ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Imagine the grandeur of an auction held onsite at Palazzo Borghese, home to the noble and Vatican-connected Borghese clan. Take it a step further and pretend the auction offerings include actual artworks and other family treasures from the stately Roman palace and library. Just such a thing happened in 1892, after the Bank of Italy crashed and a turn in their fortunes compelled the Borghese family to liquidate many of their elegant holdings.
Myers Fine Art will revisit the fabled 19th-century event when it presents three paintings
and 11 vellum books and manuscripts from the celebrated Borghese sale as the highlight of their Sunday, March 8 auction. All 14 items can be traced directly to their American purchaser of 123 years ago, Bradford DeWolf, an ancestor of the prominent DeWolf family of Rhode Island. The consignment comes from the Estate of Dorothy DeWolf (1930-2006) of Washington, D.C.
The Borghese lots add a gilt edge and historical cachet to Myers’ 560-lot European & Asian Antiques Auction, said co-owner Mary Dowd. “The Borghese auction was attended by a number of wealthy Americans who had the money to buy the incredible works of art in the sale. They were names you would know, even today,” she said.
Lot 150 is a large 1756 folio book, with a bookplate from the Borghese family library, titled Tibaldi E’Abbiti. It includes Giampietro Zanotti illustrations of original paintings by Pellegrino Tibaldi and Niccolo Abbati held in the collection of the Instituto di Bologna. A 1478 incunabula has provenance from Prince Camillo Borghese (1775-1832), 6th Prince of Sulmona and husband of Pauline Bonaparte. Lot 151, an oil-on-canvas portrait of a 17th-century Italian knight in armor and with a sash bearing the Maltese Cross, is inscribed with Latin text. When translated, the writing indicates the knight fought bravely in Malta and died in a naval battle in 1625. The 28.7 by 23.2in painting is estimated at $5,000-$10,000. Other artworks include Lot 152 and 153, both of which are referenced in the 1892 Borghese sale catalog.
The auction presents an extraordinary opportunity to acquire Chinese antiques from the Dr. J. Ward Hall collection, which originated in Shanghai in the 1870s. An American dentist whose patients included the Emperor of China, Dr. Hall “had a connoisseur’s eye,” said Dowd. “We also believe, based on the quality and remarkable workmanship, that some of his pieces may have been gifts from the Chinese Imperial Family.”
In a 1913 book titled Letters Written While on a Collecting Trip in the East Indies, co-authors Thomas Barbour of Harvard University and his wife Rosamond retrospectively described the interior of Hall’s Shanghai residence as “filled to overflowing with attractive things.” Among the objects mentioned are a “magnificently carved” 15ft screen from an Imperial palace, embroideries that are “simply beyond words,” old china and porcelain, bronze incense burners, oil vessels, and the “piece de resistance,” a 12 by 6ft heavy silk brocade embroidered with the central image of a huge dragon.
Upon Dr. Hall’s death in 1908, his estate passed to his sister, Mrs. Clifford Hall Jordan,
who lived in one of the grand Gilded Age mansions on Chicago’s North Shore. The Chinese collection remained in family hands through several successive generations. Myers will auction many early, very rare Chinese porcelains, furniture and fine textiles from the Hall-Jordan collection, including Lot 103, an 18½-inch Chinese Kangxi Period blue and white yen yen porcelain vase. Dating from the 18th century or earlier, it is hand-decorated with rich blue and white depictions of people and domestic scenes, and is estimated conservatively at $2,000-$4,000.
A collection of Chinese jewelry includes a jade, amethyst and coral graduated necklace of carved, openwork beads with a suspended pendant. It is entered with a $600-$800 estimate.
From the estate of Countess Consuelo Crespi (1928-2010), a trendsetting American-born model and former Vogue editor who married into Italian nobility, comes an 18th or 19th-century serpentine four-drawer mahogany chest. Estimate: $1,000-$2,000. The aristocratic connection continues with antiques from the estate of Countess Mara (Russian, 1915-2010), whose ancestors included members of both the Tchernycheff-Bezobrasoff and Romanov families. Among the prized pieces from this estate are four beautifully detailed miniature paintings of Russian nobles, including a Romanov lady in velvet and pearls. Estimates range from $2,000-$4,000 per portrait.
Two impressive sterling silver trays will cross the auction block. Lot 224, a Persian hand-chased example, boasts .90 silver content and weighs 62.7 ozt. It is hallmarked in Farsi, as it was part of the estate of Fakhri Nemazee (1923-2004), one of Iran’s first female entrepreneurs. Nemazee married into an influential, philanthropic family that has been likened to the Rockefellers and Carnegies. The tray is estimated at $800-$1,200. The other silver tray, Lot 172, dates to 1862. With finely cast handles and a deep rim, it sits on four scrolled shell-form feet and is engraved with the elaborate family crest of Sir Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy, an orphan born in Bombay who later made a fortune in the cotton and opium trade. In recognition of his many charitable acts, Jejeebhoy was knighted in 1842 and subsequently was dubbed a baronet by Queen Victoria. A large and substantial production, the tray weighs 217 ozt and is estimated at $4,000-$6,000.
Lot 195 consists of a pair of German sterling silver jousting knights on horseback, with reticulated, jewel-set foliate bases cast in a naturalistic form with frogs and lizards. The figures have a total weight of 114.7 ozt and are estimated at $4,000-$6,000 for the pair.
Also featured in the sale are items from the Hamptons estate of novelist Peter Matthiessen (American, 1927-2014), including a Buddhist Red Tara painting on fine hand-woven silk; a pair of 7ft-tall Oscar Bach lamps, a French Napoleonic Era portrait of military officer Jacques Darnaud (1758-1830) – whose pegleg suggests a war injury – plus several exceptional Oriental and Persian knotted-silk rugs; and a wine collection (including Chateau Lafite) from the estate of a Manhattan cardiologist. All of the wine has been carefully stored in a climate-controlled environment.
Myers Fine Art’s Sunday, March 8, 2015 auction of European and Asian antiques will commence at 12 noon Eastern Time (please note: clocks move forward one hour for Daylight Saving Time in the early hours of March 8). A preview will be held from 10-6 on Saturday, March 7, and from 10 a.m. till noon on auction day. The gallery is located at 1600 4th St. North in St. Petersburg, FL 33704. All forms of bidding will be available, including live via the Internet through LiveAuctioneers and Invaluable. For additional information, call 727-823-3249 or e-mail email@example.com. Online: www.myersfineart.com.