A Gaggle of Interests – Nov 22, 2009

To Kill A Mockingbird, a book great to read yet you may not want to read
To Kill A Mockingbird, a book great to read yet you may not want to read

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. Leland Little Auction, Dec 5, 2009. Lot 682, To Kill A Mockingbird, First edition

Sometimes format is content, as in the case of the first edition book collecting. There is no question that one can find To Kill A Mockingbird from Amazon.com or Alibris.com for a few bucks, the FIRST edition means a lot to collectors. This reminds me of my experience in a used book store in Cambridge, Ohio a few years ago where I spotted the first edition of In Cold Blood for fifteen dollars. Later, when talking with the expert from Swann Galleries, I was told that dust cover is an important part of the book condition, which unfortunately is missing for my book. And then among the first edition there was a smaller number which were first print. And then among the first print there were the so-called first 250 books signed by Truman Capote. Apparently mine was not that rare, but even so I decided to read only from the book that I bought from Borders.

In some way, To Kill A Mockingbird was a great companion for In Cold Blood. Both were written about the same time and Truman, a close friend of Lee, was the prototype of Dill.  Even though the book is one of my favorites, I would be happy with any version. But I would be equally interested to learn how to identify a TRUE first edition. The dust cover was not that great, indicating it was not just a display book from previous owners. But first edition books have a fairly standardized price range from existing auction records. I am just wondering whether I can still find one from that cramped used bookstore in Ohio.

Chinese Scholar Rock
Chinese Scholar Rock

2. Leland Little Auction, Dec 5, 2009. Lot 29, Chinese Scholar Rock

Chinese Literati prefer unadorned nature and sought the virtue and symbolism from objects such as plum, bamboo and pine, wood and rock. A scholar rock was an integral part of their intellectual world, from which they sought inspiration. A lot of these rocks are natural, with twists and holes that rivals the most contemporary sculpture with respect to expressiveness and energy. The essence of such a stone is that it is purely natural creation, with all the faults and ruggedness. An undiscerning eye may pass by it without any emotional response, but a true intellectual could find the beauty under its simplicity and be able to communicate with the nature through such a stone. But later on, there was a tendency toward the rare and graceful forms that the shape of the rock is more important than its unadorned authenticity. Thus carving on scholar rocks was not that infrequent although such carving would try to imitate the effect under the god’s hand.

Here is one of a few Chinese scholar rocks offered in this auction. More likely than not, it was enhanced by chisel and hammer. Notice how small it is! Just seven inches tall, yet it looks like those gigantic rocks along the Hudson River. It sprawls and expands, with a rhythm of upward from those curved vertical lines. One does not need to know much about the traditional literati culture to appreciate a stone that contains a universe.

Important Still Life Painting by Paul Lacroix
Important Still Life Painting by Paul Lacroix

3. Leland Little Auction, Dec 5, 2009. Lot 191, Paul Lacroix,  Still Life

At Doyle Auction this Thursday, forty something still life once in the collection of David Hull were auctioned. Among them was a very tiny Paul Lacroix. It was probably painted in the 1850’s when Pre-Raphelite school influenced still-life painters to place fruits in the natural setting. No matter whether you are counting the number of strawberries or the size of the board, the final hammer price without premium ($4,500) is indeed astonishing.

This one is in totally different artistic taste. The auction auction has given detailed description on this painting:

oil on canvas, signed at lower left “P. LaCroix,” with stencil on the verso reading “S. N. Dodges / Artist & Painter’s / Supply Store / 189 Chatham cor(ner) / of Oliver St. / N. York” (Dodges used this stencil in the 1850s), housed in the likely original gilt wood frame. Paul Lacroix is believed to be French or French-Swiss in origin, but lived in New York City from 1858-1866. He lived in Hoboken, NJ for the remaining 1860s, but returned to New York City where he died in 1869. While he painted several landscapes, he was a very prolific still life painter with many of his works, this one included, illustrating Severin Roesen’s influence. In fact, in Gerdts’ “Painters of the Humble Truth: Masterpieces of American Still Life 1801-1939,” he points out that Lacroix did not appear in New York City directories until after Roesen left the city. Therefore, the question has been raised that Lacroix may have painted under Roesen’s direct tutelage. This picture is more evocative of Roesen’s works than later still lives by Lacroix. It would have appealed to the wealthy classes with its lush depiction of grapes, segmented oranges, cherries, berries, and peaches piled into a pyramidal arrangement – with the stylish dining accoutrements of ceramic baskets and dishes – capped off by an open bottle of bubbly and two elegant champagne flutes.

