This little painting is quite special. The mother, in a black dress with fancy lace collar and cap, is seated. One arm and the curve of her body envelop a small, intelligent-looking child at the bottom of the frame. The child’s attention is preoccupied by the small flower the mother is holding. Both flower and the mother’s wedding band gleam with finely applied gilt. In contrast to the subjects’ monochromatic dress, the interior of their house is a riot of color. The pair are not quite seated on a Grecian sofa. Outlined in dramatic shadow, the sofa’s classical curves and vermilion upholstery bespeak luxury. Starkly outlined against an apricot wall, the mirror’s smoky blue glass is framed in heavy gilt. The floor is boldly patterned, bringing to mind Dutch mother and child interior scenes with tiled floors in perspective. The composition draws the eye from the gilt frame and mother’s head down the sweeping curve of the arm to the child and gilt flower. An unexpected delight is the old book cover on which the portrait has been painted. The back shows marbled end paper and a remaining strip of book repair tape along one edge.
Lot 582 Small oil folk portrait, ca. 1835, of a mother and child in an interior with Grecian sofa and mirror in background, 7” x 5 ½”.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
When the Spartan army took home the horses of Xerxes as spoils of war in 479 BCE, after the battle of Plataea, it began a movement of eastern horses to Europe that was to last throughout the period of classical antiquity. Horses were a specialty in Persia. Darius the Great (551-486 BCE) had vastly expanded the Achaemenid Empire and set up imperial stud farms to supply his army. Herodotus immortalized the Nisaean name, celebrating their magnificence and swiftness. Centuries later, the Romans imported horses for chariot racing to outposts of Empire as remote as Britannia, favoring the Nisaean horse of Persia, the Spanish horse, and the North African barb.
Fast-forward over a millennia, and the eastern horse is still a symbol of royalty and empire. Henry VIII (1491-1547) is recorded setting up a royal stud farm to acquire and breed essentially the same horses: Spanish, North African barb, Egyptian and Arabian, and “all other Eastern horses.” In 1605 King James I established Newmarket as a center for racing and imported the Markham Arabian in 1616. The Markham was greatly admired and inspired widespread desire for eastern horses, but it was the Restoration and the rule of racing-obsessed Charles II in 1660 (see lot #784) during which the import of eastern horses for the improvement of racing and riding stock dramatically increased. Beyond the diplomatic gift or battles of the Ottoman wars, the main conduit for the horses was through the Levant Company, which held the trade charter for Britain in the Ottoman Empire. Beginning in 1582, its trade was mainly cloth and spices. With the rise in popularity of horse racing and wagering in Britain it was not long before horses were requested. Obtaining horses was no easy task for the Turkey merchants. The Ottoman Empire dwarfed Britain in all aspects of size, wealth, sophistication, and splendor. Their horses were appropriately magnificent. Pampered and pedigreed, they were treasured and not easily parted with.
According to Donna Landry (Noble Brutes, How Eastern Horses Transformed English Culture, Johns Hopkins, 2009), over the period 1650-1750, British merchants managed to acquire roughly 200 horses. Exported from the main Levant Company trading centers in Constantinople, Aleppo, Alexandria, and Smyrna, the British called the horses either after their port, or the catch-all appellation, “Arabian”. A number of these horses earned fame in Britain, with three of them credited as foundation stallions for the English Thoroughbred breed. The eastern emphasis on the importance of pedigree made perfect sense to the English aristocracy, all of whom claimed descent from King Alfred (848-899). A mania for breeding and racing purebred “Arabians” gripped the country. Of the three foundation stallions, the Byerley Turk reached England in 1689, the Darley Arabian in 1704, and the Godolphin Arabian in 1724. The British crossed Turkic, Barbary, and Arabian bloodlines, sometimes with domestic horses, selectively breeding for speed, and, adding richer fodder than obtainable in the desert, a superhorse emerged. As the British Empire began to take shape, beginning a maritime expansion, establishing colonies, and becoming a greater trading power, so the Thoroughbred took shape, adopted as a British creation and symbol of Empire. In 1791, the Jockey Club required registry for all racehorses, and the Thoroughbred studbook effectively closed to outside additions.
Explorations in DNA analysis have confirmed 95% of all Thoroughbreds can be traced through their paternal sire line to the Darley Arabian [Bower, M.A. et al. The genetic origin and history of speed in the Thoroughbred racehorse. Nat. Commun. 3:643 doi: 10.1038/ncomms1644 (2012)].
Analysis of male-specific Y chromosomes has further indicated that the Darley Arabian was actually of Turkoman origin, not Arabian [Cunningham, E. P., Dooley, J. J., Splan, R. K. & Bradley, D. G. Microsatellite diversity, pedigree relatedness and the contributions of founder lineages to thoroughbred horses. Anim. Genet. 32, 360–364 (2001)].
Which brings us to our paintings.
Lot 71, School of Thomas Spencer (1700-1763) oil on canvas of an Arabian horse and groom, is an early example of a British horse portrait. Horse portraits did not exist in Britain before the arrival of eastern horses. The equivalent of modern-day Porsches and Lamborghinis, the imported horses were status symbols and huge investments. Every owner of an import or their offspring would have wanted a portrait to hang in pride of place in their stately homes. Horse portraits differed from previous paintings of horses with humans. The horse takes center stage. The horse is noble. He stands taller than the human. His beauty is exalted. His eye is intelligent. Our horse is the image of an elite athlete, with four strong legs under him, fast, and graceful. He wears a racing saddle of the early 18th century. His dramatic mountainous backdrop appears to be the Brecon Beacons. The horse stands out, as monumental as the landscape, heroic.
Lot 764, Manner of John Ferneley (1782-1860) oil on canvas of steeplechase race with three horses and riders taking a fence, identified as Mr. Ben on Dux, Mr. Lowther on Blatchington, and Mr. H. Preston on Clarissa, occurs nearly a century later. In this painting, the development of the English Thoroughbred is discernable. The three elegant horses are built for speed and agility. The dominance of the Turkoman blood is evident, the horses are taller, longer, and leaner, with lower-set tails and straight profiles. The finely colored painting shows the horses’ sculptural physique and the high gloss of their coats. Their long legs flash as they race over the obstacle. They are horses bred to run, enjoying what they do best. An early 19th century painting, all three subjects would be registered Thoroughbreds, and every one a descendant of the eastern imports, and specifically of one or more of the foundation stallions. It is possible that the horses are not the only pedigreed lot in this painting, however, as Ferneley frequently painted the Lowther family. William Lowther, 1st Earl of Lonsdale (1757-1844) was a famous huntsman who owned the Cottesmore pack of foxhounds, one of the oldest in Britain. The Mr. Lowther who looks out at us from this painting just might posess a King Alfred pedigree.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
Manner of John Ferneley (British 1782-1860)
Follower of Sir Peter Lely (Dutch, English 1618-1680),
oil on canvas portrait of King Charles II
Press Release – Americana & International Auction at Pook & Pook, April 21st & 22nd, 2022
By: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
The Americana & International sale on April 21st and 22nd at Pook & Pook will feature the estates of three noted collectors, together with a variety of antique furniture, pottery, folk art, jewelry, and firearms.
