Skinner Auctioneers will host a live auction on Friday, Nov. 19, showcasing the collection of John and Marilyn Keane, who were devoted collectors of early American craftsmanship and paintings from the China Trade, as well as former longtime residents of Beacon Hill.
In all, the auction includes 101 objects “encompassing fine paintings, spectacular American furniture and high-quality decorative arts,” according to Chris Barber, Skinner’s Deputy Director of Americana.
The Keane collection contains “among the finest furniture Skinner’s has offered in recent years and undoubtedly the best collections of paintings from the 19th century China trade we’ve seen,” said Barber.
“There’s such attention to fine detail in the China trade paintings,” said Barber. “What I appreciate most about the paintings is the incredibly high attention to detail and fine craftsmanship. They show ports and scenes from the early 19th century China trade with remarkable attention to structures, landmarks, and geographical details, as well as different types of vessels and port activities.”
Spoilum, the Chinese artist often recognized as the earliest oil painter of the newly accessible Canton region, is well represented in the Keane collection.
“Spoilum was undoubtedly one of the first great China trade painters in the late 18th and early 19th centuries when the market really began to open up,” said Barber, who added that in the 17 years he was worked for Skinner’s, he has seen “perhaps two other” paintings by the artist.
“In this sale, there are three or four paintings we can confidently attribute to his hand,” Barber added.
Besides the port scenes, the auction also includes three other oil paintings (Lots 24, 25, and 26), which respectively include “An Imperial Review at a Military Encampment,” possibly attributed to Spoilum; a portrait of a Hong merchant attributed to Spoilum; and an unsigned portrait of a young official of the First Rank wearing a red hat.
Among the 18th and early 19th century American furniture in the collection is a pair of classical card tables attributed to the shop of Charles-Honoré Lannuier, the renowned New York cabinetmaker whose decorative style epitomized the American Empire period, which are estimated at $100,000-150,000.
The tables feature a rosewood veneer, brass star-inlaid edges, carved and gilt caryatid supports, and dolphin feet, and Lannuier’s furniture has also been featured in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the White House.
Another auction item, a Chippendale Carved Mahogany Open Armchair, c. 1765. (Lot 47), “best exemplifies Rhode Island seating furniture of the 1760s,” according to Barber.
“It has an exaggerated form, bold carvings, and an inspiring presence,” said Barber, who added “known chairs that are comparable are sprinkled around in private and public collections.”
Other Keane collection highlights are two important pieces of Eastern Massachusetts blockfront furniture (i.e. a furniture front divided vertically into alternating convex and concave panels) – a Boston chest of drawers carved in small and elegant proportion, with finely sculpted claw-and-ball feet, estimated at $50,000-75,000, and a Secretary Bookcase with a history in the family home of Congressman Hezekiah Bradley Smith, estimated at $75,000-100,000.
An upholstered open armchair from Rhode Island, estimated at $50,000-100,000, is described by Skinner’s as “exemplary of the generous proportions and lavish design distinctive to that region in the late 1760s” and “distinguished by its shaped and carved arms with boldly scrolling handholds, and shell- and bellflower-carved cabriole legs ending in claw-and-ball feet.”
Barber said, “Besides the Rhode Island furniture, we have some of the best made in Boston, and there’s a very strong possibility that some of the finest pieces of Massachusetts furniture owned by the Keanes were crafted just miles away from their home at 81 Beacon St.”
A rare Marble Slab Table, estimated at $100,000-150,000, was crafted circa 1760, with carving attributed to renowned Philadelphia carvers Nicholas Bernard and Martin Jugiez, and featuring a boldly carved gadrooned skirt, carved knees, claw-and-ball feet.
All together, the Keane collection is unrivaled by anything Barber has seen in his many years working as one Skinner’s specialists in the American Furniture and Decorative Arts departments not only on Beacon Hill, he said, but also anywhere in the world.
“Beacon Hill has obviously been home for a long time to some of the greatest furniture collections in America and continues to be home to some of the greatest furniture collections in America, but this collection isn’t typical of Beacon Hill in any way,” he said. “It’s full of such high quality that it wouldn’t be typical anywhere.”
To amass such an impressive collection, the Keanes not only relied on their own exquisite taste, but also on the guidance of experts in the antique field, said Barber.
“The Keanes collected wonderful things and took advice from great professionals to end up with the collection they did,” said Barber. “They were savvy in their own right, but a collection like this is hard to build without the expertise of experienced professionals in the Antique World.’
Besides being devoted collectors of early American craftsmanship, the Keanes were also generous benefactors of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where the American Wing’s Newport Furniture Gallery was named in their honor.
“I highly suggest that people go to our website,” said Barber, “Because of the format of this article we can’t talk about items across the board. We could go on for hours about the quality there is here.”
Visit the Skinner Auctioneers website at https://www.skinnerinc.com, where the catalog prior to the auction going live on Nov. 19.