In the mid-1950s Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow began collecting illuminated books, prints, and manuscripts which they prized for their graphic arts, a category which until then had attracted few collectors.
During the next five decades the Newton husband-and-wife team formed one of the most celebrated American book collections. The knowledge they gained in acquiring the collection led to their becoming highly regarded by their contemporaries.
In 1982 Arthur, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate in mechanical engineering, was elected president of the Boston Athenaeum, a position he held for over a decade. He also served on the board of the Museum of Fine Arts from 1982 until his death last April at 90. Charlotte died in 2000 at 75.
Their collection will be sold by Christie’s in New York in four parts. The first auction Tuesday at 6 p.m. will include 75 lots featuring highlights from Schongauer to Chagall. It will be followed on Wednesday at
10 a.m. by 276 lots from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. On June 21 books of the Baroque and rococo periods will be sold, with the final auction to follow in October (no date yet) featuring the neoclassical, romantic, symbolist and modern periods.
Leading Tuesday’s auction is a complete first edition of “La Tauromaquia” by Francisco Goya (1746-1828) comprising 33 images of a Spanish bullfight. The estimate is $400,000-$600,000.
Other highlights include a 500-year-old “Book of Hours,” a prayer book inscribed by King Henry VIII of England with metal cut and woodcut illustrations ($300,000-$400,000) and the circa 1758-60 “Invenzioni Capric di Carceri,” the third and rarest edition of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s “Prisons,” his most celebrated work of architectural fantasy ($180,000-
Another important offering is “Mein Leben” (My Life), a complete set of etchings and drypoints created in 1922 by Marc Chagall (1887-1985) from his memories of growing up in a shtetl (a small mostly Jewish town or village) in Russia. Published in Berlin in 1923 by Paul Cassirer, the set has a $120,000-$180,000 estimate.
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The Chinese works of art auctions last month in New York saw records set as offerings rocketed above their estimates, with a 5-inch-diameter bowl stealing the show.
Purchased at a New York tag sale for $3 in 2007, the bowl had been sitting on the family’s living room mantel until recently, when they decided to check if it had any worth. Chinese specialists at Sotheby’s identified the near-white bowl with an ivory glaze as a rare “Ding” bowl from the Northern Song dynasty (960-1279) and estimated it could bring $200,000-$300,000 at auction.
When it went on the block at Sotheby’s March 19 auction, four bidders in the room and on phones battled for the bowl. The winner was Giuseppe Eskenazi of London, one of the most the most important oriental art dealers in the world, who paid $2.2 million for the thousand-year-old treasure.
The only other known bowl of the same size, form, and almost identical decoration has been in the collection of the British Museum in London for over 60 years.
The gross for Sotheby’s two-day sale of Chinese works of art was
$41.3 million, which was more than $10 million over the high estimate. Five lots sold for over $1 million, including an Imperial green jade dragon seal from the Qianlong period (1736-95) that sold for $3.4 million (more than doubling its high $1.5 million estimate), and a 19th-century painting “Stream-Laced Mountain After Snow” by Tang Dai (1673-1752) that brought $2.7 million (against a $400,000-
Christie’s Chinese works of art grossed $45.7 million with a rare 17th/18th-century huanghuali plank-top pedestal table setting a world auction record when it sold for $9.1 million against a $1.5 million-$2 million estimate.
Offerings with lower estimates that exceeded expectations included a circa 1736-95 white jade archaistic openwork plaque that went for $387,750 against an $80,000-$120,000 estimate and a rare 1790-99 carved green and pink tourmaline snuff bottle that fetched $171,750 against a $40,000-$60,000 estimate.
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Boston Harbor Auctions’ 324-lot Marine Auction Saturday at 11 a.m. at 185 Purchase St. will include a number of items deacessioned by the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I.
The items are as varied as a turn-of-the-century model of the Windjammer Pathfinder ($1,600-$2,500) to an early tin tobacco box with an image of the New York Yacht Club burgee ($100-$200), from an oil painting by the Danish-born American marine artist Hans Skalagard of two America’s Cup yachts racing ($500-$1,000) to a metal mooring marker for the Thistle, an 1887 America’s Cup challenger ($200-$300).
Not from the museum collection but from a consignor is the yacht wheel from Roemer, the 93-foot 1902 steam yacht owned by designer-builder Nathaniel Herreshoff and that has a $3,500-$5,500 estimate.
The auction’s expected top seller is an oil painting of a British ship passing a frigate in heavy seas by the British-born American marine artist James E. Buttersworth (1817-94). The estimate is $280,000-$320,000.
The large selection of ship models have estimates ranging from $7,500-$10,000 for the museum quality model of Harvard, the steam yacht owned by George Baker (1840-1931), the financier and philanthropist who provided much of the initial funding for the Harvard Business School and for whom Harvard University’s Baker Library is named, to $150-$250 for a wooden model of a sloop.
The auction also features a selection of flags including an extremely rare maritime flag, a 36-star American eagle jack flag ($85,000-$95,000).
Other highlights include a 72-inch-wide sternboard with gilded eagle signed by the Maine carver Peter Libbey ($70,000-$80,000), a rare framed plaque of the USS Constellation ($20,000-$25,000) reputedly removed from the ship’s cabin during restoration, and an ivory- and pearl-inlaid sewing box ($35,000-
$40,000) with a scrimshawed ivory plaque lettered “T. Nickerson,” the name of a Nantucket sailor.