’s very important that it illuminate! I recommend a bulb that doesn’t emit too warm of a light. 

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? For me personally, this lamp was sold in my first sale at Phillips, and so for that reason alone I will always remember it. One of the best things about working at an auction house is that sometimes we have the chance to be the custodian of certain works more than once.

 

How to bid: The Tiffany Studios Wisteria table lamp is lot 25 in the Design Evening Sale at Phillips on December 13, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Cordelia Lembo spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a record-setting Lucie Rie bowl.

 

I like Tiffany Studios lamps and all things Tiffany. I’ve written about Tiffany Studios and Clara Driscoll for Art & Antiques magazine and I did a piece for Andrew Harper Travel (now Hideaway Report) on a Tiffany Studios-themed tour of New York City.

 

You can buy A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls from Powell’s or your favorite independent bookstore.

 

Also, just sayin’: Somebody needs to do a solid period miniseries about Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls. AMC? PBS? Netflix? Get on it, please, and see the “About the Hot Bid” page to contact me and compensate me for the idea. You’re welcome.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

 

A Unique Ceiling Light that Graced the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair Could Command $50,000 at Bonhams

24784914-1-4

What you see: A unique Torciere della Cultura ceiling light, designed by Sami El-Khazen and executed by Arredoluce between 1964 and 1965. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

 

The expert: Dan Tolson, specialist in modern decorative art and design at Bonhams.

 

What can you tell me about Sami El-Khazen, and about how he was chosen to design the Lebanon Pavillion at the 1964 World’s Fair? I can’t seem to find much. It’s incredibly hard to get info about him. I put hours upon hours into searching. He was in Lebanon in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, when it was a cultural hotbed, the right time to be there. In 1988, he passed away. He was a vital designer, an architect, an unsung hero of modernism. [As for the story of how he was chosen to design a pavilion for the World’s Fair,] I’ve done a lot of research into it and it was not something I was able to discover. There’s relatively little in the Arredoluce catalogue raisonné, too. This piece is discussed in the opening, and they talk about him, but there’s no biography.

 

Do we know how long he’d been working with Arredoluce when he got the nod to create that World’s Fair Pavillion? No, we don’t know that either, or how it [the World’s Fair commission] came about. He designed it and Arredoluce provided all the manufacturing expertise. Arredoluce has been around since 1930. They were at the height of their success as a company [in the mid-1960s,] at the top of their game. It’s a piece of architecture in the way it’s been designed and put together.

 

Was the 1964 Lebanon Pavillion at the World’s Fair El-Khazen’s crowning achievement? From what I read about him, he was not a product designer, he was an architect. This may be the only thing he produced outside of architecture.

 

Do period photographs of the Lebanon Pavillion survive? Yes. The way you see the lamp, it extends down almost to the floor, like a stalactite. It was spectacular. It must have been ten feet in height. It must have been the centerpiece of the pavillion.

 

Why did El-Khazen and Arredoluce call it the Torciere della Cultura [lamp of culture]? I think it ties into what I was saying about Lebanon. In that period, they embraced modernity. It was a way of looking forward to the future. I think that’s what it was for them. It was made to symbolize Lebanon’s contribution to civilization and was designed to look like a tower of flame – representing the spread of Lebanese culture across the globe. It was exhibited in the pavilion’s Culture Room.

 

And the Shah of Iran saw the ceiling light and asked to buy it in 1965, or someone representing him did? That’s my supposition. There’s no discussion of that anywhere in the book [the Arredoluce catalogue raisonné], but I imagine he attended.

 

The lot notes say that the ceiling light “was sent to the Arredoluce factory in Monza [Italy] where it was dismantled and re-engineered into the present smaller proportioned work.” Do we know what, exactly, the artisans at Arredoluce did to modify the piece for installation in the dining room of the Shah’s palace? No, that’s not mentioned specifically. But it tapered to the floor, so it was cut down to a more user-size scale.

