SOLD! This Striking Silver 19th Century Russian Rooster-Form Presentation Cup Fetched $33,800 at Freeman’s

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Update: The Russian silver and champlevé-enamel cockerel-form covered presentation cup sold for $33,800.

What you see: A Russian silver and champlevé-enamel cockerel-form (aka rooster-form) covered presentation cup, made in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century. Freeman’s estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

This cup is believed to be a wedding gift. Why would a rooster be an appropriate motif for a couple who are getting married? “The rooster symbolizes a new day, and it symbolizes good news. That’s why it’s an appropriate wedding gift,” says Nicholas B.A. Nicholson, who leads the English and Continental furniture and decorative arts department for Freeman’s, which covers silver. He adds, “It’s a tradition of the family [who owned it] that it was a wedding gift. We stop short of saying it was a wedding gift because we don’t have a letter saying that, but we have no reason to disagree.”

Silversmith Alexander Nikolaevich Sokolov designed the cup, and the lot notes say it is “likely derived” from an illustration in a popular Russian book from the time, Antiquities of the Russian State. Was Sokolov trying to evoke the medieval-style illustration? “He’s making as realistic a cockerel as he can given the design of medieval Russian works,” he says.

What’s up with the rooster’s tail? It’s a good example of what Nicholson means when he talks about Sokolov balancing realism against the medieval sensibility of the book’s illustrations: “The tail devolves from natural feathers, to braided feathers in a strapwork pattern, to strapwork on the tail–an amazing deconstruction.”

Did Sokolov’s workshop do other rooster-shaped presentation cups? “He did others earlier, but they were not as fully evolved as this one,” Nicholson says. “We don’t know how many he made, but it was clearly a form he liked.”

It’s a presentation cup, so you’re not really supposed to drink from it. But if you wanted to, how would you do it? See the broad band around the top of the rooster’s body? The hinge is in there. The head and neck of the silver bird tilts backwards, and the comb rests on its tail.

This is fresh to market, directly from the descendants of the people who received it. How unusual is that? “Many things that have been sold were confiscated by the Russian government,” he says. “This was brought over by the family and preserved through the generations to be offered at auction for the first time.”

What else makes the Russian presentation cup special? “It’s such an extraordinary piece of silver,” he says. “We have lots of good silver in this sale, and they all have their own stories, but this piece… the story makes it exceptional. So many Russian objects are just stolen. It transferred from an old Russian family [that became] a Russian emigre family and [then became] an American family of Russian descent, who wants it to go to a collector who understands its value.”

How to bid: The silver rooster presentation cup is lot 9 in the Silver & Russian Works of Art auction at Freeman’s on October 17, 2017.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mid-1930s Travel Poster Featuring The Hindenburg Could Float Away With $6,000 at Swann

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What you see: A Pleasant Trip to Germany, a travel poster created circa 1935 by Jupp Wiertz. Swann estimates its at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Jupp Wiertz? He was a German graphic designer, and unfortunately, we don’t know much more about him. He was based in Berlin, and he created several travel and fashion-themed posters. He died in 1939, when he would have been 57 or 58.

So we have three different forms of transportation (a zeppelin, an airplane, and an ocean liner) and three different destinations (Germany, New York City, and Rio) loaded into one poster. Why? “This is propaganda–Germany controlling the skies and the seas, flaunting its technology and bragging about its place in the modern world,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “It’s a very effective ad, in that sense.”

How do we know that the zeppelin pictured on the poster is the Hindenburg? “You can tell by the position of the cockpit,” he says. “On the Graf Zeppelin, it’s all the way forward. On the Hindenburg, its three-quarters of the way down [the body of the airship].”

Do vintage travel posters that feature zeppelins bring a premium? “Zeppelins bring a premium. Swastikas bring whatever is the opposite of a premium,” Lowry says, adding that the most popular zeppelin travel poster was also done by Wiertz. It shows the Hindenburg readying to hitch itself to the docking mast atop the Empire State Building, which is ablaze with golden sunlight. Swann has sold the poster for as much as $15,600.

What else makes this circa 1935 travel poster special? “It’s the peak of Art Deco. Though the ship is unrecognizable, the Art Deco style is very recognizable,” he says. “Plus the ghostly outline  of the cityscapes–it’s really a masterful job. It’s fun to have something from the golden age of travel and fun to have something from the very short timespan when zeppelins were operating. They were as captivating to the world’s imagination as the Titanic was in its time.”

How to bid: A Pleasant Trip to Germany is lot 151 in the Rare & Important Travel Posters sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 26, 2017.

