The Hit

Even when the art and antique markets have slowed down, there are always some surprises in an auction.

The auction offered by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries Books and Ephemera, Fine Arts and Antiques on Nov 8 has quite a few surprises. The biggest hit was a Greek marble head of a noble female. It was estimated at $2000 to $3000, but went for $19,000 as the final hammer price. (Check lot number 405 for detail.)

The marble bust has an immediate appeal with its Greek curly hair and delicate face features. The nostrils, tucked mouth corners, rounded chin and sensual lips show a certain degree of realism. In particular, the neck of the bust was sculpted with neck lines to indicate some slack skins. But her slightly upward face displays a mixture of purity and reserve on a convincing youthful face. Looking at her stares which are straightforward, but not protruding, I feel she is almost ready for communication!

The bust was from James P. Baxter’s collection in 1894, so it is free of trouble from UNESCO 1970 Convention. James P. Baxter was the first president of the Portland Society of Arts. James was an avid collector who owned a Marie Antoinette sideboard. Like other early collectors, Mr. Baxter was also a scholar who wrote the book “The Pioneers of New France in New England”. It is possible that how the beautiful marble bust came to a home in Portland, ME one hundred years ago is not known as the early practices of antiquity acquisition mostly ignored written records, however, knowing that it was once cherished by a famous collector adds another layer of joys of collecting and appreciation.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 – 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that “his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

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