Storied Provenance Drives Millea Bros. Select Auction

  • BOONTON, N.J., New Jersey
  • /
  • December 05, 2018

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The top lot of the auction was this Diego Giacometti cast bronze,“Chat maitre-d’hotel,” circa 1967, in a pleasing reddish-brown patina, that earned $81,250. It and many of the sale’s other top lots came from the collection of Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw.

Realtors like to say it’s all about location, location and location. For Millea Bros., their November 15-17 Select auction was all about provenance, provenance and provenance.

Renowned art dealer, collector and philanthropist Eugene Thaw died at age 90 in January, leaving behind a large estate that was auctioned at Christie’s and Millea Bros. His wife, Clare, had died in 2017. The treasure trove on offer here evinces Thaw’s keen eye and includes fine antiques, American folk art, European art spanning antiquities to Impressionism, Victorian era architectural models, and post-Impressionist and modern art.

Another well-known figure in the art world was gallerist Ileana Sonnabend, whose art photography collection passed down to her daughter, Nina Castelli Sundell, a curator and scholar until her death in 2014. Six months ago, at Millea Bros.’ auction in May, an initial offering of photography from Sonnabend’s collection performed well beyond expectation — soaring above estimate. The modern fine art photography in this Fall sale, especially a group of David Hockney photographs, also outperformed expectation.

In recent years, Millea Bros. has been selling items from the estate of the late Americana collector Charles E. Sigety, ranging from examples of Norman Rockwell to important historic documents. Several choice artworks Sigety collected, from bronzes and paintings, found new buyers in this sale.

Modern art was on offer from the New York city estate of Dr. Pentti Kouri (1949-2009),  a Finnish economist and venture capitalist with partner George Soros. He built his prestigious art collection with the goal of opening a private art foundation focused on his interests in Minimalism, Arte Povera, Conceptual and Text-based art. This is the third auction here featuring items from his estate.

A painting from the Thaw estate was this circa 1862 oil on canvas painting attributed to Honore Daumier, “Third Class Carriage,” that sold for $68,750.

“The auction was amazing, we always hope our sales will exceed our high estimate and this one certainly did by a lot,” said Michael Millea, who runs the auction house with his brother, Mark. “This sale was really driven by provenance. People really sought out the Thaw stuff, which was not a surprise to us. We had wanted to get the estate, were happy we got it and super happy with the results.”

The Thaw estate accounted for the lion’s share of items overall in the three-day sale, which overall totaled over 1,100 lots, as well as most of the top-selling lots, including the top lot, a Diego Giacometti bronze. Crossing the block in the second session, “Chat maitre-d’hotel,” by the Swiss sculptor (1902-1985) is a 1967 red-brown patinated cast bronze inscribed “Diego” on the base. The 11½ inch tall work quickly achieved $81,250.

“That jumped fast,” Millea said. “The way I remember it, it jumped to around $45,000 and from that point on, it was down to just two bidders, one on the phone and one online. Ultimately, the phone bidder won the day.”  

Thaw was a passionate collector of paintings and drawings and a standout in this sale included an unsigned oil on canvas attributed to Honore Daumier, titled “Third Class Carriage,” circa 1862, that went over its $20/30,000 estimate to bring $68,750. This work is in the Daumier Registry as work # 9118 and referenced in Edward Fuch’s Der Maler Daumier, Munich, A. Langen, 1930.

This Eva Hild (b 1966) stoneware mask, “Complex B,” 2003, tripled its high estimate to realize $40,000. The 26-by-31-by 30-inch work came from the estate of venture capitalist Pentti Kouri with provenance to the Nancy Margolis Gallery in New York City.

The Daumier painting was one of many surprising results in the sale, Millea said, noting it was difficult to predict if it would sell for $5,000 or $50,000. “I think a lot of these things needed further scholarship and for somebody to take it another step,” he said. Bidders clearly agreed and decided this painting was worth taking to the next level.