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Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

SOLD: The George Nakashima Sanso Table with Conoid Chairs Fetches $187,500

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Update: The Nakashima Sanso table with Conoid chairs sold for $187,500.

What you see: A Sanso “Reception House” table and six Conoid chairs, designed and made by George Nakashima in 1981. The table is 28 inches high, 60 inches wide, and 84 1/2 inches in diameter. All seven pieces are signed with the surname of the client. Freeman’s estimates the group at $100,000 to $150,000.

Who was George Nakashima? He was an American woodworker who became one of the most influential furniture-makers of the 20th century. Born to Japanese immigrants, Nakashima had traveled extensively in Japan by the time he was forced into an internment camp in Idaho during World War II. There he met an inmate who taught him Japanese carpentry techniques. Architect Antonin Raymond helped free Nakashima in 1943 and invited him to stay in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Nakashima never left. He developed a style that respected and celebrated the rugged, natural aspects of wood, and which turned its flaws into strengths. He died in 1990 at the age of 85.

Why are Sanso tables so rare? Was it difficult for Nakashima to find suitable pieces of lumber? “It was tough to get really good slabs of wood at this size,” says Tim Andreadis, department head of 20th century design at Freeman’s, adding that fewer than a dozen Sanso tables exist. “Finding a board that was conducive to this purpose was more difficult and more costly. This one is a really nice English walnut, which is what the client wanted.”

The table comes with six Conoid chairs. Is this the full original set of chairs? Yes. “What’s really nice about them is they’re single slab seats,” he says. “Single slab seats were three times more expensive to purchase. They’re usually better-quality wood, and they’re all very even in color. There’s a nice contrast between the American black walnut chairs and the English walnut Sanso table.”

We know the client was Stanley Frosh and his family. What do we know about the Froshes? “They [the furniture] were made as a set and originally used in Stanley’s judge’s chambers before moving them to his home as a reception-slash-dining table for the family to use,” Andreadis says. “The Frosh family was extremely close to the Nakashimas. When George passed, the whole [Nakashima] family sat around this table to discuss the future of the George Nakashima studio. It did become a table around which big decisions were made.”

This Sanso table has several butterfly joints in it–bow-tie like fittings that help hold the tabletop together. Did Nakashima invent the butterfly joint, or did he make it his own? “Butterfly joints were used for centuries, but he made them his own,” Andreadis says. “They were used on the undersides of furnishings. You didn’t see butterfly joints. George respected the honesty of the construction process, and he wanted to make it visible. He thought it was something to be celebrated rather than hidden.”

Does the large number of butterfly joints increase the value of the Frosh Sanso table? “That’s definitely true,” he says. “It shows that George wanted to preserve the piece of lumber. In order to do that, he needed to use more butterfly joints to shore up the piece of wood. He didn’t put them on willy-nilly as a decoration. The joints prevented splits in areas that would have split over time. George worked through all the problems. He didn’t put a Band-Aid on them. He embellished them and drew your eye to them.”

And has the table held together well? What condition is it in? “It’s in fantastic condition,” he says. “The family always recognized it as a masterpiece, and revered it as such, and treated it as such. George made it later in his career, in the sweet spot between the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when he was catching his stride and reflecting what his design ethos was about. It’s a beautiful thing to behold in person.”

A Paris auction house sold a Sanso table in American black walnut, without chairs, for roughly $207,000 in May. Do you think this suite of Nakashima furniture will do better? “I think it certainly has that potential. It’s one of the most dramatic Sanso tables to come to market. Even if it was just the table, I’d gush about it. It’s absolutely a blue-chip masterwork by George Nakashima,” he says. “To have Mira [George’s daughter, who now leads the studio] and the family’s memory at a pivotal point in the studio’s history speaks even further to the history with the Frosh family, and to why George chose a special table for Stanley Frosh. We have the climax point where George dies, and they talk about the studio’s future [around this table.] It could not only set a record for a Sanso table, it could set a record for any George Nakashima.”

What else makes this Nakashima furniture special? “If you’ve been waiting for a special piece by Nakashima, this is that type of piece. It will transcend market shifts over the years,” he says. “And you can look at it time after time and not get bored. I’ve been looking at it for four months and every time, I find something new. You get chills standing near it. A Nakashima like this belongs in a museum or a private collection. One lucky bidder will get to own this table, and I envy them.”

How to bid: The George Nakashima Frosh family Sanso table and its six Conoid chairs are lot 81 in the Design sale at Freeman’s on October 8, 2017.

