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Purchase Story

An Artistic Spring in the Sales

Karla Klein Albertson | May 21st, 2017

New Orleans Auction Galleries, New Orleans, Louisiana

Photos courtesy New Orleans Auction Galleries

Only a month after its fine art sale (see p. 32-C), New Orleans Auction Galleries (NOAG) presented its two-day May estates auction in a weighty catalog featuring over 1000 lots. All the firm’s estates auctions—March, May, July, October, and December—have similar scope, breadth, and variety, so where does it all come from? Predictably, Greg S. Kowles, NOAG’s American, Continental, and English furniture guy, was off looking at estates when first contacted. Back in the office, he said, “That May auction seems like a century ago; we’re starting to get July in now. With nine sales a year now, they’re almost back to back.”

According to Kowles, “There were three huge private collections in May, and in these cases, whoever did the house, the collector or a decorator...that means the contents all have continuity, a certain look to the furnishings. A lot of that Continental material you saw on the first day came out of two huge estates from Texas that we were handling.”

Estates sales’ weekend offerings are set up in a predictable fashion, which helps collectors know when they will need to be on the floor or the phone. Continental and English material—furniture, decorative arts, silver, and fine art—all comes up on Saturday.


Fanciful was the adjective used in the sale catalog to describe these 30" high bronze and stained-glass flamingo table lamps, signed by Albéric Collin (Belgian, 1886-1962). The sleek and highly decorative pair sold for $6250 (est. $3000/5000). Not shown, a pair of detailed cobra lamps in the style of Edgar Brandt, each 57½" high, sold for $3750 (est. $800/1200).


This pair of giltwood convex mirrors, mid-19th century, American or English, had passed through the hands of Didier Antiques in New Orleans and had spent time on the walls of the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge. The eagle-crested mirrors, 37" high, sold for $6000.

Because major paintings had been included in the April fine art sale, this May’s top lot came out of the decorative arts drawer. A monumental (36" high) pair of Meissen potpourri urns, 1840-1924, surpassed their modest $5000/8000 estimate to bring $50,000 (includes buyer’s premium). Kowles recalled, “Those came out of a Baton Rouge estate. I remember when they went up for sale, there were probably five active bidders right up to very end. It didn’t boil down to the last two until the final bid. They were stunning when seen in person—very large, impressive.”

Sunday always leads off with the brilliance of jewelry and snazzy timepieces, followed by American furnishings and art. The featured estate in this category was the contents of Rip Rap, an 1835-50 house in Natchez, Mississippi. In addition, NOAG has been offering a series of fine American clocks, a few in each sale.

Greg Kowles explained, “The clock market has been soft over the last few years; however, we’ve been doing pretty well with them. I’ve been handling clocks out of two private collections whose owners wanted to gradually scale back their holdings. One of the collections is out of California, and the other one is out of South Carolina; they both have really good-looking American tall clocks.”

From the latter collection, a southern Federal cherry tall-case clock with distinctive marquetry inlay of stars and vines sold for $12,500. The attractive painted dial did not bear a maker’s name.


Consigned from a North Carolina collection, this southern Federal cherry tall-case clock with distinctive marquetry inlay of stars and vines, 96½" high, sold for $12,500 (est. $15,000/25,000). Not shown, a circa 1800 mahogany inlaid tall-case clock, cataloged as “probably New Jersey,” brought $2750 (est. $1500/2500).

In the same section, an unusual group of five lots of cased ship models crossed the block, part of an extensive anonymous consignment out of Dallas. Kowles noted that when he first saw them, “They were in a den. They looked really good. One of them was huge, on a big table with a showcase around it.” That extremely detailed model, a three-masted frigate flying the French flag, made in the mid-20th century, indeed does require a sturdy table to support it. Overall dimensions with the case are 54¾" x 72" x 24¼". The frigate brought $3000. A smaller but equally detailed model of the American yacht Puritan, which won the America’s Cup in 1885, sold for $1500. The Puritan was built and skippered by Massachusetts businessman John Malcolm Forbes.

With all this material coming up for sale, the pertinent question is: what are Kowles and NOAG’s other specialists looking for in their perpetual search? Kowles admitted, “That’s an oft-asked question: what’s doing well? It seems like the market has evolved to the point where people will turn out for the better things. There’s so much average on the market; there’s no incentive to go after something average when you know there will be another one tomorrow. I don’t see one particular trend, but we concentrate on things that are unique, that don’t show up that often on the market. And we try to get them in at a level where you know you’re going to encourage a lot of bidders. No one wants to start bidding at the price that it’s worth; they want to go in below that so there’s a runway to bid things up.”


Lockwood de Forest (1850-1932) was a painter and interior designer who became intrigued by the intricate wood carvings made by artisans at Ahmedabad in the Indian state of Gujarat. He incorporated the carved teak panels in his furniture designs, as seen here in this late 19th-century 29" x 43½" x 21½" desk, attributed to de Forest, which sold for $11,562.50 (est. $3000/5000).

As always, the challenge is how to keep the market moving by continuously adding a healthy stream of new buyers. Kowles said, “One of the things that we’re using to attract younger bidders is mid-century modern material. The younger generation doesn’t seem to be that interested in dark wood furniture. There is still that collector out there, but they tend to be older, more mature. That is what they started with, they still like it, but they aren’t adding much. I’ve been focusing more on contemporary and modern, and I’m learning as I go. I know there’s an active audience for it.”