Peter Tillou, of Litchfield, Connecticut, was an internationally known art and antiques dealer, scholar, and authority in a wide range of fields. Descriptions of Peter invariably included words such as “Renaissance man” and “polymath.” The true element of genius in his collecting was that, learned as he was, he operated based “purely on personal judgments about the visual merits of each work standing alone,” (Paul Rovetti, Nineteenth-Century Folk Painting: Our Spirited National Heritage, 1973) and, with an eye for the importance and relevance of each item, was able to uncover masterpieces that have been recognized over time. He responded to the rare individualist, and to pure beauty. It is an experience to view the Tillou items that will be offered at Pook & Pook. There is a breathtaking carving of a spread-winged eagle, caught exactly at the moment of maximum torque as it alights on a rocky crag, another ruffled eagle clutching a copy of The Declaration of Independence, and a portrait of a defiant patriot. A well-fed coterie of thoughtful sewer tile spaniels beseech silently with their eyes. Fat olive green fish swim along the walls on their carved plaques and signs, hanging alongside beautiful old flintlock rifles and fowlers. One of Tillou’s favorite items is a large carving of a mild-mannered pig, who looks out the door of his comfortable house as if in greeting. Folk art still life paintings, in pastels on paper, oil on velvet, and watercolor, tempt with heaped fruits, with one small strawberry watercolor theorem so delicate it appears to be painted with the essence of the fruit itself. A magnificent white cat smiles sheepishly from the velvet of a classical Recamier; and an 18th century groom proudly shows off his lordship’s white Arabian stallion. In an early 19th century ink and watercolor fraktur family record, guardian angels watch over John and Catherine Gilmore and their fourteen children. (The fraktur artist has optimistically left room at the bottom for one more). A long-lost portrait by Charles Peale Polk is the result of a successful application of Tillou’s collecting philosophy. Many of Tillou’s other passions are represented by a collection of early German stoneware, pearlware coffee pots and pitchers, Toby jugs, and Dave McGary western bronzes from his former home in Sun Valley, Idaho. In furniture, a Berks County, Pennsylvania painted dower chest blooms with its original panels of potted tulips, watched over by tall case clocks from Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania. Elegant Chippendale slab tables from New York and Philadelphia mingle with other equally fine Chippendale: a Philadelphia dressing table, a Pennsylvania secretary, and, from Connecticut, a cherry oxbow and tiger maple serpentine chests of drawers.
Christopher Rebollo was a highly respected antique dealer who began his career with Philip H. Bradley Antiques in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. His estate collection of 19th century portraits includes four lively children, caught both scissoring each other’s hair and avoiding being scissored. Attributed to Thomas Sully, a portrait of Mary Anne Heide Morris (1803-1865), inscribed TS 1830 verso, is possibly the 1839 portrait Sully recorded painting of the same sitter. Amongst the collection of fine Chinese export porcelain are the provenanced Breck family bowl and pair of covered vegetable dishes, early 19th c., both monogrammed SJB. Samuel (1771-1862) and Jean Breck were prominent in early Pennsylvania history. Breck served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the State Senate in the early 19th century. Fine furniture includes a Pennsylvania Queen Anne walnut armchair, ca. 1760, and walnut semi tall chest, ca. 1755, with raised panel sides. Federal period furniture includes a set of eight Philadelphia Federal mahogany dining chairs, each with a scrollwork back, carved urn and rosettes, over-upholstered balloon seats, and elegant turned and fluted legs; a Baltimore mahogany desk and bookcase attributed to John Needles; and, a Federal mahogany sewing stand, ca. 1810, with an astragal top and brass animal paw casters.
The Estate of Pete Lengel, of Robesonia, Pennsylvania features a large collection of Pennsylvania Shenfelder stoneware with cobalt floral decoration, Hattie Brunner landscapes, a Joseph Lehn painted wooden saffron cup, and a colorful collection of glass to include Stiegel cobalt glass table wares, Pittsburgh cobalt glass, and English glass.
Several highlights in the folk art category are: a Jacob Maentel (American 1763-1863) large watercolor double portrait of Elizabeth and Philip Wolfersberger of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, standing in front of their farm, Elizabeth holding a book and Philip his hat, provenance from the Halpert collection; a fine Johann Adam Eyer (Bucks County, Pennsylvania, active 1755-1837) ink and watercolor fraktur for Maria Magdalena Walterin (Walters), dated 1787, with text encompassed by a heart, with repeated miniature portraits, winged angels, and various birds and tulips; a rare Lancaster, Pennsylvania painted poplar Weber slide lid box, mid 19th c., the front with a large house flanked by trees, the sides and lid with colorful flowers, all on a blue/green ground, an impressive example of this rare form by the artist and remaining in a wonderful state of preservation; and, a Lancaster, Pennsylvania painted poplar Compass Artist dome lid box, early 19th c., retaining its original vibrant pinwheel flower decoration on a blue ground, provenance from the Pook & Pook Machmer collection, 2008.
An early and important Broderie perse quilt, dated 1814, probably Philadelphia or New Jersey, is a highlight. It features a central square with seventeen stars over a spread winged American eagle that clutches a banner inscribed E Pluribus Unum, over the inscribed quatrain Strong in thy strength we bend no knee, To Monarcks or to Tyranny, But borne upon thine ample opinion, We ride to freedom and dominion, 1814.
A provenanced collection of highly desirable redware features Pennsylvania loaf dishes from the early and mid-19th c., New Jersey and Norwalk, Connecticut loaf dishes, with the Connecticut example inscribed Lafayette in yellow slip, which may have been made to celebrate Lafayette’s 1824-1825 return visit to America. A highlight of the collection is a 19th c. Pennsylvania redware toy stove with pots and kettles fitted into a removable stovetop, listed in Pennsylvania Folk Art, from the Allentown Art Museum exhibit in 1974. A sgraffito decorated Pennsylvania redware inkstand incised Jonas Haring 1853 is another featured item. Also not to miss are some rare modeled redware figures, including a Pennsylvania redware parrot from the pottery of John Bell, Waynesboro Pennsylvania, published in Ramsay’s American Potters and Pottery; a rare figure of a seated man holding a turkey in a loaf dish, illustrated in David Schorsch’s The Pearson Collection; a rare large Pennsylvania redware cat with a finely modeled face and perky ears; and, a rare Pennsylvania or Virginia figure of a rearing cat protecting its kitten, the same figure pictured in The All American Catalog of the Museum of American Folk Art.