 

And let’s just stop here and discuss why it was okay to alter the light, and what made it okay. It was still a creation of Arredoluce. It [the changes] happened in El-Khazen’s lifetime, shortly after the show, and done with his approval. The ceiling light was completely impractical as it was. It was a huge thing, made into a more usable object.

 

Are there any period shots that show the ceiling light installed in the Shah’s palace dining room? No, there’s no interior shots, nothing that shows it in situ. It’s surprising how little information is out there about El-Khazen. Maybe it was destroyed in the war [the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted from 1975 to 1990].

 

So, when we’re talking about works by El-Khazen at auction… this ceiling light is pretty much it? Yes, this is it, which is why it resonates with us. As an auctioneer, it’s incredible to have something unique by a critically acclaimed company, Arredoluce, and which is shown in its catalogue raisonné. It ticks a lot of boxes. The fact that there’s not a lot known about El-Khazen makes it more beguiling. The other thing that appeals to us is it was in the 1964 World’s Fair. It was legendary at the time.

 

And this sold once before at auction, in 1985, but we don’t know which house sold it? No. The seller’s grandparents bought it. He does not recall where they bought it. He thinks it sold for around $70,000, which in 1985 is quite significant.

 

And 1985 predates most of the available online auction archives. Yes, exactly. It gets patchy even past 15 years on Artnet.

 

What condition is the ceiling light in? It’s in excellent condition. It was rewired for the U.S. [electrical system] in 1985, but it hasn’t been updated since then. The bulbs have not been modernized. It’s in working order, and it’s been very well-cared-for.

 

How many pieces comprise the ceiling light? It has about 170 individual pieces.

 

Are they fixed in place, or is there any play or give? No. It’s amazingly well-engineered. It tessellates together, firmly into place.

 

I see that it is strictly described as a “ceiling light,” never a “chandelier,” which people would expect to wiggle and sway a little. Yes, exactly. It’s quite densely packed. It’s a complex piece.

 

This is a unique lighting design, and it seems to be the only thing El-Khazen designed that isn’t a building. How did you arrive at the estimate of $30,000 to $50,000? We looked at comparables [somewhat similar things that sold at auction in the past] for Italian lighting–prices for rare or unique lamps by Stillnovo and Arredoluce. But you can’t be precise with something unique. It comes down to what people are willing to pay for. It’s not only unique, it’s by a top manufacturer in Italy at the time, and it has historic connections with the 1964 World’s Fair. There’s a lot of good factors that make it highly collectible, and the Middle Eastern feature makes it collectible as well. [With this,] you can’t hold out for a second. That gets people’s attention. It should really go above the top estimate.

 

What’s it like in person? It’s absolutely incredible. It’s got great presence. It’s obviously quite masculine, quite powerful.

 

Is it heavy? Very heavy. It’s bronze, nickel-plated bronze. It’s a very serious weight.

 

The Shah of Iran put this ceiling light in his palace dining room. Where could someone put it today? If the entryway in your home has a double-height ceiling, it would work. It’s the focal point of a room. Though it’s reduced in scale, it’s a great conversation piece to have in a modern home.

 

Why will this ceiling light stick in your memory? I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so unique. It speaks volumes of El-Khazen’s vision for design. It’s spectacular. There’s definitely an unwritten story somewhere.

 

How to bid: The unique mid-century ceiling light is lot 93 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design sale on December 14, 2018 in New York.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Arredoluce has a website (but it’s Italian-language only).

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Chirp! Skinner Sold That Jess Blackstone Robin for… (Scroll Down and See)

1576Miniature birds “Hand Carved and Painted by Blackstone”

Update: The Jess Blackstone robin sold for $584.

 

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

 

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

 

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

 

Did he live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

 

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

 

How prolific was Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

 

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

 

What do we know about how he worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

 

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

 

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

 

His birds are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

 

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

 

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

 

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

 

Where do collectors put his birds? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

 

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

 

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

 

What is this Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

 

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.

