LARCHMONT, N.Y. — When auctioneer Ronan Clarke and assistant Nelia Moore uncovered a painting from beneath a dusty old bed sheet during an estate call, the last thing they expected to find was a masterpiece-gone-missing. Or, then again, maybe it was exactly what Clarke and Moore expected to find, given their past discoveries of paintings — such as the pair of Jasper Cropsey oils unearthed from a basement rec-room that sold just two short years ago for $822,000, collectively. Or the small Russian oil on canvas by Ivan Aivazovsky that was discovered in a home little more than a month ago and sold for $75,000 against a $6/9,000 estimate.
Unwrapping the sheet from around the framed canvas, Moore and Clarke discovered what would turn out to be a long lost oil on canvas by German surrealist artist Richard Oelze. The large and intricate painting, “Archaic Fragment,” was executed in 1935 when the artist was in Paris.
The work was included in the major 1942 surrealist exhibition “First Papers of Surrealism” in New York City alongside pieces by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Joan Miro, Max Ernst and de Chirico. Oelze’s most famous work, “Expectations,” completed a year after “Archaic Fragment,” is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
“Only a small number of pieces by Oelze have been offered at auction,” stated Clarke prior to the auction, “but when they are, they command significant prices. This work may very well be the most important painting by the artist ever to come to market.”
The sale began with the selection of approximately 100 paintings, watercolors, etchings, lithographs and prints, with the first lot of the evening, two oils on panel of the Madonna, selling at the high estimate at $518. It was not long before fireworks began in the gallery, with a watercolor of the Scottish highlands with cattle by Louis Hurt, 1913, selling well above the $1/1,500 estimates. Five telephone bidders were on the lines for the lot, with it opening in the gallery at $1,000 by a gentleman seated in the front row. Bids bounced back and forth between the bidder in the gallery and the phones at a rapid pace, with it selling telephonically for $10,370.
Several etchings by Picasso were enthusiastically received, with an etching and aquatint “Garcon et Dormeuse a la Chandelle,” plate 26 from La Suite Vollard, leading the way. Consigned from a Greenwich estate, the rare etching opened at $7,500 and was bid quickly to a selling price of $17,080 by a telephone bidder. A Picasso Madoura ceramic pitcher with face-form decoration also did well, selling at $6,100.
As lot 40 neared, the Richard Oelze painting, it was evident by the activity taking place in the front of the auction hall where Clarke’s agents connect with phone bidders that a major occurrence was about to take place. With all of the gallery’s land lines occupied, cell phones were pressed into service to execute bids from the dozen clients on the telephones. The Oelze painting had the remnants of an early exhibition tag on the backside of the canvas. Discovered in a local South Salem, N.Y., home, the painting was said to have been gifted by a German art collector to the consignor. Provenance on the painting listed New York art dealer Julien Levy.
The painting was in “as found” condition, with a layer of grime covering the entire surface, as well as a “Y” shaped tear in the lower right, a horizontal tear in the upper left, a couple other small punctures and a small repair. The tears and repairs did not affect the main images of ghostly figures amidst a surreal cloud hovering over a lake-front community.
Bidding on the lot was brisk, with Moore opening the lot at $30,000 against the $60/80,000 presale estimates. Bids bounced back and forth between the telephones, the Internet and a gentleman standing in the rear of the auction hall as the lot cleared the $50,000 mark. Moore jumped the bid increments to $5,000 advances with no sign of slowing down, and as the lot approached the $100,000 mark, she jumped to $10,000 advances. At $200,000, competition had narrowed to a single phone bidder competing with the gentleman standing in the rear of the gallery. The gentleman snapped his hand in the air at $300,000, and the phone bidder took a moment to hit the lot at $310,000. The bidder in the gallery quickly hit the painting at $320,000; yet the phone bidder came right back at $330,000, causing the bidder in the room to briskly turn and walk out of the gallery and head for the door. Halfway across the lobby, he turned back and abruptly motioned that he was back in at $340,000, with what turned out to be the final uncontested bid. The painting realized $414,800, inclusive of premium.
