Purchase Story

September Is a Very Hot Month in New Orleans

Neal Auction Company, New Orleans, Louisiana

Photos courtesy Neal Auction Company

Fall is famously a strong season at the Neal Auction Company. While collectors anticipate the Louisiana Purchase Auction in November, the fall estates auction, held this year on September 14 and 15, has become a major occasion with strong results of its own. The catalog, beautifully printed and spread out online, shimmered with nearly 1200 lots that sold for a total of $2.1 million (with buyers’ premiums). The entries, however, illustrate more than a series of objects; they are an intimate window into the personal taste and choices of individual collectors. And the makeup of those estate groupings—even when the owners remain anonymous—makes clear the lifelong passion that went into their formation.

Marc Fagan holds the title of vice president and director of consignments and heads the books, maps, and natural history prints division, so his career is devoted to seeking out these exceptional collections and then writing up many of the entries on the catalog pages. Before the event, he explained: “I’m excited about all the Grand Tour material. One of the lots is a working table fountain modeled on a Roman landmark. Those pieces, most of the very rare French clocks, and the globes, as well as some furniture are from one private collection.”

Fagan pointed out that a highly sought-after English pocket globe dated 1754 was attracting special interest. Only 2½" in diameter, the terrestrial globe was housed in a round case with celestial maps on the interior. Fagan explained how this antique equivalent of Google Maps was a high-tech gadget in the 18th century: “Back in the day, the bon vivants had one of those rather than a cell phone. Whip that out and say, you see, this is where Africa is. Plus you can see the stars—the case has the heavens inside.” The romantic conversation piece fulfilled its promise, bringing $5490 (est. $1000/1500).

“Let me show you the world”—after that intro, dandies might flash this hi-tech gadget at 18th-century parties. The 2½" terrestrial pocket globe, dated 1754, slips into a form-fitting shagreen case with a star map on the interior. The final price was $5490 (est. $1000/1500).

The Grand Tour souvenirs not only sold well, as the examples illustrated confirm, they also help to demonstrate Classicism’s continuing appeal for collectors, a trend that also buoyed sales of furniture in that taste. A large block of lots in the American Classical style came from a private Natchez collection, which had acquired furniture from Connecticut-based specialists Charles and Rebekah Clark, when they were in partnership. While prices did not reach late 20th-century heights, the finest examples of various forms continue to be rewarded with solid bidding. Most exceptional was a graceful pair of Philadelphia pier tables on scrolling supports that brought $12,800 (est. $7000/10,000).

Polly Rolman-Smith, Neal’s furniture and decorative arts specialist, said after the sale, “Those were stunningly beautiful and very unique—definitely very Anthony Quervelle. It’s always rare to find an intact pair of pier tables, especially in that condition, and they did very well at auction. I think the very top level American Classical furniture in our market seems to be on the upturn. The really high-style pieces definitely seem to be bringing more interest than they did two years ago; that’s the style that does well for us. I think that is a reflection of the region—a lot of people are decorating antebellum homes around here, and that would be the right furniture for them.”

Another highlight cited by the specialist was an early Federal mahogany sideboard, probably 18th century, that had a distinguished provenance. It was part of the original furnishings of Belvidere, an estate in Baltimore that belonged to John Eager Howard (1752-1827), a colonel in the Revolutionary Army and a governor of Maryland. The detailed catalog entry has a more complete account of the family history. The house, like many mansions in urban settings, was demolished in 1874, but the sideboard stayed with the family, before passing into the hands of New Orleans antiquarian James D. Didier. Rolman-Smith said, “It was something that Didier acquired directly from the descendants of John Eager Howard. It’s definitely a Maryland example too, a southern inlaid piece.” The venerable sideboard, 40¾" high x 68½" wide, was an excellent, history-packed purchase for only $8540, over its very modest $2500/3500 estimate.

Accompanied by an informative catalog entry on provenance featuring Revolutionary-era notables, this late 18th-century Baltimore mahogany sideboard, from the estate of James D. “Don” Didier, New Orleans, sold for $8540 (est. $2500/3500).

Once again, in spite of the tempting array of furniture and decorative arts, all of the top ten prices in this sale were paid for paintings executed by regional artists in the last two centuries. Since five lots from that leading group were by George Rodrigue, who had over a dozen compositions in the sale, it was time to talk at greater length with painting department head Marney Robinson, who once worked for the Louisiana artist.

Although Rodrigue passed away in 2013, his Cajun spirit lives on through his paintings, both in the mysterious landscapes with people posed under the dark trees and in his Blue Dog embodiment of the legendary loup-garou, an Acadian character related to werewolf lore—a subject worthy of further exploration.

