Rohlfs’ work is highly individual and hard to pigeonhole, drawing on British Arts & Crafts, French Art Nouveau and East Asian furniture, although it falls generally under the category of American Arts & Crafts furniture.
The son of a Brooklyn cabinetmaker, he trained in design at the Cooper Union in New York City and married the novelist Anna Katharine Green. By 1897 he had begun pursuing a career as a furniture maker in Buffalo, New York. Western New York was a central focus of the American Arts & Crafts movement at this time.
Rohlfs quickly earned an international reputation, exhibiting his work at the influential 1902 Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Turin and becoming a member of the Royal Society of Arts in London. Today his distinctive furniture features in many US museums and instutitions.
The chair on offer at Cottone in Geneseo, New York, was a fine example of his work, standing 4ft 10in (1.47m) in height and constructed from quarter-sawn oak carved and pierced to the back and the stretchers. It had come from the estate of Jane Wolcott Steinhausen of Rochester, New York and was in original condition stamped with the artist’s monogram and dated 1901.
It attracted attention from institutions and private bidders and the $255,000 (£194,655) price was a multiple of the $50,000-80,000 estimate. That result also set a new high for a Rohlfs chair of this form, surpassing the $180,000 paid for an example in the same rooms in 2007.
Another notable result in the sale was the $80,000 (£61,070) paid for an example of an early wooden sculpture by the American artist Alexander Calder (1898-1976).
His 16½in (42cm) high carved ebonised wood Femme Assise dates from c.1929, around three years after he arrived in Paris and settled in the Montparnasse district of the city where he became acquainted with artists such as Brancusi and Picassco. It was inscribed Calder on one side and underneath, is registered in the archives of the Calder Foundation, New York, and had a provenance to the Estate of Evan B Lanman, Warren, PA.
Sorolla on the beach
Among the works by European artists was an oil of the beach at Valencia by the Spanish artist Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923).
The 5¼ x 8½in (13 x 21.5cm) oil on artist board, which is signed Sorolla lower left, was probably painted in the summer of 1904, which Sorolla spent on the El Cabanyal beach in Valencia producing numerous small-scale beach scenes painted on the spot. This sold for $45,000 (£34,350), just over the upper end of its $20,000-40,000 estimate.