HINGHAM, Mass. – On July 9 and 10, Copley Fine Art Auctions, the nation’s premier decoy and sporting art auction house, will host the Sporting Sale 2021. The sale, consisting of 507 lots, will offer buyers the opportunity to acquire world-class paintings and bird carvings. The auction will begin at 10am Eastern time on both days. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.
The Sporting Sale 2021 will be headlined by the Johnson collection of American bird decoys. Linda Johnson is a preeminent collector of shorebird decoys and folk art. In addition to acting as President and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), Linda is a stalwart patron of the arts. Her parents, Joan M. and Victor L. Johnson, assembled one of the great collections of early American art and antiques, amassed during a 60-year period. Copley’s decoy specialists, Stephen B. O’Brien Jr., Chelsie Olney, and Colin S. McNair, have been hard at work writing a dedicated Johnson collection catalog in addition to the main Sporting Sale catalog. The stand-alone Johnson collection catalog will feature The Waring Crowell “dust jacket” plover trio, along with 64 other exceptional lots. The term “dust jacket” was coined by collectors because carvings from these early rigs were chosen for the dust jacket covers of William J. Mackey Jr.’s American Bird Decoys and John and Shirley Delph’s New England Decoys. This is the exact trio that graces the cover of New England Decoys. The spectacular threesome includes plovers in turned-head, feeding, and skyward-gazing postures. All three of these highly coveted works carry estimates of $300,000–$500,000.
The auction will also include offerings from other important single-owner estates and collections, including descendants of Herman Trinosky, Joseph Sherer, and John and Dorothy Clay, as well as the masterworks of the Illinois River collection, the estate of William K. du Pont, and the collections of Mark Smith, Grant Nelson, Herb Wetanson, Len Carnaghi, and a number of private collections. Provenance listings will include important works previously held in the collections of Russell B. Aitken, John Delph, Alan Haid, Michael and Julie Hall, William J. Mackey Jr., Dr. James M. McCleery, Steve Michaan, Donal C. O’Brien Jr., General George S. Patton, William H. Purnell Jr., Peggy and David Rockefeller, Bud Ward, and Walter White, among others.
Copley Principal Stephen O’Brien Jr. said, “The firm will have its work cut out for it, coming off one of its most successful auctions ever, tallying nearly five million in sales and a 98 percent sell-through rate in the Winter Sale. The upcoming Sporting Sale has a tremendous lineup. We just sent off to press two major catalogs that feature more than 400 pages of the world’s finest sporting art. I am thrilled with the quality of items that our team assembled and super excited for our clients. There are several estate consignments as well as highly curated private collections. The bird carving session is incredibly dense, and I will be encouraging our bidders not to blink! There are dozens of museum-quality works to choose from.”
The auction’s fine art highlights include a major salmon fishing oil by Ogden M. Pleissner, estimated at $60,000-$90,000, and also Pleissner’s Waiting for the Rise watercolor, estimated at $50,000-$80,000, and his June Trout Fishing, estimated at $40,000-$60,000. Also included are three watercolors by Aiden Lassell Ripley: the vibrant Grouse and Thorn Apple, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; Two Woodcock, estimated at $20,000-$30,000, and Long Pool, Rapid River, estimated at $10,000-$20,000.
Two oil paintings by John Fery depicting dramatic mountain vistas will be available: Lake McDonald from Glacier National Park, estimated at $30,000-$50,000, and Mount Baker outside of Seattle, estimated at $10,000-$20,000. Additional paintings on offer include works by Lynn Bogue Hunt, David A. Hagerbaumer, David A. Maass, Louis Agassiz Fuertes, Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait, Edmund Osthaus, and George Browne.
Major big game works by John Ford Clymer, Robert Edwin Lougheed, and Ken Carlson will hit the market. The Quiet Peace of an African Evening, a grand oil on canvas by African animal specialist and renowned conservationist David Shepherd, carries an estimate of $45,000-$65,000. It will join a painting of quail by early explorer-artist Titian Ramsay Peale, estimated at $20,000-$30,000.
Collectors will have the opportunity to acquire possibly the only driven grouse hunting work by Howard Terpning, created for Gold Label cigar company and estimated at $12,000-$18,000. Additionally, a number of acrylic paintings from noted contemporary artist Chet Reneson will be available, as well as new works from Luke Frazier and David Allen, and pieces by contemporary artists Brett Smith, Jim Morgan, Eldridge Hardie, Steve Elliott, Amy Lay, Bonnie Marris, Roger Blum, John Terelak, Thomas Aquinas Daly, C. Ford Riley, C. D. Clarke, David A. Sibley, and David Lazarus. A selection of bronzes by contemporary sculptors Kent Ullberg, Dave Hodges, and Dan Ostermiller will appear in the lineup.
An early masterwork by Rockport, New England Impressionist Aldro Hibbard, depicting Gloucester Harbor and estimated at $15,000-$25,000, is set to build on Copley’s recent success with coastal artwork. An exciting selection of prints and works on paper will come to market, including four prints by wildlife artist Carl Rungius, half a dozen print lots by Frank W. Benson, and additional works by Marguerite Kirmse, Roland Clark, Richard Bishop, William J. Schaldach, Aiden Lassell Ripley, William Goadby Lawrence, and Percival Rosseau.
According to Fine Art Specialist Leah Tharpe, “We’ve seen consistent, strong interest in sporting and wildlife art throughout the last year. I am excited to see how our buying clients respond to the latest offering of fine art.”
