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Sotheby's to offer important American Folk Art from the collection of David Teiger
An Angel Gabriel circa 1825. Estimate: $60/90,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s unveiled highlights from The History of Now: The Important American Folk Art Collection of David Teiger – a dedicated sale that will highlight the January 2019 Americana Week auctions in New York.

One of the greatest collections of American folk art remaining in private hands, the special offering this January follows the success of our 2018 sales of contemporary art from Teiger’s collection. Sotheby’s sales of works from the Teiger collection have totaled more than $100 million to date, with proceeds benefitting Teiger Foundation for the support of contemporary art.

The outstanding offering this January represents the zeniths of American folk art material. Led by striking wooden figure of Captain Jinks from circa 1880, the sale also includes many superlative examples of American weathervanes, remarkable ship figureheads, trade figures and exquisite bird decoys. Building on the foundation of his contemporary collection, Teiger ventured into the arena of American folk art in the 1990s and quickly amassed one of the finest, museum-quality collections of the material in the world.

Works from the sale will be on view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 11 January, alongside the 2019 Americana Week sales, ahead of their auction on 20 January.

For Teiger, collecting was a joy – from the moment he purchased his first picture in 1956 to his years as honorary trustee at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and benefactor of museum shows across the globe.

This enjoyment was tied to an innate fascination with, and relentless pursuit of, perfection. Throughout his life, he carried with him a list of principles from which he would not be tempted to veer. The criteria for making a purchase included; ‘best of type’, ‘mastery of material’ and ‘in 20 years, will I still love it?’.

Teiger’s embrace and pursuit of American folk art - almost exclusively American folk sculpture - was consistent and of a piece with the pathway, methodology and passion that characterized his embrace and pursuit of Contemporary art. His collecting began in earnest in the early 1990s, with a burgeoning interest in the historic material developing into one of the greatest private collections in the category over the course of five years, and an ever-increasing appetite for Contemporary art consuming him for the next twenty.

With Teiger’s characteristic fastidiousness and precision, his selections of American folk art and Contemporary art were perfectly calibrated in scale, proportion and color. These characteristics are evident in the exceptional oversized tome of his collection, Spiritually Moving: A Collection of American Folk Art Sculpture — a book that beautifully illustrates the crossover of American folk art into a Contemporary art format. With authorship of Teiger’s eye and passion, the reader sees the categorizations and definitions of American folk art and Contemporary art blur, and views these pieces as the collector himself did, as superb expressions of the best in art.

A towering figure of Captain Jinks, likely created by Thomas J. White circa 1880, leads the exemplary selection of folk art sculpture on offer (estimate $400/600,000). “Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines” was a satirical music hall song that became immensely popular after it was published in Brooklyn in 1868. The highly skilled figure carver Thomas J. White worked for a time in the shop of the renowned sculptor Samuel Anderson Robb and is said to have used the master as his model for several carvings of Captain Jinks. Other examples of White’s Captain Jinks figure reside in the collections of the Newark Museum, New Jersey, the Shelburne Museum, Vermont, and the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, Washington, D.C., while a fourth was depicted for the Index of American Design.

A Standing Tiger by Augustus “Gus” Wilson, regarded as the best example of its kind, also highlights the sale (estimate $250/500,000). Arguably Wilson’s masterpiece, the present work is the largest of three standing tigers that the Maine woodcarver was inspired to create after seeing newspaper photos of Emyr, a massive tiger brought to Portland by the Ringling Brothers Circus in 1931. The commanding beast, carved from salvaged railroad ties and telephone poles kept in the artist's barn, is the last of the three examples remaining in private hands. The other two were exhibited at the American Folk Art Museum, the Brooklyn Museum, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1980s and are now in the permanent collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

Created between 1880-1890, a Long-Billed Curlew tops the exceptional ensemble of bird decoys on offer from the Teiger collection (estimate $300/500,000). The long-billed curlew is the largest American curlew species and was shot for food and sport throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. This decoy is one of a handful of survivors of a shorebird rig owned and gunned over by the work’s original owner, Dr. John Charles Phillips of Beverly, Massachusetts. The decoy may be intended to represent a female curlew, which has a longer and more deeply curved bill than the males. Other shorebird species from the Phillips rig were part of the collections of decoy connoisseurs Dr. James M. McCleery and Donal C. O'Brien Jr. A Pair of Canada Geese circa 1900 (estimate $300/500,000) and Rig of Ten Shore Birds (Yellowlegs) dating from the 19th Century (estimate $200/300,000) further distinguish the exceptional flock of decoys.

The superb American weathervanes on offer are topped by a charming Leaping Stag (estimate $60/120,000), of which several other examples of this early vane form are known. This stag's drilled eye and large, arched rack of antlers differentiates the present work from deer designs offered by other, later vane manufacturers. In addition, an Angel Gabriel circa 1825 bears witness to the popularity of the trumpeting symbol on rural churches during the great religious revivals that swept America in the early decades of the republic (estimate $60/90,000). Found and possibly created in Hammond, New York, the present work is similar to most other examples of the trumpeting Archangel, which were individual efforts fashioned from sheet metal by local smithies.

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