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Freeman’s is on Twitter and Instagram as well. Also, you can read a short article on the Frosh family table and chairs set on the Freeman’s site.

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

 

RECORD: Elizabeth Catlett’s War Worker Sells for $149,000 at Swann–An Auction Record for a Catlett Painting

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Update: Elizabeth Catlett’s War Worker sold for $149,000–a new auction record for a painting by the artist.

What you see: War Worker, a 1943 tempera-on-board by Elizabeth Catlett. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $60,000 to $90,000.

Who was Elizabeth Catlett? She was a 20th century African-American artist. She was best known for her sculptures, but she made prints and the occasional painting as well. She devoted herself to creating images that reflected the African-American experience. During the 1960s, she created a series of posters that depicted Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Harriet Tubman. She also created sculptures of Sojourner Truth and Louis Armstrong. She was active until she died in 2012 at the age of 96.

What makes War Worker so notable? “It’s very scarce. It’s only the second painting of hers to come to auction,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, adding that it dates to a period in the 1940s when the artist lived in New York. Swann offered the first Catlett painting at auction in December 2015. Titled Friends, it sold for $81,250 against an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000.

Why have so few of these paintings come to auction? Are they in institutions? “The works are just very scarce. They’ve been in people’s collections for a generation or more,” he says, adding that Friends did go to an institutional buyer. “Catlett passed not too long ago. There’s a growing sense of her significance that’s bringing the paintings to market. If you look at Friends, it’s definitely related to War Worker. Both are images of African-American workers.”

War Worker is smaller than 12 inches by 10 inches. Most of the known 1940s paintings are on the small side, and rendered in tempera. Do we know why? “She didn’t have a studio in the traditional sense. She had to work during the day at her teaching job,” he says, explaining his theory that Catlett may have made War Worker in her apartment, sitting down, perhaps with the paper in her lap. She might have chosen tempera for this reason, too–it doesn’t smell or give off fumes, as oil paints do. “It’s conducive to working in a non-studio environment,” he says. “The small size reinforces the intimacy of these works.”

Does Catlett approach the painting in a sculptural way? Does it hint at her future as a sculptor? “It’s a fascinating glimpse into her work as a modern artist,” he says. “She shows an interest in depicting average working men and women as a social realist. She’s also interested in abstracting the sculptural qualities of his face, flattening the forms. There’s a sculptural quality you see that comes forward in her work, which is interesting in view of her development as an artist.”

War Worker is estimated at $60,000 to $90,000. Do you think it has a chance to top Friends and set a new record for a Catlett painting at auction? “I think this will do very well, and could sell for more,” he says.

What else makes War Worker special? “It’s a really powerful image. These small paintings pack a punch,” Freeman says. “The accumulation of small strokes gives it an intensity. I think it’s going to resonate with the people who see it. We are excited to have it.”

How to bid: War Worker is lot 20 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 5.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

SOLD! The First Published Account of a Successful Wright Brothers Flight Commands $5,000 at Swann

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What you see: The cover of the January 1, 1905 issue of Gleanings in Bee Culture, from an early 20th-century group of 14 issues of the specialist magazine. Swann estimates the group at $1,500 to $2,500.

What is Gleanings in Bee Culture, and why is it important? It is a specialist magazine, founded in 1869 by Amos Ives Root, a god of the beekeeping world. It published the first eyewitness account of a successful airplane flight by the Wright brothers. Root died in 1923, but his magazine still publishes under the name Bee Culture.

Wait, back up. The first published account of a successful airplane flight was in a beekeeping journal? Yes. Yes, it was.

How did that happen? Root was a fan of technology, and the Wright brothers’ experiments in aviation represented the cutting edge of technology at the turn of the 20th century. Root befriended the brothers, who were fellow Ohioans, and he witnessed a successful flight in September, 1904 at Huffman Prairie in Ohio (he was not present for the first successful flight, which happened on December 17, 1903). Protective of their invention and stung by a badly garbled press account of a previous test, the brothers did not invite any reporters to watch them work. But they were comfortable with Root writing about the first flight for Our Homes, a column he included in Gleanings in Bee Culture. “They probably recognized Root as a kindred spirit, and felt he wouldn’t leak anything they didn’t want leaked,” says Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana for Swann.

How skilled an observer was Root? “He was an extremely curious and interested amateur. He did his best to understand the mechanism and asked a bunch of questions,” says Stattler, who adds that Root was 65 at the time of the September 1904 flight. “He understood about five percent of what they said. My impression is he probably understood it better than I’d have been able to.”

