East Asia bidders stay up late to battle for $56,000 carved ivory vase, Oriental artworks

An impressive early 20th century Chinese carved ivory vase was the top lot of Garth’s Auctioneers and Appraisers’ Asian, Continental, & American Furniture, Decorative Arts, & Fine Art sale Jan. 29, 2011. The 14 1/2 inch tall vase, adorned with intricate, continuous carving of a banquet scene around the circumference, drew quite a bit of attention as well as many phone calls from Europe and Asia.

The vase was the highlight of a fresh-to-the-market group of ivories and textiles deaccessioned from a major Ohio institution which no longer found the material germane to its mission.

The Asian material, which had been collected many years before landing at the institution via a generous donation, was clearly several steps above the typical, Mid-century trinkets brought back by GIs in WWII.  The buzz surrounding the vase was understandable as the signature was discovered and many believed it to be the work of a master carver. Fourteen phone bidders were active as the vase came on the block, but the initial bidding frenzy diminished to a battle between a lady in the room and a bidder utilizing the online bidding service, ArtFact

While there was enthusiastic interest from the internet with about a dozen absentee bids placed online prior to the auction, the interested ArtFact party ultimately underbid the vase at $45,000 before a bidder from Chicago took it for a hammer price of $47,500 (a total of $55,813 with the premium). It was understood that the winning bidder had recently passed on a similar vase offered at a New York auction house since this example was signed and executed so well.

“These sales are always fun because new bidders are always in the saleroom," vice president Andrew Richmond said. "The strong buyers of some of these categories don’t mess around as exemplified by the bidder who bought the vase. She kept jumping bids, shouting out “$10,000” and then “$15,000” to move it along.  Clearly these buyers know what they want.”
Other items deaccessioned from the institution included a lot of early 20th century men’s hats. The group of three comprised a third-4th rank official’s ceremonial hat trimmed in red wadding, a 2nd rank winter hat, and a funeral hat. They sold for $1,880. An ivory puzzle ball on stand was embellished with multiple concentric layers and wonderful dragon carvings. Measuring 14 inches high, the ball itself was highly detailed, but a delicate 3 1/2 inches in diameter resting on a figural stand with pierce-carved dragon base and a small integrated puzzle ball. It sold for a strong $5,875 against a conservative estimate of $500-800.  A small collection of six opium pipes also soared past estimate to a final bid of $3,173 thanks to the array of materials including ivory, bone, wood with jade ends, cloisonné, tortoise shell veneer and horn. All but one pipe also had the detail of a clenched fist holding the bowl.  More items from the institution are scheduled for future auctions including a fine collection of snuff bottles.
Overall, the vigorous in-house crowd of bidders was complemented by the ArtFact bidders who claimed a total of 22.8 percent of lots sold throughout the day. The fine art seemed to be a big attraction to the online bidders.  Of the six lots by American Clyde Singer, a buyer from Artfact took three of the lots including the top painting from the artist.  Born in Malvern, Ohio, about 125 miles from Garth’s gallery in Delaware, Clyde Singer became known for his regionalist paintings of people at carnivals, standing in bars, on windy street corners, and celebrating holidays. As he lived part of his life in New York City and California, many of his works depict life in those areas as well. The 24 inches by 30 inches oil on board titled Snow in the City depicted the essence of Singer’s work with a group of women holding packages bustling among other busy people on a snow covered street. Dated 1954, it sold at the top end of its estimate for $11,448 and was accompanied by a photograph of the consignors with the artist in front of the painting. 

A self-portrait of the artist dated 1942 measured just 9 3/4 inches by 8 inches but doubled its estimate to reach a price of $4,519. A 12 inches by 10 inches oil titled The Letter showed two older ladies sitting on a park bench and reacting to the contents of a letter. The work dated 1956 made $3,916 while a bar scene titled "There Is No Ladies Rest Room At McSorley’s" from almost 20 years later sold for $4,583. Perhaps having such a strong grouping of the artist’s work really excited the collectors? More examples of the artist’s works will be arriving from the same collection for a future auction.
A genre scene by Evert Pieters (Netherlands, 1856-1932) portrayed a mother and two children. The 30 inches by 24 inches interior was also sold online for $9,038 – well above estimate thanks to the wonderful light in the work and the touching subject matter.  A colorful scene by California artist Fletcher Martin showed two women in black and white swimsuits on a beach. The 30 inches by 24 inches oil was dated 1955 and sold for $1,880. The Martin was one of several lots that were consigned as a result of Garth’s monthly walk-in appraisal day.  Another hotly contested lot from an appraisal day was exquisite pair of carved nephrite statues of Quan Yin with flowers. Purchased by a collector while traveling, the 13 1/2 inches high figures were consigned after being inherited by the collector’s daughter. Estimated for $1,500-3,000, they eventually sold for $7,344.
The decorative furniture and accessories fared well throughout the sale. A Standard grade walnut, burl walnut, birds-eye maple and poplar desk by the Wooten Desk Manufacturing Company of Indianapolis, Indiana sold within estimate for $8,225.  A finely carved partners desk, possibly by R.J. Horner of New York, was distinguished by its size( 89 1/2 inches long ) and elaborate carvings of lions heads and scrolls throughout. The desk sold for $5,875.  An English Regency rosewood and pine breakfast table with ormolu paw feet and mounts tripled its estimate selling for $3,173.  A pair of 19th century carved oak Louis XV style bergeres were a bit of a surprise at $2,233.
Of the carved accessories, a 20th century carved white jade sceptre was an item of interest. The remarkable ruyi with pierce carved lingzhi fruit and monkeys measured 16 inches long and sold for $5,581.Two groups of polychrome decorated carved ivory figures soared well beyond expectations, too. Dating to the first half of the 20th century, one group had four pieces each with human figures under a tree sold for $5,875. The second group was comprised of two pieces depicting Buddhist figures with attendants with one riding a foo lion, 8 1/4 inches high, and the other holding a lotus blossom, 7 inches high, sold for $4,406.  
Furthermore, a nice collection of Angolan artifacts caught the attention of multiple parties. One of three examples in the sale, a carved wooden figural staff, probably created by the Ovimbundu people, dated to 1880-1907. The 22 1/2 inches long staff was topped by a female bust with an elaborately carved coiffure consisting of three chignons with diagonal incising, an oval flattened face with tapering chin, and delicate facial scarification. The hair style and scarification mark this woman as a high status individual and the sale price of $1,645 carried the staff home.

Collected by Reverend William E. Ray and his wife while they were missionaries in Portuguese West Africa, now Angola, another lot of carved figures dating to 1881-1907 also developed into a match between a few bidders. The main figure of the group was a seated woman with elaborate coiffure, flattened face, and scarification wearing a double strand of beads identifying her as someone of high status. The carved hole under her hands may have been used as part of a fertility rite. Together with a carving of a woman walking with a vessel balanced on her head, the lot brought $2,233.


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