A Gaggle of Interests – Jan 3, 2010

William Mathew Prior's Washington Portrait on glass, at Bonahms
William Mathew Prior's Washington Portrait on glass, at Bonahms

In this series, the UAA team will list some of the interesting items that we have found in auctions, antique shops or eBay. We neither own the items or have the capability of examining the items in person in some 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. Bonhams, New York, January, 27, 2010, Lot 1125, portrait of George Washington, reverse painting on glass by William Mathew Prior

With so many events in one week at New York City (five antiques shows and four sales from Chritie’s, Sotheby’s and Bohams) , it is hard to select just a few items. But since Americana is the theme of the week, nothing is more iconic than the portrait of George Washington, even better on glass.

Prior sometimes painted in a more primitive style, yet sometimes he painted in a more serious mood after the authorized style.  Based on the book “Some American Primitives: A Study of New England Faces and Folk Portraits“, perhaps the first book on American primitive portraiture, the book author Clara Endicott Sears, founder of Fruitlands and Wayside Museum, visited Prior’s son when he was nearly 90 years old. He commented that his father “often painted portraits on glass, especially the portraits of noted characters such as George Washington and Matha Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Theordore Parker and the like, and framed them in narrow glit frames and sold them. People seemed to like them and were willing to pay several dollars for them.” Famous for his flat treatment of children, Prior ground his own paints, which do not fade through ages. It is this flatness kept in brilliant colors that makes him one of the most sought-after primitive painters in America, but the trips were not friendly on bodies, and eventually Prior slowed down and began to paint famous portraiture on glass, which did not require traveling.  We will update this lot in the preview to see whether the narrow gilt frame is still with the glass.

2. Bonhams, New York, January, 27, 2010, Lot 1065, A Chinese Export painted paper fan on brisé sandalwood sticks and guards mid 19th century

If the interests in Chinese export porcelains has only risen recently because of its mass quantity and abundant availability, this painted paper fan, is something unique to behold. The Chinese export porcelains, besides the patterns and shapes, are for utilitarian purposes. A painted paper fan, however, delicate and fragile, was more than just a luxury household item.  The paintings on this fan are quite interesting. On one side, the three harbor scenes were painted in a primitive Westernized style;  on the other, lush flora and beautiful birds crowded in a continuum space, as it has always been favored in Chinese traditional art. Flowers and birds usually carry symbolic meanings. In this particular lot, magpies on plum flowers is pronounced as “Xi Shang Mei Shao”, which also means “may happiness come to you”. A close examination through the picture reveals that the paper was damaged and the whole picture has been  pasted together like solving a puzzle.  Nevertheless, it is one of the rare Chinese  export items which has a unique combination of Western flavors and Chinese culture.

A Large Blue and White Charger at Christie's
A Large Blue and White Charger at Christie's

3. Christie’s, Jan 21 – 25 2010. Lot 435, A large blue and white “Bacchus” dish

Roughly speaking, Chinese export porcelains can be divided into four categories: Chinese shape, Chinese motif; Chinese shape, Western motif; Western shape, Chinese motif and Western Shape and Western motif. As you may have expected, the prices of the last type have increased substantially, especially in China, where ever-grown patriotism with new-found  wealth begin to explore this  totally new field of antiques:  exotic products from ancestors.  Such porcelains are so rare in China that the Chinese scholars have to rely on museums of Western world and their scholarly publications. It’s no wonder such types are unfamiliar in China because export activities were discontinued from the late Qing Dynasty onward so that such knowledge,  taught from apprenticeship and workshops, was lost until very recently.

Shallow chargers with wide rim like this lot were designed for Western markets. The purple-ish blue, often found blue and white porcelains of Yuan Dynasty when the blue paste was still imported, was revived during the Qing Dynasty even though porcelains were made of indigenous materials. Here,  the maker also wanted to imitate Delftware with perhaps an overkill excellence. The central picture, with Bacchus holding a goblet, wearing a grapevine laurel, would not be possibly drawn without reference pictures supplied by the Western customers. Overall, it was a successful try. There is a strong sense of linear perspective, although the rather crudely- drawn figure indicated that the artisan still had a hard time to adapt to a more realistic western style in figure drawing.  However, whatever missing in the anatomy of the figure is saved with the stunning  scrolling vine: the rhythms and the flow – a mannered naturalism in which restrain and discipline of design plays harmoniously with depiction of the sprawling nature,  reveals the confidence and skill of its Chinese maker. This charger was from a famous collection (Leo and Doris Hodroff) and illustrated in the book Made in China: Export Porcelain from the Leo and Doris Hodroff Collection at Winterthur. A similar piece can be found at the British Museum and in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Because of the wide world-wide audience of the Christie’s sale, we expect a fierce competition on this lot.

4. Replica Bronze Statue Sculpture of Diana by Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Visitors to the Philadelphia Museum of Art are presented with a 13 foot high figure of Diana as they gaze towards the top of the grand stairway inside the museum. One might assume the sculpture was created for the building in the 1920s, like the group of polychrome terracotta sculptures in the tympanum of the pediment on the North Wing, which was designed by sculptor C. Paul Jennewein and installed in 1933. Actually, Diana was placed there in 1932 and once stood atop Madison Square Garden in New York, Stanford White having been shot and killed just below its arrow. The figure was originally gilded and fitted with a billowing drapery to catch the wind. On her 300-foot-high tower, Diana became the highest point in the city and was the area’s first statue to be lit at night by electricity. This was actually the second Diana perched atop the tower, the first, an 18-foot version, was removed because it was disproportionately large and unable to rotate in the wind. Rather than in Philadelphia, you’ll find this replica of Diana at the Metropolitan Museum of Art gift shop. There’s a Diana by St. Gaudens at the Met too, a half-size model of the second version, produced posthumously in 1928 from an original cement cast owned by the White family. This version is just over 15” high and constructed of bonded bronze.

5.  Cowan’s Auction, January 8, 2010. Beatrice After Guido Reni (Italian, 1565-1648)Beatrice After Guido Reni (Italian, 1565-1648) at Cowan's

Paintings of Beatrice after Guido Reni come to market with some frequency.  A sixteen-year-old Beatrice Cenci—with the help of her stepmother, Lucrezia, and her brother Giacomo—arranged the murder of her father, the cruel and sadistic Count Cenci, who had persecuted Beatrice and probably raped her. After being absolved of her crimes by Pope Clement VIII, Beatrice was executed. For the people of Rome she became a symbol of resistance against the arrogant aristocracy, which is why I don’t mind having a portrait of this poor woman hanging on a wall. This painting seems to be in  good condition with an attractive carved and pierced gesso and gilt frame. Bidding starts at $1100.

6. An American Empire Sofa, eBay item  260531243374

Some time ago I authored a post title Addams Family Empire discussing whether a sofa used on the set of the 1960s TV show was period or reproduction. A similar sofa has surfaced on eBay and the sellers there seem to have determined that it’s from the first quarter of the 19th century. I’m not going to make any further assessments of the age, but it certainly is an attractive sofa. It looks like it’s in need of recovering, however and that can be expensive. It would be hard to justify the $4,450.00 buy it now price on a sofa that had new or at least usable fabric, making the asking price here off the deep end. If it’s something you want to keep forever and have the money, go ahead. Otherwise you can find sofas of equal quality and better value going through major auction houses and shows including lot 218 at Christie’s sale January 21-25, Circa 1825 and estimated at $3,000-$5,000 with great fabric!

An American Empire Sofa

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at) gmail.com

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