On the money
By Laura Beach
Yorkshire calendar and almanac
Calendar and almanac, probably York or Ripon, Yorkshire, England, c. 1425. Ink, tempera, and gold leaf on parchment, each page 6 by 4 1/8 inches.
WHY: Priced in the six figures by Les Enluminures of Paris, New York, and Chicago, this calendar and almanac of about 1425, with prognostications in Latin, illustrates the English monarchy from William I to Henry VI and depicts the history of the world from Adam's creation to St. Thomas Becket and Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, beheaded in 1322. Renderings of local saints suggest a Yorkshire origin for this gilt- and tempera-embellished ink on parchment document, which notes solar and lunar eclipses and predicts events such as the harvest, disasters, and war. The work sold to a collector at Masterpiece London.
TAKEAWAY: "This manuscript testifies to the emergence of a class of private book owners, among them prosperous landowners and country doctors, in northern England at a time when the boundary between literate and non-literate readers was increasingly blurred," says gallery owner Sandra Hindman. Three related almanacs survive. Two, dated 1412 and 1420, are in the British Library. The third and earliest example, which dates to 1389, is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford University.
Two swans, Staffordshire, c. 1755. Salt-glazed stoneware with slip decoration; height of each, 6 ½ inches.
WHY: Priced at $95,000, this pair of stoneware swans is a recent sale by Leo Kaplan Ltd. Finely modeled with press-molded wings sheltering cygnet offspring, the salt-glazed figures have touches of brown slip decoration on their beaks and webbed feet. The swans descended in the collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair, who purchased them in 1930 from Edgewater, New Jersey, dealer Willoughby Farr.
TAKEAWAY: These figures were probably inspired by Meissen originals of c. 1740 by Johann Friedrich Eberlein and Johann Joachim Kändler. Leslie B. Grigsby references similar pairs in English Pottery: Stoneware and Earthenware, 1650-1800: The Henry H. Weldon Collection, published in 1990. "Pairs of birds, notably hawks and parrots, were popular in the salt-glaze period. English potters really captured the essence of what was being done in porcelain in Asia and Europe. The earliest examples lacked refinement, but by the middle of the nineteenth century English potters were making crisply modeled pieces that are thin in dimension and weight," says New York dealer Alan Kaplan.
Wax portrait of Charles James Fox
Charles James Fox (1749-1806) by Samuel Percy (1753-1819), London, c. 1810. Colored wax with original fabric-lined shadowbox frame; portrait height 5 ½ inches.
WHY: The Yale Center for British Art acquired this c. 1810 colored-wax likeness of Charles James Fox, a British statesman known for his searing oratory and forceful support of American independence and abolition, from Philadelphia dealer Elle Shushan at Masterpiece London. Sculpted by the Dublin-born Samuel Percy, who worked in London from the early 1770s, the image joins Percy's whimsical wax tableau A Race of Chimney-sweeps on Donkeys, acquired by the museum in 2011, plus a marble bust and satirical political cartoons of Fox by other artists.
TAKEAWAY: "The Percy portrait is an important way for the Yale Center for British Art to acknowledge a neglected aspect of the history of portraiture, which is otherwise well-represented in painting, sculpture, and prints in our collection," says Martina Droth, the British Art Center's associate director of research and curator of sculpture. "The kind of mixed-media productions that Percy specialized in were important and popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries."
Candelabrum by Matthew Boulton (1728-1809), English, c. 1770. Blue john, gilt metal; height 23 ½, width 20 ½ inches.
WHY: Called the King's vase, this opulent blue john and gilt-metal candelabrum is from a design of about 1770 by Matthew Boulton, inspired by a drawing by William Chambers now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Boulton, who envisioned the original candle vase as the centerpiece of a group of garnitures that he made for Queen Charlotte, used the royal commission to secure sales of additional, modified versions of the vase. London antiquary Ronald Phillips Ltd. recently sold this example, previously in the collections of the Duke of Kent (1902-1942) at Derby House and Princess Mary (1897-1965), for just under half a million pounds.
TAKEAWAY: Britannia rules in New York this fall at the Bard Graduate Center, where William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain is on view from September 20 to February 9, 2014, and on October 24, when Sotheby's auctions English furniture from the Long Island residence of Niki and Joe Gregory.
Danish modernist painting
Ida in an Interior with Piano by Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916), 1901. Oil on canvas, 23 ½ by 21 ¾ inches.
WHY: Admired for his subdued interiors, Vilhelm Hammershøi painted his wife, Ida, by the window of their Copenhagen apartment in this oil on canvas of 1901. Calling to mind Vermeer's domestic views and Whistler's semiabstract tonal experiments, the painting sold to a private collector for $1,716,720 at Sotheby's May 23 auction of Nineteenth Century European Paintings in London.
TAKEAWAY: Drawn from the collection of Ambassador John L. Loeb Jr.,Danish Paintings from the Golden Age to the Modern Breakthrough is on view from October 12 to January 18, 2014, at Scandinavia House in Manhattan. The show presents thirty-seven works by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Danish artists, including Hammershøi, one of the country's premier early modernists.
Carpet, Kerman, South Persia, probably second half of the sixteenth century or possibly first half of the seventeenth century. Wool pile on cotton and silk foundation; 8 feet 9 inches by 6 feet 5 inches.
WHY: Long considered a masterpiece of design and craftsmanship, this Persian carpet sold to an anonymous bidder at Sotheby's New York in June for $33,765,000, toppling auction records for Oriental rugs and Islamic art. The unusual size and asymmetrical format of the weaving, which probably dates to the late sixteenth century and is notable for its rhythmic pattern of sickle leaves, vines, palmettes, and cedar trees on a brilliant crimson ground, suggests that it may have been made for a throne dais.
TAKEAWAY: "This well-known carpet is an important work of art, on par with a great painting," says underbidder Peter Pap, whose American client hoped to keep the piece consigned by Washington's Corcoran Gallery of Art in this country. "Over the past decade, many of the great classical carpets have gone to the Museum of Islamic Art in Qatar. The suspicion is that this one will end up in a museum as well," Pap says.