Sunday, September 28, 2008

Auction Watch

What is this - one of only 64 known versions (tsk, tsk) of the painting "The Peaceable Kingdom" failed to sell at a recent Christie's auction (estimated value $4 million to $6 million USD). Are the uber rich feeling the pinch of the market crash, just like the rest of us poor schmucks whose 401(k) plans have tanked while the Wall Street Whizzes pissed all over us, laughing all the way to their numbered Swiss bank accounts? Ah, gee, poor babies. Even the Sackler Trust is divesting some of its fine collection - they say that it is to acquire capital in order to explore possible new purchases (ahem). Yeah, right. The world of Christie's and Sotheby's fine art and collectibles auctions are not for the likes of yours truly. But it's fun reading about them, sort of like reading about the discovery of new life on Venus or Pluto. From The New York Times Antiques Lions Gather With Lambs at Christie’s and Sotheby’s By WENDY MOONAN Published: September 25, 2008 At Christie’s and Sotheby’s It’s a big week for Edward Hicks at the auction houses. Christie’s had a version of his allegorical painting “The Peaceable Kingdom” (1835-40) for auction on Thursday. Estimated at $4 million to $6 million, it didn’t sell. On Friday Sotheby’s will have a smaller, earlier one, from the collection of Edward Peerman Moore, a naval commander in the Pacific theater in World War II who died in 1968, and his wife, Barbara Bingham Moore, who worked during the war as a decoder for the cryptography department of the Navy. She died this year. The 127-lot sale is expected to total $7 million. The Moores’ “Peaceable Kingdom” is dated 1829-30. On the painting’s left side Quakers hold banners proclaiming peace. On the right a sheep, fox, cow and leopard surround a child hugging a lion. (Later versions have more animals.) The picture has its original frame with an inscription in Hicks’s hand. “There are 64 known versions of the painting but only five with this particular composition, and two of them are in museums,” said Nancy Druckman of Sotheby’s. The Moore collection also features antiques from all the major colonial cabinetmaking centers. Highlights include, from Philadelphia, two sets of fine Queen Anne side chairs and a rare Queen Anne compass-seat footstool; from Massachusetts, a Chippendale mahogany chest-on-chest and Simon Willard wall clock; from New York, a spider-leg drop-leaf table; from Rhode Island, a Chippendale mahogany block-front desk and bookcase and several colorful maritime paintings by Thomas Chambers. (On Saturday the Philadelphia Museum of Art will open “Thomas Chambers, 1808-1869: American Marine and Landscape Painter.”) For Lot 20 Sotheby’s removed the upholstery from a Philadelphia wing chair, from around 1770, so collectors could study its serpentine frame and flaring wings. “People love to see the inside,” said Erik Gronning, an Americana specialist at Sotheby’s. “The chair is in amazing shape. There is no significant restoration.” He said it would have been considered a status symbol in its day: “It has bold claw feet, C-scroll arms, a high crest and strongly carved shells on the knees.” And, most important, it hasn’t been messed with. “Mrs. Moore left things as she found them, whatever condition they were in,” Mr. Gronning said. The estimate is $300,000 to $800,000. SACKLER’S CHINESE AT AUCTION Theow H. Tow, deputy chairman of Christie’s Americas and Asia, has announced an auction of 150 works of Chinese art from the Arthur M. Sackler collections in a single-owner sale at Christie’s in New York on March 18. Mr. Tow said the archaic jades, bronze vessels, ceramics, weapons, pieces of classical furniture and classical paintings had been in storage for years. “We have a good working relationship with the trustees of the Arthur M. Sackler Collections Trust, and we will be part of the process of picking which things go into the sale and which will be loaned to other institutions,” he said. The sale is expected to raise $4 million. Dr. Sackler (1913-1987), a New York research psychiatrist who made his fortune in medical advertising, medical trade publications and over-the-counter drugs, collected widely and developed a strong taste for Chinese art. He was also a philanthropist, endowing galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Princeton University, the Smithsonian and the Royal Academy in London. He established museums at Harvard and at Beijing University. The trust, which includes members of the Sackler family, said it was divesting “to consolidate and redefine their holdings of art from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections” and was “selling this particular group of objects in order to explore options to make appropriate acquisitions.” As a preview Christie’s is showing, by appointment, “Birds and Ducks,” a set of four large hanging scrolls by the painter Bada Shanren (1626-1705). Christie’s estimates the set will sell for $300,000 to $500,000. “Bada is widely known — the Met has a couple of his paintings — and our scrolls are in very good condition,” said Elizabeth M. Hammer, Christie’s specialist in Chinese paintings. “The ink is not very faded, and the scrolls are satin, so the color didn’t change.” A son and grandson of painters, Bada wanted to be a poet and painter, but as a member of the Ming imperial family, he had to flee to a monastery for safety when the Manchus took control in 1644. He served as a Buddhist priest for 30 years, then left the monastery to paint. He was eccentric, perhaps mad, which may or may not explain the purposeful ambiguity in his work. The scrolls at Christie’s depict lotus, plantain and bamboo in a rocky setting populated by birds in different poses. “Glaring eyes, the ‘white eyes’ of anger, stare out from fish, birds and animals,” Richard M. Barnhart writes about Bada’s style in “Master of the Lotus Garden: The Life and Art of Bada Shanren” (Yale University Press). “Fish are transformed into birds, rocks into lotus, ducks into plantain, and a bleak impassioned world of exiles in their own country is given form.” Mr. Barnhart continues: “Trees are stunted and broken, like men’s lives, and the lotus holds within itself virtue, redemption and rebirth in another realm.” Now widely admired in the West, Bada was only rediscovered by the Chinese after the fall of the Manchus in 1911. Mr. Barnhart called him a “major inspiration for Chinese masters of our time.”

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