 

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Chirp! Skinner Has a Flock of Jess Blackstone Bird Carvings, Including a Robin That Could Fly Away With $500

1576Miniature birds “Hand Carved and Painted by Blackstone”

What you see: A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969. Skinner estimates it at $300 to $500.

 

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

 

So, who was Jess Blackstone, and how did he come to carve and paint miniatures of birds? Born 1909, died 1988, a resident of Melrose, Massachusetts, and moved to New Hampshire in the late 1930s, when he became a member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. His dad carved mini-songbirds, and he learned to paint and carve from him. That seemed to shape where Blackstone went. He and his dad would have good-natured competitions to paint the smallest bird, or the most elaborate bird. He definitely eclipsed his dad in quality and production, but it [carving and painting bird sculptures] was a family business at one point.

 

Did he live out his life in New Hampshire, or did he travel? He stayed there the rest of his life, in a simple house with a lot of land. He was able to support a wife and an adopted daughter with his carvings. When he was in the military in 1944 and 1945, he listed 58 birds that he encountered or identified in Germany, some of which he actually carved once he got home.

 

I take it he chose that place so he could look out his window and see birds? He had a lot of land, and he was a feeder type of guy. The birds were much more plentiful to see [in the mid-20th century], particularly warblers and tanagers and certain sparrows, which only come during the spring and fall migrations. He carved 92 different species of songbirds, based on an analysis of records at the New Hampshire Historical Society.

 

How prolific was Blackstone? He’s estimated to have carved 8,500 birds. More than 2,500 were chickadees. Since 2005, as far back as our digital records go, we’ve sold 132 Jess Blackstone carvings.

 

Did he carve duck decoys? Decoys, no, but there’s a distinction to be made between these decorative carvings and decoys. Blackstone birds were never meant to attract a member of its own species. He carved ducks, yes, but there aren’t many among his output. They’re all decorative, and the overwhelming majority are songbirds.

 

What do we know about how he worked? We think he observed birds a great deal. We think he bird-watched the way we bird-watch. He’d put out a feeder, or hike, and see them. There’s a story that if a bird hit his window, he would study it. He was so good at capturing the personality of a bird that he had to have watched them. Once he had a template for the shape and colors of a bird, it was almost paint-by-number. He would follow his template after producing one bird.

 

And what do we know about his approach to carving? We know he used white pine. In 2012 we sold a trade sign, a tabletop display mounted on a wood base, with a robin perched on it, that said ‘All birds are made of white pine.’ White pine is easy to carve, light, and plentiful. As far as I can tell, he never deviated from carving white pine.

 

What characteristics mark a Jess Blackstone bird carving? He was an inveterate record-keeper. He always signed his birds the same way, with an intertwined ‘JB’. There’s also a nice detail–he called it ‘feathering the bird’–a very subtle textured effect [of] parallel lines that run the length of the body. It prevents the bird from being completely flat. And the birds always stand on a grey stone-like base.

 

His birds are not photo-realistic, but they’re not folk art, either. Yes. They have a liveliness, a personality. They have a great presence. They straddle the line between realism and charm. Because they make you feel so good, they appeal to people who are not folk art collectors and not bird collectors, necessarily. The man who runs this department has a Jess Blackstone bluebird at his house. It speaks to how universal their appeal is. Though Blackstone created 8,500 of them, and 2,500 chickadees, he was never bored by them. It takes love to carve that many.

 

Why did he make so many chickadees? We don’t know, exactly. Maybe it dovetails with how he marketed and sold his work. He’d do shows at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen and developed a following. I think the majority of his business was from craft shows. He knew his carvings were good, and he sought sophisticated audiences for them. People would ask him to carve a certain bird. He painted five times as many chickadees as any other bird. They’re great-looking, and they’re the state bird of Massachusetts. Maybe he carved so many because it was like playing the hits–certain bands out there have to play the one. He carved 267 robins, and this is number 240. Bluebirds and goldfinches, he did more than 500 each. He did 454 mallards, the biggest non-songbird. It looks like the robin is his tenth most popular songbird.

