This feature focuses on a selection of artworks that all sold at the top end or above their estimates.
Capital Collections Auctions in Rockville, Maryland, sold a magnificent atmospheric, detailed and finely cast bronze group. Cast in St. Petersburg, Russia, it is of tooled and screw-mounted construction on an oval naturalistic base with gold and variegated reddish-brown patina. The subject is a mounted Cossack with two Borzoi that are about to bring down a wolf, and the sculptor has managed to convey all the immediacy of the hunt. It sold just above the top estimate for $16,000.
It was sculpted by Nikolay Ivanovich Liberich (1828-1883), who specialized in hunting scenes: huntsmen, horses, dogs and the various quarries they hunted. Liberich was a native of St. Petersburg, but came from a family of Germans. He had a distinguished career in the military, retiring with the rank of colonel. He studied the art of drawing and sculpting at the Imperial Academy of Arts, won a number of awards for his work and exhibited in London, Paris and Vienna, three of the leading centers for the arts at that time.
Essex crystal has absolutely nothing to do with the county of Essex. They are pieces formed from a rock-crystal cabochon (polished domes of rock crystal with a flat base). An image or motif is reverse-carved into the flat base, and then painted to give the impression of a three-dimensional object or image when viewed from the front. As such objects are small, the process demands incredible skill from the carver, who would be working with the finest of sharp tools and brushes of just a few hairs.
Such objects were usually mounted in pieces of jewelry and are a very recognizable aesthetic that became popular during the mid-19th Century. It is arguably one of the more endearing fashions in jewelry from the era, remaining popular until the 1930s.
Gorringe’s Auctions sold a particularly fine example of the head of a cropped Boxer mounted in gold as a pendant that sold at double its mid-estimate at £1,000.
Walking sticks, swagger canes, and umbrella and parasol handles, all with carved heads, provide an area of collecting in which sizeable collections can be built up for very little money. As with all art forms, quality can vary enormously.
John Rolfe auctions sold a well-carved Pug’s head with glass eyes for £170 against a top estimate of £120. It had the signature gold-plated collar of Thomas Brigg and Sons, a company founded in 1836 for the manufacture of umbrellas and canes. They merged with Swaine and Adeney, the oldest name in luxury goods in St. James’s, London, to form Swaine, Adeney, Brigg and Sons Ltd.
Frances Mabel Hollams (1877-1963) was one of many artists who studied under the artist Frank Calderon and in Paris at Académie Julian. She was one of the first female Royal Academicians and at just 22 was elected to the Society of Women Artists.
She is noted for her technique of painting with no background, often on wood panels so that the grain of the wood is visible. Hollams was a prolific painter of animals, mainly horses and dogs, and her patrons included royalty, many aristocratic families and successful dog breeders. She usually inscribed her work with the animal’s pet name, frustrating for contemporary researchers, as there is no way of knowing if the subject was important within its breed.
One such painting on panel was a head study of a Dandie Dinmont Terrier inscribed “Algy,” which sold over estimate by Parker Auctions for £420.
James Hardy, Jr. (1832-1889), was from an artistic family that included his father, James Sr., and brothers David and Heywood. All four painted sporting and animal subjects, with Heywood today being the most commercially successful. James Jr. is best known for his pictures of dogs and game in Highland landscapes, of which the Gordon Setter with a dead grouse is a typical example. Also sold by Parker Auctions, it went for a top estimate £700.
A third successful picture sold by Parker was a watercolor inscribed “Precious” of a fawn Pug lying on a blue cushion, which found a new home for an above-estimate £800.
It was painted by Cornish artist and illustrator Alethea Garstin (1894-1978), a member of a group of artists and colorists known as the Newlyn School, after the area in which they worked. She was trained as a painter by her artist father, Norman Garstin, and joined him on his trips around France on a bicycle. Alethea exhibited her work at the Royal Academy and has pictures hanging in many public collections.
With Crufts 2023 just a memory, a piece of Crufts memorabilia from the 1930s sold for £220. It is a silver-plated fruit bowl of oval shape with pierced and embossed decoration on a stepped foot with acanthus-leaf-decorated handles.
Charles Cruft offered many special prizes for his show in the form of a different plated item each year that had been carefully chosen before the show by Cruft and his two secretaries – cream jugs, teapots, cocktail shakers, cake baskets, etc. Special boxes were made to post each item in.
After working out who were to be the recipients, compliment slips for each were typed up, the item packed, and the boxes carefully wrapped and secured with string, with Cruft overseeing that each parcel was done properly. When there was a sufficient number complete, the chauffeur was called, and he delivered them to the post office in the Daimler car.
There is a story of one recipient of a cocktail shaker returning it to Cruft with a request for something else, as she did not drink.