We asked exhibitors at the Philadelphia 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.
Nothing evokes spring and the promise of summer like butterflies flitting around the garden. From ancient times to the present, bejeweled figural jewelry of insects and birds has amused and intrigued us, and every major jeweler from around the world has delighted their clients with whimsical jewels of the flitting, creeping, and crawling. Our “garden” at the Philadelphia Antiques Show will include a selection of butterflies, bees, birds, and snakes-as well as flowers.
The paintings of fashionably dressed and elegantly posed women at leisure by Irving Ramsey Wiles (1861-1948) were as popular during his lifetime as they are today. These “esprit portraits,” as Charles H. Caffin wrote in 1907, combined the technical dexterity of Wiles’s virtuoso brushwork, a technique he learned from William Merritt Chase, with his ability to capture the charm and character of his sitters. The ambitious composition of Woman at a Table (oil on canvas, 22 by 18 inches), with its vibrant splashes of color and special effects of light, is one of Wiles’s greatest achievements.
This very rare Grafton style dwarf clock is attributed to Samuel Mulliken and was likely made in Newburyport, Massachusetts, c. 1790. Possibly the only clock of its kind with both inlaid and carved decoration, it was published in Wallace Nutting’s Furniture Treasury (vol. 2, Pl. 3425) and in his Clock Book (p. 41, No. 101).
An unfinished portrait delivers a fascinating glimpse into the artistic process of the painter. Helen Campbell, c. 1805, is Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825) at his most accomplished -a magnetic countenance with the rest of the composition barely sketched, waiting for his brush. The American portrait miniature reached its zenith during the first decade of the nineteenth century. In Philadelphia Raphaelle Peale, a reluctant portrait painter, was arguably the finest, his talent far transcending that of his father and teacher, Charles Willson Peale. Raphaelle continually faced his father’s criticism, never gaining his approval. Looking at this splendid image of Helen Campbell, it is impossible not to wonder if the rumors of the elder artist’s jealousy were indeed true.
It is rare indeed to find a group of early needlework all by the same maker, with impeccable provenance, and in the fine condition of these four pieces by Hannah Darlington of West Chester, Pennsylvania, 1785-1787. Included are her silk and wool on linen sampler, worked in 1785 and still in its original walnut frame (17 by 15 inches); a pin ball, or sewing ball, inscribed “HD 1785,” of knitted silk with a silver band; a roll-up sewing case signed “H Darlington 1787,” worked in silk Irish stitch on canvas, bound and wrapped with green silk tape, and lined with multicolored silks embroidered with floral and leaf motifs in silk; and a wallet signed “HD 1785” with Irish-stitch multicolored wool geometric motifs, bound with green woven twill tape.
This year we are featuring painted boxes at the Philadelphia Antiques Show. The example shown above, which comes from Ohio, c. 1820, incorporates painted symbols of American prosperity, including Masonic symbols, an eagle, and various patriotic motifs. Other boxes will come from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in the mid-Atlantic region. With so many different colors, shapes, and sizes, our shelves will be a kaleidoscope of patterns and hues.
Louis Comfort Tiffany’s approach to leaded glass windows was that of a painter, a natural outgrowth of his early training and his aspiration to become a professional artist. This Still Life with Peonies window (54 by 40 inches), dating from the 1890s, follows in the tradition of still-life painting. Tiffany valued representational art and the effects of perspective and chiaroscuro, and his Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company artists carefully selected textured and marbleized glass to re-create the same illusions in windows such as this.
Early eighteenth-century samplers made in some of the countries of northern Europe, notably Germany, Holland, and Denmark, can be extraordinarily sophisticated in concept, composition, and execution. An example is this rare Danish sampler of 1734 depicting an allegorical interpretation of Spring, which is very similar to a sampler depicting Autumn, made in 1732, likely by the same stitcher, that was published in Stickmustertücher Mit drei Grossen Musterbögen by Eva Maria Leszner (Rosenheim, Germany, 1985). Both Spring and Autumn feature a central female figure with many other remarkable vignettes, architectural patterns, geometric bands at the top, and two corner blocks and a grand peacock at the bottom. These samplers were executed with extremely fine needlework in a varied vocabulary of techniques and with metallic threads.
