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Purchase Story

Calder Mobile Tops Art Auction

Frances McQueeney-Jones Mascolo | January 27th, 2017

Skinner, Inc., Boston, Massachusetts

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) garnered top honors at Skinner’s January 27 auction in its Boston gallery when his 5¾" high standing mobile from about 1965, an untitled sheet metal, brass, wire, and paint construction (est. $150,000/250,000), sold for $471,000 (including buyer’s premium). The catalog cover lot, it had descended in the original purchaser’s family. “In my job I got over coveting things a long time ago,” said department director and Skinner vice president Robin S.R. Starr, “but I coveted this in an evil, greedy way!” She added later, “If I could have just one thing, that would be it.” Apparently, several other people thought so too.


Alexander Calder (1898-1976) garnered auction top honors when this 5¾" high untitled standing mobile from about 1965, the cover lot, sold for $471,000 (est. $150,000/250,000). The sheet metal, brass, wire, and paint construction had been acquired at a charity auction some 60 years ago in Roxbury, Connecticut, where the artist lived and worked for over 40 years. This seductively graceful and perfectly balanced mobile had descended in the family of the original purchaser.

Said department director and Skinner vice president Robin S.R. Starr, “In my job I got over coveting things a long time ago, but I coveted this in an evil, greedy way!” She added later, “If I could have just one thing, that would be it.” Several other people thought so too.

Twentieth-century paintings, prints, sculptures, and photographs, plus a few late 19th-century ones, were the most desirable lots in the sale. Skinner offered an abundance of desirable works. Calder’s gouache and ink Profils, a vibrant circus scene on paper, 28 7/8" x 42¾", signed and dated 1974, sold for $147,000 (est. $70,000/90,000). The picture exemplifies the artist’s lifelong interest in balance and movement.


Alexander Calder’s 28 7/8" x 42¾" Profils, a vibrant gouache and ink circus scene, signed and dated 1974, exemplifies the artist’s lifelong interest in balance and movement. It sold for $147,000 (est. $70,000/90,000).

Calder’s 1952 Aula Magna, a 13 3/8 " x 24" gouache, pencil, and ink drawing on paper for an acoustical ceiling in the Aula Magna (Great Hall) at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas, brought $25,830 (est. $25,000/35,000). The ceiling was commissioned by Robert Bradford Newman, professor of architectural acoustics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and cofounder of the acoustical engineering firm Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc. Calder and Newman collaborated on the design of acoustical reflectors for the ceiling, and the drawing had descended in the Newman estate.

An enviable selection of 19th- and 20th-century Russian paintings from various collections and estates—Robin S.R. Starr said the grouping “just came together”—attracted significant international interest and inquiries, particularly from Russia. Additionally a pre-auction reception and lecture, “Across the Chasm of Foreignness: Art from the Russian and Soviet Empires in the West” by Anna Winestein, a historian of Russian visual culture, focused on the Russian art in the sale and drew a solid crowd.


Along the Coast, Capri by Russian artist Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900) brought $123,000 (est. $130,000/190,000). The 18" x 29¾" oil on canvas, signed and dated 1892, is inscribed with the artist’s address, “Theodossie, Crimee, Russie.” Aivazovsky, revered for his marine paintings, was born in the Crimea and spent most of his life there except for a sojourn in Europe and Italy in the 1840s. Catalog notes indicate that he was gifted with a remarkable memory and painted from memory in his studio. The painting came from a New York collection.

Along the Coast, Capri by Russian artist Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (1817-1900) came from a New York collection and brought $123,000 (est. $130,000/190,000). The 18" x 29¾" oil on canvas was signed, dated 1892, and inscribed with the artist’s address, “Theodossie, Crimee, Russie.” Revered for his marine paintings, Aivazovsky was born in the Crimea and spent most of his life there except for a sojourn in Europe and Italy in the 1840s. The catalog noted that he was gifted with a remarkable memory and painted from memory in his studio.

Sunflowers in an Urban Garden by David Davidovich Burliuk (1882-1967), a 20¾" x 31" oil on canvas, signed and dated indistinctly by the artist, sold online for $3198; it has been accepted into the Burliuk catalogue raisonné. The Russian-born Ukrainian artist was associated with Russian Futurism and left his homeland in 1918 for the U.S., a journey that took him four years.

The back cover lot, Baba or Baba, Winter by Philippe Andreevitch Maliavine (1869-1940), failed to sell (est. $75,000/125,000), as did Maliavine’s 1899 Russian Peasants Singing (est. $150,000/250,000). A Cubist still life by the artist known as François Angiboult (1887-1950), who was actually Hélène, Baronne d’Oettingen, a Polish aristocrat married to a Russian officer, also was passed (est. $10,000/15,000).


