A Gaggle of Interests – Nov 15, 2009

A French drawing from Muriel Butkin Estate, offered at Aspire Auctions A French drawing from Muriel Butkin Estate, offered at Aspire Auctions

In this series, UAA team will list some of the interesting items that we have found in auctions, antique shops or eBay. Neither do we own the items nor we have the capability of examining the items in person in most cases. It mainly serves as an inventory record of what interests us (not necessarily in terms of value or investment opportunities) and possibly how much it fetches (if the result can be obtained). If you are serious about some lots, please contact the auction houses, dealers or eBay sellers directly.

1. Aspire Auctions, Nov 19, 2009. Lot 125, French, 18th Century, From Muriel S. Butkin Estate to Benefit the Cleveland Museum of Art

This auction offers the second part of the Estate of Muriel Butkin. Here was the news in August when the auction house announced the important estate sale:

Muriel S. Butkin was an important benefactor and philanthropist to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Together with her husband, the late Noah Butkin, they donated many works to the art museum over the years including an extensive collection of French old master paintings and drawings. In addition, Mrs. Butkin’s entire residual estate was left to the Cleveland Museum of Art to be sold to benefit the museum’s endowment and capital campaigns. The Butkin residence in Shaker Heights was known by curators, scholars, and collectors alike as a salon of rare distinction, mixing important artwork with fine Continental furniture, porcelains, and English silver.

The strength of Muriel Butkin’s collection is in French decorative and fine arts. This unsigned drawing is a great example of 18th century French drawing, probably from the first half when exuberant Rococo style was prominent before such a style was assimilated into New-classical style. The drawing, with black and sanguine charcoal and some white highlights is sensual and sensitive, with a Watteausque self-absorption and introversiveness. Prominent provenance always enhance the value of antiques and fine arts, as in this case.

A Carved Double Headed Eagle Arm Chair
A Carved Double Headed Eagle Arm Chair

Note, for those who are not familiar with Aspire Auctions. There is no floor bidding. The auction is conducted online solely with each lot ends in each minute. So precisely, this lot ends at  12:04 EST on Nov 19.

Also, there is an excellent exhibition of 18th century French Drawing at Morgan Library now.

2. Aspire Auctions, Nov 21, 2009 . Lot 1181, A Carved Double Headed Eagle Arm Chair

I have always been fascinated by chairs because they are the furniture which interacts with household the most. This one, according to Geo, is probably from the late 19th century. He also suggested that it may come from some fraternity club or a lodge. It is very rare to see such a gigantic-looking chair on the market although I would be a little bit hesitant since it is not a chair that can live harmoniously with other furniture. (It may fit better in a brownstone decorated with other exoticism-style objects. ) However, I do like how the armrests turn into mustached faces and  the swords holding by the double headed eagle. It is the kind of chair that instantly transform the sitter into a figure of authority and power as you inevitably put your arms on the armrests and thus assuming a dominant gesture.

Again, notice the ending time of this lot: Nov 21 15:11 EST.

Antique Chippendale Slant Desk from Eldred's
Antique Chippendale Slant Desk from Eldred's

3. Eldred’s, Nov 21, 2009. Lot 1067, Antique Chippendale Slant Desk

I have come to love the slant front desk not only because of its beauty but also its functionality. You can actually store your laptop in one of the drawers and then pull down the slant cover as your laptop workstation. This is made of cherry. It is pleasant to see the bird’s-eye maple of the interior: those small cabinets are handy in bills, cards or other modern gadgets. The hardware is, according to the auction house, suitable replacement. If so, I would examine the quality of the replacement because quite often modern reproductions are of lesser quality.

“Brown furniture is out.” One of my friends who has been dealing with antiques for decades declared one year ago. This one, with its brighter color and less ornamental design, may have its place , even in a modern apartment.

4. eBay. Music Concert Program Book, 1916 (Item number: 220481808829)

Music Program from 1916
Music Program from 1916

We all get complimentary concert program books (unless you are in China where such a program is usually charged for more than one dollar). Sometimes you take it with you after the concert, sometimes you throw it back to a basket near the exit. But seldom do we realize such a program book is in fact limited in number and may be associated with some historical events. Imagine that you have the program of the last concert by Dino Lipatti or Leonard Bernstein, or the debut program of Lang Lang. Of course, we are less keen to these modern printout now because they are filled with advertisements and insensitive designs. This one is an elegant program from 1916 for 22nd May Music Festival at Cincinnati. Dr. Ernst Kunwald was the assistant conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic between 1907 to 1912. He succeeded the legendary Leopold Stokowski and became the conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra since then and also assumed the role for the Cincinnati May Festival. During WWI, because of his Austrian heritage, he was refused to conduct in Pittsburgh because of the pressure from the Daughters of the American Revolution. He was later interned in Georgia because of his inclination of German music, which was considered propagandistic.

