RECORD! An Earnest-Gregory Dovetailed Goose Commands $810,000 and Several Auction Records at Copley

A full profile view of the record-setting Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose, a decoy that dates to circa 1870 and bears the name of two of its past owners as its creator is unknown. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2018 for $810,000, setting a record for a goose decoy and a record for a decoy by an anonymous maker.

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Ok, I’m starting with what might be an impudent question. The decoy depicts a Canada goose. In the 21st century, I know these birds as pests. Why did hunters in the late 19th century go after them? Were they pests then, too? Did they eat them? Was it both? Geese are good table fare. There’s a lot of meat on each bird. They’re great sporting game and they’re fun to hunt. The modern frustrations with the geese are just that–trouble with residential geese. Historically, geese were held in high regard and decoy-makers held them in high regard. Top goose-makers had fun with the head positions. You get a tremendous amount of variation from top goose makers. Geese are still celebrated by sportsmen and hunters today.

The goose decoy is named in part for Adele Earnest, the collector who sourced it and its two sibling decoys in 1954. Did she leave any notes about how she discovered the trio? She mentioned that she got them in Columbia, Pennsylvania. If there were details, they weren’t particularly telling on who made them and what the circumstances were. The fact that she remembered the town and the year is above the standard then in terms of collecting. And in collecting communities, there’s a lot of confidentiality about where something is sourced. A lot of times, collectors don’t divulge all the details of their finds.

Have any other decoys by this anonymous maker turned up? There are three geese known by this maker. Adding to that are a number of shorebirds that have the dovetail construction. Some of them were found in Massachusetts, and some believe the geese are from Massachusetts because of the shorebird find. Not until they were X-rayed could we be sure they were made by the same maker. The intricate techniques and specific materials used in construction identify them as being by the same maker.

No one else uses dovetail construction on their decoys? The dovetail construction is virtually unseen in any other decoy.

The Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy, with its head removed from the neck slot to show the unusual dovetail construction.

And the trail on the trio of decoys is completely cold? They were made as tools, and as such, were not signed as works of art. As tools, their value sunk to almost zero when plastic decoys entered the field. Only when they were recontextualized as found art did they have value again. When they were tools without a job, no one kept notes. It’s not uncommon for decoys to lose their entire history. At this point, the trail is cold unless the history is contained within the objects themselves.

Collector Stewart Gregory bought two of the three decoys from Earnest. Where is the third? Number three is in the Jerry Lauren collection. He has the other one.

Why did Gregory buy only two of the three? We don’t know the specifics, but it is unusual for collectors to acquire duplicates, of geese especially. Gregory was actually breaking with collecting norms by acquiring two geese with the same head position. It’s a testimony to his incredible excitement. With duck decoys, you have hens and drakes. Sexual dimorphism encourages collecting them in pairs. Shorebirds are small enough to keep two or three together. The exception is to have two geese in identical form.

Adele Earnest said the trio of goose decoys prompted her “subsequent devotion to the decoy as an art.” Donal C. O’Brien Jr., who had dozens of elite decoys, considered this one “the finest bird in his collection,” and “the best of the two” Gregory geese. What makes this decoy so great? This decoy strikes me as a complete object, purely from a visual sense. It will satisfy you from 100 yards away and when you have it in your hand. As a complete work of art in craftsmanship, it leaves virtually no room for improvement. I would add that as a decoy, it has impeccable provenance, and what I consider a perfect amount of gunning wear.

Gunning wear means it was “shot over”? Hunters fired their guns over the decoy in pursuit of live birds? Yes. As a tool for attracting birds, it was used in the water. It was used and abused as any decoy would be over [hunting] seasons.

What can we infer about the maker of this decoy by looking at it? When I see a piece like this, I see an incredibly talented craftsman who has a few audiences. Number one is the birds he’s trying to attract. Number two is the customer. Number three is their own standards and the ideas they may have about creating objects that live up to the talents they’re endowed with and should share. Some of these makers had a work ethic that was tied to their religion. They felt they had a duty to make the best object they could with their hands. They see themselves as having god-given talents they’re obliged to use to the fullest. That’s the idea. It’s evidenced when you look at the parts that are not seen by the bird or the hunter.

Detail of the carved tail of the record-setting Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy.

You mean details that only show up on X-rays–a technology that did not exist when we think this decoy was made? I’ve looked at a thousand decoy X-rays. There’s a strong connection between the level of craftsmanship on the outside of the bird and the level of craftsmanship on the inside. There’s an almost perfect correlation, makers holding their own personal standards.

What other things can you tell about the maker? Looking at its surface alone, I can identify half a dozen different painting techniques, which is unusual for decoys. You’re looking at a competent, well-trained artisan who paints well. He doesn’t labor over it. And that’s just the paint. The hollow body is meticulously hollowed, and the decoy has one of the most sophisticated head-to-neck transitions of any decoy. It has a nice finish, which is more challenging, but also can be more rewarding to the viewer and [can] show the most competent craftsmen at work. You can sand out a lot of mistakes. This person left it clean and crisp because he got it right the first time. The competence of the carving has led people to believe or wonder if it was made by a professional carousel carver, but nobody has lined up a carousel carving with this particular bird.

And we can be confident that the anonymous 19th-century maker is male? It’s far outside of precedent to be a woman. There are no documented female carvers [from that era, but you have to] consider that it possibly could have been a female painter. There’s a lot of collaborative effort in decoys.

What is your favorite detail on this decoy? My favorite thing about the bird is its totality. There’s no other decoy as satisfying from so many perspectives as this one, to me. But it’s probably the way the bird is hollowed out very intricately by hand to create the most stable, lightweight, and durable decoy possible. He’s doing work that no one is going to see.

It’s only going to show up on an X-ray? Only you at Copley will see it? [Laughs] Yes. The only people who’ll see it are the people at Copley, the clients, and the people who come to my X-ray talks.

Does the dovetail base on this goose decoy offer the hunter an advantage? The dovetail joint from the neck into the body offers a great advantage to a hunter. It allows the hunter to take the bird apart and transport it much more easily, with less chance of breakage. It’s understood, from a collecting standpoint, that goose heads [on decoys] crack or break off entirely. This bird is of durable construction, with a removable head. That’s no small part of why it’s in the condition it’s in, and why it has an unbroken neck today.

Detail shot of the Earnest-Gregory dovetailed goose decoy to show the head in place, but slightly slid out of the dovetail join.

Were you surprised it sold for $810,000? It was not a surprise that it went at that level. It was worth every penny. In terms of records, this is the third-highest price for any decoy at auction. It’s also a record for any goose decoy at auction, and an auction record for any unknown [decoy] maker.

How long might this record stand? What else is out there that could beat it? There are several goose decoys that could break this number. The first to come to mind are by Elmer Crowell, one of which used to hold the world record for any decoy. Others sit very close to the top of the list. I see the high-end decoy market continuing to expand and grow. I expect a significant amount of turnover in price at the very top.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? This specific decoy, before I ever saw it, was my favorite in the entire field of American waterfowl. The more time I spent with it, the better it got. I was so fortunate to be part of offering it for sale.

What was it like to hold it in your hands? It was a little scary. Let me rephrase that–it made you very aware you were holding a tremendously valuable object. It was also very satisfying. It’s a commanding and engaging object. It could dominate any space you put it in. Those are traits that only the greatest objects I’ve handled have.

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Images are courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its Sporting Sale 2019 on July 25 at Hotel 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Top lots include the Harmon “Dust Jacket” Plover trio, a group of shorebirds carved by Elmer Crowell, estimated at $730,000 to $1.1 million.

Colin McNair spoke to The Hot Bid in July 2018 about a preening black duck by Elmer Crowell from the same auction that ultimately sold for $600,000.

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

Yes, I filed this story under “Quack” even though the decoy depicts a goose. #SorryNotSorry

SOLD! A Zhou Dingfang Baggage-Form Teapot Bagged (Scroll Down to See)

A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. It looks for all the world like a little suitcase made from milk chocolate-colored leather with  dark chocolate-leather patches and accents. The only hint that it's a teapot are the looped handle, which resembles leather, and the spout on the left side of the "bag".

Update: The small baggage-form teapot with cover by Zhou Dingfang sold for $1,625.

What you see: A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. Christie’s estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

The expert: Rufus Chen, specialist, Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie’s New York.

The lot notes say Zhou earned “Master Status” in 1995, at the age of 30. What does that mean? Is it similar to the Japanese designation of “National Treasure” status? It’s a relatively different concept. It’s more like a ranking or a job title. If you do beautiful work, you’ll be recognized by the arts and crafts organization with the title.

So the big deal here is that she earned “Master Status” so young? It’s not a unique status. Multiple people have the same title. That’s a young age for a Chinese artist [to earn the title]. She’s a very accomplished and talented artist.

What do we know about her working process? How did she make this? Unlike a lot of blue and white pottery, one artist does it from beginning to end. The artist comes up with the design they want to produce, and they find the right clay in the right color. She used some kind of tool to achieve the soft, leather-like look in the work. It could have been many different tools. It was not done by machine.

Is this piece unique, or is it part of a limited edition? I wouldn’t say the piece is unique. I’ve seen other versions of the small suitcase. I don’t know how many exist, but there are at least five others. It’s normal for a Yixing potter to make several.

Is there a date on this piece? It was the early 1990s when this piece was designed and made.

Is this the first example of her creating a piece that looks like leather? Probably not.  She’s known for her obsession with texture. Another in the sale, lot 54, is more like a leather pouch. That’s also from the early 1990s. She’s known for making leather-like, textured work.

What is your favorite detail on this piece? All the details are so lifelike and well done. The clay used to make the pot, purple clay, is known for its flexibility for molding and sculpting. It allows artists to achieve a very detailed kind of work.

Purple clay? Does it have a purple color? When we say “purple clay,” it’s a collective name for all clay [from the region in China where it is found]. One has a purplish tone, one has a greenish-buff color, and one has a cinnabar orange-red color. By mixing the three clays, you can achieve a wide range of tones and colors.

Is the clay giving the pot its convincing leather coloration, or is she achieving that with glazes? It’s not glaze. It’s the clay body itself. She may have polished the surface to achieve a sheen. It’s really nice when you hold it in person.

Since you mention it, what is it like to hold this piece? It’s very delicate, very lifelike. For this particular piece, the surface does resemble real leather. It reminds me of a real little leather suitcase. It’s very intricate, very well-designed, well made.

And it’s tiny–less than five inches across. Does that mean it’s light? In terms of weight, it’s not heavy.

I realize it’d be insane to brew tea with this, but can it be used as a teapot? If you want to, it can. But it should be perceived as a piece of art, and it’s also small. I don’t know, if you brewed tea, how much tea [it would yield]. There’s probably a little amount of water it could hold. Normal [Yixing pottery teapots] for brewing tea are not ornately decorated. They’re in plain geometric shapes.

Was this piece commissioned by the Irvings, or did the artist make it without a client in mind? I think she just made it. I don’t think the Irvings commissioned it from her. When the Irvings collected it in the 1990s, and even to this day, it’s not the typical [piece] collectors would collect.

What is more typical for collectors to collect? Porcelain with more typical works of art that you see in the auction market. They have those too, but this is a very interesting aspect to their collection.

I understand Zhou Dingfang has connections to the makers of other works in the auction.  What are these connections? A lot of Yixing artists are born and raised in Yixing, and work in Yixing. It’s an interesting aspect to this catalog. Zhou Dingfang learned under Xu Xiutang, the maker of lot 50. And Zhou Dingfang was classmates with Lu Wenxia, another female artist in the sale. There are several from her, including lots 34, 35, and 36. Both Zhou Dingfang and Lu Wenxia were students of Xu Xiutang.

