Purchase Story

Wadsworth Atheneum Corrals Remington "Bronco" for $510,000

Brunk Auctions, Asheville, North Carolina

Photos courtesy Brunk Auctions

Connecticut played a small but noteworthy part in the short life of Frederic Sackrider Remington (1861-1909). The renowned artist briefly attended Yale University, which later gave him an honorary degree, and he briefly lived in Ridgefield, Connecticut, where he died at age 48. Now the artist’s first attempt at turning an action drawing into a bronze sculpture is going to the state capital.

Frederic Remington’s The Bronco Buster was far and away the sale’s top lot. This was Remington’s first attempt at sculpture. The inspiration may have been his 1892 drawing A Pitching Bronco. He chose a bronze casting because he wanted the West preserved in a way that “burglar won’t have, moth eat, or time blacken.” The Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, paid $510,000 (est. $150,000/250,000) for Bronco.

The Bronco Buster, cast by the Henry-Bonnard foundry in 1899 and number 51 in an edition of approximately 64, is heading to the Wadsworth Atheneum. The venerable Hartford, Connecticut, institution was the last bidder standing at the Brunk Auctions sale on September 15 and 16, beating out eight other determined bidders on the phone. There may have been a few others on LiveAuctioneers and Bidsquare who tried to join the furious bidding war, but all eyes were on the phones.

Bidding for Bronco was opened at $150,000 by an absentee bidder who picked the low estimate as a starting shot. Bids ricocheted from caller to caller, with three still in the fight at $400,000. The atheneum prevailed, paying $510,000 (with buyer’s premium) for the 24" high, 48½-pound masterpiece. That price left Bronco’s estimate of $150,000/250,000 in the dust.

In addition to the foundry stamp, the Remington bronze was stamped for Tiffany. According to the catalog and addendum, it was purchased in New York in the 1930s or ’40s. The casting lacked only the spur on the cowboy’s left boot, the one still in the stirrup.

Action and surprises continued throughout the two-day sale. At lot 859, Brunk Auctions president emeritus Bob Brunk leaned over and said, “The next lot is a sleeper.” He knew what he was talking about. Five Chinese scrolls by various artists merited only a 1" x 1" thumbnail in the sale catalog. When they came up for sale, five staffers holding cell phones stood up. The opening bid of $1600 topped the high estimate for the 18th-/19th-century mountain landscapes with figures. One gentleman kept his bidding number up until $6000. At $10,000, three phones were still active. Bidding ended at $19,200, well above the $600/1200 estimate.

After a career that included serving as ambassador to Ethiopia and Chile, Edward M. Korry (1922-2003) retired to Charlotte, North Carolina. His estate consigned 34 lots from his collection. No other Korry lot came close to these five 18th- or 19th-century Chinese scrolls, which pitted bidders on the Internet against five on the phone. A phone bidder bought the scrolls for $19,200, quite an increase over the $600/1200 estimate.

An oil on canvas by noted French artist Eugène Boudin (1824-1898), from the estate of Christine B. Prickett, set off its own fireworks. Coming toward the end of the second day of the sale, the Boudin demolished its $50,000/70,000 estimate. The signed and dated (1892) seaport scene, Fécamp, Le Bassin, had ten phone bidders chasing it. After reaching $130,000, Fécampwas at the center of a battle between two resolute bidders. One dropped away at $210,000 as a new bidder jumped in at $220,000. The caller who forced the dropout came back at $230,000. At the last second, the dropout soared back into the ring. It was a one-two punch that silenced all opposition, and the painting sold for $288,000.

Fécamp, Le Bassin, 1892, was simultaneously nearly last—it was lot 927 out of 1013—and nearly first—it was third in price out of 1013 lots. An underbidder dropped out and then jumped back in at the last second to win the painting. This 125/8" x 161/8" oil on canvas was first owned by the wife of French Neoclassical painter Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. It sold for $288,000 (est. $50,000/70,000).

The only painter to have two works in the sale’s top ten was Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin (1881-1955). Fechin was born in Russia and immigrated to the American West in 1927 for his health. The house he renovated in Taos, New Mexico, is now used for the Taos Art Museum at Fechin House. Brunk Auctions gave both Fechin paintings, Hollyhocks and Baby Eya,a full page in the catalog. Both were consigned by the estate of the late Gordon and Pat Tooley, a couple with a keen eye for art. The signed but undated Hollyhocks sold for $264,000 to a phone bidder. Eya, painted in Russia in 1923, sold to different phone bidder for $144,000 (est. $80,000/120,000).

This is Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin’s Hollyhocks, a signed 25¾" x 20½" oil on canvas. From the Tooley estate, the painting brought $264,000 (est. $70,000/100,000).

The Eya in Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin’s Baby Eya is his daughter. In a letter that accompanied the painting, Eya wrote that the painting was completed in Russia before 1923. A phone bidder outlasted three others to buy the 13" x 16" oil on canvas for $144,000 (est. $80,000/120,000).

