We asked exhibitors at the Winter Antiques Show to highlight one exceptional object in their booths and describe it as they might to an interested collector. Here are the things they chose, along with some of their comments.
We are thrilled to be bringing a cache of extraordinary objects to the 2012 Winter Antiques Show, including this marble sarcophagus-form planter from the Hurstmont estate in Harding Township, New Jersey. Hurstmont, the country home of industrialist James Pyle and his wife Adelaide McAlpin Pyle, is an 1886 house rebuilt in 1902-1903 by the legendary Stanford White of McKim, Mead and White. The planter is presumed to have been purchased by White in Italy specifically for Hurstmont, along with an impressive marble bench and a replica of the Borghese Vase. According to noted sculptor and scholar Peter Rockwell (son of Norman Rockwell), the carving, which depicts the fall of Phaeton, is expertly executed in the style of ancient Roman sarcophagi, but the piece reveals its nineteenth-century origins through the carving on the back, which indicates its intended use in a garden or conservatory, as opposed to a niche in the wall, the traditional placement for a Roman sarcophagus. It is a stunning testament to the grand objects made in Italy for the great Gilded Age gardens in America.
A La Vieille Russie, founded in 1851, still offers a great array of Fabergé as well as Russian and other works of art. Our jewelry covers all periods and all countries, bounded only by quality. This example by Salvador Dali serves as an eye-opener to many great and unusual pieces. After he immigrated to the United States in 1941 Dali worked in oils, watercolors, drawings, graphics, and jewelry. Through his friend Risë Stevens of the Metropolitan Opera, he met Henryk Kaston, the Polish-born violinist in the opera orchestra, who also made jewelry. One of several versions of “The Eye of Time,” this example with blue-green enamel is set in platinum with baguettes and brilliant-cut diamonds, and features a pavé diamond “tear” and a cabochon ruby in the corner of the eye.
Created specifically for the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1853, this polychrome allegorical figure of “The Harvest” (one of a pair available) is significant for a number of reasons. It was designed by Gustave Herter (1830-1898) during his early association with Bulkley & Herter, and it and its mate are among the only documented pieces from that important predecessor to the celebrated Herter Brothers firm. The carvings were executed by émigré sculptor Ernst Plassmann and are the earliest American works extant that can be attributed to him. Plassmann would go on to execute numerous prestigious commissions, including statues of Benjamin Franklin in Printing House Square and Cornelius Vanderbilt now in front of Grand Central Station. The figures were originally part of a monumental cabinet that earned accolades at the 1853 exhibition, and they are depicted and discussed at length in its illustrated catalogue. Referenced as “truly magnificent” and “the best specimen of the art it exemplifies,” the pièce de résistance cabinet was covered more extensively in the catalogue than any other item at the exhibition. The only elements known to survive from this remarkable piece, the carved figures still retain their original polychrome, gilding, and French polish finish.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my career specializing in American neoclassical decorative arts is tracing the design precedents and provenances of the pieces I offer. I find the whole process fascinating and think collectors appreciate knowing not only who originally owned an object but also how its design fits into a grand tradition that extends back over two thousand years. This table belongs to a highly distinctive group with griffin or eagle bases that are now attributed to Duncan Phyfe. The griffin design found on most of these tables was directly inspired by an ancient Roman console rendered and published by Charles Heathcote Tatham in Etchings Representing the Best Examples of Ancient Ornamental Architecture; Drawn from the Originals in Rome of 1799, but the use of a pair of eagles instead of griffins has several design advantages-as I’ll be happy to explain to visitors to the Winter Antiques Show! The original owner of the table has not been determined for sure; so far we know it descended in the family of Ezekiel Cheever, who immigrated to Boston in 1637, and it may have been a wedding present to his great-great-grandson Samuel Cheever. Come see us and we’ll share what we know about this masterpiece of American furniture-and others as well.
This needlework picture was stitched 350 years ago by a young lady in England. Needlework pictures of the period often depict biblical stories from the Old Testament that are sometimes hard to relate to without previous knowledge of the subject. In contrast, this charming piece depicts something we can all relate to, the five senses. The average toddler has fun pointing out which motif represents sight, smell, taste, et cetera, and the most jaded collectors marvel at its condition and rarity. Almost everyone is stunned by its charm. The question is: Would this item fit in my decor? Like most schoolgirl needlework art, it won’t overpower any decorating theme; it simply adds an interesting and aesthetically pleasing sense of historical culture. When you visit our booth at the Winter Antiques Show, make sure to bring your children. They are usually amazed to discover that everything we have on show was created over 150 years ago by girls eight to eighteen years old. If you get a chance, look at our website before you come to the show: antiquesamplers.com. We look forward to your visit.
