BOONTON, N.J. — “We tried to put our best foot forward to have a knockout sale in our new gallery,” said a pleased Michael Millea following Millea Bros’ November 9–10 auction. And that goal was achieved when the final tally revealed a $2.3 million gross for some 1,100 lots crossing the block over the two days of the firm’s fall estates auction. “It was our best sale ever,” he said, “with an average price of about $2,000 per lot.”
The sale was wide ranging — with Asian, English and American art, furnishings and books comprising Saturday’s roster and Sunday presenting European art and furnishings, Old Masters, Italian furniture, carpets, Islamic art and silver. The action took place in the firm’s new gallery on Myrtle Avenue in Boonton. Previously, Michael and his brother Mark staged their events at the Morristown Armory, which required them to mount a nearly military-style campaign of packing in and out, running temporary phone lines, computer connections and the like, which worked but was far from ideal. “It took us three years to find the right place,” said Michael, but the 15,000-square-foot building conveniently situated just off I-287 has ample storage, a spacious gallery and a separate large area for behind-the-scenes operations — in short, a perfect permanent home for the firm, which is marking its tenth year in business.
Following welcoming remarks by Mark, Michael took up the gavel and commenced the inaugural sale in the new facility with choice Asian lots that were attracting brisk attention during preview by a scrum of Asian buyers. The top lot was an antique Chinese engraved jade bowl from the Qing dynasty, decorated with seal script. The 2¾-inch-high bowl with 5¾-inch-diameter was estimated $1/1,500 but opened at $5,000 from a bid in the room. Then the action veered to the phones and the Internet, with the lot soaring to a final price of $31,200 and going to an online bidder.
Sculpture was the province of the second and third highest items in this sale, with a bronze sculpture titled “Teresa and Teresita” by German artist Gerhard Marcks (1889–1981) catapulting from its $4/6,000 estimate to bring $22,800. The mother-and-child bronze from 1964 exhibited brown patina and was signed with the artist’s monogram, an edition 2/8 with a Guss Barth, Berlin foundry mark. With provenance of Leonard Hutton Galleries in New York, the figure stood 40 inches high.
Fetching $21,600 was a bronze sculpture by Claude Lalanne (French, b 1924). The whimsical “Pomme Bouche,” 1980, depicting a golden apple with Adonis-like lips was signed “CL – Lalanne – Artcurial,” edition no 198/250 with a certificate of authenticity. Dimensions were 6 by 5 by 5 inches.
There were other lots, however, that matched the $21,600 price that were not sculpture. A tribal carved and polychromed wood mask, Twentieth Century and probably from the Ivory Coast, soared there from a modest $200/300 estimate, while a beautiful Bechstein inlaid rosewood grand piano, circa 1890 — set up next to the auctioneer’s podium throughout the sale — also went out at $21,600. The result could have been grander. The piano had been purchased from Klavierhaus in New York in 1998 for $95,000.
Two large paintings by Chihung Yang (American, b 1947) were offered, each attaining $20,400. Property from a corporate art collection, one was titled “Plus & Minus,” 1982, and the other “Imagery Puzzle I,” 1982. Both were charcoal and acrylic on canvas, signed, dated and titled on verso, measuring 60 by 78 inches.
Day two highlights included a couple of sought-after Russian icons, one of which brought more than ten times its low presale estimate. The antique painted and giltwood icon was from the Eighteenth/Nineteenth Century, showing a central Virgin Mother bordered by 16 vignettes, rendered in tempera and gilding on a wood panel and inscribed Cyrillic and measuring 21 by 17¼ inches. Despite a condition described as “overall fair/poor,” it soared from its $1,5/2,500 estimate to $19,200.
The other icon, monumental at 33 by 24½ inches, was a Nineteenth Century depiction of Jesus Christ and a congregation of saints, tempera and gilding on wood panel, inscribed in Cyrillic “Image of All Saints” lower center. It brought $18,000.
Two large sculptures by Swiss artist Antoine Poncet (b 1928) found favor with bidders. The top selling one was rendered in polished black Belgian marble and stood on a Carrara marble base, with total dimensions of 41 by 18 by 11 inches. Fetching $19,200, this lot came with the original handwritten certificate of authenticity from the artist dated August 1976.
An abstract-form bronze sculpture by the artist had a polished gold patina, was signed A. Poncet and numbered 4/6 with a Fonderia Tesconi Pietrasanta stamp. Measuring approximately 40 by 15 by 4 inches, it was bid to $16,800.
Stemming from the Ciba-Geigy art collection, a work on paper by Theodoros Stamos (American Greek, 1922–1997, “Infinity Field, Lefkada Series #3,” 1978, acrylic on paper, signed, dated and titled in pencil on verso, 30 by 22 inches, went out at $15,600.
Additional Asian lots that did well included several Chinese School (Eighteenth/Nineteenth Century) scroll paintings. A mountain landscape in ink and wash on silk, stamped and inscribed, 36½ by 15½ inches, finished at $15,600, while three other scroll paintings, landscapes in ink and watercolor on paper and silk mounted on board, took $14,400.
A nice Japanese shibayama inlaid shodana cabinet, Nineteenth Century, in two parts with open shelves, cupboard doors and sliding doors inlaid with silver, mother of pearl, ivory and hardstones, 76 by 52 by 18 inches, realized $16,800.
Also, a Chinese carved white jade chilong dragon coupe, Qing dynasty, carved in high relief, 3 by 7 by 5½ inches garnered $14,400.
Rounding out the sale’s notable lots were a pair of Charles X gray painted Aubusson stools, Nineteenth Century, going out at $14,400 and a drawing attributed to Honore Daumier (French, 1808–1879), a study for the print collector, ink and colors on board, bearing the monogram “H.D.” lower right, which also sold for $14,400.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. The firm’s next sale will take place in later February or early March. For further information, www.milleabros.com or 973-377-1500.