Is this the first time works by Zhou Dingfang have been auctioned in the west? I found examples being sold a few years ago, but in general, you don’t see work by contemporary Yixing artists in western auctions. This is a unique opportunity to collect contemporary Yixing wares.

Are they commonly auctioned in the east? Yes.

Do you have the world auction record for Zhou Dingfang at auction? It would have been set in the east, yes? China has more records than the western world in general. I don’t have the exact price [of her auction record].

Is this the first time several of her works have gone to auction in the same western sale? This is a unique case. All [the lots] come from the same collection, the Irving collection. It’s interesting to see how it will perform.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s beautiful, and its texture is amazing. It’s so intricately and delicately made. It’s a beautiful piece of art.

How to bid: The Zhou Dingfang small baggage-form teapot with cover is lot 52 in The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving, taking place online from March 19 to 26 at Christie’s.

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.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Ruby Eagle Carving Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio carved this eagle in flight out of an opaque ruby. Its wingspan measures 44 inches by 19 inches, and its beak and talons are highlighted in gold. The ruby itself has a reddish-purple hue that tilts toward magenta. The eagle is in profile, facing to the right.

Update: The Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio ruby carving of a spread-winged eagle sold for $62,575.

What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.

How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.

Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.

Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.

What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.

Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.

How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.

How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.

Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.

Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.

The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.

Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.

He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.

How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.

Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.

Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.

The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.

What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.

Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.

What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.

Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.

How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.

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.

Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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A Zhou Dingfang Baggage-form Teapot Could Sell for $2,500

A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. It looks for all the world like a little suitcase made from milk chocolate-colored leather with dark chocolate-leather patches and accents. The only hint that it's a teapot are the looped handle, which resembles leather, and the spout on the left side of the "bag".

What you see: A small baggage-form teapot with cover by contemporary Yixing [pronounced Yee-shing] potter Zhou Dingfang [pronounced Jo Ding-fong]. Christie’s estimates it at $1,500 to $2,500.

The expert: Rufus Chen, specialist, Chinese ceramics and works of art at Christie’s New York.

The lot notes say Zhou earned “Master Status” in 1995, at the age of 30. What does that mean? Is it similar to the Japanese designation of “National Treasure” status? It’s a relatively different concept. It’s more like a ranking or a job title. If you do beautiful work, you’ll be recognized by the arts and crafts organization with the title.

So the big deal here is that she earned “Master Status” so young? It’s not a unique status. Multiple people have the same title. That’s a young age for a Chinese artist [to earn the title]. She’s a very accomplished and talented artist.

What do we know about her working process? How did she make this? Unlike a lot of blue and white pottery, one artist does it from beginning to end. The artist comes up with the design they want to produce, and they find the right clay in the right color. She used some kind of tool to achieve the soft, leather-like look in the work. It could have been many different tools. It was not done by machine.

Is this piece unique, or is it part of a limited edition? I wouldn’t say the piece is unique. I’ve seen other versions of the small suitcase. I don’t know how many exist, but there are at least five others. It’s normal for a Yixing potter to make several.

Is there a date on this piece? It was the early 1990s when this piece was designed and made.

Is this the first example of her creating a piece that looks like leather? Probably not.  She’s known for her obsession with texture. Another in the sale, lot 54, is more like a leather pouch. That’s also from the early 1990s. She’s known for making leather-like, textured work.

What is your favorite detail on this piece? All the details are so lifelike and well done. The clay used to make the pot, purple clay, is known for its flexibility for molding and sculpting. It allows artists to achieve a very detailed kind of work.

Purple clay? Does it have a purple color? When we say “purple clay,” it’s a collective name for all clay [from the region in China where it is found]. One has a purplish tone, one has a greenish-buff color, and one has a cinnabar orange-red color. By mixing the three clays, you can achieve a wide range of tones and colors.

Is the clay giving the pot its convincing leather coloration, or is she achieving that with glazes? It’s not glaze. It’s the clay body itself. She may have polished the surface to achieve a sheen. It’s really nice when you hold it in person.

Since you mention it, what is it like to hold this piece? It’s very delicate, very lifelike. For this particular piece, the surface does resemble real leather. It reminds me of a real little leather suitcase. It’s very intricate, very well-designed, well made.

And it’s tiny–less than five inches across. Does that mean it’s light? In terms of weight, it’s not heavy.

I realize it’d be insane to brew tea with this, but can it be used as a teapot? If you want to, it can. But it should be perceived as a piece of art, and it’s also small. I don’t know, if you brewed tea, how much tea [it would yield]. There’s probably a little amount of water it could hold. Normal [Yixing pottery teapots] for brewing tea are not ornately decorated. They’re in plain geometric shapes.

Was this piece commissioned by the Irvings, or did the artist make it without a client in mind? I think she just made it. I don’t think the Irvings commissioned it from her. When the Irvings collected it in the 1990s, and even to this day, it’s not the typical [piece] collectors would collect.

What is more typical for collectors to collect? Porcelain with more typical works of art that you see in the auction market. They have those too, but this is a very interesting aspect to their collection.

I understand Zhou Dingfang has connections to the makers of other works in the auction.  What are these connections? A lot of Yixing artists are born and raised in Yixing, and work in Yixing. It’s an interesting aspect to this catalog. Zhou Dingfang learned under Xu Xiutang, the maker of lot 50. And Zhou Dingfang was classmates with Lu Wenxia, another female artist in the sale. There are several from her, including lots 34, 35, and 36. Both Zhou Dingfang and Lu Wenxia were students of Xu Xiutang.

Is this the first time works by Zhou Dingfang have been auctioned in the west? I found examples being sold a few years ago, but in general, you don’t see work by contemporary Yixing artists in western auctions. This is a unique opportunity to collect contemporary Yixing wares.

Are they commonly auctioned in the east? Yes.

Do you have the world auction record for Zhou Dingfang at auction? It would have been set in the east, yes? China has more records than the western world in general. I don’t have the exact price [of her auction record].

Is this the first time several of her works have gone to auction in the same western sale? This is a unique case. All [the lots] come from the same collection, the Irving collection. It’s interesting to see how it will perform.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s beautiful, and its texture is amazing. It’s so intricately and delicately made. It’s a beautiful piece of art.

How to bid: The Zhou Dingfang small baggage-form teapot with cover is lot 52 in The Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving, taking place online from March 19 to 26 at Christie’s.

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.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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

Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio Carved This Eagle Sculpture from a Ruby. Yes, a Ruby. Bonhams Could Sell It for $35,000.

Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe Aparicio carved this eagle in flight out of an opaque ruby. Its wingspan measures 44 inches by 19 inches, and its beak and talons are highlighted in gold. The ruby itself has a reddish-purple hue that tilts toward magenta. The eagle is in profile, facing to the right.

What you see: A circa 2007 sculpture of an eagle in flight, carved from an opaque ruby by Peruvian artist Luis Alberto Quispe [pronounced Kees-pay] Aparicio. It has gold highlights and is displayed on a granite stand. Bonhams estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

The expert: Claudia Florian, co-consulting director of Bonhams’s natural history department in Los Angeles.

When did Quispe Aparicio start his career? How old is he now? He’s 39 years old. It started as a family business. His father perceived there could be demand for ruby carvings. I think the business started in the 70s or so when the first deposits [of the sort of ruby he carves] from Tanzania came west. His father purchased rough ruby from Tanzania and brought it back to his workshop, and trained workmen to carve the ruby. Quispe Aparicio started seriously in the family when he was 21. He traveled with his parents to buy gems from various locations.

How difficult is it to carve a ruby? It’s second in hardness only to diamond. You wear out your carving implements when you carve with ruby. It involves a lot of grinding.

Does Quispe Aparicio work alone when he carves his pieces, or does he rely on assistants? He sits at the bench and does the carving, but he has workmen help with some basic aspects of it.

Where did he get the ruby he carved to create this sculpture? Tanzania? Tanzania is still the primary source for ornamental rough [stones]. It was a massive ruby.

What does “ornamental rough” mean? It means it’s an opaque ruby. It’s usually accompanied by a green crystal called zoisite.

Where else does Quispe Aparicio find ornamental rough ruby stones fit for carving? He’s basically using old stock. [His family] bought a containerful in the 70s and is working through that.

How prolific is he? I imagine with ornamental rough ruby being so tough to carve, that has to limit his output. The workshop was already producing before Quispe Aparicio joined. This ruby eagle was one of the ones he had designed and carved, and he had workmen in the workshop work on it as well. [The workshop output] is not enormous production. Maybe 40 pieces a year.

How did he approach the creation of this sculpture? With this particular bird, he said he had the rough and a large amount of it, so he was able to make a very large and monumental piece. With a bigger piece [of rough stone, such as this], he’s able to cut it up and have a homogeneous color through the composition.

Was this a commission, or did he just decide to create it? It was created on spec [speculation, meaning he embarked on it without a specific client in mind]. Gerard Cafesjian found out about it and bought it from him.

Quispe Aparicio carved this sculpture from a ruby, albeit an ornamental rough ruby. Does it have inherent value? It’s kind of difficult to say. The valuation of a rough is different from finished pieces. Some say [ornamental rough] is one or two dollars per carat. It’s very difficult to look at. You’d never break it up and carve little gemstones out of it.

The ornamental rough ruby has a reddish-purple color. Is that typical of what came from Tanzania? Yes. It’s very nice quality for Tanzania.

Do we know how big the raw ruby was before he carved it? No. The wings are not a solid piece. The feathers are glued together to create a larger wingspan.

He assembled pieces of ornamental rough ruby to create the wings? The body of the bird is one piece of ruby. The wings are inset. The wings are not one solid, long piece. Along the length are rows of feathers glued together.

How often does Quispe Aparicio portray eagles in his work? I have two [other Quispe Aparicio] eagles in the auction. They’re much smaller in scale. The big one, he put on a granite base. The smaller [ruby] eagle perches on top of a quartz geode.

Why did he portray an eagle? Is he fond of eagles? Within the history of gem carving, animals are popular and birds are popular. Eagles and falcons are popular subject matter.

Because they can show off with the feathers? I think so, and eagles are imposing birds.

The photos of the lot on the Bonhams site show only one side of the carving. Is the other side carved in as much detail as the side we see? Absolutely, and it’s beautiful. It’s very imposing looking. We need somebody with a corporate office or a lobby to buy it. It’s tremendously impressive.

What is it like in person? I see that the wingspan of the eagle is 44 inches by 19 inches–the larger measurement is almost four feet. I wonder if the pictures give a sense of how big it is. I put the measurements in there, but it’s very difficult to judge the size with the photos. We can’t put a child or a potted plant [next to it] to show how big it is. You’re not allowed to do that at a high-end auction house.

Are there other aspects of the sculpture that the camera does not pick up? The richness of the color. I had seen this in his studio years ago [before] he sold it to Gerard Cafesjian. It came to me, and when I opened up the box, I was struck again by how rich the color is on it.

What’s your favorite detail of the sculpture? I would say it’s very majestic. I think it realistically captures the sense of the bird soaring in mid-flight.

Why will it stick in your memory? In terms of some of the other pieces in the sale, this is big and imposing. When you walk in the room, it’s the first thing you walk up to. There’s an enormous amount of ruby incorporated in it.

How to bid: The ruby eagle sculpture is lot 96 in 100 Lapidary Treasures from the Estate if Gerard L. Cafesjian, taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on March 12, 2019.

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.

Claudia Florian spoke to The Hot Bid in May 2018 about a spectacular “fireworks” opal that ultimately sold for $162,500.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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A Paul Manship Bronze Could Command $250,000

Indian Hunter, a 1914 bronze by Paul Manship, depicts a Native American down on one knee, pulling back the string of his bow. His face is serious and focused.