“Soucis Oranges,” an oil on canvas by Bernard Buffet was another lot to attract the attention of collectors. The floral still life featuring orange chrysanthemums done in a heavy impasto in a sparsely painted vase and background, was estimated at $30/40,000 and opened for bidding at $17,000 by one of nine clients on the telephones. At $19,000, a bidder in the front row of the gallery jumped the bid to $25,000, only to be countered by the phones. At $26,000, he jumped the bid to $30,000, once again to no avail as the phone bidders fought back. The bidder in the room was persistent and executed a winning bid of $85,400.
An Impressionist scene of two girls was originally thought by Clarke to be a Dutch scene, although strong interest revealed it to be by an unidentified well-known artist. Bids came at a rapid pace, with it soaring past its $1/1,500 estimates to bring $19,520.
A bronze of a kneeling nude female figure, measuring 37 inches tall, was fresh from a Stamford garden. Executed by Enzo Plazzotta, the lot more than doubled the high presale estimate, selling at $12,200.
Furniture included a good selection of Louis XV-style pieces, with an unsigned ormolu mounted two-piece vitrine, possibly Linke, selling at $20,740. A French triple door armoire with mirrored front and bronze ormolu mounts, hampered by slight condition problems, sold at $5,368.
A classical marble fireplace with carved busts had come directly from a Long Island home. Strong bidding resulted in a price of $14,640.
A French gilt-bronze surtout de table with mirrored top attributed to Pierre-Philippe Thomire, mounted as a coffee table, did well at $23,180. A pair of large decorative gilt-bronze sconces with mirrors, 48 inches tall, sold at $18,300, while a pair of figural male and female bronze sconces brought $10,370.
A large pair of dore bronze urns on stands of very good quality also caught the eye of collectors as they were bid to $15,860.
A good assortment of decorative accessories were offered, with a Tiffany lava vase fresh from a Scarsdale, N.Y., home leading the way. Retaining a partial paper label on the bottom, the dark cobalt colored glass vase with irregular iridescent splotching and a free-form rim, the vase was estimated at $3/5,000. Clarke reported a huge amount of presale interest, with the rare vase bringing $39,040.
An antique Argand gilt-bronze lamp ensemble with crystal and wheel cut shades topped estimates at $7,930, a pair of Paris porcelain Jacob Petit fruit coolers mounted as lamps brought $7,320, and a large bronze mounted Serves center bowl with handles marked “Quentin” realized $5,368.
A large signed and finely woven Oriental carpet with a pattern of urns and splaying flowers did well at $10,370.
A highly decorative French Napoleon III ormolu mantel clock marked Boyce attracted a lot of attention, selling at $11,590. An Empire green marble pedestal clock with bronze mounts sold at $9,760, while a French gilt-bronze rococo-style clock marked “Popon, Paris” brought $3,172.
The top lot of the accessories came as a set of four Russian silver gilt, plique a jour, translucent and champleve enamel set with sherbet cups, trays and spoons was offered. Marked by Khlebnikov, the court master to Nicolai II, circa 1910, the set originally consisted of eight pieces but had been split up when another family member inherited half the set. The interiors of the bowls were decorated with a translucent enamel over a guilloche ground, the borders decorated with multicolored plique-a-jour enamel and the stems fashioned as armorials. The set had come from a Fairfield, Conn., estate and had originally been purchased by the family at Sotheby Parke Bernet. Estimated at $15/20,000, the lot was actively bid by a host of clients bidding by telephone as well as Internet clients. Opening at $7,500, the lot hammered down moments later for $67,100.
A good selection of midcentury material was also offered, with a George Nakashima Conoid dining table leading the way at $23,180. A set of eight chairs by Mira Nakashima sold for $17,080. A large “Hopci” pottery vessel by Claude Conover brought $6,710.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, www.clarkeny.com or 914-833-8336.