O n view at Sotheby’s New York from 13–24 January, Americana Week consists of seven extraordinary sales spanning paintings, folk art, furniture, decorative arts, silver, Chinese export ceramics, prints, historic maps, books and manuscripts, and more. Below are just a few of the incredible works coming to auction.
Coming to the block on 23 January, Important Americana is the week’s major various-owner sale, led by a group of stunning Chippendale furniture.
Do you know what animal this is? If you said “grasshopper” then congratulations, you’re not a spy. This molded copper weathervane, designed by John Smibert (1688–1751), once adorned Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Legend has it that during the War of 1812, sailors were asked to identify the weathervane to prove they weren’t undercover British soldiers.
Commissioned by Dr. William and Sarah Corlis Bowen to celebrate their marriage in 1769, this mahogany desk-and-bookcase is one of only a few remaining examples to feature a 5-shell block-front design.
Chippendale Chest of Drawers
The second of several Chippendale pieces included in the sale, this mahogany chest of drawers also features a block-and-shell-carved design. It’s especially notably for displaying hallmarks of the work of John Townsend (1733–1809), the acclaimed cabinetmaker from Newport, Rhode Island.
On 18 January, Art of the Americas comes to auction, featuring 19th- and early 20th-century historical American paintings, including drawings and sculpture by prominent artists such as John James Audubon and Frederic Remington.
Winslow Homer, In the Rapids
Executed in 1895, this painting depicts a fishing expedition undertaken by Winslow Homer and his brother, Charles, on a river in Quebec – likely the Saguenay near Lake St. John. In the Rapids effortlessly captures the dynamic character and raw beauty of this distinctive landscape, while also demonstrating Homer’s technical mastery of the watercolor medium.
N. C. Wyeth, Winter at Valley Forge
Winter at Valley Forge depicts General George Washington and his troops at the Continental Army’s encampment site during the winter of 1777–78. Through his portrayal of General Washington and the Continental Army as devoted to the cause, even in the wake of unfavorable weather conditions and uncertainty, Wyeth conveys an idealized image of this period in American history.
In one of two single-owner sales this week, 21 January will see work from The Kindig Family Collection, whose provenance graces notable museums across the country, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Philadelphia Museum.
Chippendale Tea Table
This scalloped-top tea table with a tilting surface derives from similar English models at the time. Dating to circa 1745, it’s an early example of the form that survives today in remarkable condition.
Maple Easy Chair
As comfortable as it looks, this easy chair was once owned by a US colonel, purchased on the occasion of his marriage to Phebe Thurston, who upholstered the chair in a meandering floral pattern inspired by the “tree of life” motif found on Indian palampores made for western markets.
In another single-owner sale, furniture and folk art from The Collection of Charles and Olenka Santore will come to auction on 19 January. The collectors lived and worked near a Philadelphia auction house, providing ample opportunity to acquire significant works of Americana.
As Charles Santore wrote in 1987, this scroll-carved, comb-back chair “should be considered a masterpiece of its period and of its type.” Santore cherished the harmony of the item’s individual components and considered it the perfect execution of the influential Windsor chair.
Windsor High Chair
Not to be overshadowed, this Windor high chair is one of only a few surviving examples of its form. With its ball-foot design, delicate turnings, untouched surface the chair is a remarkable object steeped in rich family history – it was owned by the parents of Sarah “Sally” Wister, the author of Sally Wister’s Journal.
Americana Week will also see an auction dedicated to books and manuscripts on 24 January, which features works by Founding Fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. From the first book on the earliest permanent English settlement in the Americas to text from the Civil War, this sale offers truly exceptional highpoints.
One of the Most Significant Maps in American History and an Essential Source for Lewis & Clark
Antoine Soulard was appointed the first surveyor-general of Spanish Upper Louisiana in 1795, and this striking manuscript map provided critical new information about the region that informed subsequent exploration. Now regarded as a cartographic milestone, no earlier map showed the Upper Great Plains in such precise and correct detail. It was not surpassed until the 1814 publication of Lewis and Clark’s own map, though in many respects Soulard’s is still superior. Widely known through its copies, when this original of Soulard’s pioneering map reappeared it reinvigorated scholarship into its critical role in the exploration of the American interior.
This 305-lot auction on 23 January will feature fine examples of furniture, folk art, silver, Chinese export art, prints, photographs, books and historical documents.
Japanesque Pitcher by Tiffany & Co.
This silver and mixed-metal pitcher, dating to circa 1875, features a spot-hammered surface and handle applied with trailing gold vines with copper flora and fauna. However, the jewels of this pitcher are the gourds made in mokume gane, an ancient Japanese metalworking technique that gives the appearance of woodgrain.
James Bard, Paddle Wheeler Steamboat “Kaaterskill”
The luxurious Kaaterskill steamboat took her inaugural voyage down the Hudson River in August 1882, when she was documented by acclaimed marine artist James Bard. A self-taught artist, Bard documented nearly every steamboat and schooner built around New York, and the skilled draftsmanship of this painting reinforces the artist’s acclaim.
For the first time since 2015, Sotheby’s will hold a live auction dedicated to art made by the Indigenous peoples of North America on 18 January. Rare Arctic sculptures, fine weavings, Hopi ceramics, beadwork and quillwork from the Great Plains – these are only a few of the significant items on offer.
Dakota Ceremonial Pipe and Stem
Among Lakota and Dakota people, čhaŋnúŋpa are sacred objects representing a bridge between the earthly world and Wakan Tanka, the “Great Spirit” or “Great Mystery.”