What you see: Indian Hunter, sculpted in 1914 by Paul Manship. Sotheby’s estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Charlotte Mitchell, specialist at Sotheby’s.

How many versions of Indian Hunter did Paul Manship make? He cast the tabletop version in an edition of 15 in 1914. He cast a monumental version as a commission in 1917. It was the only one of those versions he cast. There are two authorized reproductions, including the one outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There are no others outside those.

Do we know how he made this sculpture? Did he rely on a live model, or pose a model for a reference photograph, or create it from memory? The image of the Native American is something Manship drew upon time and time again in his career. We don’t know exactly how the sculpture was done, but we can say a lot was drawn from memory or experience. After a time of study in Europe he gained an appreciation for archaic Greek art and translated it into this subject.

What makes this sculpture a Paul Manship bronze? What details or aspects mark this as his work? I think this really embodies a distinct aesthetic. It’s uniquely naturalistic and detail-oriented, and simultaneously, it’s contemporary and simplified. A few aspects I love about his work on Indian Hunter are the braids–they’re incredibly detailed. The ribs are muscular and realistic. With the left hand gripping the bow, you see the detail on the fingers and the fingernails.

Manship sculpted Pronghorn Antelope first, earlier in 1914. How do the sculptures relate to each other and complement each other? They were cast together and meant to be viewed as a pair. He drew upon his interpretation of the myth of the labors of Hercules. He recast Hercules as a Native American hunter and cast the Cerynian Hind as an antelope. He translated a Greek myth that would have been familiar with while abroad in Rome and put his own unique spin on it, in a language that would have been more familiar to him.

Did this tabletop version of Indian Hunter originally come with a similar-size version of Pronghorn Antelope? Though they were cast together, they weren’t always sold together. This was sold as a single piece. Seeing them together is certainly wonderful. There’s an activation of energy with the release of the imaginary arrow.

Was Pronghorn Antelope done in a limited edition of 15? To the best of our knowledge, it was.

He initially created the sculptures for himself, to decorate his New York apartment. Did he approach these differently than he did his commissioned pieces? Is that visible in the works? They’re completely indistinguishable from something he did on commission. Though maybe he made one for New York and the other 14 were created and intended for distribution. What he created for his home is not separate from other commissions.

Manship’s interest in Greek art shines through here and ennobles his subject. But was that controversial in 1914–to ennoble a Native American as a figure equal to the heroic male sculptures of ancient Greek art? I don’t know how to answer that. I can say that when they were produced, they were received very well by the public at the time. Herbert Pratt [a head of Standard Oil] saw them and commissioned large-scale versions with Manship.

How hands-on was Manship in the casting of the bronzes? He didn’t produce on a mass scale, making us think he was quite involved in the process.

How often does this Paul Manship bronze come up at auction? They don’t come up very often. At least 11 are in museums. Three or four have come up previously in pairs, and there was a sterling silver version, separate from the 15 that were cast. You could consider it a sixteenth version. It sold in May 2013 for $425,000.

What’s the record for an Indian Hunter at auction? A pair sold for $782,500 at Christie’s in 2012.

And this sculpture was originally sold alone? It was passed down in the collector’s family for decades. They’ve only ever owned Indian Hunter. It seems they only acquired this work.

This is the first time this particular one has come to auction. How rare is it to have a Paul Manship bronze that’s fresh to market? It depends on the version we’re discussing, but it’s not that many. He didn’t produce anything en masse. One of my favorite things about the work is it’s fresh to market. We’ve never seen this exact work before. I think that’s something generally exciting for the client as well.

Did Manship number the bronze? No. That’s not generally something he did with his casts.

What is it like in person? It has a beautiful, rich surface. The patina is very rich and soft as well. One of my favorite aspects is the braids. The detail is quite crisp and precise.

How to bid: Indian Hunter is lot 81 in the American Art sale at Sotheby’s New York on March 6, 2019.

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Chirp! A Jess Blackstone Robin Carving Sold for… (Scroll Down and See)

A miniature robin, carved and painted by Jess Blackstone circa 1968 or 1969.

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 Jess Blackstone 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 Jess 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 Jess Blackstone 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.

Jess Blackstone bird carvings 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 Jess Blackstone bird carvings? 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 bird 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.

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 Jess Blackstone 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 Jess 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 Jess Blackstone 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.

Jess Blackstone bird carvings 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 Jess Blackstone bird carvings? 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 bird 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 Jess 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.

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.

SOLD! African-American Outsider Artist William Edmondson’s The Crucifixion Commanded $175,000 at Rago

The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

Update: African-American outsider artist William Edmondson’s circa 1930s sculpture, The Crucifixion, sold for $175,000.

What you see: The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Rago Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Sebastian Clarke, director of estate services for Rago.

Did African-American outsider artist William Edmondson use a railroad spike as a chisel for most of his artistic career? He did, though to the best of my knowledge, he used smaller, finer chiseling tools as well. He was very much self-taught. I can send you a discovery–the original press release from the 1937 MoMA show, which includes an interview with him. The list of pieces to be shown includes a version of The Crucifixion. He did three or four different versions of The Crucifixion, and we don’t know if this is the one that was in the show, or another example. Of the three or four, one is in the Smithsonian, at least one other is in a private collection, but was exhibited in 2005, one is unknown [its whereabouts are unknown], and one is ours.

How does this version of The Crucifixion compare to the others? The others have more fully formed figures, with pierced areas between the arms and the cross [the arms are separate]. This is more of a relief, with a flat face. What I love about it is it really conveys Edmondson’s work. It’s impossible to identify it as male or female. Of the others, two ore three are male figures wearing loincloths or underpants. This one is completely plain.

William Edmondson preferred limestone. How difficult is it to carve limestone? It’s very, very difficult to carve. What’s fabulous about this is its condition is so good. You can really see the strike marks where he worked the stone. This is almost smooth to the touch in so many areas.

The sculpture measures 15 and a quarter inches high by 10 and a half inches wide by five inches deep. Is that relatively small for an Edmondson? It’s a hair on the smaller side. His animals seem to be a little smaller. His figures got to be 23, 24 inches. Of his Crucifixions, one is 20 inches and another is 26 inches. So it’s definitely smaller for a Crucifixion, but squarely on the average side for pieces he worked.

Earlier you told me, “This work is as close to Edmondson’s original intent as they get.” Could you elaborate? Edmondson’s pieces are extremely symbolic. The scenes are often drawn from his religious beliefs. This Crucifixion is part of that body of work. The surface is just so fantastic. It’s clearly a crucifixion, but it’s up to the viewer to interpret the rest of the thing.

This is William Edmondson’s only crucifixion sculpture to come to auction. How did you put an estimate on it? We’re aware the world auction record for an Edmondson is nearly $1 million, for a wholly different work. The nature of this is cruder and more simplistic. And a crucifixion, in my experience in the art world, sometimes places limitations on value. We want to take that into account.

But it’s not a gory, gruesome crucifixion scene. It’s pretty stylized. And people who collect folk art and outsider art, they know they’re going to encounter pieces with intensely religious themes. True. But the value will be determined by the marketplace. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’ve been in the business for 20 years. I’ve never handled an Edmondson before. Whenever they come up for sale, they always far exceed the estimate. We’ll try to replicate that success.

Edmondsons rarely go to auction. Is that because most of them are in institutions, or is it because collectors are reluctant to give them up, or both? Several examples are in institutions, and the ones in collectors’ hands are often promised to institutions. Folk art and outsider art collectors take a lot of pride in their collections. Edmondsons come up so rarely, everybody pays attention.

What’s the world auction record for a work by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson? The Boxer, a circa 1936 piece that sold at Christie’s in January 2016. It had an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 and it hammered at $785,000. I’d love to see it [The Crucifixion] beat its estimate but I’d be surprised to see it go beyond-beyond. Artnet only has 24 records. It’s a very shallow pool, and none are a crucifixion. They don’t come from a similar period or style, where the features are not very well-defined. What will that do to it? Will it make it more desirable, or less? We’ll have to wait and see.

What is the William Edmondson sculpture like in person? It’s fabulous. It’s so bright and crisp. There’s something magnetic–you’re drawn to it, and the color and the surface are lovely. It looks like it’s never seen the light of day. The chisel marks are so well-defined on the back. There’s something really exceptional about it.

What does it feel like to hold it in your hands? It’s heavy, probably around 40 pounds. It is surprisingly smooth. You can really feel the weight of the piece, the way the figure is defined on the cross. You want to turn it over and look at the back, which is not easy to do, because it weighs so much.

Is that something that collectors look for in a work by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson–chisel marks? Or are they so rare that they can’t afford to quibble if they’re missing? The whole idea behind outsider and folk art is really feeling a connection with the individual who made it, to feel them reflected in the piece. In the chisel marks, you can really see him working on it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Probably because I’ll never handle one again. [Laughs.] Edmondsons are something you only hear about, but don’t get to see. For me, personally, my training is in European furniture and decorative art. This is something I’ve grown to appreciate and love. I’ve always been a high-style person. I’ve come to appreciate pieces that are naive in so many ways, but are spectacular. It’s so magnificent.

How to bid: The Crucifixion will be offered in Autobiography of a Hoarder: The Collection of Martin Cohen, Part I, which takes place October 21, 2018 at Rago.

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.

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

RECORD! Carole Feuerman’s Bibi on the Ball Sold for $118,750–a New Record for the Artist

Bibi on the Ball, a 2015 oil on resin sculpture by Carole Feuerman. It's the first of an edition of six.

Update: Bibi on the Ball sold for $118,750–a new auction record for the artist.

What you see: Bibi on the Ball, a 2015 oil on resin sculpture by Carole Feuerman. It’s the first of an edition of six. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $60,000 to $80,000.

Who is Carole Feuerman? She is a contemporary sculptor who explores hyperrealism, an approach that strives for life-like qualities in a work of art. Her sculptures have appeared at the Venice Biennale, the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. She lives in New York City and just turned 78.

The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.

Is this the first sculpture of the limited edition of six to go to auction? It is that I’m aware of. I searched the auction databases, and I haven’t seen this one come up before.

Are the six Bibi on the Ball sculptures identical, or do the colors of the ball change? The colors of the ball don’t change, but the swimsuit color and other parts of the sculpture can vary.

Is Bibi on the Ball a stand-alone limited edition, or is it part of a larger group of associated works? There are two other very similar editions which the artist commonly calls “variants.” One edition has a mirror-like reflective surface on the ball, and another variant has the subject’s eyes open. Each of these variants are different editions. There is a group of Feuerman works people generally refer to as “bathing beauties” or “swimmers.” They’ve been the focus of a good part of her career for the last 30 years. They’re typically female subjects in swimsuits or bathing suits, shown in a supreme state of relaxation or satisfaction, with closed eyes in a state of bliss. That theme has continued for much of her career. 

How does Carole Feuerman create the hyperrealistic effects of wet skin and fabric on her sculptures? With her resin sculptures, the artist first creates a plaster or resin maquette. Then she makes a mold of the maquette that is filled with epoxy resin to form the edition. She creates the water droplets by mixing epoxy and placing each drop in strategic locations with a toothpick. In addition, the artist hand-applies lifelike qualities such as veins, sunspots, and freckles, so no two examples will be exactly alike.

Is Bibi a real person? Does Carole Feuerman feature her in other works? Most of the pieces are not created from any live model, but rather are based on the artist’s creative vision. Bibi is simply a character.

Bibi on the Ball is pretty colorful, maybe a bit more colorful than most Feuerman sculptures. Does that matter? If so, how does that matter? Do the more colorful sculptures of hers do better at auction? All of her works featuring beach balls are colorful, but the colors themselves have no particular meaning. From a market perspective, her more colorful works do tend to be more consistently desirable than the less colorful examples. It fits with the subject matter, too. The beach ball and the swimsuit lend themselves to bright, sunny color schemes.