A second bronze came from the same “private North Carolina collection” as the Remington. In 1968 the consignor had purchased the signed maquette or small preliminary model for Spindle Piece directly from Henry Moore (1898-1986). It opened at $15,000, midway into its estimate. With 11 staffers on the phones, it took off. By $80,000 there were only two phones active, and for the next few seconds, either could have taken it. The hammer was about to drop five times when, at the last second, a competing bid slipped in. The Moore maquette sold for $312,000 to what must have been a nerve-frazzled phone bidder.

Henry Moore’s maquette for Spindle Piece, 1968, measures 8" tall and sold for $312,000 (est. $12,000/18,000). It was purchased from the artist in his studio. One of the seven large castings of Spindle Piece is at the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh.

The unidentified private North Carolina collection was not finished. On the catalog cover, Andrew Brunk had placed what he called “a fabulous object”—a native Alaskan medicine man mask. It looked huge on a full page of the catalog, but it measured only 8 1/8" x 5". This mask and its twin were obtained in the early 20th century by world traveler Frances Pearle Mitchell. She donated much of her extensive collection, including the twin mask, to the Anthropology Museum at the University of Missouri. This mask sold for $26,400 to the phones.

The sale was overflowing in paintings. Only one of the 200-plus oils and watercolors made it to Andrew Brunk’s office for his personal temporary exhibit. That was Jane Peterson’s colorful Fishing Boats, Gloucester, Massachusetts.The oil on canvas came from the exquisite Pat and Gordon Tooley collection. It opened at $65,000, which was close to one-half its low estimate, and sold to a phone bidder for $120,000.

This 30" x 40 1/8" painting, Fishing Boats, Gloucester, Massachusetts, is signed “Jane Peterson” lower right. Peterson (1876-1965) is noted for her vivid, rich painted still lifes. Fishing Boats is a fine example of her work with its bright reds, blues, and purples. A phone bidder bought it for $120,000 (est. $120,000/180,000).

Jewelry sold on the sale’s first day. The standout was a large oval brilliant pink-orange natural padparadscha sapphire from Sri Lanka. Padparadscha is Sinhalese for “aquatic lotus blossom,” a flower with an unusual salmon color. As did so many of the sale’s top lots, this too came from the estate of Pat and Gordon Tooley. The unmounted 9.82-carat stone opened at $15,000. Bids usually volley, but twice during the bidding two bidders simultaneously jumped in. The winning phone bidder paid $90,000 for the sapphire.

The 1000-plus-lot sale grossed $3.36 million. For more information, visit the Brunk Auctions website (www.brunkauctions.com) or call (828) 254-6846.

This large padparadscha sapphire came out on top of the three loose stones from the Pat and Gordon Tooley estate. From Sri Lanka and 9.82 carats, it sold to a phone bidder for $90,000 (est. $30,000/50,000). Of the other Tooley stones, a 13.8-carat yellow sapphire (not shown) brought $10,800 (est. $10,000/20,000), and a 1.7-carat emerald made $7200 (est. $3000/5000).

The short story is that a phone bidder won this size 6½ platinum, emerald, and diamond ring for $22,800 (est. $10,000/15,000). The longer story concerns the underbidder, a woman from Asheville, North Carolina, who attempted to buy the ring as an investment. How refreshing to find a young nondealer so enthusiastic and willing to spend a lot of money for something precious, colorful, and nonutilitarian.

Nardi of Venice, Italy is noted for its blackamoor brooches. Many are on 1stdibs at prices from $4000 to $13,000. This signed 2¼" x 1½" Nardi blackamoor brooch with 15 rubies, five emeralds, four pearls, and one garnet sold for $4500 (est. $2500/3500) to an on-site bidder.

Charleston Renaissance artist and author Alice Ravenel Huger Smith (1876-1958) had a recognizable style and a preferred subject matter—low country South Carolina bayous and plantations. Would her devoted fans accept something so out of character as four watercolors of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains? The four sold for $21,600 (est. $20,000/25,000) to a phone bidder.

Drypoint etchings by Charleston Renaissance artist Alfred Hutty (1877-1954) are popular in the South. So, too, are his less common watercolors. This signed and unframed 25½" x 20½" watercolor, Back Alley, Charleston, South Carolina, came from the estate of Bennett Pierrepont Jack of Hanahan, South Carolina. With bidding confined to six phones, the Hutty watercolor sold for $28,800 (est. $15,000/25,000).

The twin to this Alaskan medicine man mask is in the Anthropology Museum at the University of Missouri. This one was acquired by world traveler Frances Pearle Mitchell, and its provenance included “probably Mathias Komor” (a New York City dealer) and a private North Carolina collection. The mask is small (8 1/8" x 5") but powerful. Estimated at $8000/12,000, it sold for $26,400.

Christine Fowler, D.D.S., of Lexington, Kentucky, posed next to one of a pair of 17th-century monumental figural torchères. The pair of torchères stood guard at the Coral Harbour Club, Coral Beach, Nassau, Bahamas, from 1958 to 1976. The torchères then went to the Atlanta History Center, which consigned them. The rampant lions opened just below the low estimate and sold to a phone bidder for $24,000 (est. $10,000/15,000). Prunkl photo.

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

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