NEW YORK, NY.- This fall, Christie's will present selections from the estate of the renowned collector Alastair Bradley Martin. For more than 50 years, Mr. Martin and his wife Edith built an encyclopedic collection of rare and important art works and sculpture known as The Guennol Collection, and donated or loaned many of their most important examples of Ancient Egyptian, Near Eastern, Medieval, Asian and American Folk Art to museum exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Brooklyn Museum of Art, among others. Over 140 items from this celebrated collection and from the Martin’s private residence in Katonah, New York will be offered across nine sale categories this fall, beginning with Christie’s sales of Fine American Furniture and Folk Art on September 29, Important Silver and Object of Vertu on October 19, and 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe on October 21. The complete selection of works is expected to achieve in excess of $1.7 million.
Margot Rosenberg, Head of American Decorative Arts at Christie’s, comments: "The significance of the Guennol Collection to art scholars and historians cannot be overstated, and we are truly honored to offer this exciting selection of works on behalf of the Martin estate. While the Martins had a broad range of interests - from ancient Egyptian stone figures to 19th century American folk art and 20th century decorative arts - they had an unerring eye for quality and sophistication and consistently acquired the very best examples in their chosen areas of interest. The upcoming sales are truly a landmark opportunity for collectors to acquire objects of exceptional quality and provenance, many of which have been in the collection for over 60 years and have been seen only in the context of major museum exhibitions.”
Alastair Bradley Martin and The Guennol Collection
The word ‘Guennol’ is adapted from the Welsh word for ‘martin’ – a nod to the place where Edith and Alastair Bradley Martin spent their honeymoon. A grandson of Henry Phipps, Jr., the business partner of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, Mr. Martin was born in New York City and graduated from Princeton in 1938. He excelled at the rarified game of court tennis, and became an eight-time national amateur singles champion and 13-time amateur doubles champion in the sport. A sideline hobby in collecting stamps, books, rifles and cars expanded over the years to include fine art, antiquities, and folk art sculpture and ultimately became his life’s mission. A generous donor, he joined the Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn Museum in 1948 and later served as its chairman from 1984 to 1989. He was also a member of the acquisition committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in 1969 he enhanced the Museum of American Folk Art's collection with an extraordinary gift of 140 wildfowl decoys.
The Martins were unified in their passion for acquiring highly unique, finely crafted examples of sculptural objects across a multitude of cultures and time periods, from Middle Eastern stone figures to Pennsylvania German folk art sculptures. As Martin later wrote of the Guennol Collection, “we made every effort to assemble the best possible objects, whether ancient or relatively modern, whether from Peru, Babylonia, China or the shores of Gitchee Gumee, and whether of major historical significance or mere whimwhams…We sought to honor the ideal and the universal and the Collection is no servant to our contemporary culture.” The exceptional nature of the objects contained within the Guennol Collection is now legendary – in December 2007, the Guennol Lioness, an ancient Mesopotamian limestone sculpture, fetched $57.1 million at auction, setting a record price at auction for any item of sculpture.
The Guennol Collection of American Folk Art Sculpture
American Folk Art, September 29, 2010
The Guennol Collection contains some of the most significant examples of American Folk Art sculpture ever to be offered at public auction. Over 50 examples will be featured in Christie’s September 29 sale of Fine American Furniture and Folk Art, including a superb group of 18th and 19th century Pennsylvanian German carvings, decorative whirligigs, and rare duck decoys. Highlights include a magnificent carved, painted and polychrome-decorated ‘Tree of Life’ sculpture, (estimate: $30,000-60,000), a rare three-dimensional representation of the symbolic tree motif that is more commonly found in late 18th century Pennsylvania German furniture design. Standing just under 15 inches in height, the tree is intricately carved and detailed with pinwheel roses and serrated green leaves, with two beautifully-carved turtle-doves perched at its base. The original paint surface remains intact and in excellent condition – a rarity among sculptural objects of this age.
Additional examples from the Pennsylvania German tradition include a magnificent carved and painted spread-winged eagle (estimate: $60,000-90,000) by the renowned folk art carver Wilhelm Schimmel (1817-1890). A highly-regarded but reclusive artist, Schimmel emigrated from Germany to the U.S. sometime after the Civil War and settled in the Cumberland Valley area. A jackknife was his sole carving tool, and with it he created a menagerie of bird, dog and eagle figurines that have become some of the most coveted items in the folk art field. The Schimmel Eagle – believed to be symbolic of Schimmel’s homeland as well his adopted country – was one of the key pieces included in the landmark 1974 exhibition The Flowering of American Folk Art at the Whitney Museum, which was among the first major retrospectives devoted to the category. As with most of the rare and important items in the Guennol Collection, the sculpture bears an exceptional provenance, having been acquired from the celebrated collection of Henry F. DuPont.