A small still life by Paul Lacroix was sold at Doyle Auction for $4500 plus premium
A small still life by Paul Lacroix was sold at Doyle Auction for $4500 plus premium

The formal and luxury arrangement, developed after the Civil War, was antithesis of the austerity of Peale’s still life even though both share sort of triangular design, something indigenous to American. Almost every known still life painter from George Henry Hall to William Mason Brown had done a few luxury large paintings, although it is Roesen who we associate with the style. Such a large work by Lacroix is probably a commissioned work, more or less to reflect buyer’s aesthetic taste. But it also reflects the adaptability and facility that Lacroix had in still life. Personally, I would prefer a more sombre, less elaborate design and perhaps a few less items; but it won’t matter if one indulges oneself in one of such feasts at least once.

4. Book:  “African Art: A Century at the Brooklyn Museum“, from Brooklyn Museum

Although famous within academic world, the African Art collection in the Brooklyn Museum has not been exposed to the public to the degree it deserves. In fact, with more than 5,000 items in the collection, it is the LARGEST collection of African art in American museums.  The Brooklyn Museum is also the pioneering art institute which first exhibited African Art as art. This catalog is long overdue, partly because it is perhaps very hard to select only 130 items out of the vast collection. But it will serve as a great reference who value and collect African Art. Here is some information on the book:

Fragment of a Head from Brooklyn Museum, fetured in the book African Art: A Century at the Brooklyn Museum
Fragment of a Head from Brooklyn Museum

This magnificent volume showcases some 130 highlights from Brooklyn’s world-renowned collection of African textiles, ceramics, jewelry, masks, and figures from more than fifty different cultures. The book features a survey of the collection’s century-long history by William C. Siegmann, its curator emeritus; an introductory essay on African art by scholar Joseph Adande; a fully illustrated catalog section with individual commentaries on the works; an exhibition list; and a bibliography.

My favorite item in the collection is a super naturalistic terra-cotta head portraiture, from the famous Robin Martin collection. Most of us tend to think of totem, mask and modernism with regard to African Art, but this sensitive rendering of a king shows the creative prowess of a great continent does not fall into one rigid category.

5. Kaminski Auctions, Nov 28, 2009. Lot 2355, “The Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge”, lithograph

In three weeks ago, there was one Currier & Ives lithograph of the Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge I have included in the series, Kaminski’s Thanksgiving sale includes another one, with a slightly different angle. This one, with the total elimination of the Falls and the foreground people who give the sense of scale, is simply a manifestation of admiration of engineering advancement.

Little is known about Fred H. Holloway, who was active in the mid 1850’s to 1860’s and drew a large number of images of the Falls. There is a wonderful reference book on the subject of prints related to Niagara. Impressions of Niagara: The Charles Rand Penney Collection written by Christopher W. Lane is the most comprehensive book which includes more than 700 items. Also, his blog Antique Prints Blog is a pleasure to read and I am a loyal reader.

Holloway, "The Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge", lithograph by Endicott & Co., published by W.O. Buchanan, 1853, Offered from Kaminski Auctions
Holloway, “The Niagara Railway Suspension Bridge”, lithograph by Endicott & Co., published by W.O. Buchanan, 1853, Offered from Kaminski Auctions

6. Princes in the Tower, attributed to  Herbert Blande Sparks

One of the most fascinating story in England, princes in the tower has been featured in books, movies and paintings. Perhaps the most famous one is painted by Millais.

Princes in the Tower, attributed to Herbert Bland Sparks
Princes in the Tower, attributed to Herbert Bland Sparks

This one, offered at the urban art market, is not an imitation of Millais, but perhaps inspired and influenced  by his painting.