What’s the world auction record for a Carole Feuerman artwork? It’s $104,500, set in 2016 by Innertube variant II, a 2013 sculpture.

What’s the likelihood that Bibi on the Ball could meet or exceed the record? Bibi on the Ball is in fairly pristine condition, and condition drives the market. When a sculpture has natural or synthetic hair loose under the bathing cap, as Bibi does, it’s easily damaged. Feuerman has had to restore and replace the hair on older models. [The hair peeking out from under Bibi‘s cap is hard to see in the photo, but it is there. The figure in Innertube variant II has a bit of hair coming out from under its bathing cap as well.] Bibi is extremely well-kept and well-cared-for. We could get double our estimate.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), September 30, 2018 Modern Art and Design auction

What is Bibi on the Ball like in person? It’s life-size and a full figure where a lot of Feuerman’s other works don’t necessarily show a full figure. This is not just part of a scene–it’s a scene of a figure and what it’s interacting with. Bibi is fairly exquisite, with painted fingernails and toenails and strands of hair escaping the bathing cap, and there’s a hyperreal feeling of water on the skin and the bathing suit. It’s technically more difficult to get an entire figure correct and doing what you’d expect a figure to do when it sits on a beach ball. The figure has to be rendered perfectly lifelike. There’s a completeness to Bibi, and thus there is complexity.

Is Bibi on the Ball a single sculpture, or is it comprised of several parts? It is technically multiple pieces. I don’t know if the swimsuit or the cap can be removed, but you can pick the figure up separately from the beach ball. It’s perfectly balanced. It can’t be visually lopsided or physically lopsided.

There are hollows in the ball that are designed to receive the figure? Yes. There are impressions that are equal to the shape of the figure. The hands, the calves–it fits perfectly.

How to bid: Bibi on the Ball is lot 239 in LAMA‘s Modern Art & Design Auction, which takes place on September 30, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

Peter Loughrey has appeared on The Hot Bid since the beginning–literally. The blog’s first post was on an Alma Thomas painting that LAMA ultimately sold for a world auction record. He has also discussed works by Jonathan Borofsky and Wendell Castle, as well as an exceptional 1969 dune buggy. Prior to this entry, he spoke about an Ed Ruscha print that set a world auction record at LAMA.

Carole Feuerman has a website and a namesake foundation.

This post for The Hot Bid debuted on the LAMA Blog on September 14, 2018.

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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

African-American Outsider Artist William Edmondson’s Sculpture, The Crucifixion, Could Command $50,000

The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

What you see: The Crucifixion, a 1930s sculpture by the outsider artist William Edmondson, who was the first African-American to have a solo show at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan. Rago Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Sebastian Clarke, director of estate services for Rago.

Did African-American outsider artist William Edmondson use a railroad spike as a chisel for most of his artistic career? He did, though to the best of my knowledge, he used smaller, finer chiseling tools as well. He was very much self-taught. I can send you a discovery–the original press release from the 1937 MoMA show, which includes an interview with him. The list of pieces to be shown includes a version of The Crucifixion. He did three or four different versions of The Crucifixion, and we don’t know if this is the one that was in the show, or another example. Of the three or four, one is in the Smithsonian, at least one other is in a private collection, but was exhibited in 2005, one is unknown [its whereabouts are unknown], and one is ours.

How does this version of The Crucifixion compare to the others? The others have more fully formed figures, with pierced areas between the arms and the cross [the arms are separate]. This is more of a relief, with a flat face. What I love about it is it really conveys Edmondson’s work. It’s impossible to identify it as male or female. Of the others, two ore three are male figures wearing loincloths or underpants. This one is completely plain.

African-American outsider artist William Edmondson preferred limestone. How difficult is it to carve limestone? It’s very, very difficult to carve. What’s fabulous about this is its condition is so good. You can really see the strike marks where he worked the stone. This is almost smooth to the touch in so many areas.

The sculpture measures 15 and a quarter inches high by 10 and a half inches wide by five inches deep. Is that relatively small for an Edmondson? It’s a hair on the smaller side. His animals seem to be a little smaller. His figures got to be 23, 24 inches. Of his Crucifixions, one is 20 inches and another is 26 inches. So it’s definitely smaller for a Crucifixion, but squarely on the average side for pieces he worked.

Earlier you told me, “This work is as close to Edmondson’s original intent as they get.” Could you elaborate? Edmondson’s pieces are extremely symbolic. The scenes are often drawn from his religious beliefs. This Crucifixion is part of that body of work. The surface is just so fantastic. It’s clearly a crucifixion, but it’s up to the viewer to interpret the rest of the thing.

This is William Edmondson’s only crucifixion sculpture to come to auction. How did you put an estimate on it? We’re aware the world auction record for an Edmondson is nearly $1 million, for a wholly different work. The nature of this is cruder and more simplistic. And a crucifixion, in my experience in the art world, sometimes places limitations on value. We want to take that into account.

But it’s not a gory, gruesome crucifixion scene. It’s pretty stylized. And people who collect folk art and outsider art, they know they’re going to encounter pieces with intensely religious themes. True. But the value will be determined by the marketplace. We’ll have to wait and see what happens. I’ve been in the business for 20 years. I’ve never handled an Edmondson before. Whenever they come up for sale, they always far exceed the estimate. We’ll try to replicate that success.

Edmondsons rarely go to auction. Is that because most of them are in institutions, or is it because collectors are reluctant to give them up, or both? Several examples are in institutions, and the ones in collectors’ hands are often promised to institutions. Folk art and outsider art collectors take a lot of pride in their collections. Edmondsons come up so rarely, everybody pays attention.

What’s the world auction record for a work by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson? The Boxer, a circa 1936 piece that sold at Christie’s in January 2016. It had an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000 and it hammered at $785,000. I’d love to see it [The Crucifixion] beat its estimate but I’d be surprised to see it go beyond-beyond. Artnet only has 24 records. It’s a very shallow pool, and none are a crucifixion. They don’t come from a similar period or style, where the features are not very well-defined. What will that do to it? Will it make it more desirable, or less? We’ll have to wait and see.

What is the sculpture like in person? It’s fabulous. It’s so bright and crisp. There’s something magnetic–you’re drawn to it, and the color and the surface are lovely. It looks like it’s never seen the light of day. The chisel marks are so well-defined on the back. There’s something really exceptional about it.

What does it feel like to hold it in your hands? It’s heavy, probably around 40 pounds. It is surprisingly smooth. You can really feel the weight of the piece, the way the figure is defined on the cross. You want to turn it over and look at the back, which is not easy to do, because it weighs so much.

Is that something that collectors look for in a sculpture by African-American outsider artist William Edmondson–chisel marks? Or are they so rare that they can’t afford to quibble if they’re missing? The whole idea behind outsider and folk art is really feeling a connection with the individual who made it, to feel them reflected in the piece. In the chisel marks, you can really see him working on it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Probably because I’ll never handle one again. [Laughs.] Edmondsons are something you only hear about, but don’t get to see. For me, personally, my training is in European furniture and decorative art. This is something I’ve grown to appreciate and love. I’ve always been a high-style person. I’ve come to appreciate pieces that are naive in so many ways, but are spectacular. It’s so magnificent.

How to bid: The Crucifixion will be offered in Autobiography of a Hoarder: The Collection of Martin Cohen, Part I, which takes place October 21, 2018 at Rago.

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.

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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

Carole Feuerman’s Hyperrealistic Sculpture Bibi on the Ball Could Sell for $80,000

Bibi on the Ball, a 2015 oil on resin sculpture by Carole Feuerman. It's the first of an edition of six.

What you see: Bibi on the Ball, a 2015 oil on resin sculpture by Carole Feuerman. It’s the first of an edition of six. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $60,000 to $80,000.

Who is Carole Feuerman? She is a contemporary sculptor who explores hyperrealism, an approach that strives for life-like qualities in a work of art. Her sculptures have appeared at the Venice Biennale, the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, and the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. She lives in New York City and just turned 78.

The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.

Is this the first sculpture of the limited edition of six to go to auction? It is that I’m aware of. I searched the auction databases, and I haven’t seen this one come up before.

Are the six Bibi on the Ball sculptures identical, or do the colors of the ball change? The colors of the ball don’t change, but the swimsuit color and other parts of the sculpture can vary.

Is Bibi on the Ball a stand-alone limited edition, or is it part of a larger group of associated works? There are two other very similar editions which the artist commonly calls “variants.” One edition has a mirror-like reflective surface on the ball, and another variant has the subject’s eyes open. Each of these variants are different editions. There is a group of Feuerman works people generally refer to as “bathing beauties” or “swimmers.” They’ve been the focus of a good part of her career for the last 30 years. They’re typically female subjects in swimsuits or bathing suits, shown in a supreme state of relaxation or satisfaction, with closed eyes in a state of bliss. That theme has continued for much of her career. 

How does Carole Feuerman create the hyperrealistic effects of wet skin and fabric on her sculptures? With her resin sculptures, the artist first creates a plaster or resin maquette. Then she makes a mold of the maquette that is filled with epoxy resin to form the edition. She creates the water droplets by mixing epoxy and placing each drop in strategic locations with a toothpick. In addition, the artist hand-applies lifelike qualities such as veins, sunspots, and freckles, so no two examples will be exactly alike.

Is Bibi a real person? Does Carole Feuerman feature her in other works? Most of the pieces are not created from any live model, but rather are based on the artist’s creative vision. Bibi is simply a character.

Bibi on the Ball is pretty colorful, maybe a bit more colorful than most Feuerman sculptures. Does that matter? If so, how does that matter? Do the more colorful sculptures of hers do better at auction? All of her works featuring beach balls are colorful, but the colors themselves have no particular meaning. From a market perspective, her more colorful works do tend to be more consistently desirable than the less colorful examples. It fits with the subject matter, too. The beach ball and the swimsuit lend themselves to bright, sunny color schemes.

What’s the world auction record for a Carole Feuerman artwork? It’s $104,500, set in 2016 by Innertube variant II, a 2013 sculpture.

What’s the likelihood that Bibi on the Ball could meet or exceed the record? Bibi on the Ball is in fairly pristine condition, and condition drives the market. When a sculpture has natural or synthetic hair loose under the bathing cap, as Bibi does, it’s easily damaged. Feuerman has had to restore and replace the hair on older models. [The hair peeking out from under Bibi‘s cap is hard to see in the photo, but it is there. The figure in Innertube variant II has a bit of hair coming out from under its bathing cap as well.] Bibi is extremely well-kept and well-cared-for. We could get double our estimate.

What is Bibi on the Ball like in person? It’s life-size and a full figure where a lot of Feuerman’s other works don’t necessarily show a full figure. This is not just part of a scene–it’s a scene of a figure and what it’s interacting with. Bibi is fairly exquisite, with painted fingernails and toenails and strands of hair escaping the bathing cap, and there’s a hyperreal feeling of water on the skin and the bathing suit. It’s technically more difficult to get an entire figure correct and doing what you’d expect a figure to do when it sits on a beach ball. The figure has to be rendered perfectly lifelike. There’s a completeness to Bibi, and thus there is complexity.

Is Bibi on the Ball a single sculpture, or is it comprised of several parts? It is technically multiple pieces. I don’t know if the swimsuit or the cap can be removed, but you can pick the figure up separately from the beach ball. It’s perfectly balanced. It can’t be visually lopsided or physically lopsided.

There are hollows in the ball that are designed to receive the figure? Yes. There are impressions that are equal to the shape of the figure. The hands, the calves–it fits perfectly.