For a complete 2017 schedule and past and future catalogs, visit the website (www.neworleansauction.com).


An American Renaissance Revival rotary cylinder desk with attractive burlwood panels, 61" x 53¾" x 20¼", was purchased for $5250 (est. $2500/4000).


At NOAG sales, a distinction is always drawn between reproduction garden furniture and antique examples. This set of four late 19th-/early 20th-century cast-iron armchairs in the Lyre and Rose pattern, together with a table now fitted with a granite top, was a useful purchase for summer at $1187.50 (est. $600/900).


Not long after the April fine art auction, the May sale offered more American and European paintings. Blue House was painted in 2007 by popular Louisiana artist James Michalopoulos (b. 1951). The 39½" x 31½" oil on canvas sold for a strong $11,875 (est. $5000/8000).


With over 130 lots of estate jewelry and timepieces on the block, buyers could find a perfect fit for their personal taste. Light and superbly wearable, this 18k white gold openwork bracelet set with diamonds brought $21,960 (est. $18,000/25,000).


Parties in New Orleans require the proper paraphernalia. Twelve 11-piece place settings might do the trick. This 155-piece set in Gorham’s writhing Versailles pattern, designed in 1888 by French-born F. Antoine Heller, weighed in at 183.7 ounces. The final price was $14,375 (est. $4000/7000).


Collectors restoring period houses are eager to find a proper replacement when a mantel is missing. This 19th-century marble fireplace surround with cast-iron summer cover frame, 72" wide, sold for $2750. Earlier in the sale, a Louis XVI-style marble fireplace surround (not shown), carved with laurel and acanthus leaves, brought $8125; both were listed with a $1000/1500 estimate.


The NOAG Fine Art Auction, April 22

New Orleans Auction Galleries continues to expand its auction schedule and will have nine events on the 2017 calendar. In addition to all-inclusive estates sales in March, May, July, October, and December, NOAG offers two lighter Cakebread decorative arts and design sales in January and August. The most recent additions have been a pre-Christmas jewelry, furs, and accessories sale and an auction devoted to fine art. The one held on April 22 was a one-day sale and presented 252 lots, of which 175 were sold. Director of fine art Jelena Restovic James organized the event and wrote a biographical introduction to the catalog that chronicled her own interest in art.

After the sale, James said this type of sale will continue in the future: “It was really successful, and it was a lot of fun putting it together. We held it in the beautiful gallery space on the third floor. I really tried to get a variety of artwork—everything from old master paintings to contemporary, European, regional, New England, California—and I think it was well received. I think we always have a lot of variety, but this was special because we had some wonderful pieces that we saved up for this sale.”


Synthesis 17B, a 1983 mixed media on canvas by Ida Rittenberg Kohlmeyer (1912-1997), sold for $45,000 (est. $35,000/50,000). Other popular 20th-century regional artists with works in the sale included George Rodrigue, Donald Roller Wilson, Walter Inglis Anderson, and Jose Maria Cundin.


New Hampshire-born Roy Andersen (b. 1930), fascinated by the legends of the Old West, relocated to Arizona in mid-career. This 1981 oil on canvas, The Peacock, brought $17,920 (est. $15,000/25,000).

She continued, “If there’s a market for something, we’ll do really well with it. If there’s a signed Calder or a signed Miró, we’ll do well with it—the high quality pieces. If you have the high quality art, you’ll do well with it. There were people bidding on the floor, on the phones, on the computers; it was really a pleasure.”

The top lot of the sale was a French 19th-century boudoir scene, Afternoon Tea for Three by Frederic Soulacroix (1858-1933), which brought $52,500 (est. $20,000/40,000).

The broad fine art selection also included prints, sculpture, photography, studio glass, and ceramics. L’Oranger, a lithograph marked 17/50 by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), brought $20,000. While there were views of London, Paris, the Italian coast, and Siberian steppes, there were also scenes on New York City streets, the American prairie, and a Maine seascape. In addition to strong five-figure prices, there were many lots sold in the $2000 to $5000 range, such as an attractive 1992 geometric work by Mexican artist Pedro Friedeberg at $3000.

James stressed, “I think it’s important to have a mix—not just super high-end stuff but some nice pieces for young collectors.” This policy extended to popular regional artists featured in the sale. For example, Tilt, a familiar Blue Dog scene in acrylic by George Rodrigue (1944-2013), sold for $41,480, but $3660 purchased a vivid silkscreened Blue Dog handsomely framed. The makeup of the sale reflected James’s own diverse taste. “I’m all over the place. I like a lot of different kinds of art.”


A fine quartet of New York City views in the middle of the sale included two paintings by Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962). Midtown, 5th Avenue, Winter, 18" x 12¼", brought $25,000 (est. $20,000/40,000). The work had sold at James D. Julia’s in Maine in February 2010, when it brought $34,500. Not shown, a smaller work, Winter in New York City, brought $16,875.


Important material for the fine art sale came from the estate of Houston collector and philanthropist Carolyn Grant Fay. From this source came this glass sculpture from the “Macchia” series—a cobalt-blue set, each of the three vessels with a red lip wrap and signed “Chihuly / 90” by Dale Chihuly (b. 1941). The set sold for $24,130 (est. $15,000/25,000).


Originally published in the August 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest

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