One furniture highlight is a late 18th c. painted hard pine tavern table, probably Southern, retaining an old gray over green surface, with provenance from the Collection of Linda and Dennis Moyer at Pook & Pook. Also offered is a Massachusetts Chippendale mahogany block front chest of drawers, ca. 1770; a Chippendale walnut tea table, ca. 1779, Pennsylvania or Southern, with a dish top resting on birdcage support with baluster standard supported by shell carved cabriole legs terminating in ball and claw feet makes a graceful statement; a fine Philadelphia combback Windsor armchair, ca. 1775, with an arched crest rail and carved ears retaining a historic black painted surface with gilded highlights over the original green; and, a stained gumwood Dutch cupboard, ca. 1800. Another highlight is a fine provenanced Pennsylvania painted poplar blanket chest, 19th c., attributed to Joe Palmer, Sideling Hill, Fulton County, the front panel with vibrant flowers in vases below the initials AW, Amos Jacob Wink, on a red ground.
Six tall case clocks featured are from the Estate of Charles West Wilson of Red Lion, Pennsylvania, including three mid 18th c. Philadelphia Queen Anne clocks from makers Peter Stretch, John Wood, and Jos Wills, along with three late 18th c. Philadelphia Chippendale examples by makers William Huston, Solomon Parke, and Benjamin Rittenhouse. Other clocks throughout the sale include a Pennsylvania Chippendale walnut tall case clock, ca. 1780, signed Josh. Ellicott Buckingham No. 24 and an Elizabethtown, New Jersey Queen Anne tall case clock, mid 18th c., signed Aaron Miller. The highlight is a rare American bracket clock, ca. 1810, with a fully engraved silvered dial inscribed Richard Miller, a member of the Miller clock making family of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, before he set up shop in Duck Creek, Delaware.
Firearms include a wide selection for the collector: a fine Scottish engraved Charles Playfair ramshead flintlock belt dress pistol, stamped C. Playfair and Aberdeen; a New York Style engraved Remington model 1871 rolling block pistol with scroll engraving and period ivory grips; and, cased back action percussion dueling pistols, inscribed Richardson on the scroll engraved lock and London on the flat barrel. Other pairs of pistols include a pair of flintlock officer’s pistols inscribed Gauvain Gendre de and Cramon Bordeaux, with silver furniture bearing the touch of silversmith J. Petit; a fine cased pair of Irish engraved Edward Dodson percussion pistols; two cased Moore’s Patent no.1 Deringer pistols; a cased pair of engraved Belgian percussion pistols; a pair of French flintlock nickel plated pistols inscribed Faure a Valence; and, a scarce pair of William and John Rigby Irish three barrel percussion muff pistols inscribed Dublin on the right side and Wm & Jn Rigby on the left. The first of two highlights is a fine cased pair of silver mounted W. Greener flintlock pistols inscribed W. Greener New Castle. Another highlight is a deluxe factory engraved political Moore’s no.1 Deringer, with spread winged eagle and American shield, a scarce example made to be given as a gift to U.S. Congressmen and Senators who sat on military committees in hopes of landing a military contract. It is estimated that only twenty-five were produced.
An important piece of history, a Confederate States Civil War Native American Indian bronze medal, dated 22 February 1862, inscribed verso The Congress of the C.S.A. to Stand Waite, Chief of the Cherokee, recalls an eventful time in America’s past. Stand Waite was a Cherokee politician who served as the second principal chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1862 to 1866, and was the only Native American general officer of the war, and the last Confederate States Army general to surrender.
Another important historical item is a leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, printed by Johan Gutenberg and Johann Fust, 1455. The leaf originates from an incomplete Bible, the Mannheim copy, sold at Sotheby’s November 9, 1920, to Joseph Sabin, and contains parts of the 2nd Book of Esdras, chapters 14 and 15. Its portfolio contains a four page introduction by A. Edward Newton. Provenance: The Estate of John Donnelly.
Fine art includes two oil on canvas works by Antonio Jacobsen (American 1850-1921), one ship portrait of the American tug Argus, 1886, and another portrait of a sloop racing off Sandy Hook, 1879, with a light ship and other sloops in the background. Both are signed, dated, and come from a Philadelphia estate. Another maritime painting is a Richard Loud (American b.1942) oil on canvas yacht race, titled Shadow Leads Nimbus c. 1876. An Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait (American 1819-1905) oil on canvas titled Our Little Pets, will prove popular. A marvelous example of British sporting art, an oil on canvas steeplechase in the manner of John Ferneley (1782-1860) shows a three riders taking a fence, identified as Mr. Ben on Dux, Mr. Lowther on Blatchington, and Mr. H. Preston on Clarissa. An oil by Walter Stuempfig, Tribute to Eakins, has exhibition labels verso for Wadsworth Atheneum and The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, amongst others. A Franz Hans Johnston (Canada 1888-1949) oil on Masonite The Beckoning of Spring, promises fair weather ahead.
Other collections include thirty lots of Historical blue Staffordshire, Staffordshire Whieldon type tortoiseshell glaze punch pot, teapot, coffee pot, and mugs; a Staffordshire cauliflower five-piece tea and coffee service; spatter ware to include a blue spatter beehive teapot; a collection of finely decorated English enamel boxes; and, Chinese export.
Silver will include an English tureen and cover, 1806-1807, bearing the touch WB, probably William Bennett, the base and cover with engraved coat of arms; and, an S. Kirk & Son Baltimore sterling six-piece tea service. A partial French flatware service by Henin & Vivier comes with most pieces in their original fitted cases. A few fine items from the Estate of John Donnelly include a pair of New York sterling shell form bowls, ca. 1909; a Boston five-piece coin silver tea and coffee service, ca. 1850, bearing the touch of Samuel T. Crosby; and, a New York coin silver tureen, ca. 1830, bearing the touch of Geredus Boyce, with knight’s helmet finial.
A beautiful Serapi carpet, ca. 1900, also from the John Donnelly Estate, is one of a number of rugs. Also on offer is a collection of 19th c. hooked rugs.
A very special collection of jewelry, just in, will offer gold and gemstones, works of art to wear.
The most romantic Americana items in the sale might be two automobiles. A candy red 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air with a big block V8 engine, four speed manual transmission, and a 5-digit odometer registering 25,330 will attract a lot of attention. Its muscular companion is a Hemi Orange 1972 Dodge Challenger, with a 340 four barrel motor, three speed automatic transmission, and all the power you could ever want or need. For these special cars, many may find the opportunity to avail themselves of the collecting philosophy of Peter Tillou. If one of these automobiles increases your heart rate and makes your hair stand on end, conjures visions of the open road, classic diners, and a sunset over the mountains, bid.
Charles Peale Polk, Portrait of David Brickell Kerr, 1791 THREE MEN AND A BOOK
David Kerr (1749-1814) was a patriot in the Revolutionary War, commissioned as 1st Lieutenant in Captain George Watts’ company of Militia in Anne Arundel County. Kerr had only been in America for about six years, having emigrated from Scotland in 1769. In 1777 he married Rachel Leeds Bozman and settled in Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, on an estate called Cook’s Hope Manor. From his early days in Talbot County, Kerr was active in politics. He was a supporter of President George Washington and Vice President John Adams, appearing in the Hamilton Papers as a “Federalist member of the House of Delegates 1790 to 1794… and 1797” (Volume 22, p. 302). In 1789 and 1790 he was also commissioned a Justice of the Peace for Talbot County, and in 1801 associate judge. In 1802 he was appointed a judge of the Orphan’s Court. A prominent citizen, Kerr is painted at ease, seated in front of a green curtain giving a glimpse of his legal library. Among the books are The Justice of the Peace and Parish Officer by Richard Burns, London, 1755, reflecting his status as a Justice of the Peace. Intriguingly, at his elbow is a copy of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. Lying face-down, half-read, it is to be wondered how this highly controversial pamphlet came to be placed so prominently his portrait.
Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man was published in 1791, in London, on March 16th, to immediate furore. The Rights of Man was a response to Edmund Burke’s “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” and was a defense of the early days of the French Revolution. Attempting to bring the political awakening of America to Great Britain, Paine proposed a written constitution and the abolishment of hereditary government. Originally intended to be published on February 22nd, Paine dedicated the book to George Washington. In the uproar, Paine fled to France for his safety, and for good reason. He was tried in London in absentia and convicted of seditious libel against the Crown.
It took about four weeks for the first copies of The Rights of Man to arrive in Philadelphia, where a debate was growing over the role of government. One early copy was obtained by John Beckley, an ardent supporter of Jeffersonian causes, which included a “frugal and simple” central government. Beckley lent his copy, which had to have been an exceedingly hot commodity, to James Madison to quickly view before Beckley published it, but Madison in turn lent it to Thomas Jefferson to hastily read “and return within the day”. Jefferson took longer with it than expected, and Beckley asked that he send it directly to the printer in Philadelphia, care of Jonathan Bayard Smith, with all speed. Jefferson penned a note to Smith to forward with the pamphlet, a few informal lines that were later recast by Smith into the spark that ignited what James Monroe called “the contest of Burke and Paine, as reviv’d in America.”
The Rights of Man was printed in Philadelphia on May 3, 1791, probably by Smith’s friend and political ally Benjamin Franklin Bache. Thomas Jefferson ordered four copies, which he opened only one week after having returned the pamphlet to Smith, and was “thunderstruck” that the publisher had included his private note in his preface. As excerpted, it was damning: “a direct quotation from the Secretary of State expressing extreme pleasure that with the republication of Rights of Man something at last would be said publicly against the “political heresies” that had sprung up in the United States.” (Rights of Man: the Contest of Burke and Paine… in America,” The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 20, 1 April- 4 August 1791, ed. Julian P. Boyd, Princeton, 1982.) At the very least, Smith was implying that Jefferson was attacking John Adams, and at the very worst, that Jefferson had sponsored the publication directly. Thus began a very hot summer for Jefferson and Adams. On May 8th, Jefferson wrote a full account of explanation to President Washington, who apparently left him hanging for a response. On June 8th, the first Publicola essay appeared in newspapers, bringing the gossip to the national stage. On June 19th, George Washington wrote his secretary to forward a copy of the pamphlet, that he might read it. On July 21, Thomas Paine himself sent Washington fifty copies of the Rights of Man, to distribute to Jefferson and others. Navigating the waters of political scandal with characteristic restraint, Washington avoided involving himself in the controversy by waiting a full year to thank Paine for the gift. When the Second Congress convened in Philadelphia in October, the emerging party factions continued the contentious debate.
Thomas Paine was a Founding Father. As author of Common Sense, which put the thoughts of the colonies into words, and of The American Crisis, which was read to the troops for inspiration before the crossing of the Delaware, Paine commanded a wide audience in 1791 America. The Rights of Man was distributed by Jeffersonian societies, which championed republican and agrarian ideals. Although the preface was a source of embarrassment for Jefferson, the political fallout of the national debate was massive popular support for the republicans. America’s first political opposition party, the Democratic-Republican, coalesced into being in opposition to the centralizing policies of Hamilton, Adams… and Federalists like David Kerr of Talbot County, Maryland.
Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822) was the orphaned nephew of American portrait painter and Philadelphia museum founder Charles Willson Peale. Polk grew up in the Peale household and, being older than the Peale children, became the first of the next generation of Peale family art students. Beginning his professional career at the age of eighteen, Polk advertised his training with his celebrated uncle. Drawing inspiration from Peale’s portrait work, he borrowed techniques and poses from his uncle, and also painted copies of Peale’s portrait of George Washington. In the late spring of 1791, Polk relocated to Baltimore, where he initially seems to have prospered, carrying out a great number of commissions, and purchasing a fine brick house. This began what Linda Crocker Simmons (Charles Peale Polk: A Limner and His Likenesses, Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1981) calls Polk’s middle period, when, as he worked through his many sittings, his personal style diverged from his uncle’s and gained a directness influenced by more primitive American painters. Polk’s figures and shapes were cleanly outlined and brilliantly colored. Curtained backdrops brought the viewer in closer proximity to the subject. Objects symbolic of the sitter were detailed with precise realism.
An introduction to the elite of Talbot County came via his uncle. Peale had been commissioned to paint Rachel Kerr at her home in Easton, and Polk was brought in to later paint the companion portrait of David Kerr, who had been absent during Peale’s visit. Charles Coleman Sellers wrote, with excerpts from Peale’s own diary, “August 27, 1790, ‘We then go to East Town and leave the picture of Mrs. Barkley at Major Ker’s. Mrs. Ker intends to have her portrait painted, but the Major is from home.’ Early in December, he went to Easton, Maryland ‘and began Mrs. Ker’s picture…’ On Jan. 5, 1791, he wrote to ‘Mrs. Car’ (the Eastern Shore name is so pronounced) asking payment for the picture. Its companion piece of David Kerr is in the style of Charles Peale Polk, who must have been brought in to finish the commission after Peale’s departure and the Major’s return to his home.’ (Portraits and Miniatures by Charles Willson Peale, American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, 1952.)
In Linda Crocker Simmons’ catalogue of Charles Peale Polk’s works, entry 48, David Brickell Kerr I, is without an image, owner unknown. Its provenance, descending in the family to Mark Brickell Kerr, of Staten Island, New York, until 1948 when it was sold, provides its link to the Chares Willson Peale portrait of Mrs. Kerr, which was also owned by Mark Brickell Kerr, and sold sometime on or after 1952 (now in the collection of the Dallas Museum of Art). “Although this portrait is unsigned, it has been accepted as the work of Polk by Charles Coleman Sellers, Jacob Hall Pleasants, and the staff of the Frick Art Reference Library. It appears to have been commissioned as the companion to a portrait of Mrs. Kerr painted by Charles W. Peale in December, 1790… The portrait of David Kerr was probably painted by Polk shortly after the Peale painting was completed.”(Simmons, p. 39)
After a series of failed business ventures, Polk relocated to Frederick County, Maryland, and in 1798 advertised once more as a painter. Over the next several years, he travelled through Maryland and Virginia painting portraits. His famous “Belle Grove” series for Isaac Hite and James Madison were painted in 1799 and are representative of Polk’s final period of painting, when he expressed a new vigor of form and color. Painted eight years after the Kerr portrait, James Madison, Sr., is shown in his library, which includes the now-symbolic Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man, indicating his political beliefs. It was this commission that gave Polk his introduction to Thomas Jefferson, and resulted in one of his finest portraits, his 1799 Jefferson. It is thought that contact with Hite, Madison, and Jefferson began Polk’s involvement in politics, supporting the Republicans and Jefferson for President. It certainly gave him a resource to fall back on in 1801 when he wrote to then-Secretary of State James Madison for a government position: “It is known to you, Sir, the languid State of the fine Arts in this Country, particularly that of Painting; and it has been my misfortune to meet but with little encouragement for several Years past, owing to a variety of Causes. In the County where I reside, Tho vastly wealthy, that wealth lies in the hands of a Class of Citizens, whose political principles seem to have forbidden not only the encouragement of those who dared to differ in Opinion from them…”(the James Madison Papers, April 2, 1801). With most of his potential portrait customers on the opposite side of the political divide, his art suffered, and Polk remained a federal employee until at least 1815. In 1822 he departed life not as a painter, but as a bureaucrat.