How to bid: Bibi on the Ball is lot 239 in LAMA‘s Modern Art & Design Auction, which takes place on September 30, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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.

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

Peter Loughrey has appeared on The Hot Bid since the beginning–literally. The blog’s first post was on an Alma Thomas painting that LAMA ultimately sold for a world auction record. He has also discussed works by Jonathan Borofsky and Wendell Castle, as well as an exceptional 1969 dune buggy. Prior to this entry, he spoke about an Ed Ruscha print that set a world auction record at LAMA.

Carole Feuerman has a website and a namesake foundation.

This post for The Hot Bid debuted on the LAMA Blog on September 14, 2018.

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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

RECORD! The Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr., Owner of Native Dancer, Sells for $100,000

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.

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 1953 Preakness 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 1953 Preakness 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.

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.

Image is courtesy of Doyle.

Doyle is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

WHOA! That Elmer Crowell Preening Black Duck Decoy Flew Away With $600,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions–Double Its High Estimate

A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips.

Update: The circa 1912 A. Elmer Crowell Phillips rig preening black duck decoy sold for $600,000—double its high estimate.

What you see: A Phillips rig preening black duck decoy, carved circa 1912 by A. Elmer Crowell for his patron, Dr. John C. Phillips. Copley Fine Art Auctions estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

Who was A. Elmer Crowell? Born in 1862 in East Harwich, Massachusetts, he’s the king of American duck decoy carvers. Initially, he carved in the course of his work at duck-hunting camps, but over time, his magnificent wooden birds won fans who loved them as decorative objects. His decoys have sold at auction for six-figure sums, and two sold privately for more than $1 million each. Crowell died in 1952, at the age of 89.

The expert: Colin McNair, decoy specialist for Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Forgive me if this is a stupid question, but is this Crowell preening black duck decoy a hen or a drake? Black ducks get a pass on being hens or drakes. 99 percent of the time, they’re just black ducks. This is just a black duck, with no clear designation on being one or the other.

The Crowell preening black duck decoy is also described as being a “rig mate” to other duck decoys that belonged to the late Dr. Phillips. What does it mean for a decoy to be a rig mate? A rig is a group of birds [decoys] owned by and hunted over by one person. It doesn’t always mean the decoys are exactly alike, or made side by side. There can be a lot of variation, depending on how they were made and used. In the context of the Phillips rig, a decoy can be anything out of that group of rig mates. There are Phillips rig mates that look nothing like Crowell’s work.

Crowell carved and painted hundreds of decoys that depicted black ducks. Where does this one rank among his lifetime output? It’s among his very finest. As you mention, he did hundreds of them. This bird is as good as they come, in my personal opinion.

Did he carve the decoy from a single piece of wood? The bird is made of two pieces, one for the body and one for the head. One thing that makes the bird so strong is the masterful sculpture of the duck in a preening position. It’s not easy to capture well, and Crowell did it nearly perfectly. The finer details of the carving show Crowell’s tremendous effort to do his best work for his best patron. We see him coming into a sweet spot in his career–he was as good a carver as he would be, and this was on the early side of showing his command of his wet-on-wet painting technique, which gives a natural, soft look to the feathers.

This Crowell duck decoy looks gorgeous enough to have been destined for a mantle, but the lot notes say it shows evidence of being used on a hunt… It’s a working decoy, and at the same time, it represents one of the best carved decoys in a decorative sense. The bird was hardly used. It was probably retired early because of an appreciation of its aesthetic qualities. I suspect the patron deemed it too precious to hunt over. What’s interesting about the Phillips rig is Crowell didn’t just make this decoy for Phillips, he was his stand manager. He created the decoys, and decided where they would be hunted, and how they would be hunted over. Crowell knew he was going to be involved with handling the decoy after it left his workshop. He wasn’t handing it over to a hunter who might break it. It’s unknowable, but it’s possible because of the relationship Crowell and Phillips had.

Do we know when Crowell made this decoy? He used a hot brand [on his decoys]. We can date his birds to some extent on the quality of the brand. Every time a brand is heated, it corrodes a little. Over the years, a brand can be seen burning out, leaving a softer and softer impression. It’s a great dating tool that Crowell inadvertently left behind. This has a perfectly crisp oval brand, which suggests it was 1912.

Carving the duck’s head to make it hover in a natural-looking way over the body seems difficult. Is it harder to carve a preening duck? You can think of a preener as the decoy maker’s deluxe model. It’s harder to carve and harder to paint. But it adds variety to the rig, making it look more lifelike as a group. An additional benefit is they’re less breakable because the body can protect the head. We have a 200-year-old decoy in the sale with an intact bill because it’s protected by the body in the preening pose.

What is your favorite detail on this Crowell duck decoy? When I look at this bird, the first thing it does is hold together as a phenomenal piece of sculpture. You can go from tip to tail picking out fine details that were expertly executed, but the bird is better than any one single detail.

What is it like to hold the Crowell duck decoy? [Laughs] Being in the presence of the decoy before handling it is a real pleasure. It’s excellent from every angle. And it feels just right in the hand. It’s full, robust, and you can feel the finer subtleties in the carving details. I wouldn’t change a thing.

To explain what a big deal it is to auction Donal C. O’Brien, Jr.’s collection of decoys and sporting art, can you draw an analogy to other notable auctions of lots consigned by great collectors? It would be somewhat like the Rockefeller collection or the Yves St. Laurent collection in its breadth and quality, and that’s been reflected in the market response to the birds so far.

Why will this Crowell preening black duck decoy stick in your memory? Crowell is a quintessential representative of great American bird carving. He was self-taught. He started making decoys because he needed to, and his working decoys led to the birth of American decorative bird carving. This bird is at the nexus of his carving career, where his working decoys became so good, they’re indistinguishable from decorative carving. He’s one of the best makers, making his best effort, carving one of his favorite species for his most important client. It fires on all cylinders from a historic standpoint and an aesthetic standpoint.

How to bid: The Crowell preening black duck decoy is lot 14 in the Donal C. O’Brien, Jr. Collection of Important American Sporting Art and Decoys, Session III, taking place July 19, 2018 at Copley Fine Art Auctions.

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Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Copley Fine Art Auctions appeared on The Hot Bid last summer in a post about a record-setting Gus Wilson duck decoy.

Quack!

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WHOA! Canova’s Rediscovered Bust of Peace Sold for More Than $7 Million

A Bust of Peace, sculpted in 1814 by Antonio Canova.

Update: Whoa! Canova’s Bust of Peace sold for £5.3 million, or slightly more than $7 million.

What you see: A Bust of Peace, sculpted in 1814 by Antonio Canova. Sotheby’s anticipates bidding in excess of £1 million, or $1.3 million.

Who was Antonio Canova? Born in 1757 in Possagno, Italy, Canova is the greatest of the Neoclassical sculptors and one of the greatest sculptors ever. You might not recall his name, but you’ve almost certainly seen his work–Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, The Three Graces, and Venus Victrix, to name three. (If you’ve been to the Louvre and managed to miss Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, go back, you did it wrong.) He died in 1822, at the age of 64.

The expert: Christopher Mason, director of the European sculpture and works of art department at Sotheby’s.

How rarely does anything by Canova come to auction, let alone one of his Ideal Heads? Very rarely. In the last 30 years at auction, I can think of only a handful of examples. Last year there was a bust of Murat in Paris. It sold for €4.3 million ($5 million). We had an Ideal Head in the early to mid-1990s. It sold for £750,000 and is now in the Ashmolean. Before that, there was one in the 1980s that went to the Getty. They’re very rare, as you can see from those examples.

The Bust of Peace belongs to a series Canova did that was dubbed the Ideal Heads. Why is that important? He produced very few Ideal Heads. He made them as gifts for patrons and friends, and that gave him a degree of freedom in the execution of his ideas. They’re different versions of what Canova considered to be beauty. Really what distinguishes the Ideal Heads is not facial characteristics, but the hair. This one is unique, and has uniquely beautiful hair. And it’s the only bust [of his] we’re aware of that has a tiara like that.

What did Baron Cawdor, the sculpture’s first owner, do for Canova that earned him the Bust of Peace? He was Canova’s first British patron and a substantial landowner over here. What comes across in his letters is he’s a nice man. He and Canova got on together, and they were personal friends. Baron Cawdor was an important patron who commissioned iconic works, including the Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre. It was sort of appropriated by Murat [Joachim Murat, a French military leader and brother-in-law of Napoleon]. At the time, Britain was at war with France, and Murat could say, ‘I’ll have that.’ We know by 1814, the first fall of Napoleon, many treasures of Rome were taken by French forces and were in the Louvre. Canova was very much a patriotic Italian, and he wanted to get them back. Baron Cawdor was among the British dignitaries who supported the effort to get them back. The bust may have been given to him for that reason. But through thick and thin, Baron Cawdor was a patron who stuck by Canova.

Where does Canova’s Bust of Peace rank among the Ideal Heads? How well-regarded is it? There aren’t many Ideal Heads. It is a rediscovery. This is literally the first time since 1817 that it’s been published as a Canova. It’s very much fresh off the block. In terms of beauty, in my opinion, it’s one of the more beautiful. It has this glorious tiara which none of the others have. Not only is it an early Ideal Head, it has a backstory that symbolizes the end of the Napoleonic era and symbolizes peace. It combines remarkable history and a remarkably beautiful work by the greatest Neoclassical sculptor.

The lot notes say that Canova’s Ideal Heads “caused a stir when they arrived in Britain.” Can you explain in more detail how they were received? I don’t think you can get better than the fact that Lord Byron wrote a poem about one of the heads. Lord Byron, the great poet of the age, wrote a poem about the great sculptor of the age. At the time, the Ideal Heads were totally different from anything that came before. They would have stood like icebergs among the galleries of paintings. This gleaming white marble of an objectively regal-looking woman must have been wholly refreshing in that environment.

Canova also did a Statue of Peace, which he started before making this bust and delivered after finishing the bust. How do the statue and the bust relate to each other beyond their shared theme? The statue is in Kiev and is difficult to access for that reason, but the images we have of the statue compare very well. It appears to be nearly identical. There is a small natural flaw in the bust, on the upper lip. Canova wrote to Baron Cawdor apologizing for it. It’s hugely important to us because [the flaw] is a characteristic we know it had when it left Canova’s studio. It’s very slight, but it’s there. We haven’t color-corrected it out [of the catalog images]. We’re very proud of it. It is historical, isn’t it?

Other Ideal Heads that Canova made for British patrons and friends have dedicatory inscriptions, but this one does not. Why? Baron Cawdor went to Rome and received it into ownership at that time. The lack of a price in the archives and the fact that the others were all gifts strongly suggest that the Bust of Peace was a gift. The other four Ideal Heads arrived later, in 1817. He sent them from Rome to patrons in the U.K. [without handing them over in person]. In my opinion, Canova saw the need to inscribe them, and it was probably more natural to him to carve in stone than write in ink.

Do we know who the model would have been for Canova’s Bust of Peace and the statue? We don’t know whether he used a live model. The conventional thinking on this is the heads are formed solely in his imagination. That might explain why they [the bust and the statue] share the same facial characteristics.

What features does Canova’s Bust of Peace have that 19th century viewers would have recognized on sight, but which might be obscure to 21st century viewers? First, she’s crowned, and the only other Canovas that are crowned are the Statue of Peace and a portrait he did of Napoleon’s wife, Marie Louise. Clearly for the artist, the coronet represented harmony and peace. It was seen as the distinguishing characteristic of peace at the time. And it’s different from the others in that she assumes a serene and godlike expression, which shows the power of peace.