A complete, hand-colored set of first royal octavo edition Birds of America, one of the most important American color-plate books produced on these shores under the direction of John James Audubon during his lifetime, is included in the sale with an estimate of $150,000-$250,000. Other strong book lots include Alexander Wilson’s American Ornithology, estimated at $35,000-$45,000, and Audubon’s Quadrupeds of America, estimated at $15,000-$25,000. Both were consigned by the same esteemed collector.
Copley is excited to once again present a select group of antique decoys and bird carvings, with virtually every major region on display. Important makers represented include A. Elmer Crowell, “Os” Bibber, Mr. Webster, the Ward Brothers, Ira Hudson, Lothrop Holmes, the Mason Factory, Charles Coffin, Fred Nichols, Obediah Verity, “Shang” Wheeler, Robert and Catherine Elliston, Charles and Edna Perdew, Harry V. Shourds, John Dilley, Joe King of Manahawkin, the Kankakee maker, Oliver Lawson, Keith Mueller, Mark S. McNair, and other esteemed carvers.
The sale will once again include several exceptional carvings by A. Elmer Crowell, who has earned the title of the “father of American bird carving.” In addition to the Waring Crowell dust-jacket plover trio, exceptional Crowell contributions include a woodcock, estimated at $40,000-$60,000; a swimming merganser hen and drake, each individually estimated at $25,000-$35,000; an early carved-wing redhead hen, estimated at $18,000-$24,000; the Sherer snipe, estimated at $18,000-$24,000; a mallard “call duck,” estimated at $20,000-$30,000; the Sherer running willet, estimated at $25,000-$35,000; and a number of miniatures.
Aside from Crowell works, the decoys to be offered at the Sporting Sale 2021 are led by the Bibber long-tailed drake, estimated at $150,000-$250,000 and carved in the early 20th century by Maine maker Orlando “Os” Bibber, who is cited in The Great Book of Wildfowl Decoys for having made “the best carvings on the coast.” Many consider this Johnson collection carving to be second-to-none among representations of this species by any maker. An exciting new discovery making its market debut is the Trinosky Family Kankakee pintail drake, estimated at $100,000-$150,000. The form, paint, patina, and untouched condition of this high-head drake are sure to attract the attention of decoy and Americana collectors alike.
Four iconic carvings featured in Stephen B. O’Brien Jr. and Julie Carlson’s Masterworks of the Illinois River will grace the July auction: the “Masterworks” Elliston preening mallard by Robert and Catherine Elliston, estimated at $100,000-$150,000; the “Masterworks” Perdew wood duck pair by Charles H. Perdew, estimated at $20,000-$40,000); the “Masterworks” Cashwell-rig black duck by G. Bert Graves, estimated at $12,000-$18,000, and the “Masterworks” early redhead drake by Fred Allen, estimated at $4,000-$6,000. Another exceptional Illinois River carving, the Parmalee and Loomis Graves mallard pair by G. Bert Graves, will also be on offer, estimated at $18,000-$24,000.
The sale will also feature several shorebird works. Four hail from the legendary O’Brien collection of Nantucket shorebirds, including a Webster raised-wing golden plover, estimated at $80,000-$120,000; a Webster golden plover, estimated at $15,000-$25,000; and a Folger golden plover, estimated at $18,000-$24,000. Also featured are a feeding yellowlegs by Fred Nichols, estimated at $80,000-$120,000; a willet by Obediah Verity, estimated at $50,000-$70,000; an early split-tail willet by John Dilley, estimated at $25,000-$35,000; an important greater yellowlegs pair from Massachusetts, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; the Tieger long-billed curlew by Thomas H. Gelston, estimated at $18,000-$24,000; and the Aitken Holmes feeding yellowlegs by Lothrop T. Holmes, estimated at $25,000-$35,000.
The top Ward Brothers carvings include an outstanding ruffed grouse and a flying wigeon pair by Lem, estimated at $65,000-$85,000 and $35,000-$45,000, respectively, and also a classic 1936 canvasback pair, estimated at $20,000-$30,000.
Important works hailing from the Dr. James M. McCleery collection include the Mason Factory mallard pair from the rig of G. K. Schmidt, estimated at $40,000-$60,000. The Mason Factory slope-breast mallard hen from the McCleery collection, estimated at $20,000-$30,000, was described as “Mason at its best!” in the Mason Decoys book. An early merganser by Joe King of Manahawkin, estimated at $25,000-$35,000, completes the leading McCleery picks.
The Sporting Sale will also feature a great blue heron from the Johnson collection, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; a wood duck pair by “Shang” Wheeler, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; a high-head canvasback drake by Joseph Sieger, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; the Conover-O’Brien goose by Nathan Horner, estimated at $20,000-$30,000; and the Will-Hunter rig black duck pair by John Blair Sr., estimated at $20,000-$30,000. Contemporary works by carver Mark S. McNair are led by a preening black duck, estimated at $2,500-$3,500, and a preening wigeon, estimated at $2,000-$3,000, along with selected shorebird offerings.
“I’m pleased to report that decoys continue to be the fastest growing segment of the sporting art market. Advances in research, tracking, and transparency have given discerning buyers a higher degree of confidence in these great old birds. This means both higher prices for properly vetted works, and more collectors participating,” explains Copley Decoy Specialist Colin S. McNair. He continues, “Provenance is so valuable, especially now as the industry comes of age. Accordingly, it is a point of particular emphasis here at Copley. This sale will also feature our seventh 100-percent-x-rayed decoy catalog. I cannot wait to share what we’ve compiled, beyond the numerous highlights, it’s one of the deepest lineups ever assembled.”
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