There seem to be more American Art and Antiques around lately than there has been in some time. I hope this is a good sign—one of renewed interest. Compared with European (and I guess even Asian) art and antiques, they are a good value, at least that’s what Dean Levy of Levy Galleries in Manhattan told an NYU class I was attending this past weekend. (If you go to the new American Wing at the Met, don’t miss the far east wing that is Levy Galleries). This is because only American’s collect them.
Not far from the Met and Levy’s, Doyle auctioned a nice array of American paintings today. Notables from the sale include two works by Albert Bierstadt, Wooded Landscape with Clearing and a Butterfly. Curiously the small butterfly sold for the same amount as the impressive landscape, $25,000. The first lot of the American paintings, James McDougal Hart American, Cattle and Sheep in a Landscape seemed like a good value at $4,375.00. Even a small Hart at a gallery would likely be priced at more than $10,000.
The highest-priced lot among the American paintings was by Richard Edward Miller, Mimi (Woman in a Green Dress), which brought 314,500. Also notable was John McAuliffe’s Hugh Grant Riding in Central Park, which brought $34,375.
An renewed interest in the public for American paintings are one thing, and furniture is another, however. Two sales this weekend will test the waters for this market. The hammer went down on the American paintings at Doyle amidst a backdrop of sideboards, chests and Chippendale chairs. A bright gallery of art a few days previous, mahogany, walnut and cherry will soon fill the Doyle galleries with a forest of furniture.
I couldn’t see much as everything was piled in the center, but I did take note of one Federal inlaid mahogany sideboard estimated at $3,000 to $5,000, about twice the cost, but as far as antiques go, incomparably superior to this new one at Ethan Allen. This one at Stickley doesn’t reveal a price, but I’d guess a lucky buyer will get to put their Thanksgiving turkey on a real Federal sideboard from Doyle– for the same amount or less.
Freemans will also host a preview this coming weekend for a sale of American Furniture and decorative arts. If you live in New York, might I suggest the Megabus which can sometimes get you there for less than lunch for two at McDonald’s. Browsing the online catalog, I spotted a pair of Chippendale carved mahogany side chairs. They don’t say “style,” so I first assumed they’re being sold as period, but in the description the provenance says 1960s. It’s unclear whether they are period chairs owned in the 1960s by Mrs. Betty Anderson, or if they are reproductions from the 1960s. Inspecting them in person is always a good idea. A good reference book on the topic that was recommended to me by Philip Zimmerman, who taught the American Furniture class at NYU is American chairs: Queen Anne and Chippendale, by John T. Kirk. It arrived in the mail today (somehow even though there wasn’t mail because of Veterans Day—must have been UPS). UPDATE FROM FREEMANS: I received a call from Freemans that indicated these chairs are not period. They are likely early 20th century reproductions. It always helps to inspect items in person!!!
As far as furniture goes, outside of condition there are two attributes that can make a piece more valuable. The first is a makers label. Without a label, it can only be “style” or “school of.” In unique cases experts can examine construction techniques to assertain an attribution, but there’s nothing as sure as a label. The second thing, and this has been true as long as American antiques have been collected, the provenance of an early American president or founder can add significantly to the price, if not value.
Take this neoclassical drop-front secretary being offered by Sloans and Kenyon. This sort of thing might pass through auction with little fanfare, but this one was apparently owned by President James Madison and so is estimated to bring as much as $100,000. Really not much when you consider there are maybe five others with the same stature in American history, but a lot more than you would have to pay for a similar desk.