China Trade Paintings Soar At Pook & Pook Auction

DOWNINGTOWN, PENN. — China Trade paintings led the parade across the block the first day of Pook & Pook’s January 17–18 auction, starting with the first lot offered, a rare oil on canvas view of the Valparaiso, Chile, harbor and city, circa 1840, depicting European and American ships anchored in the bay. The work realized $36,000.

Likely created in Canton from an existing print, the work set the tone of the day and was the first of many stellar works to perform well from the China Trade collection of Captain Hall Jackson Tibbits (d 1872), a China Trade shipper who amassed over three decades a fine collection of China Trade paintings and curios from his many trips.

That such an item might make its way to a suburban auction house, about an hour outside Philadelphia, is not as much of a surprise as it might first seem. For several years now, intense demand for Asian arts has been dominating auctions across the United States.

“While we do handle thousands of Americana pieces every year, including many pieces from Pennsylvania, we are also very well known for selling collections or art and period antiques from all over the world,” said auctioneer Ron Pook. “This is especially true for Asian arts, an area we have been specializing in for decades.”

Another fine China Trade painting from the Tibbits collection was the oil portrait of Chinese statesman Aisin Gioro Keying, circa 1840, that more than doubled its $15/25,000 estimate to fetch $66,000. Keying was an influential figure in Nineteenth Century China, negotiating a treaty with Britain after the first opium war and later treaties with the United States, Norway and other countries. After being humiliated by the British while trying to negotiate a treaty after the second opium war, he was sentenced to death but permitted to commit suicide in 1858.

The choice lot among the China Trade paintings in this collection — and the top lot of the sale — was a pair of monumental panoramic landscapes, circa 1840, attributed to Youqua (Chinese, active mid-Nineteenth Century).

Opening at $100,000, the paintings — one depicting the hongs at Canton and the other showing the opposing shore of the Pearl River and the island of Honam — are said to be among the finest of their type, renowned for their fine detail and artistry. Measuring 35 by 80 inches each, they are also among the largest such works. A related pair is in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.

Ultimately selling for $768,000, the pair attracted six bidders (two in the room and the remaining on the phone), with the bids coming fast and furious. By the $500,000 mark, it was down to just the underbidder and the winner.

Another painting attributed to Youqua was an oil on canvas view of the anchorage at Cumsingmum that soared past its $3/5,000 estimate to reach $21,600.

William Sargent, a consulting curator and formerly the H.A. Crosby Forbes curator of Asian Export art, Peabody Essex Museum, presented a talk at Pook & Pook January 17 on the rarity of finding an extensive collection of China Trade material from one individual, in this case the captain himself: silver, furniture, fans, ivory, tortoiseshell, carvings, porcelain and especially paintings, of which Captain Tibbits seemed to have been quite an astute collector.

“The compilation gives us a remarkably personal insight into what interested captains involved in the trade with China, and reflects their observations and feelings about the country,” said Sargent.

“His collection of paintings was particularly elucidating. The views of Guangzhou and Honam, of Commissioner Qiying (Keying), of his ship Southerner, of Cumsingmum and Valparaiso, and of the villages and of Chinese women, are an illustrated lesson of a crucial period of history and art history, a period between the end of oil painting as a medium for recording such places and people, and the beginning of photography which would take that role.”

From another consignor, but indicative of the strong representation of Asian arts in the sale, came a Chinese embroidered yellow silk robe with matching boots that fetched $17,220, well above the lot’s $1/2,000 estimate.

The second highest grossing lot in the sale was a Virginia redware candlestick that realized $60,000. Made by Anthony Bacher, circa 1880, the 10-inch-tall candlestick is stamped on the underside three times “Baecher Winchester VA” and has a knopped shaft and applied coleslaw decoration in a gorgeous mottled brown and cream glaze. This is said to be the only example of this form known. Bidding was mainly between a museum and a private collector; and the museum — the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Va. — was the winner.

German-born Anthony Weis Bacher (1824–1889) came to America around 1848 and began producing pottery in Winchester in 1853 or 1854. The new acquisition is the only candlestick in the museum’s fine collection of Valley ceramics and is now on view with seven other notable works by Bacher, including a watch stand, 1853; a washbowl, 1860; a pair of wall vases, 1878; a frame, circa 1887–1889; and three vases, circa 1865–1887. 

Bacher changed his mark often. He first signed his objects “Pacher.” When he set up shop in Virginia in the early 1850s, his mark was “AB.” From 1865 to 1882, he stamped his pottery “Backer.” Starting in 1875, he also used “Baecher” / “Winchester Va.”

American furniture (New York) highlights in the Tibbits collection included an important William and Mary gateleg table in gumwood, circa 1730, that sold within estimate for $19,200 and a Federal breakfast table in mahogany, circa 1815, that trumped its $4/8,000 estimate, bringing $20,400. A choice American painting in the sale was William Mason Brown’s oil on canvas river landscape that outperformed its $1,5/2,500 estimate to dock at $12,000.

Of the 150 lots comprising American hooked rugs, folk art and decorative arts from the collection of Kristina “Barbara” Johnson, Princeton, N.J., the top grossing lot was a set of six oil on panel folky portraits by William Tinsley (American, Nineteenth Century) depicting members of the Demmon family of New York. The paintings sold above estimate at $7,200.

Johnson was an enthusiastic collector who began her folk art collection when she became involved with the Museum of American Folk Art (now the American Folk Art Museum) in the mid-1960s. She became a trustee in 1968 and president in 1971, serving on the board through 2010.

“We were exceptionally pleased with the results [from her collection],” said Pook.

First renowned for her whaling artifacts collection, which were sold at Sotheby’s in the early 1980s, she became passionate about hooked rugs and other folk art. In the landmark book American Classics, Johnson was quoted: “It is wonderful to me to think that people, long ago, delighted in making hooked rugs for themselves and their families, and that in time, I, or other collectors, can have them to enjoy and to love.”

Among the hooked rugs in her collection that found favor with other collectors were several cats. A hooked rug of a recumbent leopard, dated 1943, 35½ by 89 inches, doubled its high estimate to bring $4,080, while a Twentieth Century work of a tabby cat, 35½ by 49 inches, shot past a $200/300 estimate to bring $3,840 and a circa 1885 rug Johnson named “M.A.D. Cats” (she named all her rugs after she bought them) went out at $3,120.

Other works Johnson collected that performed well included a large B.B. Craig, Vale, N.C. stoneware face jug ($500–$1,000), 19½ inches tall, that went out at $4,800, and a canvas over wood sea coot decoy, attributed to Clarence Bailey, Kingston, Mass., circa 1930, that far exceeded the $200/400 estimate, finishing at $3,840.

Several other estates were featured in the sale, which offered up some choice lots, including the top-selling American painting, a signed oil on canvas winter landscape by Walter Emerson Baum titled “Road of Emmaus,” nearly doubling high estimate at $21,600; and a New York stoneware crock, early Nineteenth Century, with an incised cobalt bird perched on a leafy branch, 12½ inches tall, for $10,200.

Each fetching $20,400 were a Seth Thomas walnut office No. 11 calendar clock ($4/8,000), circa 1880, and a copper horse and sulky weathervane, Nineteenth Century, with fine old gilt and verdigris surface.

Rounding out the sale — and a staple at Pook & Pook auctions — was a lovely watercolor fraktur. This one was by Johann Conrad Trevits (southeastern Pennsylvania, active 1775–1825) and had a central clock face bordered by tulip vines and circles containing script. It went out near the upper end of its estimate, garnering $4,560.

All prices reported include the buyer’s premium.

For additional information, or 610-269-4040.

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