The artistic reputation of Charles Peale Polk was largely eclipsed by other members of the Peale family. Other than in the diary of Charles Willson Peale and family papers, little information about him has been published. Linda Crocker Simmons, who held the first Polk exhibition in 180 years at the Corcoran, observes, “The strong, primitive, non-academic aspects of Polk’s work, which are most appreciated by the modern eye, were the very qualities that earlier critics sometimes compared unfavorably with the paintings of academy-trained painters. Numbers of his paintings have thus languished in storage or in attics, the facts of his life forgotten,” (Simmons, p.1). This proved an ideal situation for the talent of collector Peter Tillou, who, years later, purchased a dusty old unsigned American folk art portrait in the style of Charles Peale Polk.
Peter Tillou was widely recognized as an authority and arbiter of taste in early American portraiture. The true element of genius in Tillou’s collecting was that, learned as he was, he operated based “purely on personal judgments about the visual merits of each work standing alone,” (Paul Rovetti, Nineteenth-Century Folk Painting: Our Spirited National Heritage, 1973) and, with an eye for the importance and relevance of each item, was able to uncover masterpieces that have been recognized over time. He was in an academic field of one, his principles forming his own canon. In a March 11, 2002 essay for Antiques & Fine Art magazine, he revealed “It was perhaps in the development of my folk art collection that I began to understand what I feel should be at the core of every collection: a response to pure beauty.” Purchased from descendants and dusty attics, many of his acquisitions were undocumented works by unknown artists, and existed outside of academia and traditions. In an interview with Laura Beach, Tillou said, “I developed strong feelings at an early age– which I still hold- that in an ideal environment, no works of art would be signed and each work would be judged solely on its own quality and merit.”(Antiques and the Arts Weekly, August 6, 2019) Over the course of his long career, the folk art discoveries of Peter Tillou substantiated the success of his philosophy and judgement.
The portrait was no exception. Tillou saw quality, and Polk’s individualistic style. He saw beauty, and he held onto the painting. Finally, an expert cleaning by Tom Yost removed the years of grime and revealed confirmation, a signature along the lower edge, on the side of Kerr’s table, “Ch Polk pinx / 1791.”
The mystery of the presence of The Rights of Man remains. Why was it included in the portrait? Was Kerr avidly reading the first British edition, which did not contain the controversial preface? Or was it the May 3rd American edition, still hot off the press? Was Kerr, born in Scotland, signaling his support for reforming British government? The symbol’s interpretation could have had a very different meaning for Kerr in 1791 than it did eight years later for Madison. The Talbot County Maryland Historical Society is the authority on David Kerr, owning his former house and personal items. Historian Mathijs Goyens-Harvey summarizes, “It was clear to see that he (David Kerr) was part of the elite and an avid Federalist, so it does make it interesting that he has Paine’s Rights of Man in the painting that he wanted to be memorialized with. While Paine’s work of the Rights of Man was more of a Democratic-Republican view, Paine was considered more radical as time went on and he wouldn’t always fully agree with any side. So, unless more information about Kerr comes to light, there can really only be educated guesses as to why he might have included that in his painting.” The symbolic book is representative of the kind of detail in artwork collected by Peter Tillou that engrosses the viewer, whether that viewer is a historian, a student of art, or collector of Americana. The painting conjures up echoes of history and of shared experience, it leaves one wondering, and with a sense of having had a brush with greatness.
On April 21st and 22nd, Pook & Pook will present at auction the Estate of Peter Tillou, featuring the portrait of David Kerr and many other items from his private collection of art and furniture. Please contact Pook & Pook for any additional information, and visit our website, at www.pookandpook.com.
On March 23rd, Pook & Pook will auction over 600 lots of coins and fine jewelry. Luxury designer watches, antique and fine jewelry, collectible coins and bullion hail from a variety of sources, including hundreds of items from the Pennsylvania Treasury and over 100 lots from the Estate of John Donnelly, a Penn Valley collector.
Watch collectors will be interested in Lot 1459, a Cartier stainless steel Santos wristwatch in its original box. Created in 1904 by Cartier for pioneering Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont, the Santos was the first men’s wristwatch.
One of the finer pieces of estate jewelry on offer is Lot 1346, a fabulous Art Deco platinum and old European cut diamonds pair of lorgnettes/opera glasses on a diamond link platinum chain necklace. The elegant design is lavished with 5.50 carats of diamonds, making this a quite spectacular pair of readers. Other notable jewelry includes several massive gold pieces: Lot 1136, an 18k chain bracelet weighing in at over 47 dwt.; Lot 1137, a Cellino 18k ram bracelet weighing over 47 dwt.; and Lot 1138, an 18k gold rope necklace at over 33 dwt. A total of over 75 ctw. of diamond jewelry will be sold, including several fine tennis bracelets, rings, and earrings.
Gold objects include a fine Credit Suisse 1 ozt. gold bar, and many fine gold 1 ozt. Krugerrands, American Eagle, and Canadian gold coins. For the collectors, there are Indian Head, Liberty Head, Seated Liberty, and Liberty Capped Bust coins from the 19th and 20th centuries. For those nervous about carrying their gold around, Lot 1982 is 1882 Fifty Dollar Gold Certificate. The 1882 Series was notable for being the first certificates that were payable to the bearer at face value in gold.
Over 600 lots will be sold without reserve. Bidding will take place on PookLive!, Bidsquare, and Invaluable. Items are available for preview at the gallery exhibition on Monday March 21st and Tuesday March 22nd, and online. For more information visit www.pookandpook.com or call (610) 269-4040.
By: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
Pook & Pook would like to congratulate auctioneer and appraiser Jamie Shearer on his appointment as President of the Pennsylvania Auctioneer’s Association for 2022. Made up of nearly 500 auctioneers, the PAA supports a political action committee, professional development, and continuing education for its licensed members. Jamie’s involvement with the PAA has always been a source of joy, to the point that he considers it a big, extended family. When called upon for assistance by his fellow auctioneers, Jamie is known for his generosity and his honest answers. Auctioneers often refer business to him, and if he recommends someone, he knows they will do their best for the clients. “The PAA is really a second family. We compete for collections and then go home and have dinner together,” Jamie says. These relationships have built Jamie a strong foundation in the business.
