Eager Bidders Pay Top Dollar

March 26, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

Applause rang out as the auctioneer cried, "Sold, for $120,000." The woman in the long red coat rose and walked quickly out of the door.

She wouldn't say who she was or who she was bidding for, but she had just bought an 8-by-10-foot painting entitled "The Garden of Neptune," the star of yesterday's auction of antiques and artwork from the Cloisters Collection at the Timonium Fairgrounds.

The sale raised nearly $900,000, most of which will wind up in the Baltimore City treasury. The city owns the Cloisters and its collection and is selling off the antiques to raise cash for its children's museum.

Richard Burke, a New York antiques dealer who was the under-bidder at $110,000, called the day's biggest catch "a nice, clean painting" and said it was probably by 17th century Italian artist Lucca Giordano.

Auctioneer Richard Opfer and his antiques consultant, Gene Canton, knew their pre-sale estimate of $3,000 to $5,000 was low. But they were surprised by the final bid.

The painting had been heavily restored and the surface is cloudy. "We didn't know just how far the painting dealers would be willing to speculate on condition. We thought it would be a maximum of $75,000."

Most of the 629 lots were from the vast, eclectic collection of the late Sumner and Dudrea Parker, who spent decades buying antiques for their Byzantine-Gothic-Renais

sance-Tudor "castle" in Brooklandville, called The Cloisters.

Mrs. Parker died in 1972, leaving the estate to the city, which has operated it as a children's museum.

The city sold the collection -- which has been warehoused since 1976 -- because the cost of maintaining the Cloisters estate has strained the city's ability to operate the children's museum there.

Judge Thomas E. Noel of the Baltimore Circuit Court approved the auction late last year. He reviewed the issue because stipulations in the Parkers' wills allow the sale of estate property only to maintain the museum, which will move to the Brokerage downtown.

Some dealers said the prices were high for pieces in fair to poor condition. Mr. Opfer said insufficient access to the paintings in the warehouse before the sale made good appraisals difficult. But, he said, his best sales are those with conservative estimates.

"It was a real strong sale. Thank God for the international buyers," he said as he battled bronchitis to chant his auctioneer's litany.

Attracted by a large quantity of Continental antiques, furniture and about 100 paintings -- many of religious subjects -- a group of European dealers drove prices up as they bid successfully for lot after lot.

A pleasant surprise for the antique hunters -- and the city treasury -- was an 18th century American walnut tallboy. The pre-sale estimate was $1,000 to $1,500, but the winning bidder paid $28,000.

"We're really happy about that," Mr. Canton said, "It's from Chester County, Pennsylvania, and it's so regional that the dealers from that area spotted it right away."

Local dealers and collectors managed to snag a few treasures.

Michael Kosmas, an aide to Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, R-2nd, waited all day to pay $800 for what he said is an early 18th century Russian icon. The pre-sale estimate was $150.

Mr. Kosmas said the catalog misclassified the item as an oil painting on a door panel. "It isn't oil, it's tempera, and it isn't a door panel, it's an early icon form. I waited a long time because I was determined to take it home with me."

Jim McCloskey, a dealer from Cockeysville, bought several paintings and lighting devices. He called it "a fantastic sale, but many of the prices are outrageous."

John Perrella, a Northeast Baltimore furniture restorer, said he and fellow craftsmen should do a land-office business from the sale. "Almost every piece is in need of repair and restoration."

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