 

He signed his birds, but did he date them? He didn’t typically date them, no. There are numbers on the bottom, but there’s disagreement about what the numbers mean. He started numbering each bird by species. There may not be a number one chickadee, but there is a number 1,150 chickadee. He carved about 30 to 40 birds in a typical month, and up to 60 in a really productive month. The higher the number, the closer to his death [it was made]. He stopped around 1980 because he wasn’t well enough to carve in the last eight years of his life. Some of the ones from the late 1970s are not as high-quality as this robin.

 

Does his having made about 2,500 chickadees mean that chickadees were his favorite bird? Or does that just reflect what the market wanted? I wish I knew the answer to that question. I couldn’t find if he made observations about the birds themselves, other than his output. There’s no indication of if he weighted one bird more than another in his mind.

 

Where do collectors put his birds? Any flat surface. Mantelpieces, bookshelves, custom-made cabinets. They’re easy to amass. People who have one tend to have more than one.

 

What was Jess Blackstone’s golden age? It depends on how you define it. His output seems to have been regular. Toward the end of his career, he was better-known. In 1947, he asked $2 for a bluebird. By the early 1980s [after he had stopped working, but presumably had a stock of finished works], he charged up to $100 per bird. He had good days and he had bad days, but I don’t think his quality dipped very far, if at all. Because he was prolific, well-known, and consistent, [collectors judge based on] the condition of the bird, and the earlier the number, the better it does.

 

What’s the auction record for a Jess Blackstone carving? We’ve had one sell for $2,600–a a pair of purple finches mounted on driftwood. It’s rare for him to have two birds in one piece. [For individual birds,] in 2012, we sold a European bird for more than $2,100. It was a crowd-pleasing bird that was odd for him. If you turned it one way, it looked like a yellow wagtail, and if you turned it another way, it looked like a pied wagtail. It appears to be unique, and it was carved from a drawing he gathered overseas, when he was in the service. Rarer birds are the ones that tend to bring the most.

 

What is this Blackstone robin like in person? Is it actual size? It’s been on my desk all day. It’s tentative, it has an inquisitive stance, but it’s confident in its own way. It’s looking for its next worm. It’s probably an eighth of the size of a real robin, maybe a tenth of the size. The bigger it is, the harder it is to collect and display. One of the appeals of Jess Blackstone birds is they’re so easy to collect. Four look fine, and 30 doesn’t look overwhelming. They display nicely together. With 30 birds at full size, you have to commit. You don’t have to commit as readily to 30 miniature birds.

 

How to bid: The Jess Blackstone robin is lot 1576 in Skinner‘s Americana Online auction, which opened on October 25, 2018 and closes on November 4, 2018.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

 

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Skinner.

 

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid in February 2017 for a piece on an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

 

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A Grand Souvenir of the Grand Tour: Christie’s Could Sell a Circa 1835, 61-Inch-tall Bronze Model of The Vendôme Column for $60,000

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What you see: A French patinated bronze model of the Vendôme Column, made circa 1835 and standing just over five feet tall. Christie’s estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

 

The expert: David Weingarten, a partner in Piraneseum, the gallery that consigned the work. Piraneseum focuses on artwork and souvenirs of the Grand Tour, a trip through Europe that wealthy young Englishmen took to finish their educations in the 17th through 19th centuries.

 

Let’s start with Trajan’s Column and why Napoleon would want his own version of it. One emperor liked the way another emperor was remembered. [Laughs] There are other parallels of Napoleonic France to Imperial Rome, but Napoleon saw himself in the same light as Trajan, as an equal. The Vendôme Column is very closely modeled on Trajan’s Column. The initial statue of Napoleon at the column’s summit had him dressed in a toga, like a Roman emperor. The column was part of a much wider enthusiasm in this period for Roman architecture and art, which in Paris included the Arc de Triomphe, which was modeled on the Arch of Titus, and the Luxor obelisk, which was retrieved from Egypt, just as the Romans had. There are more ancient Egyptian obelisks in Rome than in Egypt!