What condition is Canova’s Bust of Peace in? It’s in very good condition. There is some minor wear, but the bust broadly retains its original surface and is particularly beautiful on the cheeks and neck–particularly smooth and perfect.

You said earlier that the bust is something of a rediscovery? It was considered to have been lost. When the Canova catalog raisonné was published in the 1970s, it was considered unknown. It was on view in 1817 at the Royal Academy in London. After that, it went into the Cawdor private collection until 1962, when they sold the contents of a house. It [the Bust of Peace] sold as an anonymous bust. It was at auction in 2012, again as an anonymous bust. Then it was acquired by the present owner, who, gradually, through a lot of work, figured out it was one of the Ideal Heads.

That is a heck of a discovery. I think the owner began to have an inkling of what it was and wrote to the great Canova expert, Hugh Honour, who is now deceased. He wrote back, ‘Congratulations on rediscovering one of the Ideal Heads, the Bust of Peace.’ The attribution was confirmed by the director of the Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy.

What is Canova’s Bust of Peace like in person? Personally, I find it very affecting. The bust is perfect in its conception. Peace is objectively serene, with a wonderful Neoclassical crown. The bust is designed so it can be viewed from any angle–as you move around it, the figure is changing. The tresses falling from the back of the head are arranged in a way that is not symmetrical. Canova’s great skill is producing harmonious compositions that are seemingly symmetrical, but not. It explains how he was able to breathe life into the composition. As you walk around it, it really does seem like Peace could spring into life. It’s one of the most beautiful marbles we’ve ever sold.

How to bid: The Bust of Peace is lot 25 in the Treasures auction at Sotheby’s London on July 4, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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A George Segal Bronze Could Sell For $150,000 at Freeman’s

Woman in White Wicker Rocker, a 1985 limited edition bronze by George Segal.

What you see: Woman in White Wicker Rocker, a 1985 limited edition bronze by George Segal. Freeman’s estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

Who was George Segal? He was an American painter and sculptor known for rendering human figures in white, giving them something of a ghostly appearance. He worked in bronze and plaster, and he is credited with being the first to use plaster bandages as a sculptural medium. He created everyday scenes of people riding a bus, waiting for subway trains, and crossing streets, and he made works that memorialized the Holocaust and commemorated LGBT rights. Segal died in 2000 at the age of 75.

The expert: Anne Henry, senior specialist of modern and contemporary art at Freeman’s.

How often do George Segal works come up at auction? Regularly. He did a lot of editioned works in multiples. There have been between 20 and 30 works at auction per year in the last few years.

George Segal made Woman in White Wicker Rocker in 1985, relatively late in his life. Does that matter? This [sculptures dating to the mid- to late 1980s] is right in where you want to be for works that bring consistently strong prices. It’s in the sweet spot of his career.

Woman in White Wicker Rocker features a seated figure. How does the George Segal bronze compare to his other works depicting people sitting? He did a lot of seated figures. A lot of his iconic sculptures feature benches and chairs. He seems to return to positions of waiting or pausing, maybe capturing [the figures] in thought and inviting us to do the same. Here, the woman’s position is very relaxed. The wicker chair implies summertime and the outdoors. It conveys serenity and relaxation.

This is a bronze and not a plaster. Does that matter? I think it does matter in a practical sense, and it physically matters. Bronze is heavy and weighty. It feels more permanent than plaster. In terms of whether it would be more desirable to collectors, that’s tough to say. A plaster Woman on Wicker Chair was offered in March and it failed to sell. It was similar [to the bronze] and it was unique. Our estimate is lower than the estimate for the unique one. It will be interesting to see how the bronze does. The highest prices out of the top five [at auction for George Segal] are all bronze but two, but it’s important to note that the medium is not the only factor. Four out of the five had multiple figures. The fifth was a lone figure in the subway.

Do we know who the model or models were for the George Segal bronze Woman in White Wicker Rocker? He almost always used friends and family. His wife, Helen, frequently modeled for him, and it’s quite possibly her likeness.

The woman has a slight smile on her face, while other George Segal figures… don’t. Does that matter here? Is Woman in White Wicker Rocker more attractive to collectors because of her smile? Part of the appeal of all his works is their mysteriousness. You don’t really know what’s going on in the moment of waiting or relaxing [that he depicts], and you don’t know what’s going on in their heads. I think some collectors might find the slight smile more appealing, but some might seek out the tension that’s visible in other works. Segal does cover a wide range of subtle feelings. I don’t know that one is more desirable than another. The mystery is always there. That’s what he shoots for.

Will the Freeman’s offering be the first time that Woman in White Wicker Rocker has gone to auction? No, it’s not a debut. The last one was up in November 2012 and it brought $170,000. There were not too many others before that. An edition of five is nice and small. You wouldn’t expect to see other results.

The George Segal bronze is fresh to market. How does that affect its desirability? It’s been privately owned for 30 years, and it was bought from the gallery close to the date of execution. That’s something that collectors hope to see. And only one other has been offered at auction. That shows it’s relatively rare on the open market.

How much does the George Segal bronze weigh? We don’t know, but I can tell you that it took four very strong crew members to lift it. It’s not something one or two people can pick up. It’s quite heavy.

What is the George Segal bronze like in person? There’s a feeling of relaxation, and because it’s a life size work, it feels very realistic and approachable. But because you can’t make eye contact with it, there’s ambiguity and mystery about it. It feels as if the figure is ultimately in her own psychological space. You feel her feeling of relaxation, but you’re not 100 percent invited to interact with her. The environment she’s in feels private. That’s what I like about George Segal’s work–it’s open to interpretation. The answers are not all there, which I think is interesting.

How to bid: George Segal’s Woman in White Wicker Rocker is lot 5 in 18 Works from the Bachman Collection, which takes place at Freeman’s on June 4, 2018.

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Freeman’s is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

The George and Helen Segal Foundation has a website.

Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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RECORD! Thomas Stearns’s Glass Masterpiece Sold for $737,000 at Wright–A New Auction Record for the Artist

One of the three elements of La Sentinella di Venezia (The Sentinel of Venice), a 1962 glass sculpture by Thomas Stearns.

Update: The segment from La Sentinella di Venezia (The Sentinel of Venice) sold for $737,000.

What you see: One of the three elements of La Sentinella di Venezia (The Sentinel of Venice), a 1962 glass sculpture by Thomas Stearns. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

Who was Thomas Stearns? Born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Stearns came to the glassworks of Venini in Murano, Italy in 1960, and stayed for two years. He spoke virtually no Italian, had no previous experience with blown glass, and saw his design ideas scorned by the Venini factory’s grand master. Undaunted, he collaborated with a young house master, Francesco “Checco” Ongaro, and produced innovative sculptural pieces that heralded the arrival of the studio glass movement. Stearns died in 2006, at the age of 69 or 70.

The expert: Sara Blumberg, a consultant for Wright.

How did Thomas Stearns come to have a residency at Venini? This is a two-part answer. He was given a grant by the Italian government for glass and fiber art, and it came with a Fulbright Travel Grant. It was a combination of the two things.

About a month after his arrival Thomas Stearns showed a clay model and drawings to the grand master of Venini. And the grand master was… is ‘offended’ the right word? I think it’s the right word. It’s an island industry. Sticking to historical references is part of that history. A young man came in with a completely different notion of what to attempt. It flew in the face of traditional ideas of not just the Venini glassworks, but every glassworks on Murano. He was offended by it because he felt it indicated no respect for glassmaking and the way it was being done.

Why did Francesco “Checco” Ongaro take the risk of working with Thomas Stearns? I think he was curious. It was a chance to prove himself and step up in the glassworks, which was not easy to do. He saw it as an opportunity. It was a very unusual circumstance to have a person like Stearns in their midst. It was probably a very exciting event.

What made it exciting for the Venini workers to have Thomas Stearns there? His being a foreigner is a major piece of the puzzle. And he was there on the floor, among the workers. In terms of the social hierarchy–Stearns speaks to this in his essay [you may have to scroll down to locate it]–he gave mixed signals. He was there to work, but he would take the director’s private launch back to [the mainland at the end of the day]. He could not be pegged.

How many pieces did Thomas Stearns and Francesco “Checco” Ongaro make? There’s no way we can answer that. What we do know is there’s a very limited number of works in general. They weren’t made with an eye toward mass production. His pieces were sculptural glass. Certainly there was a great deal of loss in the making of the pieces. Records weren’t kept. We rely on understanding their rarity rather than any real count.

Thomas Stearns spoke pretty much no Italian, and Francesco “Checco” Ongaro spoke pretty much no English. How did the two manage to work together successfully? The basic answer is that Stearns prepared design drawings [that were like] comic strips–a series of frames that showed one step, then the next step. And he made clay models to indicate the idea. They developed a language in common. There was a back-and-forth that has to do with the more technical aspects, but they were able to communicate and share as artists do.

So, explain what happened at the 1962 Venice Biennale. Venini submitted six works by Stearns, and they win a gold medal, at least briefly… The Biennale was about showing what the glassworks were capable of. You put your best foot forward. There was a lot of excitement within the company and without [about Stearns’s work]. Venini got a call that it had won the Gold Medal for Glass, but when they got to the pavilion, they discovered a blob of glue [on the display case] and no medal. They got another call saying the medal was withdrawn when they [the judges] learned the works were not Italian-made. Had there been any indication up front [that Stearns being American was a problem] they would not have submitted.

What was the fallout from that? It’s not known to us. At the time, we didn’t have that answer. But if you consider the place and the culture… again, this is a very small place, a very tightly controlled place. There’s a sense of tradition. It would be a scandal here [for a medal to be taken away because the designer wasn’t a native] but it was not a scandal there. It had to do with the pride of Murano. It was an outpouring of devotion to tradition. It may not make sense to us, but it made sense to them.

How did Stearns come to create The Sentinel of Venice? This is the last work he created [at Venini]. It was intended to be a three-part conceptual piece that was meant to speak to his time in Venice. He felt strongly about Venice as a place and feared for its safety. It was a tribute to a place where he spent a short but meaningful time. All his feelings about Venice are what he intended to imbue in the piece.

Does this piece of The Sentinel of Venice resemble the other two? It’s not markedly different, but it’s different. We’re talking a very similar coloration and idea. If you want to see the other two, you can see them online. [Here’s one of the three, which sold at Christie’s in 2001 for $102,800 against an estimate of $80,000 to $100,000; the other was broken and only exists as a shard.]

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch Stearns and Ongaro make this piece, but can you give me a notion of how difficult it would have been to realize this segment of The Sentinel of Venice? A variety of techniques were employed. There are multiple elements here, all working in concert. That’s really where you encounter the difficulty. Combining techniques is exceptionally difficult because they fuse and anneal at different rates. It’s hard to control when you get this complicated or this large. What makes this piece unique is these techniques had not been combined in the past in this way, and in such a sculptural way.

How did Stearns’s work at Venini influence the American studio glass movement, which got its start around the same time he was in Italy? In a couple of ways. One was the sheer artistry and the experimentation of it all, experimenting with forms in a new way. That was one aspect. Another was the studio work–one or two people working in concert, doing very small projects. It’s different from making piece after piece as the glassworks was. There is no feeling that [Stearns works] are prototypes for mass production. They were viewed as sculptures, as artistic endeavors. It’s more about sculpture than utilitarian objects.

How often do glass works by Stearns come to auction? They’re rare. There were great losses [when he and Ongaro were making them]. A limited number of works come up. We’ve [Blumberg and her partner, Jim Oliveira] curated auctions for seven years and we’ve handled glass for almost 30 years. We see them every two or three years or so.

What’s the auction record for a Stearns, and for a work from Venini? The answer for both is Facades of Venice, which sold for $612,000 at Sotheby’s New York in 2016. There were two vessels in the lot, and they were sold as one lot.

