Carlo Bugatti furniture stole the show at Bolli & Romiti

Carlo Bugatti writing desk, estimated at €3,000-€5,000 ($3,260-$5,435) at Bolli & Romiti.

ROME — In 1902, while visiting stands at the Esposizione Internationale d’Arte Decorativa Moderna in Turin, the queen of Italy congratulated Carlo Bugatti on his ‘Moresque’ style of furniture. He reportedly replied, “You are mistaken, majesty, this style is mine!”

Bugatti (1856-1940) was undoubtedly a product of 19th-century European Orientalism, and his ideas were much inspired by Moorish, Islamic, and Japanese design. But he did have a voice all his own and considered himself outside the prevailing artistic movements of the day. He called his business Bugatti & C., Fabbrica Mobili Artistici Fantasia (C. Bugatti & Co., Artistic Fantasies Furniture Factory).

A dozen examples of Bugatti’s extraordinary furniture designs were offered by Bolli & Romiti in Rome on February 7. All 12 lots sold, with prices ranging from €4,500 ($4,870) to €15,000 ($16,240).

At the high end of the price range was a pair of two-piece ebonized cabinets (here and here), each measuring 8ft 4in tall by 4ft 10in wide (2.82 by 1.46m). The pewter inlays inspired by hieroglyphics were achieved by carving the designs into the wood and then filling them with molten white metal. Offered as separate lots, they went to the same buyer at €15,000 each ($16,240 or $21,110 with buyer’s premium).

Very few Bugatti pieces can be firmly dated. While the first visual documentation of his work emerges in 1888 (nine of his furnishings were illustrated in Queen, The Lady’s Newspaper as part of the Italian Exhibition in Earls Court, London), most pieces are dated to circa 1900. Similarly, as little documentation appears to have survived, it is unknown how many pieces were made.

A particularly scarce form sold at Bolli & Romiti at €11,000 ($11,910, or $15,480 with buyer’s premium) was a large mirror measuring 8ft across by 4ft 1in high. It displays many typical Bugatti characteristics: the union of lacquered wood, vellum decorated in a soft brown wash, strips of beaten copper, and fabric fringes and tassels. The use of asymmetry in the design is something Bugatti took from Japonism.

Sold to a LiveAuctioneers bidder at €9,000 ($9,745, or $12,665 with buyer’s premium) was a kneehole writing desk with a bank of four drawers. Inlaid with partially gilt pewter and bone and covered to the top in parchment, it had a candle stand with a rope fringe.

‘Finest known’ 1888 Spalding Baseball World Tour poster nets $240K at Heritage

1888 Spalding Baseball World Tour poster, which sold for $200,000 ($240,000 with buyer's premium) at Heritage.

DALLAS – Discovered by a small auction house in Ohio, a baseball poster described as ‘the finest known’ has sold at auction for a record $200,000 ($240,000 including premium). Estate Auctions of Berea, Ohio chose to sell its remarkable find through Dallas, Texas sporting memorabilia specialists Heritage Auctions on February 24.

The 1888 Spalding Baseball World Tour promotional poster is only the second of its type known; the other resides in the permanent collection of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Measuring an imposing 3ft 6in high by 2ft 4in wide, it depicts portraits of more than 20 members of a Chicago all-stars team that in 1888-89 traveled to Australia, playing a dozen games before continuing west to Sri Lanka, Egypt, Italy, France, England, and Ireland. The barnstorming tour was the idea of player-turned-sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding, whose portrait features prominently in the upper left of the lithographed image. Collectors of 19th-century trading cards will recognize many of the player poses as those which appear in the famous Old Judge series of cigarette cards.

The poster was in wholly unrestored condition, with only storage folds and some light chipping to the borders to count against it. The auction house recommended this ‘miracle of survival’ would only require a professional linen backing. It was valued at ‘$100,000 upwards’ and comfortably met its reserve in pre-sale bidding. The price is a record for a baseball poster, bettering the $175,000 bid in August 2022 at Heritage for a poster of the same date promoting Old Judge Cigarette cards.