Herbert Blande Sparks is the “Victorian” Victorian painter, whose typical works involve pretty women in English Garden in colorful and light pallet, some of which definitely bear Pre_Raphelite style.  I have seen a few watercolor paintings, in which portraits of Classical & Victorian figures often ladies and children were painted with charm and warmth to scenes of family life whilst at other times capturing an air of classic beauty. But in this painting, he adapted a much darker color pallet and made a successful contrast between dandy young princes in velvet clothes and the menacing, stern tower interior. The label leads to a gallery in London, UK. John Archibald Percy Daborn, born in 1883, was the son of John Daborn and Sarah Spicer who married in 1881.  JAP was a picture framer maker and fine arts dealer in Mill Hill, London and died in 1953.

Although there are not many literature or records about Sparks, from a sale record from Christie’s in 2001 (sale 9281), Sparks was probably active from 1892 to 1916. Thus Sparks and Daborn probably knew each other. According to this source, a great-nephew of the artist, the artist had the habit of putting his paint brushes in his mouth which caused his early death by poisoning in 1916 at the age of 46.

7. Treadway Toomey Gallery, Dec 6, 2009.  Lot 168, E.T. Hurley etching, market scene possibly Findlay market

Because of the mistake in the artfact.com system, when I first checked the image of this lot, it was described as a Rookwood plaque. I have never seen something that monochrome in scenic view plaque before and immediately contacted with the auction house. Then it turned out this is an etching. (The lesson learned from here is that always to check the catalog from the auction house in addition to the auction platform website.)

E T. Hurley's etching from Treadyway Toomey Gallery
E T. Hurley's etching from Treadyway Toomey Gallery

Hurley was one of the most prolific artists in Rookwood. According to this source from Treadway Gallery:

Outside the Pottery, Hurley spent much of his time creating hundreds of etchings; highlighting scenic views of Cincinnati including downtown landmarks, the shoreline of the Ohio River, bustling outdoor markets, and the climbing rooftops of Mount Adams. In the prologue to one of his published collections of poetic etchings, Impressions of Cincinnati (1924), Russell Wilson proclaimed Hurley “the etcher laureate of Cincinnati.”

It is hard to examine what techniques were used in this etching without personal examining it, but the background half-tone and rich texture may indicate that Hurley may have used dry-point or left film of ink on some certain areas to create a paintingly effect. Both this one and the one (lot 184  on Deb 6 by Treadway) are very attractive. They fully demonstrate the artistic faculty and talent behind those Rookwood vases, and how deeply the cit of Cincinnati and its surrounding had influenced the artist.

8. Signed first edition book,  Les Americains by Robert Frank, at Skyline Books NYC

Skyline Bookstore offers First Edition of Signed book by Robert Frank: The American
Skyline Bookstore offers First Edition of Signed book by Robert Frank: The American

We stopped by Academy Music last night to find more old recordings put onto compact disc. I become bored quickly looking at CDs (although I love listening to them), so I wandered across the street and into Skyline Books NYC. There was some hostility to my entry as I was swatted by a gruff-looking gray and white cat I attempted to pet. “He’s had a long day at work,” the shopkeeper said. “In the morning he’ll be bright-eyed and bushy tailed.” The store has a pretty good selection of art books and auction catalogs you may not see everywhere else, along with some magazines, playbills and other items. There’s also a number of rare books including a first-edition signed copy of Les Americains by Robert Frank. Yes, it’s in French and priced at $8,000, although a sign welcomes reasonable offers. As you may know from reading these pages, or from a general awareness of the world around you, there’s an exhibit of Frank’s work at the Met that ends January 3, 2010. I did a quick check and found first-edition another copy online. This one, unsigned and priced at almost $4,000. There’s a signed German version on ebay (item 200378193824) for $1,445.00. The shopkeeper said he thought the book’s value would increase after the artist’s death. He also noted the French version contains some language that may be construed as anti-American and the notion that Mr. Frank didn’t really like that. He personally prefers the American version with text by Jack Kerouac. If that’s your inclination, there’s a 50th Anniversary edition available for around $40. But a first-edition is a first edition. The store website is www.skylinebooks.com. They are located at 13 W 18th Street 212-759-5463.

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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