PPJ Vol. 2 (4) 1989-90 Winter Viewpoint - Art Market Review

Art Market Review

For those of you who didn’t make it to New York in January for the winter Antiques Show, the following is a review of the famed bazaar held annually at The 67th Street Armory for the benefit of the East Side House Settlement.

In recent years controversy has surrounded this prestigious show.  Show manager Mario Buatta, a leading interior designer, has been accused of high-handedly dismissing several long time exhibitors from the show and has consistently opposed vetting.  At one point several established dealers resigned from the event in a sympathy protest for their vanquished professional friends.

Vetting has become a cause célèbre, especially since the International Dealer’s Show, held at the same armory in September, produced an array of goods at the highest level, all of which had been professionally and successfully vetted.  This was a first for any major antiques show in New York.

The WAS (Winter Antique Show) has 68 dealers this year as opposed to 74 participants last year; 61 dealers returned to the event, five dealers turned down invitations to return and one died.  Sixteen of the 68 in the show also exhibited at the British run International show.  The group of 7 dealers who had been asked to leave two seasons ago, sued and were allowed in for one last go in 1989.  Of course they weren’t at their stands this year.

Among the new faces in town was Donald Sack of the famous Sack furniture family, now a dealer on his own in Bucks County, PA; Leigh Keno, formerly with the American furniture department at Christie’s; Art Trading Ltd., of New York, ceramics specialists; Colwill-McGehee of Baltimore, Americana specialists; Devenish, New York, English/French furniture; and two English firms – Garrard & Co., London silver; Spink & Spink, oriental art.  Foreign entries to the show have also generated controversy since some American dealers are miffed at being excluded from Grosvenor House.

With the politics of the show now disposed of, perhaps we may proceed to the nitty gritty.  What were the highlights? the trends? the prices?  To begin with, to talk about trends is to talk about folk art, garden furniture and bold design – all themes repeated through the show.  Our firm’s folk art specialist examined one category and tracked it around the floor – painted and decorated furniture that included grain painting, stencil and freehand painted motifs.  At Thomas K. Woodard, NY – a 19th century lift-top blanket chest with fantasy grain painting and plain drawers – $22,000; an American 19th century dome-top chest decorated with painted dots, English – $6,800; a fantasy grain painted 1790-1810 American Cabinet – $16,500; a 19th century wall box – $2,800.

At Robert Kinamon/Brian Ramekers, Long Island – painted kas from Western Long Island – $35,000; American 19th century grain painted chest – $26,500; American Hurrah, NY circa 1840 grain painted chest – $24,000; James and Nancy Glazer, PA, American 1880 mahoganized and grain painted comb back chair – $65,000; painted and decorated footstool – $3,200; Berks County, PA, grain painted chest of drawers, circa 1810-20 – $22,000; painted and decorated blanket chest – $28,000.  Harry B. Hartman, Marietta, PA, grain painted canopy bed with eagle-neck pediment, 19th century – $15,000; Colwill-McGehee, 19th century painted and decorated settee – $12,500.

Another major trend centered on the near avalanche of garden furniture and outdoor decorations that could be found in innumerable booths and which included cast metal, marble and other weatherable materials, many of them taken from demolished buildings.  Overall there was an emphasis on the dramatic antique that could add glamour to the décor. It didn’t seem to be a requirement that these special effects items have provenance or importance in their usual historical sense, just that they had visual impact.

Walking about the floor of the WAS – a really spectacular Tiffany & Co. Japanesque tall case clock, circa 1880, of cherry wood and leaded glass, highly carved and highly noticeable, at Anthony Stuempfig’s, Philadelphia for $275,000; at Merrin’s, NY, a headless torso of a Roman Apollo, 1st/2nd century and $275,000 – but you could pick up Roman sardonyx rings for $5,500; at DM&P, Manheim, NY, a circa 1690 English gateleg table was available for only $4,000 but you had to pay $48,000 for a pewter inlaid English lady’s writing desk; at California dealer Michael Powers, a specialist in arms and armor, an Ottoman Turkish dagger set with coral and silver was $3,000, but $30,000 for the ultimate Swiss knife – an English exhibition knife with coronas of open knives, mounted on a gilded brass stand with an 1839 Sheffield hallmark.  Not revealing the dealer there was an 1805 copyof a French 17th century painting that had and asking price of $48,000.

