Philadelphia — On Wednesday, April 10, Freeman’s had the privilege of auctioning nearly 500 lots from the Collection of Ambassador & Mrs. Alexander Weddell, deaccessioned by the Virginia House Museum to benefit future preservation, acquisitions and care of collections. With an impressive 98% sell-through rate and unprecedented registration from online bidders, the single-owner sale nearly doubled its pre-sale high estimate, totaling $1.57 million.
Though originally chosen to describe the diverse contents that were collected by the Weddells during their personal and professional foreign travels, the auction’s overarching title: Across Continents equally befits the strong international interest that the sale ultimately generated. After a comprehensive marketing campaign targeted to a global audience, both new and established bidders from around the world actively participated in the sale, vying to acquire the fresh-to-market furniture, decorative arts, paintings, textiles and books from this time-capsule collection. Members of the trade, private collectors, and institutions alike expressed serious interest in the collection, either with the intent of bidding or of furthering academic studies and contributing to existing scholarship.
“This sale provided a rare opportunity to combine rigorous art historical research with the client service and global outreach that Freeman’s is known for,” says Head of Sale Tessa Laney, “Working on this extraordinary and important collection was a true dream for any auction specialist and an honor for us at Freeman’s.”
Success with Ottoman Decorative Arts
Top price was achieved just over eight hours into the marathon auction by Lot 406: A book of various types of Ottoman dress. Exciting a full bank of active phone and internet bidders, the rare book — containing 148 original watercolors by a follower of the artist Fenerci Mehmed — sold to a prominent private collector in the room for an impressive $137,500 (estimate: $4,000-6,000). Costume albums by Mehmed are in the Istanbul University Library, the Topkapi Palace, and the Rahmi Koç Collection. This climactic moment crowned a series of strong prices achieved for Ottoman decorative arts, preceded by the back-to-back sales of Lots 155: A large pair of 17th/18th century Ottoman cast and turned brass candlesticks, which realized $25,000 (estimate: $1,000-2,000) and 156: An early 19th century Ottoman gilt-copper (tombak) ewer and basin that sold for $48,750 (estimate: $4,000-6,000). Decorative arts from the Far East also performed well, led by Lot 199: A finely cast and engraved Tibetan gilt copper alloy figure of a seated Buddha, 16th/17th century or earlier, that realized $42,500 (estimate: $8,000-12,000).
In spite of a market that is all too frequently bemoaned, furniture from the Weddells’ collection performed remarkably well, with many lots exceeding their estimates. Lot 49: A Nasrid-style early marquetry and ivory inlaid cassone, Venice or Barcelona, late 15th century, skyrocketed past its pre-sale estimate of $6,000-8,000 to sell for $59,375. Bearing similarities to examples found in notable institutions such as the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, this early and extraordinary chest elicited strong interest from national and overseas parties. Other furniture highlights included Lot 296: An impressive Spanish Renaissance carved walnut refectory table, 17th century, that sold for $37,500 (estimate: $5,000-7,000) and Lot 309: A fine Spanish Baroque iron-mounted and velvet-lined parcel-gilt walnut Vargueño on stand, 17th century, that realized $28,750 (estimate: $8,000-12,000).
Strong Prices for the Arts of Colonial and Latin America
The arts of Colonial and Latin America emerged as a particular area of interest to collectors. Many of the lots the Weddells acquired during their time in Mexico City and Argentina with the help of Austrian art dealer Rene d’Harnoncourt, the former director of MoMA, sparked competitive and lengthy bidding wars. The pattern emerged early when Lot 40: A Spanish Colonial polychrome lacquer tray, second half 18th century, made over thirty-six times its estimate to sell for $11,050. This was succeeded by the lively sale of Lot 234: A Mexican biombo with emblems from Otto Van Veens Horattii Emblemata, 18th century, that brought $17,500 (estimate: $2,000-3,000) and Lot 242: A Mexican silver eight-light votive lamp in the Spanish Colonial style, bearing marks for Cayetano Buitrón, likely late 19th century, that achieved $17,500 (estimate: $2,000-3,000).
Fine Art hailing from the region also fared well, with Lot 260: Cuzco School (18th century), The Death of the Virgin, selling for $26,250 (estimate: $12,000-18,000) and Lot 232: Mexican School (18th century), The Virgin of Ocotlán, realizing $15,000 (estimate: $3,000-5,000). The highest price for a work of art in the collection was achieved by Lot 253: Le Désenchanté (The Disillusioned), a root wood sculpture by Stephen Erzia (Russian 1876-1960), which sold for $71,500 (estimate: $15,000-25,000). The Weddells purchased the work directly from the artist, whom they met in Argentina in the 1930s. Alexander and Virginia purportedly purchased three other sculptures by Erzia, which they donated to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.
Numerous lots from the sale will be finding new homes in institutions, both within the United States and abroad. Most notably, several objects - including Lot 79: A Flemish mythological or historical tapestry, mid to late 16th century - will be returning to their former neighborhood of Windsor Farms in Richmond, Virginia, having been acquired by Agecroft Hall and Gardens - the historic mansion directly adjacent to Virginia House. Additionally, Lot 78: Portrait of a Court Lady, Bust-Length by Franz Kessler (1580-1650) will be presented in a couple of months to the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum in Cologne, Germany, where the artist was born and spent most of his life.
The consistently strong performance of this varied collection that spanned countries, centuries and collecting-genres is testimony to Freeman’s success with single-owner sales, to its commitment to the proper and careful handling of institutional de-accessions and to its truly international reach. “It was a great pleasure working with the Virginia Museum of History and Culture on this de-accession,” remarks Freeman’s Vice President and Southeast Representative Colin Clarke, “This collaboration and the opportunity to handle such rare, first-rate material has definitely been one of the highlights of my professional career. It resulted in a beautiful exhibition, an in-depth and scholarly catalogue, and an exciting sale with results that speak for themselves."
Image: Lot 406: A book of various types of Ottoman dress containing 148 original watercolors by a follower of the artist Fenerci Mehmed, sold to a private collector for $137,500 (estimate: $4,000-6,000).