Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cat Portraits at Skinner Auctioneers

Skinner Auctioneers sends me email when they are having auctions so I can browse their items online, fall in love, covet, crave, get depressed over lack of funds, return to my senses, chastise myself for being avaricious, count my blessings, and forget the whole thing. Looking at one of their auction catalogues is an exhausting way to kill part of an hour but it's often more cathartic than going to the movies.

There's an auction of American furniture and decorative arts auction at their Boston location this Sunday, March 6, at 11 am. I'm interested in antiques and like to learn about them, so I've decided to go to one of the many previews this week.

If I happened to be single and looking for a partner, I believe I'd go to auction previews all the time. They strike me as good places to meet someone interesting, as opposed to, say, going to bars. But this is purely theoretical. It's been so many years since I went to an auction preview that I have no idea who actually goes to them. I like to imagine they are full of rich, bored people, looking for things to fill their empty mansions and lonely lives. But for all I know, only broke, bored people like me go because it's free and gets us off the streets. I will do reconnaissance, and report for anyone who is curious.

I'm especially interested in this auction because there are two cat portraits up for bids. Old, good paintings of cats are rare. The last Skinner preview I went to, ages ago, featured someone's large collection of cat art. It was an event not to be missed; nowadays, even two cat paintings are sufficient to make my ears perk up. They are both estimated to sell for between $800 and $1,200.

I plan to study them intensely and walk swiftly away. Here they are:

This portrait of a gray tiger reminds me of Possum. Yes, I realize that practically everything reminds me of Possum. But I see similarities in the wise expression and that elegant left paw, as well as the tabby coat, mittens, and ruff. The frame's graceful arched opening enhances the dignity and depth of this 19th-century portrait. Someone really loved this cat.

Lot 348 
Henry Collins Bispham (ac. Pennsylvania, 1841-1882)
Portrait of a Gray Tiger Cat Seated on a Chair. Signed and dated "H.C. Bispham 1878 N.Y." l.r. 
Oil on canvas, 20 x 24 in., in a period gilt gesso frame. Condition: Retouch to paws and background. 

Estimate $800-1,200 
Retouch to both paws and background area left of paws.

Possum, of course, would cross his paws for a formal portrait. I don't know where he learned his elegant ways, but it wasn't from me:

Here's the second cat painting at Skinner, this one by a woman artist, Alice Spooner:

Lot 321 
Alice Spooner (Michigan, ac. Late 19th Century) 

Orange Cat Seated on a Chair. Signed l.l. Oil on canvas, 15 x 19 1/2 in., 
in a period molded giltwood frame. Condition: Retouch to figure and background. 
Estimate $800-1,200 
Retouch to cat's face, decoration on seat back., scattered small areas to cat and background

I love this guy's sleepy, thoughtful expression and "cantilevered" paws, as my husband describes this particular cat pose. The chair is also charming with its gleaming curves and tapestry upholstery. This has a "folk art" style, but it reveals much more sophistication as you spend time with it.

I look forward to seeing these paintings at the gallery. It gives me a nice thrill to see evidence that people have passionately loved their cats — just as we do — across the centuries.


  1. Thanks for writing this lovely post about your experience at a Skinner auction preview! Everyone is welcome at a preview or auction, and in some ways it can be like visiting a museum exhibit.
    Have you seen the Skinner blog? We'd love your comments.

  2. I really enjoyed this thoughtful post on what it's like to attend a Skinner auction preview. The previews and auctions are open to everyone, and it can be almost like going to a museum exhibit!

    Have you seen the Skinner blog? Expert appraisers write about the different antiques coming up for auction.


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