 

How did the artisans create such a precisely detailed replica of Trajan’s column around 1835, when they would have had to rely on sketches and engravings instead of photography? Rome wasn’t so terribly far away. They had very accurate records of it in the beginning of the 19th century. The Vendôme Column’s details are quite different, of course. Trajan’s Column depicts him humiliating the Dacians. The Vendôme Column shows Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, with French cannons and horses. Trajan had different actors and different weapons.

 

So this is an update? A refresh. Column 2.0. [Laughs]

 

Does the Napoleon statue on the top date-stamp it to 1835? One of the most interesting things about the Vendôme Column is how it’s changed dramatically over time. When it went up, there was no statue on the top. Then there was a fleur-de-lis, then a flag, then a statue of Napoleon in a toga. Then the people who were politically in charge, Napoleon’s family, didn’t care for the toga statue. That’s when Le Petit Corporal went up [the Napoleon statue on this model]. It lasted until the 1860s, when Napoleon’s grandchildren thought it was demeaning, and put up a new statue of Napoleon in a toga.

 

Was this a souvenir of the Grand Tour, the trip through Europe that rich young Englishmen took after they finished school, or was this a custom commission of some sort? It wasn’t like a souvenir that you go down to the souvenir shop and get. It certainly is the right period, and it’s a very grand sort of thing. You get the grandest of the Grand Tourists bringing this thing back.

 

Is it solid or hollow? And do we know why the finish looks black? The Vendôme Column isn’t black. The model is hollow-cast bronze, and is remarkably detailed and highly accurate. The model’s finish – a very dark, inky green – is typical of many French bronzes in this period. As you point out, this differs considerably from the monument’s green-oxidized bronze panels, which we see today. Whether this oxidized patina was original or intended, I don’t know.

 

How heavy is this thing? I wouldn’t say it was lightweight, but one person can lift it with no problem. You can put it on a table. It cohabitates nicely with other things of its period.

 

Do we know who made this model Vendôme Column? In the last 15 years, since the sale of a Vendôme Column at the Bill Blass Collection auction at Sotheby’s in 2003, there have been a half dozen or so of these offered at auction. All have shared the same general characteristics–patina, method of manufacture, topped by Le Petit Corporal, etc. And yet, there has been one intriguing difference–almost all are different heights, something very unexpected with pieces cast in a mold. This suggests there wasn’t a vendor in any conventional sense, but a foundry producing models on order, for a very limited clientele. I wish I knew the name of this foundry. Perhaps time will reveal it.

What is it like in person? The idea of a souvenir is to jog your memory, but this giant Vendôme Column inverts that idea. At the Place Vendôme, you don’t get very close to the column. The real thing is great, but you can’t see what’s going on. This column is tremendously well- and accurately detailed. You can get very close to it. The architectural experience of the model is more profound than the experience of the real thing.

 

How to bid: The circa 1835 Vendôme Column replica souvenir is lot 331 in The Collector: English and European 18th and 19th Century Furniture, Ceramics, Silver & Works of Art, taking place at Christie’s New York on October 23, 2018.

 

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Piraneseum has a website.

 

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SOLD! An Exquisite Piano-playing Automaton Commanded $11,000 at Bertoia

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Update: The Gustave Vichy piano-playing automaton sold for $11,000.

 

What you see: A piano-playing automaton, created by Gustave Vichy between 1890 and 1910. Bertoia Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

 

What is an automaton? It’s a form of robot or proto-computer that’s designed to entertain. The machine executes a series of movements or acts in a specific order, such as performing a magic trick or riding a bicycle. Clock- and watchmakers naturally gravitate to building automata because many of them run on clockwork. If you have a cuckoo clock in your house, you own an automaton.

 

The expert: Jeanne Bertoia, proprietor of Bertoia Auctions.