Paintings from the Thaw collection heavily favored Old Master oils such as Bernard Van Orley (Flemish, circa 1488-1541), “Hawking Party,” circa 1535, a design for a tapestry, that sold for $56,250; “Madame Dans Son Salon,” attributed to Edouard Vuillard, bringing $43,750, and an Utrecht School painting, “The Magician,” 17th/18th Century, earning $27,500. In his notes, Thaw attributed the latter to George de la Tour (French, 1593-1652).

The Thaw collection also offered choice antiques, including a lot of two Italian Renaissance style bronze medals that went for $23,750 and a Nineteenth Century, Victorian mahogany artist’s storage/easel cabinet, which was estimated at $600-800, going out at $17,500.

Thaw had far-ranging interests, spanning Asian antiques such as two antique carved wood netsuke going for $13,125 and a finely cast ancient Chinese gilt bronze tiger, likely Han dynasty, that brought $10,625, to American Indian arts, led by a Tlingit/Haida ceremonial grease bowl with carved bear-from handles by Augustus Bean (Inuit, 1850-1926) and Rudolph Walton (Inuit, 1867-1926), circa 1900, going out at $8,125.

Rounding out offerings with Thaw provenance were two lots each bringing $8,750: a rare Amphora octopus vase, circa 1900, 9 inches tall, and an articulated horse artist’s model by C. Barbe, circa 1830, England in carved wood with brass interior hardware, 14 inches tall.

Leading art from the Kouri estate was an Eva Hild (b. 1966) stoneware mask, “Complex B,” 2003, 26 by 31 by 30 inches, that made $40,000. The estate also yielded a pair of Arturo di Modica (Italian/American, b 1941), brown and verdigris patinated cast bronze lions 1987, 50 by 63 by 17 inches, that sold for $32,500.

From Charles Sigety’s estate came a J.C. Leyendecker oil on canvas portrait of Saint Jerome, circa 1898, and a Vassili Grachev (Russian, 1831-1905) cast bronze statue, “Cattle Thief.” Both works attained $21,250.

Sonnabend provenance also lends cachet to artworks and the art photography from her collection in this sale featured over 35 David Hockney photographs, led by his 1976 Chromogenic print, “John St. Clair Swimming,” which surpassed its $500-700 estimate to bring $16,250.

Art dominated all three days of the auction but the furniture category offered some interesting and noteworthy finds such as an English burlwood kidney shaped kneehole desk, 19th/20th Century, having burl veneer and an inset leather top, 30 by 54 by 29 inches, that earned $17,500. The desk came from the New York estate of Hope Gimbel Solinger.

Asian arts, which kicked off the sale on the first day, was led by a Chinese gold and silver inlaid bronze Hu vase ($600-800) that made $28,750. “That was a surprise. When I saw it in the house, I thought it was really nice. It had that buttery bronze brown patina that seems to do really well,” Millea said, saying he knew it would do well but was surprised how well it did.

Besides the items that soared over their estimates, the auction also offered some bargains, including an Albert Bierstadt (attrib.) oil on board, “Ruin on the Prairie” that sold below estimate for $8,750, a Vladimir Montufar (French/Guatemalan, b 1956) patinated bronze floor sculpture, “Colonne II,” 1992, for $1,500, and an oil on canvas in the manner of Henri Matisse, “Deux Jeune Filles,” 1947, going for $10,625.

All prices reported include the 25 percent buyer’s premium.

For more information, or 973-377-1500.

Millea Bros.
607 Myrtle Avenue
Boonton, Connecticut
About Millea Bros.

Millea Bros. Ltd. is the culmination of Michael and Mark Millea's fifteen years of experience in the auction business. While conducting countless appraisals and managing the sale of thousands of objects, the brothers gained comprehensive knowledge of the antiques and collectibles market. The company is grounded in their mutual love of art and their desire to provide their clients with high-quality property and unmatched personal attention.

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