Chinese Export Eggplant-form Tureen leads our five auction highlights

Chinese Export Tobacco Leaf Pattern Sauce Tureen, Cover, and Underplate with Eggplant Form, $52,400

CHICAGO – The so-called tobacco leaf patterns picked out in famille rose enamels are among the most luxurious of all China trade porcelain, although the popular name is something of a misnomer. Once thought to depict the flowering nicotiana plant, the design depicts the wide serrated leaves of hibiscus, peonies, and passion flowers. It was probably based on an 18th-century textile pattern.

This 8.5in (22cm) tobacco leaf pattern sauce tureen, cover, and underplate, dating to circa 1800 and formed as an eggplant, is particularly rare. It appeared at Freeman’s Hindman in Chicago on February 8 with a provenance to the famed Chinese export porcelain dealer Elinor Gordon and a modest estimate of $1,000-$2,000. It hammered for $40,000 and sold for $52,400 with buyer’s premium, the top lot in a sale of European Furniture and Decorative Arts.

Handwritten Letter from Catherine De Medici, $8,320

Letter written by Catherine De Medici to the Spanish ambassador in 1565, asking him to help an effort to have her cousin elected as the next pope, which hammered for $6,500 and sold for $8,320 with buyer’s premium at Bonhams Skinner.
Letter written by Catherine De Medici to the Spanish ambassador in 1565, asking him to help an effort to have her cousin elected as the next pope, which hammered for $6,500 and sold for $8,320 with buyer’s premium at Bonhams Skinner.

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – This single-sheet letter was written by Catherine De Medici (1519-1589) to the ambassador to Spain. Although undated, it references the recent death of pope Pius IV on December 9, 1565, and implores the ambassador to enlist the aid of Philip II of Spain in getting the Cardinal Ferrara, Catherine’s cousin, elected Pope. The scheme did not work, and instead, with Spanish support, Cardinal Ghislieri was elected as Pius V on January 7, 1566. The letter, written on one side and signed and addressed on the other, has a number of additional notations in a later, probably 18th-century, hand.

Acquired by the vendor from Goodspeed’s Book Shop in Boston, it hammered for $6,500 and sold for $8,320 with buyer’s premium against an estimate of $1,500-$2,500 as part of the sale of books and manuscripts at Bonhams Skinner on February 1.

Paul Feiler, ‘St Buryan, Cornwall’, $100,000

Paul Feiler, ‘St. Buryan, Cornwall’, which hammered for $80,000 and sold for $100,000 with buyer’s premium at Millea Bros.
Paul Feiler, ‘St. Buryan, Cornwall’, which hammered for $80,000 and sold for $100,000 with buyer’s premium at Millea Bros.


Paul Feiler, ‘St Buryan, Cornwall’, $100,000

Paul Feiler, ‘St. Buryan, Cornwall’, which hammered for $80,000 and sold for $100,000 with buyer’s premium at Millea Bros.

BOONTON, N.J. – The February 1 sale at Millea Bros. was topped by St. Buryan, Cornwall, a large prime period oil on board by the Anglo-German artist Paul Feiler (1918-2013).

His artistic vision was based on the understanding that “you stand vertically and you look horizontally”, as well as his semi-abstractions inspired by the English landscape. This 1955 oil on board of the cliffs and inlets of the coast of southwest Cornwall was painted two years after the artist’s sold-out first exhibition at the Redfern Gallery, London and his permanent move to the St Ives artist colony. It measures 4ft 1in by 6ft 1in and is signed, titled, and dated on the verso. It was consigned from a Litchfield, Connecticut estate with an earlier provenance to London’s Richard Green Gallery. Estimated at $30,000-$50,000, it hammered for $80,000 and sold for $100,000 with buyer’s premium.

19th-century Shamshir Belonging to Emir Abdelkader, $35,200

19th-century shamshir sword belonging to Emir Abdelkader, which hammered for $27,500 and sold for $35,200 with buyer’s premium at Helios Auctions.
19th-century shamshir sword belonging to Emir Abdelkader, which hammered for $27,500 and sold for $35,200 with buyer’s premium at Helios Auctions.

NEW YORK – The presentation inscription on the blade of this 19th-century shamshir is key to its value. The cartouche reads ‘From Emir Abdelkader to Charles Qabq’ alongside the date 1866-67.