Robinson began her story in the years after Hurricane Katrina in 2005: “George was the subject of a retrospective at the New Orleans Museum of Art [NOMA] in 2008 [March 1-June 8], and I was the curator of education at NOMA at that time. I first met George in late 2007 when we developed the educational programming for the exhibit. He and his wife, Wendy, were instrumental in helping to train a new set of docents—this was following Katrina. We had a much-reduced staff at the time, and the docent corps had been absolutely decimated in numbers. So we trained a new group of docents to help cover the tours, and it ended up being the exhibition of contemporary art at NOMA that had the most visitors in their history—60,000 visitors, including over 10,000 schoolchildren in three months. George came almost every day and helped give tours, and we did a number of events, so I got to know him very well. Shortly after that ended in 2008, George contacted me about starting the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, focused on the importance of arts education for kids in Louisiana and beyond. I went to work officially for him in 2009 and then continued to work with him until he passed away in 2013.”

As far as his most famous character is concerned, she said, “He painted the first example of a loup-garou in 1984 as an illustration for a book of Cajun ghost stories [Bayou by Inkwell Press] in conjunction with the Louisiana World Exposition held in New Orleans that year. The legend of the loup-garou, which was a Cajun werewolf dog, was a sort of a ghost story that people would tell their kids—if you’re not good, the loup-garou will come and get you tonight. He maintained that as part of his Cajun folklore imagery until the early 1990s, when he had a show in California. Everyone kept commenting on the ‘Blue Dog,’ and he thought they were talking about the loup-garou, which he had made blue-gray because it comes out at night under the moon. That sparked something in his brain, and he started to explore the imagery of the dog itself and began dropping the Louisiana reference in the early 1990s. It very quickly morphed into something else. Then he painted that all the way through the rest of his career.”

She concluded, “I think what we’re seeing is that more people are learning about him. The scholarship is certainly increasing on his work, which has led to a new batch of collectors. We’re seeing new people interested in owning a Rodrigue in every auction. He’s one of the few artists from the South that has broken through the boundaries; he is popular worldwide. In his lifetime, he had galleries in Carmel, California, in Munich, in Tokyo, and here in New Orleans, also in Aspen for a few years after Katrina. He developed worldwide recognition during his lifetime, and that has only expanded in the years since he died.”

The top Rodrigue artwork in the September sale was a classic Blue Dog perched on a gravestone, Blue Dog in Moonlight, which brought $80,520. The artist’s record price remains for Chairman of the Board, whichsold ataNeal auction in April 2015 for $173,275.

The Cajun Blue Dog at his eeriest in the moonlight perched on a gravestone, 24" x 20", brought $80,520, the highest price of the many George Rodrigue (1944-2013) works in this auction. The dog’s unwavering gaze recalls the classic line: “There’s room for one more.”

The leading lot in September, however, was not an eerie canine but a sensitive image by French-born artist Jacques Amans (1801-1888) of his wife, Marguerite Azoline Landreaux Amans (1805-1878), that sold for $103,700 (est. $15,000/25,000). Amans had moved to the Francophone city in 1836 and spent 20 years there as the leading portraitist; his wife was the daughter of a wealthy New Orleans sugar planter. After the couple moved to Paris in 1856, the painting descended in their family in France, finally returning for this sale.

Right behind the Amans was the cover lot, a 1906 depiction of the famous French Quarter Opera House on the corner of Bourbon and Toulouse streets, which was destroyed by fire in 1919. The impressionistic view in Raffaelli oil crayon by artist and educator William Woodward, who was born in Seekonk, Massachusetts, in 1859 and died in New Orleans in 1939, brought a strong $85,400 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Collectors on a tighter budget who are familiar with Neal sales know that there is always a Sunday session at Neal’s second gallery in the Garden District over on Carondelet Street, where more affordable lots appear. For example, a Rodrigue ink on paper drawing of the Blue Dog by an oak tree could be had for $3660, and signed prints of the canine sold in the $850 to $1125 range. If your quest was a Woodward sketch of the French Quarter, a 1934 graphite view of a house on Royal Street brought $1098.

With reasonably priced fine art selections, decorative arts, and even some mid-century modern, Sunday offered a lot of choice to millennials simultaneously starting families and collections. One lot that popped contained two Paul Frankl tables from the 1950s that marched past an $800/1200 estimate to $6400. Polly Rolman-Smith, who admits her membership in that generation, commented after the sale: “That was fantastic. We had a conservative estimate on it. People went nuts over it. Millennials that are interested in mid-century modern and contemporary furniture can buy it at auction for so much cheaper than the modern copies from firms where you will pay five times as much for a repro. And it’s ultimately better for the environment—the big box makers are producing emissions and waste, and we’re recycling wonderful things in the antiques world.”