The well-appointed interiors in the rigorously composed paintings of John Koch (1909-1978) are places where sophisticated people quietly intermingle in carefree discourse. Set in the Upper West Side apartment in the El Dorado that the artist shared with his wife, the piano teacher Dora Zaslavsky, Koch’s interiors suggest a contemporary American version of the traditional artist’s atelier. The Party, a major multifigure interior scene from 1971, is an imaginary soirée at the Kochs’ apartment. Present among the many guests are artists, musicians, patrons, critics, models, curators, and art dealers-in other words, the very social milieu of cultural movers and shakers to which the Kochs belonged. Cool northern light streams in through the windows, gently illuminating the party, which is engaged in lively conversation. Koch consciously arranged his guests in this imaginary salon by virtue of their different professions and pursuits, emphasizing the multifaceted, cross-cultural nature of his social circle. And as with so many of his paintings, Koch portrayed both himself and Dora among the luminaries. The Party is, in fact, a portrait of the Kochs’ Upper West Side lifestyle and their social milieu, and thus serves as a summa of Koch’s illustrious career.
Meet George Thomas Staunton, the youngest member of the first British embassy to be received at the imperial court of China. The eleven-year-old boy sailed to China in 1792 as the page of the ambassador, Lord Macartney; and he was the son of the embassy’s second-in-command, Sir George Leonard Staunton. Also on board were his tutor, John Christian Huttner, and two Chinese priests from the Roman Catholic college at Naples, who taught the young Staunton- already an accomplished linguist -to speak and write Chinese. His precocious scholarship is represented in the portrait by an open volume of Euclid (in Greek) beneath the globe. The work was painted by the Dublin-born artist Thomas Hickey, who spent much of his long career in India, working in both Madras and Calcutta. In 1792 he, too, accompanied Lord Macartney to China as the embassy’s official artist, although he seems to have done little work on the expedition. After the embassy’s return in 1794 he spent a year in London, when this portrait was probably executed.
The name Deringer is today synonymous with the little pocket pistols that came to be carried by many Americans, especially in the more lawless western states and territories during the second half of the nineteenth century. Owned by men and women, honest citizens and criminals, civilians and soldiers, gamblers and gold miners, they were used in self-defense and for cold-blooded murder. The name derives from the maker of the original percussion pocket pistol developed by Henry Deringer of Philadelphia, which was so widely copied by other manufacturers that he took legal action against his imitators-and won. Even so, after the Civil War, with technical advances that produced reliable metal cartridges and robust breechloading systems, major American arms manufacturers, like Colt and Remington, began producing cartridge “deringers,” and others soon followed. This beautiful cased pair of about 1850 is of the highest quality attained by Deringer himself, with gold barrel bands and a mixture of German silver and silver mounts. They descended in the family of Thomas Jefferson Brady, who is thought to have acquired them at the time of the Civil War. We are happy to share his and other stories with visitors to our booth at the Winter Antiques Show.
The works of Edwin and Mary Scheier, major figures in the mid-twentieth-century studio pottery movement, varied stylistically from their roots in the American folk tradition. Here, in a work probably made by Edwin alone, we see a figural element used to make a statement of huge psychological impact. The figure of a woman with a childen closed by her body and arms seemingly emerges through the lid of a swell-formed vase, itself considered symbolic in ceramics. By closing the mother’s eyes, by reducing her body to a simple cylindrical form ribbed only by the turning marks of the potter’s wheel, by glazing the work in black (by definition the combination of all colors but defying the identity of any one color), the potter makes a statement that is simultaneously broad and highly personal and an object that is at once utilitarian and emotionally powerful.
Suzanne Courcier, Robert W. Wilkins
This recently discovered pair of merganser decoys, attributed to the famed Maine carver Amos Alton Wallace (1882-1968), descended in the family of his cousin Irving Jesse Wallace. Other known mergansers by Wallace include a nearly identical pair shown in George Ross Starr Jr.’s Decoys of the Atlantic Flyway and a single merganser given by Maxim Karolik to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston in 1960. This pair is the finest example of Wallace’s work to have surfaced thus far. The quality of the carving is sublime; the expressiveness of the birds, remarkable; and the condition, including the undisturbed first coat of paint, exceptional. In The Art of the Decoy Adele Earnest comments on the rarity of merganser decoys and goes on to observe that “with their slim, elegant, crested heads, they are the aristocrats of the decoy family.” These two, drake and hen, rank among the bluest of blue bloods.