What are the chances that The Sentinel of Venice will meet or exceed that sum? I hesitate to answer that, because I don’t know. It’s a possibility, absolutely. It’s an extraordinary event for it to come to auction and to have it in a collection that’s so focused on postwar glass. Facades, they got a good price for them. I think this is as exciting, if not more exciting. It’s very particular and thrilling.

Have you handled The Sentinel of Venice? Many times. It’s unlike anything I’ve held in glass. It has a beautiful weight. It’s a large piece for a piece of glass, very monumental. It’s a very exciting feeling to look at it and hold it. You can understand what his intention was, and you can feel the strength in it. Visually, it feels like a painting, from every angle. It’s really a painting in three dimensions.

How to bid: The piece from Stearns’s La Sentinella di Venezia is lot 160 in Important Italian Glass: A Private Chicago Collection, which takes place on May 23, 2018 at Wright.

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.

Image is courtesy of Wright.

See Wright’s short biography of Thomas Stearns and read Stearns’s 1989 essay, The Facades of Venice: Recollections of My Residency in Venice, 1960-1962. [You may have to scroll down a bit to find it.]

Sara Blumberg appeared on The Hot Bid in June 2017, talking about a 19th century Italian macchie vase that ultimately sold for $8,450.

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 George Owen Covered Vase Made in 1913 Could Sell for $21,000 at Bonhams

A Royal Worcester reticulated vase and cover, made by George Owen in 1913 and standing just over five inches tall.

What you see: A Royal Worcester reticulated vase and cover, made by George Owen in 1913 and standing just over five inches tall. Bonhams estimates it at £10,000 to £15,000, or $14,000 to $21,000.

Who was George Owen? He was a British artisan who spent his entire career with Royal Worcester, which was founded in 1751 and still produces porcelain and earthenware. Born in 1845, Owen began his career in 1859, while he was barely into his teens. He enjoyed watching his colleagues who handled piercing work–making porcelain decorated with artful holes–and thought he could do a better job. He was right. He invented his own tools and techniques and he jealously guarded his methods. Owen died in 1917.

The expert: John Sandon, international director of European ceramics and glass at Bonhams.

How rarely do George Owen pieces come up at auction? Individually, they are scarce. We [Bonhams] sell more than anyone else, about half a dozen a year. Over the last ten years, we’ve had 50 pieces. Maybe a dozen a year are on the market worldwide.

Has anyone done a count or survey of the number of pieces Owen made? Because he was always secretive, he didn’t keep records. But I imagine maybe there’s a thousand. Over 40 years he produced pieces, each taking several months stretched over a long period of time.

Is the shape he used for this reticulated vase unique, or did he return to this shape over and over again? The shapes are never unique. They’re the factory’s vases. The same vase could be painted with flowers or other decorations. Owen adapted them by cutting holes in them. He added the pearls around the top–they’re his own invention. I don’t know of another piece that’s precisely like this. He did a small number of each shape, but no two are ever the same.

And he came up with his own tools and techniques to create these pieces? He worked in the Royal Worcester factory’s ornamental casting department. The [pierced pieces] were molded and they cut holes out. He thought he could do better without the molded pattern. He was the only one who tried to cut out holes without any guide in the mold. He developed his own tools to cut the tiny holes. A great many in the pottery industry like to make their own tools–there’s a long tradition of that. He supposedly got the steel for his tools from the staves of corsets.

How did George Owen remove the tiny piece of wet clay waste from the body of the vase after he finished cutting a hole? He would dip the tool into something sticky [most likely oil or honey – Ed.] so with the last cut, it would stick to the tool. If it [the waste clay] did fall inside the piece, there was no way to get it out.

Punching thousands of tiny holes in a wet clay vessel makes it vulnerable to falling in on itself. How did Owen stop his works from collapsing before they reached the kiln? That’s a skill. If it was too wet, it would collapse. Potters learn over the years to get the right consistency. Owen’s difficulty was stopping the clay from getting too dry. To keep the shape, he had to handle it very carefully so it wouldn’t become distorted. Usually he managed to pick it up by the base or the top so it wouldn’t lose its shape. He must have been very careful with it. He had to cut each hole without putting pressure on it [the surface of the vessel].

George Owen used what he called ‘wet boxes’ to rehumidify a piece so he could continue to work on it. How many wet boxes might he have going at once? He must have had a room full of these being worked on. Owen could work a piece for half an hour or an hour before it became too dry to carry on. His work took many hours. A bigger, more elaborate piece might go back into the wet box ten, twenty, forty times. We just don’t know.

Moving a piece in and out of a wet box raises the risk that it won’t make it to the kiln. The losses must… Once it was out of the biscuit kiln, there must have been a great sigh of relief.

And George Owen didn’t let anyone at the factory watch him work? Not even his son, George Potter Owen? That’s always been claimed, but I don’t know how true that is. Craftsmen tend to be secretive to protect their livelihoods. If others learn to do it, they lose their work. They certainly don’t let apprentices learn too much. George Potter Owen may have had a go [at learning his father’s techniques] but he might not have been any good. That’s probably the case. It’s said that no one else, including his son, could do it. Different people at different times have tried to emulate George Owen. I tried too, and made a mess of it. It’s easy to cut big holes. Trying to cut smaller and smaller holes, keeping the holes even, and keeping them in even rows that are the same size–that was his great skill. No one has come close to what George Owen did, and they’ve certainly tried.

And while this might be an obvious point, let me hit it anyway–George Owen did this on his own, without the help of a computer, which wouldn’t have been available to him anyway. He worked out the geometry for himself. He measured the circumference of a piece and planned it by putting tiny dots [on the surface]. We’d use 3-D printers to do this nowadays. Other than the little dots that you see on the clay sometimes, that’s all he did. Each piece is unique in that sense. There’s no other guide than what he achieved himself.

Was this George Owen reticulated vase with cover a commission, or did he make it on spec? It wasn’t on spec, though he occasionally made special orders. He made the vases and the Royal Worcester factory bought them off him and sold them at a profit to a china shop or a department store. It would have cost two pounds when it was made in 1912, and it would have sold for three or four pounds. At the time, that would have been quite a lot for a single piece of china. Another in the factory would have done the gilding.

Bonhams has seven George Owen pieces in the May 2 sale. Is it unusual to have so many? It is. Most often there’s one or two. Sometimes there’s none. Sometimes there’s four. It’s a coincidence on this occasion that we attracted seven pieces. Lot 449 is one of two from the same consigner.

How have you seen the George Owen market change over time? George Owen works have always been expensive and costly. They were not appreciated in the 1960s, but in the late ’70s and early ’80s collectors realized they were something special and paid real money for them. I joined [the profession] in 1975, when a nice George Owen would sell for £700 to £1,000. At that time, that was a lot of money. It seems cheap now that they’re getting £15,000 to £20,000.

What condition is this George Owen reticulated vase with cover in? And how much does condition matter with a George Owen? It’s as it left the kiln. It’s perfect. No problems. But George Owen vases don’t bounce if they hit the floor. They can smash into dust if broken. Even tiny damage can make a difference. If a tiny little hole is nicked in a piercing, that can halve the value. I have to check carefully, row by row. If there’s a tiny nick, it’s no longer perfect, and a restorer can’t bring it back to life again. The fact that this vase is perfect is to its favor.

What is it like to hold this George Owen reticulated vase with cover? Every time you pick it up, it’s a pleasure. It’s light. It feels so fragile that the fact that it’s here at all gives you a bit of a buzz. It’s always exciting to have a piece like this. It calls you over to admire it–it’s one of those pieces.

How to bid: The George Owen reticulated vase with cover is lot 449 in the Fine Glass and British Ceramics auction at Bonhams on May 2, 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.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

Also see a 2014 Bonhams video in which John Sandon and his father, Henry, enthuse over the artistry of a different Royal Worcester George Owen vase. Estimated at £60,000 to £80,000, Bonhams sold it for £65,200, or $92,623.

And also see the Museum of Royal Worcester’s web pages on its peerless artisan, George Owen, which shows him “working” on a reticulated vase that’s actually finished.

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RECORD! An Adam van Vianen Silver Ewer Sells for $5.3 Million at Christie’s

A silver ewer created by Dutch silversmith Adam van Vianen in 1619.

Update: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer sold for $5.3 million–a world auction record for the artist, and for any piece of Dutch silver.

What you see: A silver ewer created by Dutch silversmith Adam van Vianen in 1619. Christie’s gives the estimate as on request, but it could sell for seven figures.

The expert: Harry Williams-Bulkeley, Christie’s European head of silver.

What is a ewer? Why might Adam van Vianen have chosen this form? A ewer is a jug. This ewer is not standard. Work by Adam van Vianen was only in the richest homes. One should think of this as a work of sculpture, though it’s of ewer form. It’s made from a single sheet of silver. It’s an extraordinary demonstration of how he was able to manipulate silver to create fluid forms.

Adam van Vianen signed and dated the silver ewer in addition to placing his maker’s mark on it. Why might he have done that? He wanted to be seen as a sculptor in precious metal rather than a producer of workaday objects. This is not meant to be used. It’s meant to be marveled at.

Was this ewer commissioned? Do we know? It’s possible it was commissioned for presentation. The choice of the Marcus Curtius narrative [A Roman tale of a soldier who sacrificed himself to save the city] suggests a display of bravery, sacrifice, and loyalty. It may have been presented to a military figure. It could have been Prince Maurice of Orange, who liberated Utrecht, which was van Vianen’s hometown. It’s conjecture, but it’s a possibility.

How rare is it for an Adam van Vianen piece to come to auction? Incredibly rare. Two years ago, Christie’s had a plaque by him with a scene on it. Prior to that, we had a small sweetmeat dish in 2001.

Do we know how many pieces Adam van Vianen made? A survey done by a Dutch academic notes 22 items either signed by him or bearing his maker’s mark. Of those, only two [in addition to the ewer] are in private collections. One is a beaker, and the other is a sweetmeat dish. Van Vianen’s brother and son worked in a similar style. If a piece is unmarked, it can be attributed to the family.

Did Adam van Vianen work alone, or did he have a team? There’s always that 19th century romantic image of silversmiths working alone. Van Vianen would have worked with shop assistants on manufacturing, but the ewer shows his individual skill at manipulating metal. And he signed and dated it, which is unusual.

He would have produced the decorative elements on the silver ewer through a technique called ‘chasing.’ What, exactly, would he have done? Here, he’s working with very pure silver, softer than sterling standard. If you hammer the silver, you give it tensile strength. If you heat it to pink-hot and quench it, it’s soft again, and you can work with it [you can fashion the decorative elements on the ewer]. It’s an incredibly long process to work it again and again–it’s so intricately chased.

I realize we can’t hop in a time machine and watch him work, but is it possible to tell how long he would have worked on the silver ewer? Would it have been, say, two months or more? Yes. Something as important as this would have been a real focus for him.

What is it like to hold the silver ewer? It’s incredibly tactile. Once you pick it up, you want to keep on turning it. The eye just dances across it.

Is it heavy? No. Because it’s so beautifully made, it feels like it’s the right weight. Heaviness would imply that it was cast, which makes it a different object, created with a different skill.

Do you have a favorite detail? That face peeking out from under the foot [of the ewer], because it’s so unexpected. It’s the last place you’d expect to see a human face. It’s looking out at you, and it has an ambiguous expression. [The face is shown in the fourth image on the lot page.]

Why will this silver ewer stick in your memory? As an object, it’s incredibly rare. This is the last chance for the market to acquire something of this importance by Adam van Vianen. It captures everything he’s known for–technical skill and extraordinary imagination. Work by the van Vianen family of silversmiths has never ceased to be celebrated. It’s like an incredible piece of jewelry, something to be marveled at.