Among the most charming and unusual sculptures in the group are a mid-19th century carved wood and polychrome-decorated Centaur brandishing a spear (estimate: $20,000-40,000) and a carved and painted Huntsman from circa 1860 (estimate: $30,000-60,000). Crafted in sections that are fitted together with wooden pegs, the whimsical centaur figure is attributed to a Mr. Dines of Utica, New York, who is believed to have created the handsome figure as a gift for his grandson. The Huntsman is equally detailed, with a large head and wide eyes, his trusty gun and spotted dog at his side. In his right hand, an oversized clutch of birds cleverly hang from a wire so that they appear to swing from the hunter’s grip. Like most of the items in the Guennol Collection, the original paint surface of the Huntsman remains remarkably unchanged, further enhancing the desirability of the piece.
The Guennol collection also features a selection of important bird decoys from the finest craftsmen, and an assortment of 19th century whirligigs that are exceptional for their artistry as well as their functionality. Highlights of the group include a 19th century carved and painted whirligig in the form of a Hessian Soldier (estimate: $10,000-15,000), and a Greater Yellowlegs Bird Decoy from circa 1930 by the celebrated carver A. Elmer Crowell of East Harwich, Massachusetts (estimate: $12,000-18,000). Both the Yellowlegs decoy and two other Crowell decoys, a Black-breasted Plover (estimate: $12,000-18,000), and a Golden Plover (estimate: $10,000-20,000) are representive of the artist’s best period of work. In recent years, Christie’s has achieved top prices for Crowell decoys, including a top price of $801,500 for a pintail drake decoy in January of 2003.
Additional Fall Sale Highlights
500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe, October 21, 2010
In October, Christie’s will feature an impressive selection of English and European furniture from the Martins’ Katonah, New York residence as part of its sale of 500 Years: Decorative Arts Europe. Highlights include an impressive selection of elegant Georgian furniture, including a large George III mahogany bonheur-du-jour, possibly by Wright and Elwick and after a design by Thomas Chippendale, circa 1765 (estimate: $300,000-500,000); a George III ormolu-mounted mahogany commode, circa 1770, attributed to Henry Hill of Marlborough (estimate: $50,000-80,000), and a George III mahogany bonheur-du-jour of more delicate proportion, circa 1765 attributed to Vile and Cobb (estimate: $200,000-300,000) that was originally commissioned for Combe Abbey, Warwickshire. The latter was purchased from a well-known Harrogate dealer following the Countess of Craven’s 1961 auction and has remained in the Martin collection since.
Important Silver and Object of Vertu, October 19, 2010
On October 19, Christie’s will present a select assortment of English silver, including twelve George II Silver Plates, mark of Frederick Kandler, London, 1755 (estimate: $12,000-18,000); eight George III Silver Soup Plates, mark of William Stroud, London, 1807 (estimate: $5,000-8,000); and four George III Silver Candlesticks, mark of Ebenezer Coker, London, 1763 (estimate: $8,000-12,000).
Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture, December 1, 2010
On December 1, Christie's will offer three paintings by the 19th century American painter Albert Pinkham Ryder. Mr. Martin was a passionate collector of Ryder, whom he referred to as “our own American William Blake.” Best known for his atmospheric nocturnal scenes and evocative images derived from literary themes, Ryder came to be recognized as a key figure in the Symbolist movement. The Guennol Collection includes three superb examples of Ryder’s expressive style: The Lone Horseman (estimate: $80,000-100,000), Night (estimate: $60,000-80,000) and The Lorelei (estimate: $120,000-180,000).
20th Century Decorative Arts, December 8, 2010
Also in December, Christie’s will feature an exceptional painted parchment, oak, hammered copper and glass cabinet by the Italian designer Carlo Bugatti (estimate: $50,000-80,000). Possibly created in 1902, at the time Bugatti won a Diploma of Honor at the International Exhibition of Turin, the cabinet is a typical example of Bugatti's brilliant craftsmanship, and displays all of his most prized hallmarks: painted parchment, intricately cast bronze dragonfly handles, and beaten copper decoration. The cabinet also bears a rare plaque with his signature.