His straightforward, honest approach has earned him a reputation at Pook & Pook among buyers and sellers as well. Many people know they can rely on his opinion. As Jamie describes, “It’s not about selling that one high-dollar thing, it’s about building trust and a relationship. With that in place, customers will return to buy 100 expensive things.”
Jamie brings a wealth of experience to his position. Born into a family of York County, Pennsylvania antique collectors, one of his favorite bon mots is, “I just turned fifty-three, and I’ve been involved in the business for fifty-three years and nine months.” Jamie started collecting baseball cards as a boy in 1980, and rapidly branched out from there. He has catalogued and appraised for auction houses since 1994. Ron Pook spotted his talent early on, bringing him to Pook & Pook in 2006. Ron says “I knew right away that he would be a great asset to the auction house.”
Jamie’s passion is about the next great discovery, ringing doorbells and finding a collector’s passion, and hearing their stories. His favorite items are “what’s coming in the door next, and what collections I get to have for the next three months.” When the tide of a new collection arrives at Pook & Pook, he is thrilled to handle the great things. If this sounds a bit sentimental, it is because under that Navy veteran exterior, Jamie has a deep connection and passion for antiques, and gets attached to their collectors. As Beth Pook describes him, “Jamie has an incredible, innate sense of making people appreciate their collections.” Cathi Thompson has worked with Jamie for a long time, and through the years has seen him “develop deep relationships, respect for the antiques, the people connected to them, and the stories behind them.”
Congratulations to PAA President Jamie Shearer on his appointment. Pook & Pook is fortunate to be represented by a professional of his caliber, and so is the State of Pennsylvania. We look forward to more great things from him in 2022.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
In 1840 an English folk hero was born. Little Wonder, a rank outsider of diminutive, nearly pony-like proportions, was entered in Britain’s most prestigious flat race, The Epsom Derby. Ridden by a little-known jockey named Macdonald, Little Wonder worked his way up the field, running in third at the final turn. Then history was made. Little Wonder hit the gas with “one tremendous rush” along the inside rail to pass the favorites in the final furlong and win by a length. Starting at odds of 50/1, Little Wonder’s victory was a huge upset. Immediately after the race, Prince Albert presented Little Wonder’s inexperienced jockey his gold-tipped riding whip in admiration for the performance.
Fortunes were made. Little Wonder’s owner, David Robertson, won £3,775 ($555,000 in today’s money), and his trainer, John Forth, reportedly took home £18,000 ($2.6 million, which led to much speculation about Little Wonder’s true age and identity). At least two pubs were named in his honor, hoping to ride his coattails to popularity. This strategy must have been a success, as The Little Wonder in Northfleet closed in 1968, and The Little Wonder in Harrogate was finally demolished in 2016. In eight starts over four years, The Derby was his only win. Little Wonder died of colic as a six-year-old in 1843.
George Tattersall documented Little Wonder’s racing career in The Cracks of the Day, Edited by Wildrake (Rudolph Ackermann, 191 Regent St.,1841), concluding: ““Little Wonder in colour is a peculiarly brilliant bay. He stands 14 hands, 3 ½ inches high; and when in the stable, stands over very little ground. It was with most people, not a “Little Wonder” how he managed to win the Derby, but the truth is, that whilst Launcelot and Melody were fighting for the bone, our little Lurcher crept in quietly and carried it off.”
Lot 2239 is covered in a darkened varnish. Relined, the partially legible inscription on the stretcher: LITTLE ____ER / WITH /___ _ ___ / OF / MR ROBERTSON / ___ / MACDONALD / JOCKEY .
One of the many sporting lots in our February 9th and 10th Online Only Decorative Arts sale. Take home a winner.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
Lot 2239 Little Wonder, School of John Frederick Herring Senior, oil on canvas horse and jockey, 12” x 15”.
Émile Lepron achieved sporting immortality. Champion of France in the single scull 1890, 1892, and 1893, Champion of the Seine in 1889 and 1892, and Champion of the Marne from 1888 to 1894; Lepron could rest on his oars, his name would live on.
And yet, a mere 130 years later, his forgotten portrait turned up in a Pennsylvania auction house, his identity a mystery. A print version of the portrait was found floating namelessly in the vastness of the internet, having adorned the cover of Le Soleil du Dimanche. The rower wore the hat of the Rowing-Club de Paris. The paper was published in 1893. Those were the only clues to the subject’s identity. The anonymous rower print was reproduced in a history of eyewear and appraised as something of a dreamboat, the author positing that Lepron’s image contained both “butch and aristocratic associations.”
“… the 1893 illustration provides a portrait of such an idealized sportsman’s use of the monocle. His eyeglass and unflinching gaze complete the studly look begun by his knotty muscles and competitively clenched jaw.” (Jessica Glasscock, Making a Spectacle: A Fashionable History of Glasses, Hachette Group, 2021)
Identifying the artist, Manuel Luque de Soria, shed additional light on the subject. Luque (Spanish 1854-1918) was an Andalucian painter who studied and worked first in Madrid, and then, beginning in 1874, in Paris. In 1887 he participated in the Impressionist exhibit at the Salon du Champs de Mars and the Salon des Refuses. Luque also became one of the most prominent caricaturists of his day, first working for La Caricature, then Monde Parisien, Le Figaro and Le Rire. Manuel Luque was an artist of note; he knew many of the important personages in 1890’s Paris, and drew or painted them. Luque’s ability to capture the essence of his subject is demonstrated by the fashion historian, who sensed the rower’s keen competitiveness.
The decade of the 1890’s was a pivotal time in rowing, and France the locus of momentous events. In 1892 the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés D’Aviron was organized and held the first European Championship regatta. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, was laying the groundwork for the first 1896 Games. With his magnificent moustache, Coubertin himself was a candidate for the portrait. A rower himself, he believed “rowing is the most perfect sport in existence.” The portrait of Émile Lepron was finally rescued from anonymity after an appeal to the World Rowing Federation. In the true spirit of teamwork, researchers at World Rowing identified Lepron, based on no other information than the year and his Rowing-Club hat. Old photographs provided confirmation. The champion’s identity was restored. Sense could now be made of the portrait’s details; the tension in the subject’s body, the challenge in his steely gaze, as well as the evident respect of the other rowers. This portrait is not of just any rower, it is of a champion at the top of his game. And it is of a moment in time, after which modern sports never looked back.
Please visit Pook & Pook to pay homage to Lepron and Luque, and view the other interesting lots in the upcoming February 9th and 10th Online Only Decorative Arts Auction. For more information go to www.pookandpook.com.
