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  • George Washington Portrait May Bring $15 Million at Christie's
    1.16.2006 NEW YORK.
    By Lindsay Pollock, bloomberg.com

    A life-size 1779 portrait of George Washington, projected to sell for as much as $15 million at Christie's International, will be one of the highlights of this week's Americana auctions in New York.

    Christie's and Sotheby's Holdings Inc. are hoping to bring in a total of $61.5 million during the Jan. 20-22 auctions, traditionally patronized by the blue-blazer set that covets Colonial candlesticks, needlepoint samplers and Chippendale chests.

    Previews run through Jan. 19 at Christie's and through the following morning at Sotheby's.

    The 8-foot-tall Washington canvas, by 18th-century Philadelphia painter Charles Willson Peale, depicts a heroic (though pear-shaped) future president leaning on a cannon in the battlefield. Christies says there are eight versions of the full-length portrait, six of which are in museums.

    The painting first sold in the 1780s to a Spanish duke for $122. New York collectors J. Insley Blair and his wife bought it in 1919 for $13,100. The Blair heirs have consigned the Peale and 639 other lots, including a rare painted 1729 chest that's expected to sell for as much as $800,000.

    Though the Peale is undoubtedly important, the auction market has seen no shortage of Washington portraits. In November, Sotheby's offered four on behalf of the New York Public Library.

    In May 2004, Christie's sold a three-quarter-length Washington portrait by Peale for $6.1 million to Alice Walton, heir to the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fortune. A photo of the painting appears on the Web site of Crystal Bridges, an American art museum that Walton is opening in 2009 in Bentonville, Arkansas.

    `Peaceable Kingdom'

    Christie's said there were 10 to 20 versions of the portrait. (The artist was remarkably prolific for a man who had three wives and 17 children.)

    The Blair collection, off the market for 70 years, is the centerpiece of the Christie's auction, while Sotheby's has a strong group of American furniture from Washington collectors Diane and Norman Bernstein. The top lot is a 1765 Chippendale bureau, with shells carved into the wood, estimated to sell for as much as $800,000. It originally was owned by Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island's Colonial governor and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

    Sotheby's also is touting a folk art painting by Quaker minister Edward Hicks, considered the Picasso of folk art. Hicks, who died in 1849, made 62 versions of the ``Peaceable Kingdom'' landscape, which is dotted with lions, lambs and cattle.

    Sky Club

    Christie's sold one in 1999 for $4.7 million, still the auction record for the artist and any piece of folk art. Sotheby's Hicks is expected to sell for as much as $3 million.

    Christie's folk art includes 39 paintings once owned by collectors Edgar and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, heiress to the automobile fortune. The Garbischs went on a buying binge in the 1940s and 1950s, accumulating 2,600 early American paintings. At the time, there was little competition for such material, which could be had for a few hundred dollars. They later donated 428 paintings to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

    Edgar Garbisch sold some of his collection in the 1960s to the Sky Club, a private dining club on the 56th floor of the MetLife building (then the Pan Am building). Tucked inside a modernist skyscraper, the Sky Club is incongruously decorated with architectural molding, ship models and pewter plates -- an approximation of a Colonial New England home.

    Mount Vernon

    In September, the club announced it was closing because of rent increases and post-9/11 anxieties about skyscrapers. The Christie's sale of the club's Garbisch paintings includes an 1832 pair of portraits of a dour couple, Matthew and Lucinda Robbins, attributed to deaf itinerant painter John Brewster. The pair is estimated to bring as much as $80,000, and the collection is valued at up to $700,000.

    Several antiques fairs are scheduled to coincide with the Americana auctions, including the 52nd annual Winter Antiques Show at the Seventh Regiment Armory.

    It will feature 74 sellers and a special exhibition from Mount Vernon, George Washington's home in Virginia. The show starts Jan. 19 with an opening night party. Tickets range from $225 to $2,500; the honorary chairmen are Christine and Stephen Schwarzman, founder of Blackstone Group LP.

    A more affordable event at the Winter Antiques Show is the lecture on Washington's Mount Vernon distillery, which produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey and yielded a profit of $7,500 in 1799. The Jan. 23 lecture is free with the $20 admission charge and includes a whiskey tasting.