Although the “tea” or “breakfast” table with a columnar shaft is a relatively common form, the maker’s use of small and often subtle details can mean the difference between something ordinary and something extraordinary. This table, made in Essex County, Massachusetts, c. 1785-and retaining its original surface-falls into the latter category. Most significantly, the maker changed the customary proportions by reducing the thickness of the top, the shaft, and the highly-arched legs. This gives the piece a lightness rarely seen in this form. He also modified the usual serpentined top by deeply molding the edge and then setting a narrow strip of line inlay into it, mirroring the profile of the outer edge. To further set this piece apart, he carved crisp scallop shells into each knee. He completed his design by rounding off the lower section of each leg and brought the top of each foot to a sharp point. Some cabinetmakers were journeymen-technically skilled and competent. Others were artists who understood the role of proportion, scale, and ornament and created pieces like this table.
There are several things that make this Queen Anne mirror of c. 1705 a special piece. To begin with, it retains not only the original central mirror plate but also its original ruby red border plates and the gilt gesso straps that hold them in place. The border plates have the distinction of fine gilt églomisé decoration incorporating figures in elaborate costumes. This mirror would have been a standout in an eighteenth-century home, signaling its owners’ advanced taste and, given the costliness of mirror plate production, substantial wealth.
This Native American basket is from New England, c. 1830-1840 (its newspaper lining bears the date 1831) and measures 17 inches square by 13 ½ inches tall. We periodically find baskets of this type, though 1831 is quite early. They were used to store clothing and sold to the white trade for that purpose. Early examples like this one are distinguished by the varying widths of the splints because they were split by hand. (Later basket makers used mechanical splitters.) The bands were then swabbed with vegetable dyes before being woven. The pattern on this example is striking, elaborate, and the colors are still exceptionally bright. The double color weave around the handles is also unusual and unusually appealing. We have sold a great number of such baskets without ever seeing one quite like this.
The portrait is of Ferdinand of Orleans, Duke of Chartres, Prince Royal of France, at age five. It is by Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin and signed and dated 1815. It measures 3 11/16 inches high and is set in the original ormolu frame, the reverse retaining the royal inventory number 633. Ferdinand-Philippe-Louis of Orleans (1810-1842) was the eldest son of the future king of France, Louis-Philippe, and his wife Marie-Amelie, princess of Naples. An officer and leader of talent and promise, the prince died tragically in a carriage accident. His parents built a memorial chapel that still stands on the spot in Sablonville where he was thrown from the coach.
Such was the fame and talent of artist Jean-Baptiste-Jacques Augustin (1759-1832), that he moved seamlessly from official painter to the imperial court of Napoleon to Painter in Ordinary to Louis XVIII. Here he perfectly portrays the five-year old future prince royal in full uniform surrounded by the trophies of war.
This Bakhshaish carpet, dates from the late nineteenth century and measures 13 by 21 ¼ feet. The name Bakhshaish refers to a geographic area within present-day Azerbaijan. In the second half of the nineteenth century some of the most inventive Persian carpets, Serapi and Heriz among them, came from this area. At the time that these coarsely woven rugs were made, they were among the least expensive on the market so the weavers and village workshops were left to their own devices without the pressure to follow strict design guidelines or tailor their work to perceived Western taste. The result was the kind of expressive artistry you see here, where tour de force weaving produces an elegant rendering of floral forms. Add to this the use of wonderful natural dyes producing a wide range of hues and you have a great result.
Carpets woven with an ivory background like this one are quite rare, probably because it was labor intensive to get enough clean white wool for a uniform ground color. This is also the only carpet I have seen that has a classic Heriz style medallion floating on this Boteh field design. It is fitting that these rugs now command greater respect in the market than the more rigid products of urban workshops.
Bold in proportion, intricate in detail, and constructed of the finest materials, this Chippendale mahogany slant-front desk with three-shell interior is attributed to the Goddard-Townsend families of Newport, Rhode Island, 1770-1795, and is one of the most sought after furniture forms by museums and collectors. During the ninety plus years that Nathan Liverant and Son has been in business we have had only two or three other examples. The desk was purchased in the late 1890s by a collector in Middletown, Rhode Island, and handed down in the family for three generations. The interior features a finely carved shell on the prospect door flanked by serpentine shaped pigeonhole valances, concave pencil drawers, and the two shell-carved blocked drawers. Its condition is impeccable with the original large size Chippendale brass hardware and beautiful mahogany color of great depth and patina.
