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Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian to be offered at Sotheby's
Jacob Maentel, John Bickel and Caterina. Circa 1815-25. Est. $200/300,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s will offer Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian in a dedicated auction in New York on 25 January 2014. The sale comprises more than 200 visually exciting examples of American folk art across a remarkable range of disciplines, including superb watercolors, portraits, pottery, painted furniture, weathervanes, gift drawings, carvings, needlework, sculpture and scrimshaw. Together, the offering marks the most important assemblage of American folk art ever to appear at auction.

Together, the Esmerian Collection carries a pre-sale estimate of $6.4/9.5 million*. The works will be on view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries during Americana Week in New York beginning 18 January 2014.

Nancy Druckman, Head of Sotheby’s Folk Art Department, commented: “Ralph Esmerian is known for his profound connoisseurship, discernment and passion for the best in American folk art. Each of the examples in the collection is distinguished by the highest quality in design, pattern, color, texture and form. A pervasive respect and understanding of the inspiration and expertise of the various makers is present in each of the pieces, as they represent both the traditions and inventiveness of American art. Having been drawn at an early age to the earthy material of the American folk art field, Esmerian applied his refined sensibility to form a superbly curated collection, in which each piece is an artistic gem in its own right. Our January sale represents a one-time opportunity for collectors to acquire the absolute best examples across an incredible diversity of American artistic expression.”


Jacob Maentel, John Bickel and Caterina Bickel. Circa 1815-25. Estimate $200/300,000

This pair of portraits offers a dazzling interior view of John and Caterina Bickel’s home in Jonestown, Lebanon County, Pennsylvania, with gold starred blue wallpaper and a fashionable gilded Boston wall mirror. Executed circa 1816, the pair is rare for depicting an interior setting that is consistent throughout the two individual portraits, with the Bickels seated at opposing ends of the same drop leaf dining table. Though little information is known about the Bickels, these works demonstrate that they maintained a well-furnished and stylish household.

Artist unidentified, Massachusetts, Fireboard with View of Boston Harbor. Circa 1825-35. Estimate $250/350,000
This rare fireboard represents an accurate depiction of Boston Harbor as seen from Fort Point Channel, including sidelong views of India Wharf, Park Street Church and the Boston State House. One of the shops depicted is Daniel F. Weston’s oil and glass business, listed in the Boston directory for 1825.

Artist unidentified, probably Pennsylvania, Kangaroo. Mid-19th century. Estimate $80/120,000
This rare and celebrated piece was found in Lebanon, Pennsylvania and was likely created as a toy, modeled as a strong and fantastical image of the kangaroo. The work was included in the landmark exhibition, The Flowering of American Folk Art 1776-1876, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1974, and which traveled across the United States.

Wilhelm Schimmel, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Lion. Circa 1860-1890. Estimate $80/120,000
Wilhelm Schimmel remains one of the best-known and best-loved carvers in American folk art. His carvings often were created in exchange for a night’s lodging, food and drink. The forceful stance of his animal carvings and this rare depiction of a lion in particular convey a sense of the man himself, who was described by the Pennsylvania German farmers and tradesmen who supported him as both physically imposing and hot-tempered.

An Important Federal Red Polychrome Paint Decorated Yellow Pine Slant Front Desk, attributed to Johannes Braun, with decoration attributed to Johann Valentin, Jr., Mahantongo Valley, Pennsylvania. Circa 1835. Estimate $300/500,000
One of only three surviving examples, this remarkable desk has lyrical leaf sprigs on the lid and drawers that are conjoined with decorative motifs of angels, deer, and birds copied directly from contemporary printed frakturs. Unified together with an alternating stamped blue and yellow flower border, this desk is an outstanding example of the flamboyant material culture of the Mahantongo Valley of Pennsylvania in the first half of the 19th century.

Artist unidentified, probably Connecticut, Pheasant Hen Weathervane. Estimate $200/300,000
This extraordinary example of the most graceful and sweeping carving was made by a master of American folk carving. For all its grace and movement, it is solidly constructed, most likely the work of a ship carver who was well versed in creating objects that could withstand the elements. It was found in an outbuilding in Georgetown, Connecticut and purchased by Edith Gregor Halpert, one of the most important dealers in American folk art from the early 1930’s.

Samuel Anderson Robb, New York, Santa Claus. Circa 1923. Estimate $75/100,000
According to letter signed and dated by Elizabeth W. Robb in 1966, this unique and splendid figure was carved for her by her father, Samuel Robb – the last piece he ever carved. Robb’s early training was as a ship-carver along the busy waterfront of New York City. Later he enjoyed a long and distinguished career creating sign and cigarstore figures.

Bill Traylor, Montgomery, Alabama, Man with Plow. Circa 1939-1942. Estimate $125/175,000
Man with Plow is a powerful, simplified “memory” image of Traylor’s life in the rural South, where he was born into slavery on a cotton plantation owned by William Hartwell Traylor near Benton, Alabama. At the age of 85, while living and working in Montgomery, Alabama, he began to draw, creating over 1,500 works in the last years of his life. The art material – largely scraps of cardboard paper – were supplied by the Southern artist and civil rights worker Charles Shannon. As with many of Traylor’s most compelling paintings, the present example is a powerful composition with strong sense of balance, while the brilliant blue figure of the man at the plow creates a sense of energy and movement in the work.

Sussel-Washington Artist, probably Berks County, Pennsylvania, A Rare Pennsylvania German Taufwunsch (Baptismal Wish) for Maria Gertraud. Circa 1796. Estimate $80/120,000
The figures of sponsors Ludwig and Maria Hemperling, both dressed in the costumes of the 18th century, flank a handwritten reserve which documents the birth and baptism of Maria Gertraud, born in Becksten (Paxton) Lancaster (now Dauphin County) in Pennsylvania on 24 September 1776. The unidentified artist is one of the best-known and highly-prized fraktur artists within this rich visual and historic tradition.

*Estimates do not include buyer’s premium and prices achieved include the hammer price plus buyer’s premium.

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