Need a Reason to See the Winter Antiques Show? Here, Feast Your Eyes

January 19, 2017
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By Eve M. Kahn

The Winter Antiques Show, which starts a nine-day run Friday at the Park Avenue Armory, intersperses oddities with the expected Rococo mirrors, brown American chests and stone Aphrodites, and for the second year in a row, contemporary art has been welcomed into the mix. Here are 10 highlights, and one bonus, that caught my eye, then drew me in more deeply with their sometimes racy provenance stories that included political scandals and cross-dressing.

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A work from “The Sessions” series by Bettina von Zwehl.

SILHOUETTES The miniature-portrait specialist Elle Shushan has covered some booth walls with works by the contemporary London-based photographer Bettina von Zwehl. Each photograph silhouettes a girl and costs $1,800. Ms. von Zwehl created 50 different torn outlines of the girl’s image, for her series “The Sessions”; it is based partly on memories excavated when she underwent psychoanalysis. The 50 fragments refer to the number of minutes that analysts typically let patients ruminate on the couch.

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A statue at Robert Young Antiques.Credit PJ Gates Photography/Robert Young Antiques

A SWIMMER IN STRIPES At Robert Young Antiques, a headless figure of a pudgy man is labeled “Olympic Swimming Team 1924,” but no official team of the period wore the sculpture’s outfit, striped in brown and yellow. The cardboard-and-gesso statue (about $11,000) turned up last year at an estate sale in Cambridge, England. It most likely advertised sports gear at a store trying to attract college students of various physiques.

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A terra-cotta bust at Bowman Sculpture.

A MODEL FOR A FOUNTAIN A terra-cotta bust of a ponytailed Chinese man ($120,000, at Bowman Sculpture) from the 1870s was designed as a prototype for the French sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. He used it while working on four bronze figures, representing the major continents, for a fountain in a Paris park. The fountain symbolized French imperial power, but the bust still captures the Chinese model’s pride and calm dignity.

CARVED FISH Wooden fish on turned pedestals flash their fangs at Lost City Arts (prices start around $2,000 each). The woodcarvers, descendants of British mutineers on the Pitcairn Islands, signed the fishes’ scaly flanks. Passing yachters would buy the carvings as souvenirs — not much else sustained the Pitcairn economy.

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A dollhouse on display by the dealer Stephen Score.

A PINK DOLLHOUSE Stephen Score, a folk art dealer in Boston, has brought a pinkish dollhouse ($55,000) painted with images of arched windows and green shutters and penciled with a few doodles. It long belonged to descendants of the politician Abraham Oakey Hall, who served as mayor of New York from 1869 to 1872 before leaving politics under a cloud of Tammany Hall corruption accusations. The shutters are shown firmly closed, as if to protect the occupants’ privacy.

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A piece by Leonor Fini at Didier Ltd. 

A GOLD HEADDRESS The surrealist artist Leonor Fini’s set of multipurpose gold jewelry from the 1970s ($100,000 at Didier Ltd) was meant to make the wearer feel fierce. Its ribbed animal horns could be worn sprouting from a headband or configured into a necklace. Ms. Fini favored outrageous costumes, including animal headdresses. The habit partly stemmed from her childhood in Italy, in the 1910s; her mother would dress her as a boy to prevent her estranged father from recognizing and kidnapping her.

A VIEW OF BOSTON On a clear June afternoon in 1815, a Canadian postmaster named George Heriot stood on Bunker Hill in Boston and made watercolor scenes along the horizon. The panorama ($75,000 at the Old Print Shop) depicts domed government buildings, church steeples, townhouses, bridges, forts and distant hills. Mr. Heriot was on a business trip to Washington, and he sketched all along the way. He was also a travel writer, and scholars have suggested that he meant to publish the Boston view — which measures about 10 feet long — in a book that was never finished.

A MANTEL OF ‘CHOICE BITS’ A pine mantelpiece at Hirschl & Adler($125,000), made around 1812, is carved with fans, petals, pointed arches and pillars that taper to impossible thinness. The piece has a close relative in the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. They both may have been salvaged from a Georgian house in Brooklyn built for descendants of Dutch settlers. In 1910, a newspaper reported that the current owners had stripped the interior, “lest the hand of time or vandals might deal harshly with some of its choice bits of carving.”

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A work by the 19th-century society portraitist Frederick R. Spencer. Alexander Gallery

A MOURNING PORTRAIT A luminous painting of an unidentified family, by the 19th-century society portraitist Frederick R. Spencer ($55,000 at the Alexander Gallery), shows symbols of mourning. But it is not clear which family member was being memorialized. Was it the daughter, shown wearing a fingerless glove and crowning her mother in roses and forget-me-nots? Or the mother, who is clutching a handkerchief to her daughter’s side? The mother’s gold watch, half concealed in her waistband, may have represented dark moments in the passage of time.

A WILD WEST HAT In the 1880s, Buffalo Bill brought Native American performers in his “Wild West” show to Europe, and one of them brashly decorated a red hat ($35,000 at Tambaran) for the occasion. It sprouts horsehair strands and turkey feathers. On the stage, its fringe of tin pendants tinkled against glass beads, floral brass buttons and a Buffalo Bill medal made in New York. Around the crown, its dollhouse mirrors would have glinted in the stage lights.

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A table on display by A La Vieille Russie.

A ROYAL BONUS Maria Tenisheva, a Russian princess and philanthropist, built schools and museum collections in Russia to preserve craft traditions. She collected art and objects, including slabs of petrified wood from California. One of her workshops incorporated sheets of the stone into two matching oak tables, carved with diamond patterns and arches that resemble oxen yokes. One table survives in her original museum collection near Smolensk, and no one knows how its twin ($250,000, at A La Vieille Russie) left Russia after the Bolsheviks drove her out with the rest of the aristocracy.


A version of this article appears in print on January 20, 2017, on Page C22 of the New York edition with the headline: Every Art Work Has Its Own Story: Some Whisper, Some Shout.