How many times did Root write about the flight that he saw? Twice. The first article ran more than three pages and had no illustrations. The second, which appeared two weeks later, was shorter and included a photograph of a Wright plane without its engine. “I suspect they didn’t want him publishing a picture of the full machine,” Stattler says. “I don’t get the impression that his account was instantly recognized as important around the world. Gleanings in Bee Culture had a very small, specialized readership. I get the impression that it was not taken especially seriously.”

How often do these issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture come up at auction? This offering at Swann is the first. Stattler reports that Sotheby’s offered a group of issues in 1968, but it did not include the columns that describe the flight.

Why offer 14 issues? Why not offer just the ones with the columns that talk about the flight? Stattler explains that the issues come from a home that had several years’ worth of Gleanings in Bee Culture squirreled away.  “I thought it would be interesting to have a few issues from before the columns and after, as context,” he says. Stattler describes the Our Homes column as being an Andy Rooney-style celebration of the quirks of the world, but Root definitely realized he’d seen something world-changing. “He strongly emphasized it. He realized he was privileged to witness an extremely important event, and he recognized that his platform was not the typical for disseminating that information.”

Do you have any favorite passages from the columns? Stattler cited this paragraph from the January 1, 1905 entry:  ‘Imagine a locomotive that has left its track, and is climbing up in the air right toward you—a locomotive without any wheels, we will say, but with white wings instead, we will further say—a locomotive made of aluminum. Well, now, imagine this white locomotive, with wings that spread 20 feet each way, coming right toward you with a tremendous flap of its propellers, and you will have something like what I saw. The younger brother bade me move to one side for fear it might come down suddenly; but I tell you, friends, the sensation that one feels in such a crisis is something hard to describe.’

These issues have never come to auction before, so they’re guaranteed to set a record when they sell. What do you think will happen? “I’ve got interest from clients already,” he says. “It’s such a quirky publication. It will probably go beyond its estimate, but how far beyond, I don’t know.”

How to bid: The group of issues of Gleanings in Bee Culture is lot 42 in the Printed & Manuscript Americana sale at Swann Auction Galleries on September 28, 2017.

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 Swann Auction Galleries on Twitter and Instagram. Bee Culture is on Twitter and Instagram as well. Root Candles, another entity founded by Root that survives to this day, devotes a page on its website to Ames Root and the Wright Brothers. And you can read the full text of all of Root’s writings on the Wright brothers’ flight courtesy of the website for the PBS program NOVA.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Oh Snap! An Uncropped Version of Weegee’s Most Famous Photo Could Sell for $15,000 at Christie’s

WEEGEE The Critic, 1943

What you see: The Critic, an image shot in 1943 by Arthur (sometimes given as Usher) Fellig, who was better known as Weegee. Christie’s estimates the ferrotyped gelatin silver print at $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was Weegee? He was a Ukranian-born photographer who excelled at capturing visions of life in Manhattan. His uncanny ability to pop up at crime scenes–sometimes even before the police got there–earned him the nickname “Weegee,” a phonetic spelling of Ouija, the name of the board used to summon spirits. Weegee had something better and more reliable than a Ouija board: he fitted his car with a police radio. He died in 1968 at the age of 75.

Time magazine chose The Critic as one of its 100 Most Influential Images of All Time. The Photography Book, published by Phaidon, placed it second on a list of photos that changed the world. The image is in the collections of The Whitney, The Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. What makes it such an important photograph? “I think the reason people respond is there’s a lot going on in it,” says Rebecca Jones, a photographs cataloguer at Christie’s. “It’s very graphic, very confrontational. The women going to the opera look directly at the camera, and the viewer. We have the disheveled onlooker at the right. We have the onlookers at the left. And the types of people in the image are very New York–high society people, the people on the left hoping for standing room tickets, and the bitter character on the right, all together in the scene in fortuitous imagery.”

We now know that The Critic was not organic. Weegee had his assistant recruit the woman at the right from a local bar, and had him move her forward on his signal when the two socialites emerged from their limo to attend the Metropolitan Opera’s Diamond Jubilee celebration. Any photographers who followed his example in 2017 would be fired and shamed. Why was Weegee able to get away with it? “It was the start of tabloid journalism. He was the first to do it, so he kind of got away with it,” she says. “The ethics were not fully developed on the issue because it was so new.”