Rural idylls were a popular subject for mainstream artists of the later eighteenth century in Britain and Europe. It is possible that the naïve author of Harvest Time at the Homestead, c. 1790, probably an itinerant sign painter judging by the generous size of the canvas (33 by 46 inches, framed), had seen prints or even paintings by classically trained artists of his time and worked to imitate them here. It is his consummate failure to do so that makes this painting so seductive. The scene is virtually devoid of any perspective, with a lone tree in the left foreground in the classical manner and a farmhouse and outbuildings in the vernacular style to the right. The figures and animals are primitively executed and have a wonderfully static quality. Presumably commissioned by the prospering farmer, the painting displays the requisite signs of wealth and success with a joyfulness that is brave and beguilingly personal. The painting was first discovered by the legendary British naïve art dealer Christopher Bibby in the early 1970s and shown in his second exhibition, where it was sold to an American collector.
Now is a good time to celebrate occupation, something our forebears did with great enthusiasm as you will see in our booth, where a range of objects related to work take center stage. This rare shaving mug, for instance, bears a photograph of its owner, a gold miner, at his occupation. When you consider the trouble it took to drag the camera out to the mine to get this shot you understand the pride the man must have taken in his job-and the honored place work held in our culture. The golden era of occupation mugs celebrating bricklayers, opticians, painters, and plumbers, among others, ran from about 1880 to 1930. The mugs were generally made in Europe, this one is from Austria, and then brought here to be hand painted or decorated with a photograph. They remind us, if we need reminding, of what is most worth celebrating.
This carved figure of a jaunty violin player made somewhere between 1850 and 1875 was discovered in a New York music shop where it remained until the shop closed in the early 1980s. It then went into a private collection where it remained for thirty years, so this is the first time it has been on the market. The figure is 38 inches high and microanalysis shows it to have been carved from pieces of white pine laminated and dowelled together; the surface is painted and varnished. The exceptional quality of the carving as well as the spirit of the piece resemble the work of the New York carver Charles J. Dodge (1806-1886), particularly his Jim Crow figure now in the Shelburne Museum. We hope that future research will enable us to attribute the piece to a specific carver.
A pair of Victorian silver candlesticks by Henry W. Dee, dated 1879 (height 8 ¼ inches), reminds us of the mysterious place Dee holds in nineteenth-century silver design. He produced a range of odd and interesting pieces: dishes formed as Noh masks, cream jugs with animal handles, curious mounted bottles. But nothing he did can compare with these bizarre, half-amusing, half-creepy nightstand candlesticks.
This rare and outstanding Goddard-Townsend chest-on-chest from c. 1780 has every desirable element: perfect proportions, original fluted ball and flame finials, choice figured mahogany, original pine tree brasses, fluted quarter columns in both the upper and lower cases, original ogee bracket fee and a choice mellow patina. It also has a distinguished provenance: Ellen Talbot Baker; Alfred T. Baker (her son); Talbot Baker (his son); Mitchell M. Taradash; Israel Sack, Inc.
This American multicolored 14-karat gold and platinum Aesthetic Movement necklace dates from c. 1890. Though unsigned, it is attributed to Tiffany and Company because it is identical to one by Tiffany now in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What makes it exceptional is that each of the links is an individual creation, distinctive in color and design, and each made by hand. Though a work of art, the necklace is especially versatile as a wearable piece of jewelry.
A rare form of dressing box made by a young girl of about twelve, this beadwork piece reflects the charm and “otherness” of much English needlework of the second half of the seventeenth century. The box opens up to reveal a mirror on the underside of the lid, as well as a tufted cushion for special pieces in a young girl’s life. The use of the glass beads to construct the figures on the top ensures that the piece retains its freshness and the same intensity of color it had when it was originally made. Unlike most silk embroidery of the period, beadwork lets us glimpse a period esthetic in as close to its original state as possible. The unusually large figures of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza are charming in their vividness and naïveté, and speak, too, to an allegiance to king and country that is rarely found in works of later date. Dating to the decade of the 1670s, this work transports us to a seventeenth-century culture of comfort, patriotism, and youthful accomplishment that is at once alien, yet accessible, through the very charming work of a young girl emerging from childhood into adulthood.