Lot 25
  • 25

Lea Halpern

8,000 - 12,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Lea Halpern
  • A Fine and Rare Collection of Eight Vases
  • five vases signed Halpern; eight bearing paper labels to the underside

  • glazed earthenware
  • Height of tallest: 11 inches


Estate of the Artist
Doyle New York, June 7, 1999 (for all of the vases, which were included in a collection catalogued as lots 332-374, partially illustrated)
Lin-Weinberg Gallery, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner


Ceramics by Lea Halpern, Phillips Memorial Gallery, Washington, D.C., 1945, cat. no. 80 (for a related work)
Lea Halpern, exh. cat., Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Holland, 1974, cat. no. 33 (for a related work)
Lea Halpern, exh. cat., The Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, 1976, cat. no. 29 (for a related work)


Overall very good original condition. These vases were formerly in the collection of the artist and then offered at Doyle’s auctions in New York. The present lot of eight was assembled by the present are from various lots offered in this auction. Each of the vases exhibits extremely unique and painterly qualities to the glazework. Each of the vases was hand-thrown and therefore include some irregularities to the surface which are inherent in the making. The small urn-shaped blue vase with a minor restoration to rim chip that has been sensitively undertaken. The green-grey vase with a flaring rim with displays an intricate craquelure glaze with tones ranging from dark gray to the mossy green. The small blue urn form vase shows four minor area of old restoration to the surface. These small circular areas measuring less than a ¼ inch in diameter, show evidence of infill and some blue adjacent coloration. These restorations appear old, and possibly executed by the artist. Each of the vases show a different decorative technique which are each executed with expert painterly eye. A superb and extremely rare offering.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Lea Halpern (1901-85) was a Polish-born potter who studied in Berlin, Amsterdam, and Vienna.  She came to New York City in 1939 to exhibit, and remained here, settling down in Baltimore.  She considered herself, and was considered, an artist rather than a craftsman, her pieces to be looked at rather than used.  With names such as  Stormy Sky, Drifting Clouds, Frozen Fire, and Tiger Lily, her pots reveal a poetic and naturalistic bent, as well as Asian inspiration.  Her mature works display a mastery over complex reduction glazes, but this seemingly effortless virtuosity was achieved through long hours of study and experimentation.

My first exposure to the work of the woman called "the van Gogh of potters" came during previews of a Doyle's sale in June of 1999.  Over the course of two months, Doyle's auctioned off over 150 vessels consigned by Halpern's daughter—essentially, Lea Halpern's estate.  Although Halpern had been exhibited in America numerous times, the last show had been in 1976, and I was unaware of her work.  I recall spending hours at the previews, handling each bowl, vase, and dish, and marveling at the range of colors and effects, and at how the compositions shifted as the vessel turned. I was staggered by the sheer amount of material, and by its diversity and quality. From cabinet vases to massive vessels, and Asian-inspired craquelle and celadon glazes to abstract patterning in volcanic textures, this was a body of work to reckon, and an opportunity not to be missed.

I was hooked, but I was not alone.  I remember two stubborn collectors who made it almost impossible to obtain any of the craquelle or celadon pieces.  Fortunately, there were enough of the variegated and textured vessels I coveted for me to walk away with about 35 of my favorite pieces. Over time, these found their way to collectors and decorators—I now have only one Halpern pot left.

The present lot was featured on shelves in my clients' mid-century Ann Arbor house, and on tables and window ledges in their Montauk cliffside residence.  Offered here is a second chance at a grouping  of Halpern's art from her own collection.

-Larry Weinberg