How to bid: The Adam van Vianen silver ewer is lot 21 in the Exceptional Sale at Christie’s on April 20, 2018.

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

See a Christie’s video of Harry Williams-Bulkeley showing and talking about Adam van Vianen’s spectacular silver ewer.

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SOLD! A Sam Maloof Double Rocking Chair Fetched $35,000

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Update: The Sam Maloof double rocking chair sold for $35,000.

What you see: A double rocking chair, created in 2006 by the late American studio furniture artist Sam Maloof. Bonhams estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

Who was Sam Maloof? The California-born woodworker was the first professional craftsman to earn a MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellowship. He learned the fundamentals of his trade in high school and opened a workshop in 1948, after marrying and returning from World War II. Best known for his chairs, Maloof’s furniture resides in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He worked until he died in 2009 at the age of 93.

How many double rocking chairs did Sam Maloof make? “There are around a dozen known,” says Jason Stein, Director of Modern Decorative Art & Design at Bonhams Los Angeles, noting that about four of those are in institutions. “There are very few in private hands. This is the first we know of to ever come up in the auction format.”

How hard was it for Sam Maloof and his team to make a double rocking chair? “These pieces took a solid month to produce,” he says. “It’s more complicated, with way more spindles in the seatback. There are 13 spindles on this one, and Maloof double rockers normally have 13 to 15. A single rocker only has seven. Everything on a double rocker takes longer.”

When did Sam Maloof start making double rocking chairs? “They came into play in the early 1990s. The single rockers started years before,” he says. “When he was fully developed in his craft, he was confident to make a piece like this.”

What details distinguish this particular double rocking chair, and what distinguishes Maloof’s furniture overall? “It has pronounced horns at the top, and the sleighs at the bottom come up beautifully at the back. It’s the most expressed version of this chair,” he says. “It’s incredibly sculptural, yet ergonomic. It’s a beautiful piece of art that you can also sit in. That was a thing with Maloof. He was a craftsman’s craftsman.”

This double rocking chair is made from walnut. Does that make it more desirable to collectors? “Walnut was his wood of choice,” he says, adding, “Throughout the American studio furniture movement, the majority of the works are made from walnut. They take advantage of the beautiful grain. You can create amazing compositions by working the grain.”

Have you sat in the double rocking chair? “Yes. It’s beautiful,” he says. “It’s something that’s incredible to look at and sit in and to feel, to touch. It’s highly tactile. It’s an interactive experience to sit in a piece of Maloof. You want to sit in it. You want to stay in it. It’s not just a sculpture. It’s functional.”

Have you sat in the double rocking chair with another person? “I have not,” he says. “But in looking at this chair, each seat in it is fully pronounced. It’s made for two. Each seat will totally support a person. They won’t spill into each other.”

What’s the auction record for a piece of Sam Maloof furniture, and what’s the record for a Maloof rocking chair? The overall record belongs to a conference table and a set of ten chairs, which sold at Bonhams for $194,250 in March 2006 against an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. The Maloof rocking chair record was also set at Bonhams in April 2012 by a chair made in 1986 that fetched $80,500. Its estimate was $30,000 to $50,000. Both record-setting furnishings were made from walnut.

How have you seen the Sam Maloof market change over time? “When I started in the early 1990s at Butterfield & Butterfield, single rockers were $12,000 to $15,000. There’s been an ascent over the years,” he says. “It’s always popular, and we’re always excited to get pieces by him. This time we have four lots by Maloof, including a single rocking chair.”

Why will this Sam Maloof double rocking chair stick in your memory? “This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to work with this form–to be with it personally, to be near it, and to work with the consigner to bring it up for auction. It’s an exciting moment for an auction house specialist,” he says. “And it’s exciting to see where the market is going to take it, where it’s going to go, and who’s going to acquire it. I’m curious if it’s going to go to an institution or a private collector.”

How to bid: The Sam Maloof double rocking chair is lot 236 in Bonhams‘s Modern Decorative Art + Design auction on April 17, 2018 in Los Angeles.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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A Wendell Castle Rocking Chair Could Fetch $120,000 at LAMA

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What you see: A limited edition stainless steel Abilene rocking chair, made in 2008 by Wendell Castle. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

Who was Wendell Castle? The Kansas-born artist was a dean of the American studio furniture movement. He gleefully and deliberately erased the line between sculpture and furniture. He was an artist in residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology and kept a studio near Rochester, N.Y. His pieces are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Smithsonian Institution; and the White House. Castle died in January 2018 of complications of leukemia. He was 85.

Is the Abilene rocking chair a design that Castle originally made in the 1960s and revisited in 2008? “It’s purely 2008, but you can look at rocking chairs that he made in the 1960s, and you can see the through-line,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “Wendell Castle thought he was part furniture-maker and part artist. The soft curves of this are maternal and embracing, and at the same time, it’s masculine. The 1960s chairs have the same thing–big and bold, yet soft and curvaceous.”

What makes this a Wendell Castle design? What visual signatures mark the Abilene rocking chair as his work? “Wendell Castle emerged when designers and craftspeople were working in a reductionist aesthetic,” he says. “He reacted against the reductionist aesthetic, people who were paring down and reducing forms. He had the capacity to combine masculine and maternal shapes in part by broadening his materials. His work has a thickness that ran contrary to others of the era. Others thought, ‘How can I create with the least amount of material?’ Castle thought, ‘I want to make a leg thicker than normal if it’s closer to my artistic vision.’ This certainly has that. The rails of the rocker that swoop into the warmest are bigger and more massive than you would expect.”

How often did Castle work in stainless steel? Is this the only instance of him using it? “He worked in various materials,” he says. “He’s best known for working in wood, but he worked in metal. I don’t know if he did another stainless steel chair, but he did bronze stools.”

This Wendell Castle rocking chair is number four of the edition of eight. Where are the other seven Abilene rocking chairs? The second from the series sold for $81,250 on an estimate of $50,000 to $80,000 at Christie’s New York in March 2014. Loughrey believes the edition sold out and the rest likely remain in private hands or institutions.

What’s the auction record for a work by Castle? The record-holder is a 1980 ‘Victory’ chair and desk sold at Christie’s New York in December 2015 for $221,000 against an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. The record for a single stand-alone work belongs to a 1963 rocking chair that sold for $204,000 against a $90,000 to $140,000 estimate at Rago in 2008. The next highest is a 2009 rocking chair that sold for about $180,000 against an estimate of about $134,000 to $201,000 at Tajan in Paris.

Do those results tell us anything about how this Wendell Castle rocking chair might perform at auction? “I would hope so!” he says. “The rocking chair is definitely a form he returns to. All three are completely different, but if you line them all up, you can see the Castle vocabulary flowing through them.”

What is the Wendell Castle rocking chair like to sit in? “It’s incredibly comfortable, and incredibly heavy,” he says, noting that it weighs about 400 pounds. “It takes two strong men to lift it. It’s a sculpture that sits in place. You can’t push it to another part of the room. When it’s set, it’s set.”

I imagine the Abilene rocking chair reflects Castle’s talent–he could make something so heavy look as light as a wisp of smoke and feel as comfortable as any other rocking chair. “Even as an artist, Castle understood the dynamics of the human form and how it interacts with the sculpture,” he says. “All his chairs are created to interact with the human form. It’s not something only to look at. It’s completely functional.”

Wendell Castle died in January 2018. How might that affect how this lot performs at auction on February 25, 2018? “It may affect it to some degree,” Loughrey says. “Typically, works are not dramatically affected when an artist dies. It may get a few more people’s attention. But it’s not easy to answer. It’s an old wives’ tale that if an artist dies, their prices immediately go up. If there’s a dramatic stock market selloff before the auction, that will affect it [the final price of the rocking chair] way more than him passing away.”

Why will this stainless steel Wendell Castle rocking chair stick in your memory? “To me, it’s exciting to see the arc of his career,’ he says. “Very early on, he created rocking chairs, and returned to the form and expanded on it and used his vocabulary in new and different ways. There’s distinct rocking chair progress over a 50-year period. This is instantly recognizable as a chair. At the same time, it’s functional as a piece of modern sculpture,” he says, adding, “And it will be memorable to me because I had a connection to him. I sat on panels with him, I interviewed him, and he was incredibly generous in helping me with cataloging things correctly. Now that he’s gone, it’s going to be a little emotional for me.”

How to bid: The Abilene rocking chair is lot 144 in LAMA‘s Modern Art & Design Auction on February 25, 2018.

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Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

Wendell Castle has a website for himself and another for his art-furniture collection.

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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RECORD: A Roy Lichtenstein Sculpture Sells for $10.3 Million

Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, a 1996 limited edition painted and patinated bronze sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein. Phillips New York sold it in May 2017 for $10.3 million, an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.

Editor’s note: With the arrival of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

What you see: Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, a 1996 limited edition painted and patinated bronze sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein. Phillips New York sold it in May 2017 for $10.3 million, an auction record for a sculpture by the artist.

Who was Roy Lichtenstein? He was an American pop artist who rose to prominence on the strength of his brightly colored comic book-style works. While Lichtenstein sculpted several dozen pieces during his five-decade career, he is probably best known for his paintings. In January 2017, collector Agnes Gund consigned his 1962 oil on canvas, Masterpiece, to raise money for her criminal justice reform efforts; the painting made headlines when it sold for $165 million. Lichtenstein died in 1997, at the age of 73.

Before I saw this piece, I hadn’t thought of Roy Lichtenstein as a sculptor. How prolific was he? “Sculpture was a big part of his practice from the very beginning. He started in the early to mid-1960s,” says Scott Nussbaum, Phillips’s head of 20th century and contemporary art in New York. “If you go to the website of his foundation, you can see year by year what his production was, in all media, shapes, and sizes.”

Why did Roy Lichtenstein make Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight? “He painted it first–it was an element within a painting that he did in 1995, called Nude with Bust,” he says. “He created it after the original painting was done.”

The Roy Lichtenstein sculpture focuses on a female subject. Do Lichtenstein works that feature women do better at auction? “Yes, but I think that’s true of every artist,” he says. “The female form is the most commercial form. If it’s what most people would consider a sensual form, it’ll sell better. That’s true across the board.”

Lichtenstein himself actually owned this piece. How did that that fact enhance its value? “I think it added value in the sense that the provenance on this is excellent, coming directly from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, and the fact that he held it and did not sell it adds to its allure,” he says. “People want to know that art was owned by great collectors, or institutions. The excellent provenance added to its reception in the market.”

What is Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight like in person? “It has an incredible presence to it,” he says. “You really feel you are near a significant work of art. The more time you spend with it, the more you appreciate it. It’s not just a depiction of a beautiful woman, it’s a beautiful moment–two moments, one in sunlight and one in moonlight. Our audience fell in love with it, and it drew people into the gallery just to see it.”

Why did the Roy Lichtenstein sculpture do so well? “It was a fantastic result that shattered the auction record for a sculpture by Lichtenstein,” he says. “It’s a very rare object. Though it’s an edition, it’s very closely held. All are in good homes, and it’s unclear if another example will appear on the market anytime soon.”

How long do you think the Roy Lichtenstein sculpture record will stand? “It’s impossible to say. With this market, it’s difficult to predict anything,” he says. “I think this sculpture is one of his best, if not the best. I think only if another from the series [comes up], or one of a handful of really monumental sculptures that he produced in the 1960s could exceed that price. I think it will stand for a while.”

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Image is courtesy of Phillips.

Also, if you scroll down on the webpage for the Phillips lot notes on Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight, you can see a video that shows both sides of the sculpture.

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