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Obscure Still Life Shines at Vibrant Skinner Auction

The Nov. 17 auction of American and European paintings at Skinner Inc., Boston, produced a $149,000 sale on the first lot, a 17th-century “Dutch School” Still Life With Butterfly, Peaches, Cherries and Chestnut, which bore a modest $2,000/4,000 estimate. Only one other lot in the sale—an 1887 Still Life with Books and Pipe, by American

NEW YORK—The Nov. 17 auction of American and European paintings at Skinner Inc., Boston, produced a $149,000 sale on the first lot, a 17th-century “Dutch School” Still Life With Butterfly, Peaches, Cherries and Chestnut, which bore a modest $2,000/4,000 estimate. Only one other lot in the sale—an 1887 Still Life with Books and Pipe, by American painter John Frederick Peto (1854-1907), estimated at $18,000/22,000—fetched as much, setting an auction record for the artist as well.

Approximately 82 percent of the 517 lots in the sale found buyers, producing a cumulative $1.8 million, in line with Skinner’s presale auction estimate of $1.6/2.4 million. (Last year’s auction made $2.2 million but had 592 lots on offer, of which 84 percent were sold; ANL, 12/16/05)

The price of the “Dutch School” painting came as “a bit of a surprise, but not completely,” Robin Starr, Skinner’s associate director of American and European paintings told ARTnewsletter. “The second we advertised the painting, we started getting calls about it, so we knew in advance there would be a lot of interest.” A London-based dealer offered the winning phone bid for the work, which had been consigned by a private collector from Massachusetts. The Peto still life, which had been found in the storage attic of a commercial building being sold by a Massachusetts family, also attracted numerous bidders and was eventually acquired by a New England art dealer.

In keeping with many other sales at Skinner, buyers took chances on lesser-known artists and on works with uncertain attribution, all the while taking a more conservative approach to the fully attributed works of well-known artists.

For instance, The Golden Hour, by Italian painter Guido Carmignani (1838-1909), came in with a $1,000/1,500 estimate and earned the artist a record $34,075; Indian Summer, 1871, by John Williamson (1826-85) outperformed its $500/700 estimate with $14,100; and The White Way, Bermuda, 1908, by Ross Sterling Turner (1847-1915), bested its $500/600 estimate by fetching $14,100, a record for the artist.

A painting of a black-throated bird, attributed only as “after John James Audubon” and given a $4,000/5,000 estimate, realized $18,800; A Very Good Hand, 1882, by Spanish painter Antonio Casanova y Estorach (1847-96), brought in $24,675, flying way above its $2,000/3,000 estimate; and Harbor View, by British artist Ebenezer Wake Cook (1843-1926), earned $43,475, far outpacing its $5,000/7,000 estimate and setting a record in the process.

Artists whose paintings were expected to fetch higher prices, on the other hand, tended to fall within estimates or a little below. The French Canadian Trapper, an oil by American Frederic Remington (1861-1909) that bore a $30,000/50,000 estimate, drew $35,250; and Tent, Lake Tahoe, by another American painter, Frank Weston Benson (1862-1951), made $49,938 (estimate: $40,000/60,000).

A few higher-priced pieces failed to find buyers, among them a drawing of a resting cat, by Andy Warhol (1928-87), which carried a $25,000/35,000 estimate; a painting by Guy Carleton Wiggins (1883-1962), Essex, Winter (estimate: $15,000/30,000); and the sale’s marquee lot, Young Girl with a Mirror, 1932, by Frederick Carl Frieseke (1874-1939), which had been estimated at $300,000/500,000.

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