Emir Abdelkader (1808-1883) was an Algerian religious and military leader who led a struggle against French colonialism in the early 19th century. As an Islamic scholar and Sufi who unexpectedly found himself leading a military campaign, he built up a small army of Arab and Berber tribesmen who successfully held out against one of the most advanced armies in Europe. His consistent regard for what would now be called human rights drew widespread admiration: in 1860 he intervened to save the Christian community of Damascus from a massacre.

This weapon was estimated at $2,000-$2,500 as part of the February 4 sale at Helios Auctions, but it hammered for $27,500 and sold for $35,200 with buyer’s premium to a LiveAuctioneers bidder.

Guild of Handicraft Piano Designed By Charles Robert Ashbee, $25,125'

Guild of Handicraft piano designed by Charles Robert Ashbee, which hammered for £16,000 ($20,100) and sold for £20,000 ($25,125) at Sworders.

STANSTED MOUNTFITCHET, UK – A recently rediscovered version of one of the best-known Guild of Handicraft designs sold at Sworders for £20,000 ($25,125) with buyer’s premium. The upright Broadwood piano designed by Charles Robert Ashbee (1863-1942), a piece sent for exhibition in Hungary in 1902, had been estimated at £6,000-£8,000 ($7,535-$10,050) as part of the firm’s January 16 Design sale.

Fashioned in Spanish mahogany inlaid with holly and applied with pierced strap hinges, it is one of at least five Broadwood pianos made with Ashbee casings by the Guild of Handicraft. Examples are pictured in all of the major texts on Arts and Crafts furniture.

This particular piano – numbered 95406, model 8 – has an impeccable provenance. The Broadwood Archives list the date of manufacture (it was finished on February 27, 1902), the price paid by one Mr. C. Watson Low (118 pounds, two shillings, and six pence), and its part in the British Applied Arts Exhibition at the National Museum of Decorative Art in Budapest in September-November 1902. It was sent to Hungary along with another Arts and Crafts piano designed by Hugh Mackay Baillie Scott.

Watson Low later gave his Ashbee piano and its stool to his niece, Miss C.M. Low, who used it to teach piano until retirement in 2001. Her grandson offered it for sale. He contacted Sworders after he found a near-identical piano sold by the auction house in 2014 for £10,400 (about $13,065).

Brill collection of outsider art enters the spotlight at Heritage March 13

Clementine Hunter, 'Mustard Jar with Flowers', estimated at $3,000-$5,000 at Heritage.

DALLAS — Billed as the “Brill Collection,” Heritage has announced Outsider Art, a small, 70-lot event scheduled for Wednesday, March 13. The catalog is now available for bidding at LiveAuctioneers.

Best remembered for her amazing output (estimated at 10,000) of paintings in her life, Clementine Hunter (1886-1988) was one of the first recognized members of the outsider art movement. Only starting to paint in her fifties, Hunter began selling her works for 25 cents, but by the time of her passing, she was nationally recognized. This repurposed Pommery Mustard clay jar has been painted and decorated with floral touches by Hunter, and comes with provenance directly from the artist. It is estimated at $3,000-$5,000.

Baptist minister and artist Howard Finster (1916-2001) has 12 items in the sale. Like many, he labored in obscurity for decades, toiling at his Paradise Garden museum that eventually housed 46,000 works. He gained fame when he created album cover artwork for REM and the Talking Heads. This group of five cutout figures dates to 1990-1999 and are together estimated at $2,000-$3,000.

Miami’s own Purvis Young (1943-2010) created works that were part painting and part collage. His works reside in the collections of many celebrities and have been widely exhibited. The sale features 12 pieces by Young, including Cityscape (Giant), a mixed-media on joined panel measuring 25.5 by 35.5in. It carries an estimate of $2,000-$3,000.

Lee Godie (1908-1994) lived an inexplicable life, sleeping in freezing Chicago temperatures or in transient hotels, despite having money and better options available. Her figural works are classically naive, with large eyes being a defining element. Woman with a Headband is an undated mixed-media on board signed ‘By Godie’. It is estimated at $1,000-$1,500.