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Antiques and Fine Art Auctions Blog

Skinner expert appraisers and auctioneers discuss antiques, fine art, and collectibles. Keep up on market trends and get collecting tips from antiques experts. Discover the stories behind the art and antiques Skinner offers at auction.

A Conversation About Collecting Asian Art with Richard Kenworthy, PhD

Richard Kenworthy, Former Professor of Architecture at Auburn University in Alabama and Asian Art expert discusses collecting with Melanie Mitcheson, Skinner’s Auction Coordinator.

Indian Hardwood Valuables Chest (Lot 1520, Estimate $400-600)

What are the Asian countries represented in the current auction?

Primarily China and Japan. We do have a very unusual piece from India:  a dark wooden valuables chest with decorative straps around it—in the right space, it would be very dramatic (Lot 1520).  There is also a Tibetan thangka of very fine quality (Lot 1550) from the estate of Dorothy Braude Edinburg.

Do you collect anything currently that is represented in the auction?  If so, when did you start and what sort of pieces do you own?

I collect Scholars’ rocks (which we actually do not have in the current sale).  These, of course, are naturally occurring stone sculptures:  ideally, they have been untouched by human hands, although this is in fact rare.  Different types of stone are considered rarer or more beautiful, ling bi stone being the gold standard.  I started collecting the stones in China in 1998 and brought back some in my suitcase, to the amazement of my Chinese colleagues.

I also collect Japanese paintings from the nanga school:  these were Japanese sinophile artists, mostly from the late 18th and early 19th centuries, of which we have a fine example in the Asian Art online auction.  Lot 1623 is a painting from the collection of Robert Ellsworth by Nukina Kaioku (1778-1863) who was primarily known for his calligraphy.  You can see his broad brush work on the mountain and his very characteristic nervous strokes, as well as a nice wash of color in the painting.

Large Group of Japanese Print Reproductions, Later Editions, Postcards, and Framed Prints (Lot 1705, Estimate $300-500)

Along with some Japanese paintings, the auction also offers a lot of Japanese prints. Could you define the terms I see used in the catalog descriptions—ukiyo-e, oban tate-e, oban yoko-e, and surimono?  

Terms related to Japanese prints (the genre Ukiyo-e refers to a style mostly represented here by woodblock prints) are very specific and categorized. Most of these terms are related to the dimension or the orientation of the work. As all the paper was handmade, there is a limit to the largest paper size, known as o-bosho. Oban (the most common size) is ½ of an o-bosho sheet and corresponds roughly to a folio size.  Tate-e works have a portrait-style orientation and yoko-e a landscape orientation. Lastly, surimono were commissioned for festivals or other special occasions.

I have a modern interior and would like to incorporate some Japanese prints. What would you suggest for a beginning collector? 

I would certainly give Lot 1705 a closer look. The lot contains principally reproductions, but not all are photomechanical and some are colored with vegetable dyes. Traditionally a printmaker would learn by copying the masters, who are very well represented here.  Unlike certain fine prints that must be essentially kept in the dark—the color yellow is especially sensitive—these are nice decorative pieces that could easily be displayed and enjoyed.

Any other design advice?

See Frank Lloyd Wright, the great master, who was a collector and dealer in prints to help supplement his income while in Tokyo working on the Imperial Hotel.  For an excellent example of a modern interior featuring Japanese prints and ceramics, take a look at the Living Room from the Francis W. Little House at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, designed by Wright.

Folding Horseshoe-back Hardwood Armchair (Lot 1684, Estimate $700-900)

What about an Asian piece of furniture?

If you have a simple, classic house, an early Chinese piece would do very well, whereas later Chinese furniture, 19th-century for example, fits nicely in a Victorian setting.  One highlight from this sale is a lovely folding horseshoe-back chair (Lot 1684) from the 19th-century.

With the warmer weather approaching, any suggestions for the exterior of my house or the garden?

There is a large pot from Thailand (Lot 1788) in the sale which would be great for lotuses or miniature water lilies—I actually grow these at home—and could be brought inside for the winter.

Is there a piece in the auction that strikes you as particularly interesting?

For a glimpse into an interesting historical period, Lot 1895 contains photos by Karl Boy-Ed, the German naval attaché to the United States who was in China during the Boxer Rebellion, as well as a folding map of the “legation district” in Beijing and a folding map of the same district during the Boxer Rebellion.

Tea Brick (Lot 1801, Estimate $50-100)

How would I use a tea brick?

The use of Chinese tea bricks–brown tea compressed into bricks then shaped in decorative molds—dates back to the Ming dynasty. In some cases, the tea was mixed with manure as a binding agent. A piece is broken off, toasted to remove fungus and microbes, then ground into powder and whisked into nearly boiling water.  We have several examples in the sale (Lots 1801 and 1802).

Would you care for a cup? 

I imagine you could drink it, but I think I’ll stick to Earl Grey, thank you.

View all lots offered in the Asian Art online auction.

