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

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Update: 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 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.

 

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 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 an 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 an 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! Los Angeles Modern Auctions Sold Bibi on the Ball for $118,750–a New Record for the Artist

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

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 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 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.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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.

Rago Will Offer a Sculpture by African-American Outsider Artist William Edmondson That Could Command $50,000

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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 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.

 

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 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 an 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 an 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.

Perfect Balance: Los Angeles Modern Auctions Could Sell Carole Feuerman’s Hyperrealistic Sculpture “Bibi on the Ball” for $80,000

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

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 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 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.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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! Doyle Sells the 1953 Preakness Trophy Given to Alfred Vanderbilt, Jr, Owner of Native Dancer, for $100,000

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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

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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 preening black duck 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.

 

It’s 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 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 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 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 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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. 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! Sotheby’s Sold Canova’s Rediscovered Bust of Peace for More Than $7 Million

Canova, The Bust of Peace (side)

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 the 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 Canova’s model would have been for this bust 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 this 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 the bust 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 the 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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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

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