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Art Market Watch
Jan. 6, 2006 

January means two things to the New York art market, aside from cold weather, that is. The first is "Americana Week," and the second is the round of Old Masters auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Plus, the month also includes a big sale of American Indian art. Some highlights:

* American Indian art comes on the block at Christie’s New York in a two-part sale on Jan. 12, 2006. The sale of "Important American Indian Art from a Private Western Collection," beginning at 10 a.m., features over 200 lots -- baskets, pottery, weavings, beadwork and kachina dolls, including a ca. 1860 Navajo man’s wearing blanket estimated at $75,000-$95,000.

The afternoon auction features 228 lots, ranging from turquoise jewelry estimated at less than $1,000 to a pair of sculpted walrus ivory Punuk Eskimo snow goggles (ca. 600-1100 AD) estimated at $70,000-$90,000. All told, the American Indian auction carries a total presale estimate of more than $2 million, which could make the day the department’s largest ever.

* Americana Week in New York kicks off with the New York Ceramics Fair (Jan. 18-22), the American Antiques Show 2006 (Jan. 19-22) and the Winter Antiques Show (Jan. 20-29). As for the auctions, Christie’s has scheduled two days of auctions of American furniture, folk art, paintings, porcelain and prints, Jan. 20-21.

Christie’s massive assorted-owner sale includes 884 lots spread over two days, carrying a total presale estimate of $8 million-$12.5 million. Included in this sale are 34 works of folk art originally displayed by Edgar Garbisch (1899-1979) and his wife, Bernice Chrysler (1907-1979) at the Sky Club, a private dining room on the 56th floor of what is now the Met Life building. Top lot here is the stately double portrait of Matthew and Lucinda Robbin (est. $50,000-$80,000), attributed to John Brewster, Jr.

Another group of three folk-art portraits encapsulates an early 18th-century soap opera involving the family of John Sherman (1750-1802), accused of being an adulterer and a drunkard who threatened to cast the family portraits into the street during divorce proceedings. The portraits of the father and his two children, painted by the otherwise anonymous "Sherman Limner," are estimated at $100,000-$150,000 each.

The treasure of the Jan. 21 sale is undoubtedly Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of George Washington at Princeton (1779-181), showing the commander-in-chief suavely resting with his hand on a cannon, painted over a three-year period during the Revolutionary War. From the collection of Mrs. J. Insley Blair (1883-1951), whose husband was heir to a 19th-century railroad and banking fortune, the painting is estimated at $10 million-$15 million. The works are being sold by Natalie Nolton Blair, her daughter-in-law. The total presale estimate for the Blair material, some 140 lots, is $13.5 million-$20.5 million.

Among the top lots of furniture is a diminutive paint-decorated chest-of-drawers dating from 1729 (est. $500,000-$800,000), a carved mahogany Chippendale chest-of-drawers attributed to Nicholas Bernard (est. $300,000-$500,000) and a Federal carved mahogany double curule-base sofa from early 19th-century New York (est. $150,000-$250,000). 

* Sotheby’s Americana sales stretch over three days, Jan. 20-22, with 594 lots carrying a total presale estimate of $15.9 million-$28 million. One impressive lot is Edward Hicks’ great 1847 Peaceable Kingdom, an iconic image of lions and tigers and bears lolling in a timeless, verdant landscape as colonial ladies and gentleman look on. The work is estimated at $2 million-$3 million.

Among the other interesting art works for sale at Sotheby’s is Rufus Hathaway's Portraits of Josiah Dean III and his Wife Sarah Dean of Raynham, Massachusetts (est. $300,000-$500,000) and folk art hero Bill Traylor's Fox and Man with Hatchet: An Exciting Event (est. $50,000-$100,000) and Man in Blue Chair (est. $30,000-$50,000). Among the furniture, the megastar is a Judge William Walker Chippendale block-and-shell carved cherrywood bonnet-top desk-and-bookcase, designed by Calvin Willey ca. 1782 (est. $500,000-$1,000,000).

Another top lot, from the American collection of Diane and Norman Bernstein from their country house, "The Lindens," in Danvers, Mass., is a full-size John Singleton Copley oil portrait of Robert Hopper (est. $300,000-$600,000).

* As soon as the Americana sales wind down, the auctions of Old Masters start up. Sotheby’s begins the action with a sale of 185 lots of Old Master drawings on Jan. 25. Top lots include William Blake’s watercolor of Oberon and Titania, Shakespeare’s fairy king and queen, reclining on flower thrones (est. $400,000-$600,000), and a detailed panorama of nautical combat on joined sheets of paper by Willem van de Velde the Elder (est. $200,000-$300,000).

Sotheby’s Jan. 26-27 sale of Old Master paintings features Rembrandt’s Study of an Elderly Woman in a White Cap from ca. 1640, which was recently rediscovered and brought back to life with an extensive cleaning. It carries a presale estimate of $3 million-$4 million. Another top lot in the sale is Donatello’s Borromeo Madonna, a detailed terracotta relief of the Madonna and Child, sold as "circle of" in 1990 but now cleaned, reattributed and estimated at $4 million-$6 million.

Other notable items include Jan van Huysum’s Flowers in a Terracotta Vase on a Marble Ledge, estimated at $6 million-$8 million; Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s charming, largish (ca. 29 x 49 in.) Peasant Wedding Procession, estimated at $1.2 million-$1.6 million; Claude Lorrain’s Pastoral Landscape of shepherds tending their cattle near ancient ruins, estimated at $2 million-$3 million; and Bernardo Bellotto’s dramatic view of Piazza San Marco in Venice, estimated at $3 million-$4 million.

Sotheby’s rounds out its calendar with the unusual "The Dealer’s Eye" auction on Jan. 26, a sale composed entirely of works consigned by Old Master dealers, including Robert Noortman, Johnny van Haeften, Jonathan Green, Roman Herzig and Adam Williams. Among the 73 lots is the striking, vertiginously perspectival Saints Peter and John at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple by Abel Grimmer (est. $400,000-$600,000), consigned by Milanese dealer Silvano Lodi.

* Christie’s sale of Old Master drawings on Jan. 24 features Michelangelo’s Study of a Male Torso, an ethereal sketch with both recto and verso images conjuring the tensed musculature of one of his great sculptures. The work is expected to bring $4 million. Other highlights include an atmospheric Rembrandt sketch of a mustached man (est. $150,000-$200,000) and a Fra Bartolommeo chalk drawing of a kneeling woman (est. $70,000-$100,000).

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