Constructed of boldly figured maple, this Chippendale fall-front desk combines quality materials, a well executed design, and fine condition. The intricately figured wood and natural patina create a feast for the eyes on what would otherwise be a fairly plain piece. Inside, balance and subtle beauty bespeak the eye and hand of a skilled craftsman. The pigeonholes are crowned by a distinctive valance of reversing cyma curves, and the cabinetmaker has gone beyond the standard design by adding a second row of drawers below the pigeonholes; when one of those drawers is pulled out, a small Quaker lock can be pressed to allow removal of one section to reveal three hidden drawers. The tall straight bracket feet with pointed spur returns and the use of Eastern white pine as the secondary wood support an attribution to northeastern Massachusetts or southern New Hampshire. A closely related desk signed by John Kimball of Derryfield and Concord, New Hampshire, and dated 1762, has been described as while “clearly the work of a country joiner, it derives its inspiration from sophisticated Massachusetts examples.”
Many nineteenth-century folk portraits, especially those of children, include pets. But generally the pet is more of a prop than a subject. In this case, however, the painting is clearly all about the dog, a water spaniel, so I’ve titled it Portrait of a Dog and His Boy. The boy is George Whitefield Wales (1836-1902) of East Randolph, Massachusetts, and the picture was painted by Joseph Whiting Stock (1815-1855). Stock painted a likeness of George’s young cousin Elisha Wales, also of East Randolph, in 1843, so it is likely that this picture was done at approximately the same time. Elisha is also shown with a water spaniel, but there the dog is more of a prop in a landscape setting (see Juliette Tomlinson, The Paintings and Journal of Joseph Whiting Stock, pp. 40, 65, fig. I:22). This large (32 by 40 inches) oil on canvas retains the original frame.
Caucasian rugs have always been popular among collectors. The dynamic properties of this Karachopf Kazak (90 by 64 inches), 1850-1875, demonstrate why these rugs remain favorites. Graphically bold and spacious, the design strikes a balance between luminous white and saturated, vivid, natural madder red. Borders, field, rosettes, box motifs, and several components of the medallion are each articulated in layers, creating a seemingly cosmological aesthetic. Though some rug enthusiasts maintain that this gestalt is evidence for an underlying iconography rather than simply ornamental, these theories remain largely within the realm of speculation. Nonetheless, the compelling combination of color and bold but precise drawing makes this piece quite accessible and intriguing to collectors and decorators alike.
Finely made from mahogany, with poplar and cedar secondary woods, this Philadelphia hanging cabinet of c. 1750 is distinctive for its quality and its unprecedented form. But what was its purpose? What could have been kept in that large cavity? It remained an enigma until a local Philadelphia collector suggested to me that it was for a wig stand and wig. Why else would it have a mirror? One removes the wig, closes the door and adjusts the fit in the mirror.
Exceptional sapphires, rubies, and colored diamonds make our pansy brooches really pop. They were made in the 1960s by the New York boutique jeweler Oscar Heyman, a firm founded in 1912 and renowned for three generations for fine craftsmanship and careful stone selection. The one with sapphires is 1 3/8 inches high.
This interesting Bucks County silk on linen sampler, with various trees, birds, and sheep around a large house with shuttered windows, is inscribed with a remarkable amount of information: “Frederica A. Stout’s sampler finished Oct 25 1825 made this work with Sally Buckley in Springtown/Springfield township Bucks County Boarded with Jacob Treichler/aged 9 years.” Not only has Frederica listed the town, township, and county where she worked the sampler, she also included the name of her teacher and the name of the person she boarded with. The eldest of the nine children of Catherine Clemens and Isaac Stout, a farmer and sawmill owner, Frederica was born on January 29, 1816, and in 1858 married Charles Christman.
The exotic Orientalist figures produced by American sculptor Allan Clark (1896-1950) in the late 1920s are what he is best known for-and are the most desired by collectors, who are drawn to the subjects he chose, their postures, and the beautiful patination. Compared to other artists, what excites me is that his work is affordable to a vast group of collectors. This bronze Woman and her Falcon embodies his Asian influence (he traveled and studied in Southeast Asia from 1924 to 1927) and is also imbued with the stylized, sinuous line of art deco.
The Philadelphia Antiques Show runs from April 26 to April 29, with a preview on April 25.