 

This is described as a “Vichy” automaton because it was made by Gustave Vichy, a French designer from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. But why is it called a “Vichy Piano Watteau Automaton”? Is the “Watteau” a reference to the painter? The company catalog [which is in French] calls it “piano Watteau.” I suspect it probably has to do with the pastoral type of paintings Watteau was known for. If you look at the painting on the piano, the gold, it has a very Watteau feel.

 

And the figure kind of looks like a woman from a Watteau painting Yes, exactly. She’s very elaborate, with silk and lace and pearl jewelry. She has heeled shoes and stockings on. [Unfortunately, none of the photos of the lot show this.] She’s very elegant.

 

To when does the automaton date? Probably 1890 to 1910, the turn of the last century. It was probably the later part of the 19th century. The peak of automata production was the mid-1800s into the 1900s. Automata were luxurious items. They had moving parts that were powered by clockwork, and they played only for about a minute.

 

How rarely do you find automata that have porcelain parts? It’s rarer, though it was done. There are others with porcelain parts, but most of them were papier-mâché. Some automata makers used parts from doll companies. You actually get a doll. This has a Jumeau porcelain head. Jumeau usually made French fashion dolls. The doll head is the most important part of the doll. The hands and the head are made of bisque porcelain.

 

Do we know how many other Vichy Watteau piano automatons survive? Unfortunately, we don’t know. This is the first we’ve had the opportunity to handle, and we go back to 1986. There may be a few in some of the grander collections.

 

Does the automaton have all the details and fittings it had when it was new? Can we know? We believe it’s all-original. It’s very well-taken-care-of and in generally excellent condition. It still works beautifully. The mechanism and the music functions well. In the [Vichy] catalog, it’s just a drawing. It looks the same. It has a different costume, but that doesn’t mean it was dressed differently. There was no mass-production clothing line then. A dress as elaborate as this would have been individually handmade.

 

Who would have been the audience for this automaton? I’m guessing it wasn’t intended as a toy. It was probably for the newly rich. Again, it’s an elaborate, luxurious piece to own. It was not treated as a toy. It was treated as a piece of moving art.

 

What instrument is the figure playing? It’s a piano harp. I don’t know if it’s a real instrument. It looks pretty fanciful to me. I think those are original harp strings.

 

The lot notes for the automaton describe its condition as “excellent to pristine”. What does that mean in this context? It means that it’s all-original, the mechanism works, the music plays fine. Maybe there’s a little restoration to the clothing, which is very accepted.

 

Has it been restored, beyond touching up the dress? Not that we saw, no.

 

Will you post audio and video of the automaton playing the piano? Good question. We’ve been discussing it. We probably will put something on the website. We have at least a dozen different automata in the sale that are so unique.

 

The lot notes say that the music that the automaton plays “consists of four different ‘airs’,” which repeat. What are ‘airs’? And are any of the four pieces of music familiar to modern listeners? It’s a song, a tune, a piece of music. It’s French, it’s what they call it in the [Vichy] catalog. I don’t recognize the music. I can’t put a name to any of them.

 

How does the automaton move? Oh! The mechanism is fabulous! She has multiple movements. The hands gracefully move across the piano keys. Her chest breathes. The papier-mâché shoulder plate allows her to look like she’s breathing. She plays the piano, turns her head, puts her head up, and breathes in as if she’s breathing in beauty. Then she puts her head down and continues to play. That is her movement.

 

Have you seen other automata that simulate breathing? I haven’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are others. We haven’t had such an elegant doll figure as the main part of an automaton. We have had automata with lots of movement–this is just a different style. It almost falls into the doll world. It’s a beautiful doll, gracefully playing the piano.

 

Was this automaton intended for girls and women? I don’t think so. It’s just an elegant piece for the times. In today’s marketplace, doll collectors are very excited to get an automaton that has such a great doll. It stands on its own as an elegant, beautiful piece. If you had a daughter who plays the piano, it’d be a fabulous gift.