Neal’s main gallery is located at 4038 Magazine Street, surrounded by great restaurants and interesting shops. Follow news and results at the website (www.nealauction.com) or call 1-800-467-5329.

A French artist working in New Orleans, Jacques Amans (1801-1888) was known for his sensitive portraits; his work had been influenced by Neoclassical artists Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and Jacque-Louis David. Amans’s works traditionally do well at auction, and this 28" high oval portrait of his wife, Marguerite Azoline Landreaux Amans, brought $103,700 (est. $15,000/25,000), the best price of the September sale.

The 19th-century admirers of the 16th-century Turtle Fountain in Rome’s Piazza Mattei could return home with a working table model as a visual and aural reminder. The 16" high bronze sculpture doubled its estimate to bring $5120.

A bright gilt bronze model of the Arc de Triomphe, with silver figural groups, mid-19th century, 7½" high, brought $5120 (est. $2000/3000); the hinged top opens to reveal an interior coffer.


While flat art made news, two 19th-century marble sculptures, which could be used in a covered garden space or sculpture gallery, did very well for themselves. Both had come from the 1837 Oaklawn Manor in Franklin, Louisiana, one of the properties owned by George and Mary Beth Thomson, historic preservationists whose estates were featured in the sale.

The exuberant Dancing Faun, holding cymbals, a 57" high figure modeled on an antique version in the Uffizi, got down and got up to $23,180 (est. $5000/8000). More of a seated wallflower at 54", Psyche, dated 1843 and signed by Luigi Bienaime (1795-1878), brought a mid-estimate $18,300.

Answer the cry of “send that bottle down the table” in style with a gilt bronze and crystal liquor carriage holding four decanters and 16 cordials. This late 19th-century French working wonder is over 2' long and sold slightly below estimate for $10,370. But where can you acquire the miniature horses?

Several bidders had their eye on this Sunday lot of two mid-20th-century designs by Paul Frankl (1886-1958), and it sold for $6400 (est. $800/1200). The cork and mahogany “Amoeba/Cloud” coffee table, #5005, for Johnson Furniture Co., is 47¾" wide.


 

Two oils on canvas, each 39¼" x 50", were cataloged as “A pair of Architectural Fantasies: Arcaded Pavilions and Ruins, with a Triumph of David and an Antique Procession.” This hefty title was followed by an extensive entry discussing late 17th-century fantastical vedute. The paintings brought $24,400, and although that was below the $40,000 low estimate, these particular artworks required the right space and setting to display them properly.

From the Oaklawn Manor consignment, this 19th-century cast-iron estate bell on a stand, marked “Buckeye Foundry, Cincinnati,” brought $7930 (est. $2000/3000), because every historic house needs one at dinnertime.

This fine high-glaze Newcomb Pottery vase with iris, probably decorated by Henrietta Bailey, with Joseph Meyer’s potter’s mark, rose to $7015 (est. $3000/5000).

 

 

French artist Jean-Francois Batut (1828-1907) used grisaille oils to create the shading for the almost photographic likenesses of his portrait subjects. These portraits of a lady and gentleman are 24" x 19¾" each in matching rosewood frames (not shown). There are few documented French portraits featuring people of African descent, and their rarity is reflected in the final result of $15,250 (est. $5000/8000).

One of several artworks by New Orleans artist Ida Rittenberg Kohlmeyer (1912-1977) sold in the September event, this untitled 1972 oil painting, 81" x 49", from the rare “Transverse Series” went to a new home for $39,650 (est. $30,000/50,000).

This Classical mahogany box sofa, circa 1825, New York, with an unusual stepped tubular crest rail went for a mid-estimate $5185.

Only 15" x 19¼" framed, this 1906 view of the long-lost old French Quarter Opera House brought $85,400 (est. $30,000/50,000). Before its destruction by fire in 1919, the hall was a social center for public and private events, such as Carnival balls and wedding receptions, as well as musical concerts.

In a very fine run of Classical furniture on Saturday, this perfect pair of marble-topped pier tables on scrolling supports was a harmonious acquisition at $12,800 (est. $7000/10,000).

The mixing cabinet is a sought-after form, and this Classical mahogany example, circa 1835, with a dark Egyptian marble surface, 38" high, went for top estimate at $5440.


Originally published in the December 2019 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2019 Maine Antique Digest

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