Tomaso Buzzi Venini glass vase leads our five auction highlights

Venini glass vase, model 3458, from a design by Tomaso Buzzi, which hammered for €50,000 and sold for €65,500 ($71,725) with buyer’s premium at Il Ponte Casa de Aste.

MILAN, Italy – This curious-looking Murano glass vase, executed by the Venini glassware company in 1932-33 from a design by Milanese architect Tomaso Buzzi (1900-1981), powered to a strong result. Estimated at €18,000-€25,000, it hammered for €50,000 and sold for €65,500 ($71,725) with buyer’s premium at Il Ponte Casa de Aste on December 20-21.

One of the so-called ‘Novecento Milanese’ who helped shape Italian taste in the 1930s, Buzzi began his collaboration with Venini in 1932. Experimenting with both materials and form, this particular vessel, known as model 3458, is part of a series inspired by Etruscan art. It borrows its form from the askos, the ancient Greek pottery oil containers that had one or two mouths for pouring. Similar pieces were being excavated and studied at the time. The surface decoration is formed by the application of several layers of gold leaf, one of more than a dozen new techniques perfected by Buzzi that radically changed the appearance of the glass produced at Venini.

This is an apparently unique piece of glass – one shown at the Triennale di Milano del 1933 and again as part of the exhibition Tomaso Buzzi, held in Venice at Venini in 2014-15 when it was described as an ‘object of important cultural interest.’ As this meant it could not leave Italian soil, only Italian buyers were invited to bid for it at Il Ponte Casa de Aste.

Maxwell Mays three-panel floor screen depicting Providence, Rhode Island in the early 19th century, which hammered for $4,200 and sold for $5,376 at Bonhams Skinner.
Maxwell Mays three-panel floor screen depicting Providence, Rhode Island in the early 19th century, which hammered for $4,200 and sold for $5,376 at Bonhams Skinner.

BOSTON – The love of home drives many artists, but none more so than Rhode Island’s own Maxwell Mays (1918-2009). After serving in World War II as a cartographer, Mays returned home to work in his family’s factory, the May Manufacturing Co., where he served as treasurer until the 1980s. Throughout, however, he generated an incredible body of work in a naïve style comparable to Grandma Moses, creating urban and rural scenes of his native Rhode Island with a genuine love of place.

This three-panel floor screen was created by Mays in 1965. It depicts the capital city of Providence as it might have looked in the early 19th century, using Mays’ typical birds-eye perspective and naïve style. Serving “as both furnishing and painting in equal measure, [the screen] is representative of Mays’ characteristically whimsical and Rhode Island centered body of work,” stated the lot notes from Bonhams Skinner, where the screen appeared as part of its Salon Sale: Made in New England auction on December 12.

Measuring 68in in height and 53in in width, the fully painted three-panel screen carried a modest $800-$1,200 estimate. A long string of bids between LiveAuctioneers online bidders eventually gave way to the floor, where it hammered for $4,200 ($5,376 with buyer’s premium), demonstrating the continuing power of American naïve art in the contemporary marketplace.

LONE JACK, Mo. – Ever since the advent of the graphite pencil in the late 18th century, attention turned to how best to sharpen it. A host of mechanical solutions were provided by a series of American patents in the later years of the 19th century.

One of the first was W. H. Lamson’s invention patented as Dixon’s Pencil Sharpener on May 12, 1885. Made by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company of Jersey City, New Jersey, it claimed to be the alternative to the many ‘useless’ pencil sharpeners flooding the market. The pencil was inserted through two disks into the knife holder, and the cog wheels were rotated by cranking a handle.

The example offered by Soulis Auctions on December 28 was in fine condition, retaining its original Japanned finish and gilt lettering reading ‘Use Dixon’s American Graphite Pencils.’ The sharpening bit is a well-made replacement.

One of the scarcest of all commercially made pencil sharpeners, it hammered for $6,250 and sold for $7,687 against an estimate of $3,500-$5,000.

DANIA BEACH, Fla. – The unexpected top lot at Akiba Galleries on December 28 was this 10in (25cm) carved wood brush pot with later silver mounts. It was estimated at $200-$600 but hammered for $27,500 and sold for $34,375 with buyer’s premium as 39 bidders watched.

Although cataloged as Japanese (the silver cover is marked for John Wanamaker) the core vessel is more probably Chinese and made from the prized purplish-black Asian hardwood known as zitan. The preferred timber of the imperial workshops, after the native species were exhausted during the Ming dynasty, the use of zitan wood was carefully controlled by the Qing court. When carved in the 18th or early 19th century, this brush pot would have been extraordinarily expensive.

Chinese works of art such as this were often mounted in silver around the turn of the century to increase their commercial appeal to a U.S. audience. Similar objects were made by Edward Farmer (1872-1942), the New York dealer best remembered for the decorative lamps and desk accessories he fashioned from Chinese hardstone carvings and porcelains.

Here the mounts, with floral branch decoration and a polished goldstone handle, are marked for the Wanamaker department store, which had its mothership location in Philadelphia and was likely the retailer rather than the maker of this piece.

NEW YORK – The life of a commercial artist is what is known today as the ‘gig economy’ – going from job to job, constantly seeking the next project to stay in the financial black.

That was certainly the case for famed American painter John Ford Clymer (1907-1989). His initial art education was through the legendary Art Instruction Schools, which from 1914 to 2018 taught millions of artists through correspondence-based learning – that is, by mail. Made famous by its ‘Draw Me!’ advertisements that ran in everything from comic books to Playboy Magazine, Art Instruction Schools was a first destination for generations of future cartoonists, illustrators and painters such as Clymer.

US Troops’ Triumphant Return to NY Harbor was rendered circa 1944 by Clymer for his client, National Life and Accident Insurance Company of Nashville, Tennessee, for its annual calendar. Clearly a nod to the national certainty of total victory in World War II, the painting predates Victory in Europe (VE) Day and Victory in Japan (VJ) Day by a year. The oil on canvas is large, measuring 45.5 by 36in, and likely hung in the boardroom for some time before being given to the consignor by his father, the company’s former president.

Brought to market by Swann Auction Galleries as part of its December 14 Illustration Art sale, US Troops’ Triumphant Return to NY Harbor carried a presale estimate of a respectable $12,000 to $18,000. A furious battle broke out between a sale attendee in New York and a LiveAuctioneers online bidder. More than two dozen bids were exchanged before the floor bidder eventually triumphed, with the work hammering for $55,000 and selling for $65,000 with buyer’s premium.

Nadeau’s brings maximum sparkle to its April 30 auction

Diamond and amethyst engagement ring, est. $15,000-$25,000

WINDSOR, Conn. – Nadeau’s Auction Gallery will hold a 605-lot sale of Asian, fine and decorative arts, jewelry, watches, furniture, rugs and Americana to take place on Saturday, April 30, starting at 10 am Eastern time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

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