NEW YORK CITY — It was standing room only on Saturday morning, January 25, at 10, when important American folk art from the collection of Ralph O. Esmerian was offered on the seventh floor of Sotheby’s. The gallery was filled with well-known collectors and dealers in folk art, and those not present were participating by phone. When it was all over, a little better than three hours later, the 228 lots, excluding a number of buy-ins, brought a total of $12,955,943, setting a record for the highest total for an auction of American folk art. The previous record was $12,299,528, achieved by the combined January and October 1994 auctions of the Bertam K. Little and Nina Fletcher Little Collection.
Some of the highlights are pictured here (A complete review of the sale will appear in a forthcoming issue), including Samuel Robb’s carved and painted figure of Santa Claus, 38¾ inches high, which was a Christmas present for his daughter Elizabeth in 1923, that sold for $875,000 against a high estimate of $250,000.
The rare carved pine pheasant hen weathervane, probably Connecticut, circa 1875, with traces of paint and measuring 22 by 31 by 10 inches, went well over its $300,000 high estimate, selling for $449,000.
The portrait of Jeremiah H. Emerson by Ruth Whittier Shute and Samuel Addison Shute, circa 1832, 29¼ by 19 inches sight, watercolor, gouache, pencil and ink on paper with applied gold foil, had a high estimate of $200,000 and realized $665,000.
Lot 628, The Carver Limner, a watercolor and pencil on paper painted in Freeport, Maine, by an unknown artist, circa 1835, depicting three members of the local Carver family, Barnabas Bartol Carver, Mary Coffin Carver and Frances Ann Carver, carried a high estimate of $150,000 and attained $521,000.
Following the Esmerian sale, Sotheby’s continued with its second session of the Important Americana auction.