Weegee printed this image in the late 1950s or early 1960s, before there was a secondary market for photographs. Why would he have created more prints of The Critic after it was published in Life magazine around 1943? “In addition to being a successful photojournalist, Weegee was unique, because he was recognized by the fine arts community,” Jones says. “He was known to print works in addition to this one, possibly to sell, possibly for an exhibition, or possibly to give to people.”

When Life magazine ran The Critic, its editors cropped it to show just the three women. The version at Christie’s is the full version, which shows the middle class people at the left who are hoping to buy standing room tickets. Weegee released more prints of the cropped version than the full version during his life. Does that mean he preferred the cropped version? “It’s hard to say which he preferred. What’s more likely is since the three were in the original version used, it became the more iconic image,” she says, adding, “What also complicates his practice is he had no consistency to the way he marked his prints. The only way we knew this was from the late 1950s or early 1960s is it’s marked with an address we know he moved to in 1957.”

What else makes this Weegee image special? “It’s interesting to pull out from the cropped image to see what was going on in the photographer’s eye. We get the flavor of the particular moment,” Jones says. “And it’s a scene you could still see in New York today.”

How to bid: Weegee’s The Critic is lot 32 in Visionaries: Photographs from the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Collection, which takes place October 10 at Christie’s New York.

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You can follow Christie’s on Twitter and on Instagram. You can read more about the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Collection in this Christie’s article.

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

SOLD! A Jewel-Like Landscape by Irish Artist John Luke Fetches More Than $251,000 at Sotheby’s London

Lot 333 Luke, Northern Rhythm

Update: John Luke’s Northern Rhythm commanded £187,500, or $251,000.

What you see: Northern Rhythm, a 1946 tempera on board by John Luke. It’s from his celebrated Armagh series, painted between 1943 and 1948 at a farm in Northern Ireland that he moved to after World War II bombings that devastated Belfast. Sotheby’s estimates the painting at £100,000 to £150,000 ($129,000 to $194,000).

Who is John Luke? He was a 20th century Irish artist. He wasn’t as prolific as others due to his meticulous approach. He passed up ready-made paint in convenient tubes to grind his own oil and tempera pigments, and he worked slowly, pointing his full concentration at one painting and one painting alone for up to a year at a time. The Armagh series is regarded as among his best group of works, if not the best. He also painted murals for Belfast’s City Hall and other Irish venues. He died in 1975 at the age of 69.

How rare is it for a work from Luke’s Armagh series to come to market, never mind go to auction for the first time, as Northern Rhythm is? “It certainly is an event,” says Charlie Minter, deputy director and specialist in British and Irish art, post 1850, at Sotheby’s. “The last one that sold from the group was in 1997–Landscape with Figures–and that’s among his top ten at auction. They are pretty special occasions.” Minter adds that of the eleven Armagh paintings, five are in private hands, five are in institutions, and the location of the last one is unknown.

Where does Northern Rhythm rank among Luke’s paintings? “It’s certainly regarded as one of his best, if not his best,” Minter says, noting that Luke wrote in a 1949 letter to a friend, “No painting has so much or so deeply expressed my own particular type or state of mind & spirit as Northern Rhythm.”

I’m surprised Luke sold it. “At first, he didn’t let it go,” he says. “He sold it in the sixties, probably because of financial reasons. He did keep it close to him. He was reluctant to part with it.”

Three of Luke’s top ten most-expensive works at auction come from the Armagh series: Landscape with Figures, Pax, and The Dancer and the Bubble. Do you think that Northern Rhythm will set a new auction record for the artist? “As much as I’d love to say it will, no,” Minter says. “The auction record [The Bridge, a 1936 tempera on board, sold in 1999 for £441,500, or $711,752] is so high, it’s really hard to beat. There’s a chance it will get to the second most-expensive level [held by Landscape with Figures, a 1948 tempera on board that sold in 1997 for £194,000, or $319,446]. It’s really a fantastic work. I’d be delighted if it got the second-highest price. The top is out of the stratosphere, unfortunately. A group of focused collectors [of Irish art] bid the high prices, and we won’t see the same participation at this auction.”

What makes Northern Rhythm special? “It has a jewel-like quality. It’s immediately striking, and people want to talk about it,” Minter says, explaining that his colleagues at Sotheby’s who catch sight of it invariably stop and want to know more. “Luke painted it in tempera, and you feel this intensity to it. Tempera adds to the drama of it. Northern Rhythm has exquisite detail, fine brushwork–it’s really amazing, an extraordinary vision.”

How to bid: Northern Rhythm is lot 333 in the Irish Art sale at Sotheby’s London on September 27.

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