ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Databases have been checked and it appears that a circa 1820 walnut Swisegood corner cupboard (estimate $40,000-$60,000) set a record for the regional form at Brunk Auctions Feb. 20. Auctioneer Andrew Brunk announced the record from the podium after the towering one-piece cupboard sold to the phones for $120,750. (All selling prices include a 15 percent buyer’s premium.) “We may have missed one, but at this point it seems to be a record,” said President Bob Brunk after the sale. The cupboard by one of the South’s premier furniture makers descended in a Forsyth County, N.C., family, not far from where it was originally crafted in the early 19th century.
The cupboard’s success may be a sign that spring is in the air. “The market seemed energetic and vibrant again,” said Bob Brunk. “We saw people at this sale we haven’t seen for years.” There were other hopeful signs: sales of Chinese porcelain, Russian paintings and Oriental rugs were strong.
In the large Chinese porcelain category, 10 of the 25 lots from the Thomas English Cody collection exceeded presale estimates. Three were bowls in colors other than celadon, red or blue. It was an auspicious sign that a pair of yellow-green Imperial bowls with a Qianlong mark appeared on the cover of the sale catalog. The pair opened at $40,000 and sold to a phone bidder for $97,750. That winning bid was slightly north of the high estimate. A pair of pale yellow glazed bowls with marks for the Zhengde period started at $2,000 and escalated to a rather startling $86,250 (estimate $2,000-$4,000), the second highest Cody lot. Another bowl, this one in stunning pink with a Yongzheng mark, also opened at $2,000. It sold for $41,400, far above its humble $4,000 high estimate. A yellow lidded jar with an impressed Daognang seal, also from the Cody collection, turned a $6,000 opening bid into a $36,800 close.
Among the Chinese porcelain lots from other private collections none did better than the meiping vase that descended in the Ferdinand Howard family of Ohio. The 18th century blue and white vase, possibly Yongzheng, opened at $10,000 and sold to the phones for $43,700 (estimate $15,000-$30,000). Blooming trees, rocks, roses, butterflies and bamboo – all in blue underglaze – surrounded the white human-form vase.
Of the 135 paintings in the sale, 96 percent sold. The stars of this long category were two paintings by Serge Poliakoff (Russia, 1900-1969). The abstract expressionist was a major influence in post-World War II School of Paris and in Tachisme, an art movement devoted to the absence of form itself. Both paintings were oil on wood panel, signed lower right and reflected Poliakoff’s mature style. Phone bidders vying for Poliakoffs said they were prepared to open the paintings at $200,000, the reserve. The brightly painted Composition (1955-1956) sold for $368,000 making it the top lot of the entire sale. The other Poliakoff, a more sober, darker and later (1960) composition, brought $264,500. It was the sale’s second highest lot.
Another 20th century painting, Andrew Wyeth’s watercolor, The Road to Holiday’s Barn, completed when he was only 18 and given to a family nurse, sold within estimate for $36,800. Wyeth added an inscription, signature and date (1935) to the front of the watercolor. Also selling within estimate was the sale’s earliest painting, a portrait of Thomas Broughton (1668-1737), a wealthy Indian trader and South Carolina land owner, by Henrietta Johnston (1670-1728). Her pastel portrait of Broughton on blue laid paper with signature label verso sold to the phones for $25,300.
Soon after the February catalog was published and mailed, Brunk began receiving calls and visits from potential bidders from overseas. The object of their interest was a 15th century Florentine triangular wood panel of a kneeling angel holding an olive branch. Each side of the panel was 12 5/8 inches. The visitors, who later participated in the sale by phone, believed it to be the top of an altar and worth far more than its $1,500-$3,000 presale estimate. The carved gilt and tooled panel was the sleeper of the sale. It rose from an opening bid of $1,000 to end at $52,900. The winning bidder was on the phone from outside the U.S.A.
The total with buyer’s premium for the two-day sale was $2,669,207.
The next sale by Brunk Auctions will be March 29 at the Fine Arts Center at Salem Academy, Winston-Salem, N.C. Featured will be the collection of Tom Gray, consummate collector, patron of the arts and benefactor of Old Salem and the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts.
Brunk Auctions is located at 117 Tunnel Road, Asheville, N.C. For more information, visit www.brunkauctions.com or call 828-254-6846.
Photo courtesy Brunk Auctions.
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