By: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
photo courtesy of wikimedia.org
On December 21st, 1792 in the Bay of Bengal, a small party fatefully disembarked the ship Shah Ardaseer to hunt deer on Saugor Island, resulting in an event that would resonate for decades to follow. In the words of party member Captain Henry Conran:
“I heard a roar, like thunder, and saw an immense royal tiger spring on the unfortunate Munro, who was sitting down. In a moment, his head was in the beast’s mouth, and he rushed into the jungle with him, with as much ease as I could lift a kitten, tearing him through the thickest bushes and trees, everything yielding to his monstrous strength… The human mind cannot form an idea of the scene; it turned my very soul within me. The beast was about four and a half feet high and nine long. His head appeared as large as an ox’s, his eyes darting fire, and his roar, when he first seized his prey, will never be out of my recollection.” (Munro, Colin, Thus were the British defeated, London Review of Books, Vol. 40, No. 1, 4 Jan. 2018)
Hector Sutherland Munro wasn’t just any young Scotsman, he was the son of General Sir Hector Munro, Commander-in-Chief of India. Gen. Munro was a rising star and key player in the East India Company’s effort to subjugate India. He was the bitter enemy of Tipu Sultan, ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore. As a field commander, Gen. Munro led the battle in which Tipu’s father, Sultan Hydar Ali, was killed. For all of his brief lifetime and reign, Tipu was locked in a life-or-death struggle against the British. Two of Tipu’s sons were taken as diplomatic hostages to coerce his cooperation. Adopting the emblem of the tiger to represent his strength and ferocity, Tipu Sultan fought back, winning victories, and became known as the Tiger of Mysore. When word arrived of Munro’s death, it is believed to have inspired court artisans to create an extraordinary life-size automaton of a tiger mauling a British soldier. The internal mechanisms included both movement and sounds of the struggle, with anguished cries and roaring to delight the Sultan.
By mid-1793, news of Munro’s savaging reached the London papers. The tale spread quickly, and was published many times over. The burgeoning mass media had found perfect material to feed the Georgian public’s fascination for exotic animals and growing appetite for sensation. Stories, poems, and plays were written, images were printed, and cautionary tales for children were fulfilled. What enshrined the story in cultural immortality, and launched a thousand images, was the 1799 discovery of the tiger automaton during the sack of Tipu Sultan’s summer palace. Transported to London in 1800, Tipu’s Tiger was exhibited in the East India Company Museum, where it enthralled viewers for decades with its gruesome charm. Today, it is the top attraction of the V&A Museum. Fascination with tiger maulings and Munro’s death continued throughout the 19th century as tales from the British Empire circled the globe. “Death of Munro” merchandise continued to be prevalent, including, around 1810, the production of pearlware figures by Staffordshire potteries.
Far, far away, and at the close of the century, in Pennsylvania’s quiet agrarian Cumberland Valley, an unlikely candidate set his hand to framing the tiger’s fearful symmetry. Wilhelm Schimmel (1817 – 1890) was one of the more colorful residents in the region of mainly Scotch-Irish and German farms surrounding the town of Carlisle. A German immigrant, he washed up on the shores of the Conondiguet Creek sometime after the Civil War. With limited English, he depended upon sympathetic farmers for survival. These families provided Schimmel food and shelter in exchange for his labor and woodcarvings. Schimmel tramped up and down the valley, moving from farm to farm, sleeping under bridges and looking for work. He was an alcoholic, and had an established pattern of patronizing the saloons, terrorizing the town, and drying out in the lockup. Many of his alcoholic escapades were reported in the newspaper. Perpetually hung over, he had a reputation for being surly—and was characterized as such even in his obituary. Dwelling on the fringes of civilization, Schimmel’s only trusted companions were the farm families, especially their children, whom he entertained with his art. Directly carving a found piece of soft pine wood with a pocket knife, his particular gift was to magnify the personality of his subject, usually a local animal. It is probable that at some point, in the parlor of some farm, Schimmel was shown a Staffordshire Death of Munro figure and learned the ghastly tale. Perhaps he was commissioned by a patron to carve the tiger, or beseeched by a child enthralled by the gory scene; at any rate, Schimmel created his own.
The Death of Munro is atypical of Schimmel’s oeuvre, the only one of its kind. Schimmel carved other lions and tigers, but this narrative piece is unique for its finished quality and detail. Carved from a single piece of pine, with an added tail and free-moving figure, the tiger is a Schimmel masterwork. In spite of whatever quantities of spirits he used to ease his existence, his carving technique is clear and lucid. The tiger’s black-clawed feet seem to grow out of the slight curve of the base. The legs are sculpted for power. Schimmel’s intuitive cuts form planes and facets of a sinewy strength. Every subtractive cut of his pocket knife contributes to the art, none takes away. The tiger is powerful and athletic, ready to spring off its base and bound away. With a noble mien it crunches the flailing figure, the great nose wrinkling in disgust at the human taste. Dwarfing the figure in its jaws, each tooth is the size of a man’s hand. Carefully gessoed and painted, the fangs are lined with blood. The tail has been expertly restored, its twitchy form conveying the bristling energy of a Schimmel beast. Clearly here, the tiger is king, a result that would gratify Tipu Sultan himself.
The Death of Munro is Wilhelm Schimmel at the top of his form. There exists only one. Many collectors of American Folk Art will be interested in catching this tiger by the tail.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
With the resumption of live sales at Pook & Pook comes the return of a favorite pastime, the auction preview. People gather to wander through the exhibition, admiring and engaging with the antiques on display. Old friends, multigenerational families, young couples, antique hounds and renowned experts roam the building. Banter is exchanged. On preview evenings, a glass of wine in hand, there is a distinct note of festivity in the air.
Auction previews at Pook & Pook are experiences. A great deal of care and forethought goes into exhibiting the antiques. Respect for the objects and their owners comes first. In our beautiful building, an original 1765 coaching inn with a dramatic addition, the antiques are displayed to advantage. Auctioneer James Pook creates a museum of furniture in the main hall. Sunlight from windows fifty feet above illuminate this American furniture holy of holies. It is a bit like stepping back in time—or on time, on carpets of antique and exotic origin.
Upstairs on the sunlit balcony are more intimate areas by exhibition designer Elizabeth Pook. Something of a secret weapon, Elizabeth is a former Exhibitor Magazine Tradeshow Manager of the Year, an award won during her tenure as a marketing executive at Mars/M&M. Having a pro in the house is indispensable, enabling Pook & Pook to deliver results far beyond simply lining auction lots up on shelves or tables. In each exhibition, Elizabeth’s creativity and aesthetics are called into play. She is charged with displaying hundreds of assorted objects that are by nature of their creation highly individualistic. “To have such a wonderful, eclectic mix of things to create a display with—I love the challenge. Every auction is different,” she says. No matter how eclectic or diverse the antiques displayed, Elizabeth’s execution honors the objects, their collectors and creators, and conveys their historical value. What Elizabeth finds most rewarding is when an owner arrives and exclaims with delight. “I’ll never forget the time I recreated a country store for a client. When she arrived and viewed it, it brought tears to her eyes and brought back memories of her collection,” Elizabeth reminisces, and those moments are as important to her as winning a national award.