The unhappiest couple at the show was Mr. and Mrs. Dimars, located on the wall of Gerald Kornblau.  The graphite and colored pencil pair, instead of being shown in confronting or complementary poses, were seen with the wife glaring at her spouse’s back and looking as if she wished she were holding a knife.  They were very available for under $5,000.

At Guthman’s Americana, a NY military helmet from the War of 1812 was yours for the asking at $6,000, while you could also buy a Canadian Indian octopus beaded bag, 1800-20, for $12,500.  Didier Aaron, Paris and NY, had an interesting 1880 straw composition with painted cut out faces, French, inscribed ‘FGB’ and $5,000.  Taylor B. Williams of Chicago displayed a miniature Hepplewhite chest of drawers, American, 1820, at $3,200.  Colwill-McGehee had a white cast iron umbrella stand by Wm. Fiske, NY, for $3,250, and three Wedgwood style bough pots attributed to Daniel Steel of Burstin at $6,850.  There was an 1870’s rococo revival cast metal lacey looking bench for $3,500, offered by John Newcomer, Funkstown, MD.  At Joan Mirviss, NY, dealer in orientalia, there was a signed 6 panel Japanese screen, 1850, for $8,000 and a pair of 17th century yokeneck Chinese chairs for $34,000.

At Devenish there was a reason to pause and reflect on a marquetry inlaid pair of English commodes, attributed to Chippendale, that could be yours if you happened to have $1,600,000.  By comparison, his Regence étagère was a steal at $300,000.  If you were really bargain hunting, you might have picked up one of Stephanie Hoppen’s antique bookplates listed in the low hundred or framed displays of casts of antique seals in the $2,500 range.  She’s a London dealer.

At Hastings House antiques, NY, an imperial court lady’s hardstone inlaid collar was available for $11,400 and a garden sculpture of a wolfhound for $21,000.  Ed Handy of San Francisco offered a pair of Louis XIV stone dolphins, circa 1700, for $3,800.  At Hyde Park Antiques there was a famille rose Chinese Export bowl, delicately painted with mythological designs, at $36,000 and a John Opie double bed from the 18th century for $24,000.  A Los Angeles dealer, Quatrain, had a large coromandel screen, Kang Hsi, for $225,000.

The seven dealers who were not invited to return to the WAS were Antique Porcelain Co., Lillian Blankley Cogan, Hobart House, Jesse Caldwell Leatherwood, Michal Ottin, Ltd., Jack Partridge and York House.  The five who resigned were Doris Leslie Blau, Richard Feigen, Chris Jussel, Deanne D. Levinson and Elinor Merrell.

Some of the more grand items in the sow were in the booth of Bernard Baruch Steinitz of Paris who displayed his furnishings within a room paneled in an interior from a former Rothschild home, for sale in the $2 million range.

With the advent of the International Antique Dealer’s Show there will be increasing pressure on the WAS to undertake a vetting process.  Without that, it runs the risk of being known as a “decorator’s show” while the English group may be the place to go for “museum quality” material. Although most of the dealers at WAS have opposed vetting members of the National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America, who introduced a sort of vetting procedure in1985 but were forced to drop it, are still pushing for the procedure. Without vetting the WAS will never be taken totally seriously as the epitome of antiques exhibitions in the USA, nor will it deserve to be.

Elin Lake Ewald, ASA, serves as a Member of the Board of Directors and Editor of the Newsletter of the New York Chapter of ASA.  She is a member, Panel of Arbitrators, American Arbitration Association, and is listed in WHO’S WHO IN AMERICAN ART.  Ms. Ewald, President of O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc., specializes in damage/loss/fraud cases involving fine and decorative art.  For several years she has written a monthly newsletter on the art market.