Dizzying auction prices reflect supply and demand for outstanding pieces
The gilded stainless steel Harry Bertoia Dandelion sculpture sold for $152,500 and the walnut and ebony rocking chair by Sam Maloof brought $43,750 in a recent sale of 20th Century arts at Bonhams Los Angeles. (Bonhams.com / April 26, 2013)
A: A link sent shows multiple images of an Oriental blue-and-white vase.
As background, the sale mentioned happened on March 17 this year at the I.M. Chait gallery (http://www.chait.com) in Beverly Hills, where a blue-and-white 14th Century Yuan Dynasty jar sold for $1,342,000. It went to an American buyer bidding by phone.
It often happens that readers spot a high-results item in a photo with this column and think that they have an identical or similar item. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they do not.
Items sell high at auction for a variety of reasons, but none is a fluke. Almost without exception, the big result happens because the piece is a superior example of its kind. As a result, it becomes a piece that numbers of serious buyers must have. It's all about supply and demand.
As a general rule, I tell readers that when they think they have a looks-like piece, they should send info plus images or photos to the auction house where it sold. Believe me, if you have a double of the big bucks sale item and it checks out, they will love to sell it.
Accordingly, we sent images to Josh Chait at the auction house. He replied that the high result for the vase sold in March was because of its shape, decoration, quality and pristine condition. The house expected it to sell high, and it did.
More ominously, he added, "We are not convinced that the (reader's) vase is actually Yuan." Shape is the major issue. A taller vase with high shoulders, it's not typical of known vases from the period.
We also noted less skilled decoration and brushwork on the reader's vase, also a less refined look to the piece.
To authenticate, Chait suggests The National Palace in Taiwan. He calls it "One of the best Asian art museums worldwide." There are also many qualified dealers and galleries in Taipei that can check the vase.
If the vase is authenticated as Yuan, it might sell in China or the U.S. for "high six figures or more." If word on the piece is good, Chait suggests consigning it to an auction with strong online presence. An alternative is consignment to a reputable local gallery.
Q: What can you tell us about our chair? When bought years ago for $5, it was covered with orange gloss paint. We stripped it and found oak underneath. We also replaced the leather seat.
A: Our reader adds that she's never seen another chair like it. She wonders if it might be a custom piece by a cabinet maker.
The chair is a factory-made product. Sturdy construction tells us that it was probably produced for use in an office, bank, or other public space.
Oak was a utilitarian wood widely used around 1900, when this chair was made. Then, golden oak was all the rage in furniture making. The wide seat with slightly scooped bottom is designed for comfort. Ditto for the high back and half arms plus the widely spaced sturdy legs and curved stretcher.
This was a higher grade utility chair when made. I suspect that's how it survived so long without damage. The seat probably also had little use. Auction records for similar chairs are $100-$200.
AUCTION ACTION: A circa 1966 "Dandelion" sculpture by Harry Bertoia made of gilded stainless steel and granite sold for $152,500 recently at Bonhams Los Angeles. From the estate of Dorothy McGuire, of the singing McGuire Sisters, the piece stands 75 in. high. In the same 20th Century auction, an iconic circa 2000 walnut and ebony rocking chair by woodworker Sam Maloof sold for $43,750.
Which answer has correct dates for the Yuan Dynasty?
A: The answer is b. Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty in 1271 with (currently) Beijing as capital. At that time, the total area of the country was over four million square miles.
(Danielle Arnet welcomes questions from readers. She cannot respond to each one individually, but will answer those of general interest in her column. Send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write Danielle Arnet, c/o Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611. Please include an address in your query. Photos cannot be returned.)