La Tour de Collioure, a 35 3/8" x 43¼" Pointillist oil on canvas by French artist Henri-Jean Martin (1860-1943), brought $375,000 (est. $250,000/350,000) from a bidder on the phone. Dated to about 1920, it depicts the 17th-century bell tower of the church Notre-Dame-des-Anges in the seaside village of Collioure in southern France. The tower was built originally as a lighthouse and bell tower. The painting, which came most recently from a private collection, was accompanied by a photo-certificate from Cyrille Martin, grandson of the artist.


Abstraction by Canadian artist Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970), a 23½" x 17 5/8" oil on panel, had a purposefully low estimate, $2500/3500, and sold for $79,950. Abstraction, which came from a collection and is headed back to Canada, dates to 1939 when Harris lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was a member of the Transcendental Painting Group; he was also a member of the Group of Seven, which he cofounded in Toronto in 1920. Harris was the subject of The Idea of North: The Paintings of Lawren Harris, a traveling exhibition curated by collector, actor, musician, and writer Steve Martin and organized by Cynthia Burlingham of the Hammer Museum and Andrew Hunter of the Art Gallery of Ontario. The exhibition was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston last spring.

A 14" x 12 1/8" oil on canvas still life by Robert Spear Dunning (1829-1905) with strawberries, grapes, a sugar bowl, and a nosegay on a silver tray was well coveted. Signed and dated 1879 by the artist, a cofounder and leader of the Fall River (Massachusetts) school of painting and a White Mountains artist, it opened at $14,000 (est. $7000/9000) and sold in the gallery for $38,130.

A lively Italian street scene by Filippo de Pisis (1896-1956), Piazza Beccaria a Milano, brought $24,600 (est. $12,000/18,000). The 31 5/8 " x 23¾" oil on canvas has been dated to 1940 by the Associazione per Filippo de Pisis in Milan, where he lived at that time.

An 11½" tall bronze figure by Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), titled The Juggler or The Acrobat or Fauns Playing, sold for $73,800 against its $25,000/35,000 estimate. Signed and inscribed “A. Rodin / No 3” and stamped “Georges Rudier / Fondeur Paris,” it came from a New Hampshire collection, from which it was previously on loan to the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Two phones and the Internet chased Portrait of a Girl in a Red Dress, an 18" x 15" oil on canvas by French artist Charles-Amable Lenoir (1861-1940), to $7995 (est. $600/800).

The highlight among the 200-some prints and photographs on offer was a unique hand-painted and glazed 7 11/16" x 7 5/8 " terra-cotta tile by Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), Le joueur de diaule, 1957, that brought $43,050 (est. $35,000/55,000). It had been exhibited extensively.

For more information, visit the website (www.skinnerinc.com) or call Skinner’s fine art department at (508) 970-3206.


Signs by Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008), a 35 3/8" x 26 7/8" color screenprint, was published by Castelli Graphics in New York City. Signed, numbered 203/250, and dated 1970, it realized $23,370 (est. $10,000/15,000) online. The image is a summation of the 1960s.


Bidders waited patiently for Pi, a 1973 work by Lynda Benglis (b. 1941), to come under the hammer, which didn’t happen until late in the sale—only a few lots from the end. The 31½" long sculpture of acrylic paint and glitter on cotton bunting and plaster over an aluminum screen brought $67,650 (est. $15,000/20,000). It had been acquired by the consignor in 1974 from the Hansen Fuller Gallery, San Francisco.


Ship at Sea, a 24" x 36" oil on canvas by British artist Montague Dawson (1890-1973), came from a New York collection and sold for $17,220 (est. $1000/1500).


From the estate of Walter F. Goodman was Boules de neige et pavot, an 18" x 14¾" Fauvist oil on canvas still life with flowers by Louis Valtat (1869-1952). Estimated at $15,000/25,000, it realized $39,360. The picture was accompanied by a brochure from Wally Findlay Galleries that included as its final page a guarantee of authenticity signed by Walstein C. Findlay Jr. in January 1966, plus a photo-certificate signed by Yves Hémin of Galerie Marcel Bernheim, Paris, on November 10, 1965.


Mid-town, 5th Avenue, Winter, a 25" x 30" oil on canvas by Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962), was accompanied by a letter of authentication by his son, the artist Guy Arthur Wiggins (b. 1920). The scene is snowy, with only three American flags visible in the near distance. Estimated at $25,000/35,000, it sold online for $104,550. The picture had been given by the artist to his student Pauline Plume of Watertown, Connecticut, and it descended to the consignor.


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

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