ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Asheville residents headed straight for their cupboards after a Chinese porcelain vase thought to be a modern copy ended up selling for $1.2 million at Brunk's May 9-10 auction. The 12-inch vase, which had been purchased at a yard sale, was expected to bring no more than $800. In the end, it hammered a breathtaking $1,236,250 - a substantial contribution to the two-day auction total of $2,598,781 (all prices quoted inclusive of 15% buyer's premium).
The woman who consigned the top-selling famille rose vase on pale yellow ground had acquired the attractive vessel at a yard sale in Florida about seven years ago. It appeared to be a 20th-century copy of a Qianlong dynasty (1736-1795) ceramic.
"It is probably Imperial porcelain," said Ruby McCall, Brunk Auctions' specialist on Asian art, after the sale. "That means it was made in the Imperial kilns where court commissioned pieces were fired. Anything not meeting Imperial standards was destroyed. It is a very high-quality piece."
The vase opened at $2,000, a good price for a "modern copy." When it reached the million-dollar mark, principal auctioneer Robert Brunk asked out loud, "What's the next number?" - an understandable question, since it was the first time in the firm's 26-year history that anything had reached seven figures.
Brunk picked $25,000 as the next bidding increment, and after a short volley, one bidder dropped out. The final hammer price of $1,075,000 was lodged by a bidder who chose to remain anonymous.
"The room erupted in applause and there was general buzzing for a while," said Brunk. But there was more excitement to follow. A few moments later, a Chinese decorated jar with dragons and clouds, thought to be an 18th- or 19th-century copy of a Jialing Period (1522-1566) ceramic sold for $69,000 against an estimate of $600-$1,200.
Asian art was clearly in demand in Brunk's sale. A finely cast 18th- to 19th-century bronze of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, future Buddha of this world, attracted 934 visitors to LiveAuctioneers' catalog before selling online for $9,676 - 50% more than its high estimate. The Internet played a significant role at Brunk's landmark sale, with 175 lots, or 17.9%, selling through LiveAuctioneers.
The oil painting that was expected to dominate the weekend sale finished a distant second. The Plasterers by New York City artist John Koch (1909-1978) opened at its $175,000 reserve and rose slowly from there. The scene depicted in the painting - two workmen repairing the walls in Koch's Central Park West apartment - was typical of the artist's "great indoors" work. The signed 40-inch by 49 7/8-inch oil on canvas in a Kent-style frame sold to the phones for $241,500, the midpoint of its presale estimate.
Manhattan tapestry preservationist Gloria F. Ross (1923-1998) worked with Jean Dubuffet (French, 1901-1985) to translate his modernistic painting Tapis into a wool wall hanging. The 4 feet 10 inch by 10 feet 5 inch tapestry was woven at Edward Fields Factories on Long Island, New York, in the late 1970s. Tapis brought $12,650 (estimate $2,000-$3,000).
A French artist whose career was much earlier than that of Dubuffet, Antoine-Denis Chaudet (1763-1810) is believed to have sculpted an unsigned marble bust of Prince Camillo Borghese (1775-1832). Borghese, a wealthy Roman nobleman, was made a French prince and troop commander by Napoleon Bonaparte, his brother-in-law. Borghese's wife was Pauline, Napoleon's flirtatious younger sister. Among Chaudet's works are the busts of Emperor Napoleon and Empress Josephine. The 22 ½" Carrara marble bust far exceeded its modest pre-sale estimate and sold to the phones for $13,800.
Home-state items also fared well. One of the earliest works in the 1,012-lot sale was John White's map of Virginia and North Carolina. Published by Theodore De Bry, Frankfort, in 1590, the map is a copper engraving on laid paper. It depicts "Chesapiooc" Bay, complete with sailing ships and a double-spouted sea monster. The 13-inch by 1-inch page from White's A Briefe and True Report of the New Founde Land of Virginia, sold just above its high estimate at $16,100.
A walnut huntboard that descended in a Montgomery County, N.C., family sold above its high estimate for $15,525. Attributed to the second quarter of the 19th century, the huntboard had five dovetailed drawers, two cabinet doors and its original backsplash. Secondary wood was yellow pine.
Visit Brunk online at www.brunkauctions.com or call 828-254-6846.
ADDITIONAL LOTS OF NOTE