 

How to bid: The Vichy piano Watteau automaton is lot 272 in Bertoia Auctions’s Signature Sale on September 22, 2018.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Bertoia Auctions.

 

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RECORD! Doyle Sells the 1953 Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr, Owner of Native Dancer, for $100,000

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What you see: A sterling silver Preakness Trophy, won in 1953 by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., owner of the thoroughbred Native Dancer. Doyle sold it in May 2018 for $100,000 against an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, which is a world auction record for a Preakness Trophy.

 

The expert: Peter Costanzo, senior vice president at Doyle as well as its executive director for books, autographs, and photographs; coins, bank notes, and postage stamps; and estate and appraisal services.

 

How often do Triple Crown trophies come to auction? Infrequently, and for the Preakness, it’s even less frequently. What you normally see are Kentucky Derby Trophies. They’re highly prized by the families who win them. Kentucky Derby Trophies tend to be valuable. The race has name recognition and the trophy is made out of high-karat gold. The Preakness Trophy is made of silver. A Preakness trophy sold at Christie’s on January 17, 2008, won in 1970 by Personality, which was owned by Ethel D.Jacobs, a very notable horse owner, sort of on a par with Vanderbilt. [He later provided a link to a story that mentioned a third sale of a Preakness Trophy at SCP Auctions in November 2017. Scroll down for the mention.]

 

How much is this trophy worth simply as a Preakness Trophy, without factoring in the names of Vanderbilt and Native Dancer? Any winner of the Preakness would be a notable horse, bred and raised and trained by notable owners. You’ve got to go back a ways to find a no-name. The Preakness trophy was not available before 1953. The original trophy was the Woodlawn Vase, a pre-Civil War trophy made by Tiffany & Co. for a racecourse in Kentucky called Woodlawn. Not until the late 19th or the early 20th century did Pimlico host the Preakness–the vase was not made for Pimlico. It passed to the next winner until 1953, when Native Dancer won. Vanderbilt decided that the original trophy was too valuable, and should be safely held in the Baltimore Art Museum. 1953 was the first time a replica trophy was issued, and that’s what we sold. It’s notable in that it was the first one you could get. I think that helped its price in the end.

 

How did the Vanderbilt name affect the value of the trophy? Lots of people collect things related to prominent Vanderbilts. The cross-current of competition [with collectors of horse-racing memorabilia] helped drive the price up. This trophy belonged to Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, Jr., and was sold [consigned] by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt III. Vanderbilt Jr., was very influential in the history of American racing and particularly in Maryland.

 

And how did the Native Dancer name affect the value of the trophy? Native Dancer is one of a small group of horses that lost the Kentucky Derby but won the Preakness. That’s the only mar on his record. He was a big favorite going into the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. In 1953, the Preakness was shown on live television and got huge national attention. The country fell in love with Native Dancer.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $20,000 to $30,000? We matched the estimate on the trophy sold at Christie’s in 2008. That sold for $32,200. Ours really took off.

 

What is the trophy like in person? It wasn’t huge, but it was imposing, though. It had a very nice look to it, and it was in good condition. I think it was two-thirds the size of the original Woodlawn Vase. It’s a good, presentable size.

 

What was your role in the auction? Were you in the room? I acted as a specialist. I wrote the essay about the horse and its owner. The silver specialist cataloged it. And I was there, watching it sell. The whole thing took maybe two minutes. There was a pretty big pool of bidders that dropped down to two once it was over $60,000.

 

How long do you think the record will stand? I think this Preakness record should stand for a while. Probably none of the owners of horses that won the Preakness have the name recognition of the Vanderbilt family. It would probably have to belong to a horse that won the Triple Crown.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a major sports collectible, probably the highest-ranking sports collectible I’ve ever sold. It’s a case of a fantastic owner, Vanderbilt, with a fantastic horse, Native Dancer, and the Preakness. It’s hard to get trophies for major horses. That’s why it’s special. The trophy clearly spoke to a lot of people.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Doyle.

 

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

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