Charles Prendergast’s Rare and Exquisite Decorative Panels

Charles E. Prendergast (American, 1863-1948) Untitled (Vase with Flowers and Birds) (Lot 382, Estimate $30,000-50,000)

A skilled and inventive frame maker, admired by artists and collectors for his ability to create frames that corresponded perfectly to the style and intention of the canvases they surrounded, Charles Prendergast (1863-1948) did not begin working on his own artworks in earnest until he was in his fifties. After having spent years as a woodworker and craftsman, he created his painted panels, like Lot 382 in our upcoming Fine Paintings and Sculpture auction, with many of the same materials and techniques he had used for his frames.… Read More

Lecture | May 31 | Radiant with Color and Art: McLoughlin Brothers & the Business of Picture Books

Children’s Books, Mid-20th Century, Nine Volumes (Lot 1187, Estimate $300-400)

Radiant with Color and Art: McLoughlin Brothers & the Business of Picture Books, 1858-1920

A Lecture by Laura Wasowicz




Laura Wasowicz, curator of Children’s Literature at the American Antiquarian Society is delighted to share her research on New York picture book publisher McLoughlin Brothers. … Read More

Skinner to Host Books & Manuscripts Online Auction, May 23 – June 2

Wyeth, Andrew (1917-2009) Archive of Forty-three Signed Autograph Letters and Notes, with Sketches (Lot 1106, Estimate: $80,000-120,000)

MARLBOROUGH, MAAn archive of forty-three unpublished love letters written by secretive and celebrated artist Andrew Wyeth highlights Skinner’s spring auction of Books & Manuscripts. The online-only auction features 592 lots of historical and literary documents, fine and rare books, prints, and maps.… Read More

Rodin and Fragments

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917) Tête de la Luxure, a Later Casting (Lot 385, Estimate: $8,000-12,000)

Two bronze sculptures by Rodin will be offered in our May 19th American & European Works of Art auction. Both were conceived by the artist as parts of larger works, and can therefore be considered fragments, but both also stand as unique and expressive works of art in their own right.

Tête de la Luxure (Head of Lust) (Lot 385, Estimate $8,000-12,000) was first created as the head of the figure Crouching Woman, one of Rodin’s favorite compositions, likely originally dated to 1881-82, and one of the earliest figures Rodin modeled for the Gates of Hell. … Read More

Andrew Wyeth’s Unpublished Love Letters Offered at Skinner in May

Wyeth, Andrew (1917-2009) Archive of Forty-three Signed Autograph Letters and Notes, with Sketches (Lot 1106, Estimate: $80,000-120,000)

Writings Provide New Insights To Secretive Painter’s Work and Life

An extensive archive of letters previously unknown to scholars and collectors concerning one of the most secretive and celebrated American artists of the 20th century will be offered in Skinner’s May Fine Books & Manuscripts online auction.… Read More

The Nick Lucas Special Guitar

[Detail] 1936 Gibson Nick Lucas Special Acoustic Guitar (Lot 36, Estimate: $15,000- 20,000)

Before Les Paul and his namesake guitar became poster boys for Gibson in 1952, and before Tiny Tim popularized “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” in 1968, Nick Lucas did both by 1929.

Nick Lucas was born in 1897 in Newark, New Jersey, and his Nick Lucas Special Guitar was born in the mid-1920s in Kalamazoo, Michigan (although Gibson did not make the guitar available to the public until 1927).… Read More

Ansel Adams’s Mural-size Photographs Are “Statements of Importance and Beauty”

Ansel Adams (American, 1902-1984) Leaves and Raindrops, Glacier Bay National Monument, c. 1948 (Lot 142, Estimate: $15,000-25,000)

Among the highlights of Skinner’s May 19th Fine Photographs auction are two mural-sized gelatin silver prints by noted photographer Ansel Adams. Adams was a founding member, along with Imogen Cunningham, Edward Weston, and others, of Group f/64, a San Francisco Bay Area-based alliance of eleven American photographers that formed in 1932.… Read More

Charles Prendergast: A Glimpse of Heaven | A Lecture by Carol Clark | May 17

Charles E. Prendergast, Untitled (Vase with Flowers and Birds) (Lot 382, Estimate $30,000-50,000)

Charles Prendergast: A Glimpse of Heaven

A Lecture by Carol Clark




Carol Clark will discuss the distinctive career of Charles Prendergast (1863-1948) who, along with his brother Maurice, participated in key aesthetic movements of the first half of the 20th century. Inspired by a wide range of art from the past, such as Persian miniatures and Egyptian reliefs, and by folk and modern painting, Charles’s contribution as a frame maker and his creation of fewer than 125 carved, painted, and gilded panels offer insight into an exciting moment in American art.… Read More

Form, Line, Color, & Value: Qualities Abound in American & European Works of Art Auction at Skinner, May 19

Alex Katz (American, b. 1927) Ada with Flowers, 1980 (Lot 89, Estimate: $6,000-8,000)

BOSTON, MASkinner, Inc. will present an impressive selection of American & European Works of Art at auction on Friday, May 19. The day will be divided into two parts: Fine Prints & Photographs at 12PM and Fine Paintings & Sculpture at 4PM. The auction offers an extensive variety of paintings, sculpture, prints, photographs, and works on paper ranging from Old Master prints through Modern and Contemporary offerings.… Read More

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