ATLANTA — Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) is best known for his work as a glassmaker and jeweler catering to the Gilded Age elite. However, he was also a formally trained artist of some merit. His oils and watercolors are of particular interest for their choice of subject matter. In addition to typical Hudson River School-style landscapes of upstate New York, Tiffany applied the lessons of French realism to paint scenes of industry along the Hudson River and the slums of New York City. His apparently tranquil scenes of Seabright, New Jersey also depict its mixed-race fishing community and the economic strife faced by African Americans who moved north after the Civil War.
It was one of these Seabright scenes that topped Ahlers & Ogletree’s two-day Fine Estates & Collections auction held at the auction house’s new gallery location on Atlanta’s Upper West Side August 25-26 (Day 1, Day 2).
Carrying the Boat at Sea Bright, N.J depicts four men (probably African Americans) carrying a boat on the sand with buildings in the background. Measuring 3ft by 2ft, it is signed and dated 1888 and has labels on the verso for the Chicago Interstate Industrial Exposition of that year and the Ohio Society of New York. It had much in common with the better-known painting Pushing Off the Boat at Sea Bright, which he painted while staying in New Jersey in 1887.
The painting beat its estimate of $50,000-$75,000 to bring $90,000 ($108,900 with buyer’s premium).
The surprise performers among the 484 lots were Chinese works of art. These included an imperial-style sword or jian with finely tooled pierced gilt bronze mounts decorated with writhing dragons and tendrils and a coral bead to the pommel.
It had some condition issues — it was missing the shagreen hilt, and the scabbard with chilong mount had a split and some losses — but this is a well-known model used by the elite of the Qing court during the reign of the Qianlong emperor (1736-1796). Cataloged as 19th century, but possibly earlier, it was estimated at $400-$900 but changed hands for $55,000 ($66,550 with buyer’s premium).
Sold at $42,500 ($51,425 with buyer’s premium), this time against an estimate of only $1,000-$2,000, was a 16in bronze and parcel gilt wine vessel cast as a mythical bird on spoked wheels supporting a gu-form vase on its back. The so-called “phoenix bearing zun” is a form that dates back to the Han period, although this was probably from the late Qing period, when many honorific copies were made.
Five paintings by the French naïve artist Henri Hecht Maïk (1922-1993) were offered. All came with labels from the Wally Findlay Galleries, which hosted the first US exhibition of Maïk’s paintings in New York in 1964 and continued to hold many successful shows in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, Beverly Hills, and Paris. A large format oil on canvas measuring 4ft 3in by 3ft 2in led the offering at $17,000 ($20,570 with buyer’s premium). A Yellow Lion, depicting a lion and a cub in a technicolor jungle landscape, was boldly signed and dated 72 and titled in French on the verso.
The smaller 9 by 13in oil on a similar theme, Tiger in the Grass, dating to 1980, brought $8,000 ($10,000 with buyer’s premium).