A Gaggle of Interests – Sept 27, 2009

A Renaissance Revival armchair offered at Leslie Hindman
A Renaissance Revival armchair offered at Leslie Hindman

In this series, Geo and I will list some of the interesting items that we have found in auctions, antique shops or eBay. We neither own the items and in most cases don’t have the capability of examining the items in person. It mainly serves as an inventory record of what interest 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. Leslie Hindman, Oct 4, 2009. Lot 219 An American Ebonized, Marquetry and Parcel Gilt Armchair

By now, you may think we are chair-maniacs if you have been following the series, so one more chair won’t matter. This Renaissance Revival chair will look great in a Victorian parlor. I usually do not favor the overly lacy decoration, but Renaissance style, despite of its inlay and gilt, is masculine enough to counter-balance the decorative pattern. Victorian furniture may not be on the top of the market, but good things are expensive, as this chair shows.

Lot 454, early Americana needlework from Cowan's auctions
Lot 454, early Americana needlework from Cowan's auctions

2. Cowan’s Auctions, Oct 3, 2009. Lot 454 Memorial Needlework of Capt. Nathaniel Kimberly

Part of the charm of Americana objects is that the history is “sewn” with it such as dower chests or frakturs. In this particular needlework, the history is literally sewn into it. Despite its naive design, it is a complicated work with ink, watercolor, silk threads. The best part of this needlework is that research has been done related to whom was mourned.

3. Swann Auction Galleries, Oct 1, 2009. Lot 30 Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote

The first edition of Capote’s first novel must have been treasured by the previous owner since the dust jacket is preserved in mint condition. Since condition and edition criteria have been met, the next question will be whether Capote is important enough in the heart of the next collector, when the same title of later edition can be bought for a few bucks. Another vote of mine will be lot 151, The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, a beautiful first issue of the first edition dated in 1850. However, if I could afford to, I would go for lot 170, the first edition of Lolita by Nabokov, one of the masterpiece novels of the 20th century. However, I would probably still read my Barnes and Noble edition at night.

Lot 84: Five Chinese Export Plates at Cowan's Auctions
Lot 84: Five Chinese Export Plates at Cowan's Auctions

4. Cowan’s Auction Oct 2, 2009. Lot 84 Five Chinese Export Plates

Export Chinese porcelain sometime feature their hybrid nature. Sometimes the shapes are European, but the decoration is still Chinese. Or sometimes the shapes are traditional, but the design reflects Chinese response to taper European tastes, as shown in these plates. According to the description, the design is after Maria Sibylla Merian. All five plates have different designs. Such unique non-patterned naturalistic pictures are not only non-indigenous, but also gave the maker, who was probably heavily influenced by ink-wash painting, a hard time to imitate the form and volume required for western arts, Plus the workshop for export was not necessarily the best since they usually worked in royal factories. Yet they at least succeeded in imitating all the “drawbacks” of those lighter-colored  tin-glazed delftware. I couldn’t figure out what kind of plant is depicted. The leaves look like those of begonia, a native flower in China which was not introduced to Europe until 1777.  It will be quite a fun puzzle to solve for future owners.

5. Pook & Pook, Oct 3, 2009 Lot 407 York County, Pennsylvania painted pine blanket chest

Stunning color from a York County blanket chest, to be auctioned at Pook & Pook
Stunning color from a York County blanket chest, to be auctioned at Pook & Pook

There are dower chests (check lot 446and 435)  in the same auction which are beautifully painted and expected to fetch huge sum. But this simple blanket chest, with the original red grained surface in mint condition, stuns me the most. In the current October issue of “Art & Antiques” magazine, Sheila Gibson Stoodley wrote that “Antique American painted furniture reveals our ancestor’s craving for colors, whimsy and liveliness,” as illustrated here in the freshness of the red paint and the clever usage of the patterned grains of the pinewood.

6. Christie’s New York, Oct 1- 2, 2009 Lot 422 Two Chinese Porcelain Similar Jarinieres

Large porcelain planters at Christie's
Large porcelain planters at Christie's

The huge success of the Doyle, Chrsitie’s and Sotheby’s Asian Sale demonstrated the high end Chinese antiques hold their values very well. One of the important factors that boosted the sales was the impeccable provenance. (Hugh Grant for Doyle and Dr. Sackler for Christie’s and Sotheby’s.) However, the medium to low end market is still lukewarm. Buyers are tired of singling out authentic items from those late period imitations. At Christie’s today, several Chinese buyers were debating whether a Ming Dynasty plate was made in HongWu period or not. One visitor commented that if it is authentic, it should easily fetch $200,000 instead of $2,000, the current low estimate. Instead of bidding  on a wild card with high risk, he pointed out that those large porcelain planters, which are placed on the registration desk but nobody thought were for sale, were safer bet. Not many would bother to imitate a turn of the century medium-level porcelain planter. So you don’t have to be an expert to judge its authenticity. Just look at these birds, the craftsmanship is excellent. But not many people want such big utilitarian things. That’s why there is a big chance that they will go cheap. Such large planters have just become recognized as being auction-worthy.  Their market values are yet to be appreciated. I notice both planters have a hole at the bottom and the inside showed some wears.  They are bulky. But what if there are hundreds of blossoming flowers coming out of it? I wondered.

7. Christie’s New York, Sept 30, 2009 Lot 103 A Federal Walnut Tall Chest-of-Drawers

Lot 103: A Federal Walnut Tall Chest-of-Drawers from Christie's
Lot 103: A Federal Walnut Tall Chest-of-Drawers from Christie's

Geo loved the restrained, yet elegant design, of this chest. The brass pulls seem to be original but we were not sure about the surface since the regular wears near the pull were missing when we examined the piece. The top drawers have simple secret locks that reminded me a similar mechanism I saw year agos in Soap Hollow furniture Show at Westmoreland Museum of American Art, indicating it is perhaps a German tradition. Well, in fact we didn’t pass the test and tried to pull the top drawers in vain. Even worse, we knew there were some locks somewhere but couldn’t find them until the staff showed us the secret: A pliable piece of wood at the bottom of the drawer which normally sticks against the body of the chest unless the drawer is lifted first and then pulled. Perhaps such a security was added against naughty kids, or for some important document. For a moment, I thought: I may not be able to own the piece, but I own its secret. That’s good enough.

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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