He was speaking after taking the Dominic Winter (20% buyer’s premium) sale in South Cerney, near Cirencester on July 19 where one of the better sellers was a 17th-18th century ivory Buddha.
Carved in the Shan States of Burma with the young Buddha seated on a pedestal decorated with three elephants, the 5.5in (14cm) figure had considerable age and a sound provenance. But would it be judged to be of ‘outstandingly high artistic, cultural or historical value’ – the subjective criterion to be applied under DEFRA’s proposals (ATG No 2337)? Unlikely, perhaps.
However, as things stand, it merited a £1500-2000 estimate and sold to a Chinese collector in the room at £5200.
“At our May 19 sale we had an 18th century Turkish miquelet long gun which was profusely inlaid with ivory,” Meadows recalled (see ATG online). “It sold to the London trade at £18,000 against a £2000-3000 estimate. I think this shows there is still confidence in the market.”
An ivory carving offered at Woolley & Wallis’ (25% buyer’s premium) works of arts sale at Salisbury on July 4 may be one to merit the ‘outstandingly high’ rating.
The 7 x 5in (18 x 12.5cm) south German relief plaque in the manner of Balthasar Permoser depicting the Holy Family was dated to the late 17th century although the ivory frame was 20th century. It was estimated at £2000-3000 but sold to a Continental buyer at £19,500.
An 8in (20.5cm) long carving of Christ the good shepherd, lying cradling a lamb as he sleeps, was dated to the 17th or 18th century and probably Chinese or Thai-Portuguese. It was estimated at £1000-1500 and sold to another Continental bidder at £7800.
Art Deco figures threat
If the new law proves to be as draconian as some fear, one of the major markets to suffer would be Art Deco, and particularly the ivory and bronze figures produced in the 1930s by Ferdinand Preiss, Demètre Chiparus, Josef Lorenzl et al.
A private collection of some 60 such figures – most involving ivory – consigned to the West Norwood sale at Roseberys (23% buyer’s premium) on June 26, presented specialist Fiona Baker with a challenge as to estimates.
On the one hand, the Americans seem to have deserted the market; on the other, auctioneers observe that Russian and German enthusiasts, in particular, are still buying, as are many UK collectors. Some collectors are selling while they still can, others buy while current rules permit.
As Baker pointed out, Deco figures that contain more than 10% ivory (the so-called ‘de minimis’ rule) could not be sold under proposed rules. She did take market nervousness into account when estimating the collection and, as a result, most of it sold around published expectations.
The best of 27 Preiss pieces might have escaped under a 10% content rule: a signed c.1930, 7in (18cm) tall bronze and ivory Girl Fencer.
She had a small crack to her face but there was keen bidding from UK and German collectors and particularly strong interest from Russia. The figure sold around mid-estimate at £4200.
Wholly ivory carvings from this period are facing a complete ban. Preiss’ signed c.1930 figure Youth, an 8.5in (22cm) tall nude of a young woman with arms outstretched, went a shade below expectations at £2600.
Preiss shared with his contemporaries a predilection for young female models. The well-known figure Innocence by Chiparus depicts a girl in a negligee. An 8in (20cm) tall ivory version on an ivory base took a lower-estimate £1500. Also signed and similarly dated, Chiparus’ 9in (23cm) silvered bronze and ivory figure, Leaving The Opera, an elegant lady in a fur coat, took a mid-estimate £3200.
Best of the cold-painted bronze and ivory figures was by the French pioneer of the genre, Paul Philippe (1870-1930). His 12.5in long x 7in high (32 x 18cm) signed c.1920 figure of a young woman in futuristic costume doing a floor exercise, titled The Respectful Splits, sold just below top estimate at £4800.
Perhaps significantly, the better sellers from the collection were the cold-painted bronzes without any ivory content, in particular a signed c.1930 work by Marcel-André Bouraine (1886-1948).
The 12.5in (31.5cm) high group Diana with Fawns, depicting the naked goddess standing, loosing her bow, was estimated at £1200-1800 and sold at £7200.
It’s good to walk
Another private collection – 30 walking sticks mostly with carved ivory pommels – had auctioneer Tony Cribb wondering if these too might remain saleable under a future ‘10%’ rule.
Estimating them, however, for the Antony Cribb (22% buyer’s premium) July 24 arms and armour sale at Abingdon was no problem.
“The vendor wanted them sold without reserve so I could put very low estimates on them just to get things started,” he said.
As a consequence, all the sticks, variously decorated with heads of animals, birds and plants, got away, all well above estimates and mostly for high three-figure bids.
Three featured human skulls and six human heads while the best-seller was a macabre combination of both.
The ivory pommel to the 2ft 10in (85cm) long malacca cane was carved half as the face of a person and half as their skull. A quality late 19th-early 20th century stick with a silver collar, it was given a token £120-180 estimate and sold at £2200.
The sale mainly comprised Cribb’s specialty of arms and armour (see feature this edition) which included an interesting sidelight on the ivory market.
In the past there would have been keen US interest in a c.1625 German wheel-lock sporting rifle, signed by the maker HT to the figured fruitwood stock and profusely inlaid throughout with hunting scenes, animals and stylised figures of the Green Man.
All the inlay was bone, rather than ivory. But such is the enthusiasm of US customs cracking down on ivory imports that bone inlay is often caught up in the net, causing serious headaches for buyers, Cribb explained.
Happily, there remains an active European market and the gun, with a 2ft 9in (80cm) long octagonal, slightly swamped, barrel went to a Continental bidder at £7000 against a £2000-3000 estimate.