It is no small feat to fill sixteen showcases and never present a sterile display. Elizabeth admits, “The hardest thing is to look over a sea of items and put together a mental jigsaw puzzle of how the showcases can fit a juxtaposition of styles that go well together and in an interesting way.” Elizabeth’s bag of magic tricks is evident: her use of line and perspective to lead the eye, placing opposites in such a way that their interplay complements, the constant variety of texture and shape, the touches of whimsy, make the displays come alive.
Please join us at Pook & Pook for our January 13th & 14th, 2022 Americana & International auction exhibition. Wander the displays, and experience the magic of turning a corner and finding an entrance hall, kitchen nook, or quiet window in which it appears the historical inhabitants have just stepped out for a moment. Experience the thrill of holding some small object and suddenly and vividly connecting with the past. We look forward to welcoming you.
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
The Midas Head was created in 1989 by Dame Elisabeth Frink (British 1930-1993) as an emblem for the BBC program The Midas Touch, directed by her stepson, Mick Csaky, and presented by Anthony Sampson. With influences from the classical (see the British Museum Corinthian helmet) and the Helmet Heads by Henry Moore, Frink chose an object of ancient beauty that would have an immediate impact and be intuitively understood. The bronze helmet has a stippled surface, appearing as though viewed underwater, a found object, uncovered from the sands in Mediterranean shallows by the action of rippling waves, green with calcareous deposits, and rescued from its watery grave. Its stare is eternal; man is ever the same. The king’s armored face has a strong profile. Its outer shell has endured. The weakness of Midas is revealed by its emptiness, the result of the hollow desire of greed for money and power instead of love. Frink was distinctly concerned for the human condition. In a 1990 interview for the book, Elisabeth Frink, Sculpture and Drawings 1950-1990, Frink said “I am preoccupied with the human rights situation in the world at this moment, and this preoccupation feeds itself or finds expression in my mankind sculptures. My sculptures are either mankind or men, and they alternate or come in quite separate phases.” (p.50)
Conceived at the close of the 1980’s, The Midas Touch reacted to the full emergence of the global economy with its own concern for humanity. For the first time, millions of dollars swept across the world like uncontrollable ocean currents. For the modern-day King Midas, wealth was amassed on a scale formerly inconceivable. Anthony Sampson wrote and spoke of money as the new all-powerful religion, market fundamentalism taken to religious extreme. As productivity and efficiency increased the relationship between time and money altered. Immense quantities of money shortened time horizons. The power-hungry new Midas was compelled to never rest, and although he might consume conspicuously, there would always be another with more money and power. The business world was shaken up by corporate raiders, currencies and commodities by arbitrageurs. Billions of dollars circled the globe looking for short-term opportunities. In the developing world, capital flows were determined by financial centers far away. Debt locked the cycle into place, incurred by governments and to be repaid by future generations. Advanced economies borrowed savings from other countries to finance their spending. As with Midas, whose wish for gold turned into an uncontrollable curse, there was no way to rein in the forces unleashed. In 1989 Anthony Sampson saw a whole world driven by greed, by markets which do not accurately value intangibles like the environment or the well-being of workers, and often focused on the short-term. Elisabeth Frink’s Midas Head is a reminder that Midas was complicit in his curse, and that the cycle is eternal. The origin of greed is as old as mythology itself. Frink once said, “My concern is not that mankind is any worse than it was. It is just that it is as bad as it was.”
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence
On October 28th, Pook & Pook is excited to offer at auction two brooches created by one of the greatest artistic pioneers of the 20th century, Georges Braque (French, 1882–1963).
Perhaps most famous for revolutionizing painting by founding, together with his friend Picasso, the Cubist movement, Braque spent his life in search of beauty, turning his hand to painting, collage, printmaking, sculpting, and, in his last two years, creating jewelry. In 1961 and 1962 Braque created a series of gouaches, Metamorphosis, from which he and his collaborator, jeweler Baron Heger de Löwenfeld, chose 113 images to create jewelry of a sculptural quality. The 1963 exhibition, One Hundred Jewels by Georges Braque was a huge success. The French state purchased eleven of the pieces. Braque passed away only five months later. French Minister of Culture André Malraux called the exhibition “the ultimate metamorphosis of Georges Braque.” In many ways, the works are the distillation of a lifetime of study and contemplation, spiritual symbols prompting emotions that transcend time and space.
Lot 1401, the Hades IV brooch
In the 1930’s Braque’s knowledge of Greek mythology and art inspired him to create for Ambroise Vollard an artist’s book based on Hesiod’s Theogony. Viewing the engravings it is possible to notice already the form of Lot 1401, the Hades IV brooch. In one plate, the head is that of no other than Hesiod, who is pictured with Moses. The Theogony is one of the oldest works of Greek literature, written in the 8th century BCE. It is the story of the creation, the metamorphosis, of the world out of the struggle between the Greek gods, led by Zeus, and the forces of primordial chaos. It describes the origin of the cosmos. For his illustrations, Braque incorporated very early (8th-9th c. BCE) geometric style linear influences from Greek vase painting. The freedom and continuity of his curving lines connected and merged the subjects in a surrealist fashion. Hades, with brothers Zeus and Poseidon, defeated the Titans and was given one third of the cosmos to govern. His role was to keep inhabitants in the Underworld, maintaining balance in the cosmos. Was the Hades image a symbol of human and earthly metamorphosis; our emergence from an ocean of energy, and our inevitable return to it at death? In his notebooks, Braque wrote, “In art there is only one thing that matters: what cannot be explained.”
Lot 1400, the Procis brooch
The image of Lot 1400, the Procis brooch, can first be seen in Braque’s 1950 etching Oiseau III. Procis is named after tragic Greek mythological princess Procris. Procris was married to Cephalos, who was kidnapped by the goddess of the dawn, Eos. When Cephalos demanded to be returned to Procris, angry Eos planted the seed of doubt about the fidelity of Procris during his long absence. Cephalos disguised himself to test his wife’s fidelity by tempting her as a stranger. Procris refused temptation, but finally, yielded when he offered her jewels. Cephalos then angrily revealed himself. Procris flew away to live as a follower of Artemis. She should have stayed away, for that was the last of her freedom. She reunited with Cephalos, after which he accidentally speared her with a javelin. Braque’s Procis brooch has an archaic appearance with a freehand oval border and textured gold background. The bird itself is of carnelian enamel, evoking carnelian jewelry of the Bronze Age Mediterranean.
Georges Braque had a lifelong fascination with birds. He said, “The bird is the summing up of all my art – it is more than painting.” He enjoyed trips to the Camargue salt marshes, a region of water, sky, and birds. Across history and cultures, birds are spiritual symbols that soar above earthly limitations, flying freely to the heavens and back. From Plato, “the soul… when perfect and fully winged, soars upward.” The bird is a symbol of immortality, the spirit crossing time and space through life and eternity. It also symbolizes death, and apotheosis. So Braque has returned to his subject of metamorphosis.
“I will try to explain what I mean by metamorphosis. For me no object can be tied down to any sort of reality… confusion is fundamental to the poetry.”
(Georges Braque, interview with John Richardson, 1957)
by: Cynthia Beech Lawrence