Thus this music program, published right before World War I, provides not just a record of week-long music event with green damask cover. It may also help music lovers to understand the repertoire of a German conductor, whose fate, one year after the event, was tightly associated with the music he loved.  It was not accidental that years later, Marian Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of a crowd of more than 75,000 on a cold Easter Day because of the pressure from the same organization: Daughters of the American Revolution; it was echoed again when “Lincoln Portrait” by Aaron Copland was canceled as the inauguration music for President Eisenhower. But in all cases, music wins in the end.

A Painting by Peter Poskas at Concept Art Gallery
A Painting by Peter Poskas at Concept Art Gallery

5. Concept Art Galley, Nov 21, 2009. Lot 732, Peter Poskas painting Outbuildings, Edge West.

It was just an accident when one year ago I spotted several paintings by Peter Poskas at the display windows of Spanierman Galleries of New York City. It was a revelation: Poskas painted the sun-bathed New England white-painted house with penetrating details and colors that shrills one’s sense of light, space and our being. The soil of New England countryside became instantly familiar and tangible even though I was standing in one of the busiest streets in Midtown Manhattan.

Like the art of Andrew Wyeth, Poskas painted the mundane scenes of the rural area where the presence and the past are integrated harmoniously and our relationship with the land and soil is more intimate. This picture, at the first sight, is not exciting. The balance between different lines and shapes, the space between subjects and viewers and the canopy of colors unified in snow all strengthen his own view: “these people belong to the land. Tey have left their mark on the land, shaped the landscape as it too has shaped their lives.”  What is lacking from the photo of the picture is the quality of light, the subtle reflection of the sky, the interaction of different subjects on their immediacy. Much as I love digital photography, the  visual power of Poskas’ art can only be beholden in person. For New Yorkers, another Peter Poskas Exhibition is shown at Spanierman Galleries. Or for Western Pennsylvanians, this one provides the opportunity.

Rare Half Plate Ivorytpes of a Man and Woman by Gurney from Cowan's
Rare Half Plate Ivorytpes of a Man and Woman by Gurney from Cowan's

6. Cowan’s Auction, Dec 9, 2009.  Lot 7, Half Plate Ivorytpes of a Man and Woman, by Gurney

I have never heard of ivorytype photograph before. This lot made me wonder how many inventions of photography had been made in the mid 19th century and sadly died out of commercial line. But these techniques, although cumbersome compared to a simple click on a digital SLR, provide some charms that seem lost  in modern photography. A recent New York Times article features tin-type photos by David Sokosh and Chuck Close has done some daguerreotype in recent years. The visual power and the uniqueness differentiate these types of works instantly from the mass-produced photos. Thus it is no wonder the  recent sales of daguerreotype photos from Cowan’s have been extremely successful.

But what is ivorytype?

Here is excerpt from the George Eastman House website:

A positive photographic print resembling a hand-painted ivory miniature, ivorytypes were first produced in the mid-1850s. As the term suggests, some of these images were made on thin sheets of actual ivory or artificial ivory made of pigmented and hardened gelatin. There were several variants of the process all of which were made using a negative. A positive collodion transparency could be toned with gold to a darker color and transferred onto the ivory support. The image could be deeply toned after being transferred. Then the collodion binder was removed leaving a delicate image of stained gold.

The American ivorytype, invented by Frederick Wenderoth in 1855, was made by lightly coloring a salted paper print. This print was then waxed, varnished, or glued image side up to the back of a sheet of clear glass using a combination of Canada balsam and beeswax. This treatment rendered the lighter areas of the picture translucent. A second sheet of plain white paper onto which was carefully painted patches of bright colors corresponding with the subject was then placed behind the photograph. These colors would show through the translucent areas of the photograph in a way that softened their intensity. A variant of the backing paper was a lightly printed duplicate of the original photograph that provided a guide for the coloring.

This particular lot features a pair of dated photos with the photographer’s name and address. It would be extremely interesting to compare such works of art with the watercolor on ivory miniature portraits which were popular a few decades earlier. The process was short-lived, thus be careful to get hooked. You may not be able to find the next ivorytype easily.

7. Silhouette cut of a Cambridge scholar, facing left, by J.B. Mason, ca 1840, From Joseph Topping’s Rubylane store

A Silhouette of a Cambridge Scholar by J.B. Mason, Offered by Joseph Topping's Rubylane Store
A Silhouette of a Cambridge Scholar by J.B. Mason, Offered by Joseph Topping's Rubylane Store

I had not previously looked twice at a silhouette, assuming in my ignorance they were just a boring cutout of a human form. The nice thing about removing yourself from the online world of Artfact, ebay and LiveAuctioneers and going to an antique shop or show is that the boundaries of your world and worldview can engage in a transformation of sorts. Such was the case at the booth of Joseph Topping at the Pier Antiques Show this weekend. Hui was drawn in by the portrait miniatures, and I, having walked past, returned to discover the lure. He was looking at a portrait miniature attributed to George Chinnery with a locket of hair on the reverse. The back wall of the booth had several handsome silhouettes, some placed on drawings of rooms. Walking up to investigate, rather than being composed of a basic black shape, the works contained layers of shading and gilding, and some a variety of colors. Once back at my computer, I can find many of them online including this one, a silhouette of a Cambridge Scholar available for $750.

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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