Dormant Hartley Painting, Silver & Snuff Bottles Ascend At Selkirk


“It came through an email inquiry,” said Bryan Laughlin, Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers’ executive director, on the Marsden Hartley painting that would headline his January 9 sale when it sold for $552,000.

The untitled oil on canvas featured the towering, snow-covered volcano Popocatépetl, as seen by the artist through his studio window in Cuernavaca, Mexico, between 1932 and 1933 while on a Guggenheim Fellowship. Hartley wrote to Adelaide Kuntz in 1932 calling it “one of the handsomest of the volcanoes of the world.” Of the four images he made of Popocatépetl, two reside in public collections at the Sheldon Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

“It was in the consignor’s family for several decades, nearly 70 years,” Laughlin said. The work featured an inscription on the back dated June 1949, where it was written that it had been given by Hartley at that time to his friend and fellow artist Carl Spinchorn. The note was signed by New York City art dealer Hunter D. Walker, who represented Hartley. The work had been cataloged by art critic, writer and historian Elizabeth McCausland in 1945 and will be added to the forthcoming Bates College Museum of Art catalogue raisonné Marsden Hartley Legacy Project: Paintings and Works on Paper.

“The word from bidders was very positive,” Laughlin said. “It’s a dynamic painting and a great size. We don’t normally just step out and price things into the six figures, we’re not a fishing auction house. Most of the time we’re conservative. With the essay by Sarah B. Cunningham and the respect of other Hartley scholars, including Gail R. Scott, the legitimacy was not to be questioned. It was up to marketing and the market to decide. Paintings will sell themselves if you do the due diligence and get the word out there, whether its Sotheby’s or St Louis.”

Laughlin had eight phone bidders on the work, including two museums, before it sold to an individual/foundation.

It was one of 203 lots that went 98 percent sold that day. Other offerings were pulled from five other collections, three local and two regional, as well as other consignors.

With St Louis history attached was the sale’s second highest priced lot, a complete Tiffany & Co sterling silver Chrysanthemum flatware service for 12 that sold for $31,200. It included 28 serving pieces and dated to the late Nineteenth Century. “From a Gilded Age societal standpoint, the Chrysanthemum service had an interesting story that was shared with us by the family and that we found further support for in some newspaper clippings,” Laughlin said. The lot description noted that the set was “originally gifted April 12, 1899 to Clara Warner of St Louis by Mr and Mrs George J. Gould of New York on the occasion of her wedding to Herman B. Kooser. Clara Warner was the daughter of Charles G. Warner (1844-1911), a prominent St Louisan and first Vice President of the Missouri Pacific Railroad Company, friend and associate of Mr Gould.” George J. Gould was a financier and railroad executive who followed in the footsteps of his father, Jay Gould, who earned notoriety as a ruthless Gilded Age robber baron who amassed a fortune that stood among the largest of his era. George Gould’s death, which would come in 1923 as a result of pneumonia, is among those attributed to the Curse of the Pharaohs, where people became mysteriously ill following their visit to the tomb of the recently uncovered Tutankhamun.

“It was gifted not long after the set was made, it would not be abnormal to say that the set was made for them,” Laughlin noted on this Tiffany & Co Chrysanthemum pattern sterling flatware service that brought $31,200. By family lore, the service was gifted on April 12, 1899 to Clara Warner on the occasion of her wedding to Herman B. Kooser. It was given by Mr and Mrs George J. Gould, a notable railroad man and heir in the Gilded Age who inherited an immense fortune from his father, the railroad tycoon Jay Gould.

The sale’s third highest lot was a portrait of the Abner Coburn by Montague Dawson. It sold above estimate for $30,000.

A collection of snuff bottles was released with the estate of Dr Barbara Geller of St Louis, top among them a lot of three faux-cinnabar examples that took $7,800. The group featured two examples in red lacquer with a four-character Qianlong mark to underside, as well as another in imitation cinnabar.

“Every single one of the snuff bottles performed at or well above estimate,” Laughlin said. Dr Geller had purchased from all over in the late 1970s-80s, including several records from Sotheby’s and Christie’s.”

Other highlights included a carved amber example from the Nineteenth Century that brought $3,900. The catalog noted that the carving depicted “a bird of prey under pines and atop a rock mass overlooking crashing waves.” At $2,375 was a white jade example with an image of a recumbent horse under a pine tree with a monkey and butterfly to the side. In the form of a gourd was a jade example featuring a high relief carved squirrel that sold for $2,250.

The sale also featured a number of offerings from Jack Parker, owner of Jack Parker’s Antiques. “He was a regional icon that passed away in 2020,” Laughlin said. “We were very honored to handle his collection.” Parker’s family had roots in horse breeding and the dealer also owned a bar beneath his gallery on Shaw Avenue, O’Connell’s Pub. Among his offerings was a female nude signed Miller, possibly Richard Edward Miller, that the auction house said may have been a smaller study for the artist’s “Bather.” It sold for $1,920. Titled “Fort Charette, circa 1790″ a 11¼-by-15¼-inch oil on canvas by Twentieth Century artist L. Edward Fisher sold for $1,020. Featuring the historic Missouri trading post, a note to its back indicated it was a color study for a larger 24-by-30-inch painting by the artist.

Taking $25,000 was “Reclining Figure No. A,” a dated 1913 bronze by Alexander Archipenko (Ukrainian, 1887-1964). It had exhibition history in the 1970s-80s and was included in the artist’s catalogue raisonné. The “A” is representative of an artist’s cast.

“I feel the sale fared very well, we’ve experienced a good amount of interest locally, nationally and internationally when we receive good material and handle it the way we do,” Laughlin concluded. “This auction was a pretty good result from a middle-market standpoint, where we sit, geography-wise. Our reputation allows us to handle some of this material a little more effectively.”

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