'Pure Chinese' bronze earns 25 times its high estimate at Sterling Associates' estate art and antiques auction

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'Pure Chinese' bronze earns 25 times its high estimate at Sterling Associates' estate art and antiques auction
Youthful, hand-written 1946 letter from Ted Kennedy to Ethel Skakel [later to wed Kennedy’s brother, Robert]. Sterling Associates and the letter’s consignor withdrew and returned the family keepsake to Ethel Kennedy after receiving a phone call from her.

CLOSTER, NJ.- In the March 31 follow-up to their December estate art and antiques auction debut, the New Jersey estate specialists Sterling Associates again saw proof that their “hybrid” method of auctioneering works. Long established as a bricks-and-mortar antiques firm, Sterling holds a physical preview and runs each sale exactly like a live auction, but without a live audience.

“What we have discovered is that some bidders in the tri-state area like to come to an in-house preview to inspect the goods, which gives them an extra level of confidence about leaving absentee bids, bidding over the phone or via the Internet,” said Sterling Associates’ owner, Stephen D’Atri.

That’s exactly the method that culminated in the $151,450 (inclusive of 16.5% buyer’s premium) price paid online March 31st for a three-section Chinese bronze deity with multiple arms. Estimated at $4,000-$6,000, the bronze was destined to race far beyond expectations from the moment it opened for bidding.

“We were astounded when it opened at $17,000 online. At that point we knew we had something special,” said D’Atri. “All of the bidders on that particular piece appeared to be Asian. There were three people on the phone from China, and additional Chinese bidders were calling from Canada and Australia.” The winning bidder, a Chinese art buyer who resides in the United States, had previewed the bronze in person and bid live online during the sale. He then shipped the bronze back to China.

D’Atri subsequently learned that the bronze was of an earlier period than had been stated in the auction catalog, and that it is considered exceptional because it is “pure Chinese.” After purchasing the bronze, the winning bidder explained that the way in which the bronze figure’s arms and face are positioned indicates it was inspired and designed in a “pure Chinese” manner, with no other Asian influences coming into play. “To Chinese art collectors, this is very desirable, and they will pay a premium to acquire artworks of this type,” D’Atri said.

It has become apparent, Chinese fine art collectors have become very comfortable with remote bidding in US auctions and know what they’re buying, D’Atri said. As an example, D’Atri cited the Chinese bidder who paid $3,961 for a small, jade-covered rosewood or huanghuali box estimated at $200-$400. “He recognized the jade as having come from a scepter, which gave it greater importance,” D’Atri said.

As predicted, the top lot amongst the paintings was a beautiful oil on canvas by Vittorio Matteo Corcos (Italian, 1859-1933) titled Portrait of Anna Maria Borghese (née de Ferrari, 1874-1924). The framed 71 x 43¾-inch oil-on-canvas portrait depicting the young Italian noble in a pastel pink dress, her arm resting upon a terrace railing, sold for $52,425 against an estimate of $15,000-$25,000.

A large and colorful 1965 oil-on-canvas landscape by African-American contemporary artist Richard Mayhew stirred considerable bidding interest on the phones as well as via the Internet. In the end, the painting titled Time and Space sold to a phone bidder for $11,359 against an estimate of $2,000-$4,000.

D’Atri said he never expected one particular lot would lead to a call from Ethel Skakel Kennedy, widow of US Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. The auction item in question was a holographic letter written to Mrs. Kennedy by her future brother-in-law Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy in 1946, while both were still teenage students. The letter was addressed to “Miss Ethel Skakel, Manhattanville College.” Written in longhand on Cranwell Preparatory School stationery, the letter spoke of upcoming exams, having to do “manual labor” for getting caught “fooling around one night,” and also reminded Ethel that she “forgot to include six dollars and the stubs for the chances” in her last letter. The lot, which D’Atri described as a “chatty, youthful letter,” had been entered in the sale with a $400-$600 estimate.

Prior to auction day, D’Atri was informed by a staff member that he had received a call from a woman named Ethel Kennedy, and that she had left a Palm Beach, Florida, phone number. “You mean the Ethel Kennedy?” D’Atri asked the employee.

“I returned the call, and she said that I had a letter that belonged to her and she requested it to be returned,” D’Atri said. “We spoke at length, and I told her I would contact the consignor, which I did. The consignor and I agreed that it would only be appropriate to return the letter to the original recipient. I made a follow-up call to Mrs. Kennedy to get her address, and she was very pleased to know the letter would be sent back to her.”

Sterling Associates will conduct its next Art & Antiques Auction on Saturday June 9, 2012. For additional information, call Stephen D’Atri at 201-768-1140 or e-mail info@antiquenj.com. Visit Sterling Associates online at www.antiquenj.com.

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