Haussner art on the block

Sale: Auctions of the family's many artworks are expected to net as much as $8 million.

October 28, 1999|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF

No one could blame Francie Haussner George for feeling just a tiny bit vindicated. She is the owner of Haussner's Restaurant, the Highlandtown establishment that was as well-known for the art collection amassed by its founders -- George's parents, William and Frances Haussner -- as it was for its sauerbraten.

After all, seven paintings from the vast Haussner Collection already have been sold at a preliminary auction at Sotheby's for $451,950 -- nearly triple their estimated value -- perhaps signaling that the entire collection could be worth far more than the experts have guessed.

For 73 years, everyone knew that Haussner's, which closed last month, was where you went to eat baked rabbit while surrounded by busts of Roman emperors and 19th-century landscapes and hunting scenes or to quaff beer beneath the gaze of seemingly hundreds of zaftig nudes.

For many of those years, George knew that there were people who looked down their noses at her parents' taste in art. Sometimes with their mouths still full of crab cakes or dumplings.

"People used to laugh at my parents because they bought paintings that weren't in fashion," says George.

But you know what they say about he -- or she -- who laughs last.

Now George has begun selling her parents' art, a process that will take several months. Much of the Haussner Collection will be auctioned Tuesday at Sotheby's. That sale will include 145 19th-century European and American paintings such as "After the Bath," an evocative oil painting by Jean-Leon Gerome (1824-1904) and estimated at $500,000 to $700,000; "The Helping Hand," a seascape ascribed to Hans Dahl (1849-1937) and estimated at $15,000-$20,000; "Bashful Love," a moody scene depicting two young field workers ascribed to Josef Israels (1824-1911) and estimated at $100,000 to $150,000; and an oil painting of ducks by Alexander Koester (1864-1932) filled with swift brush strokes and vivid light and estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

On Dec. 1, a single but important Haussner painting will be sold separately at a Sotheby's auction of American paintings, drawing and sculptures. Titled "Lake Louise," the magnificent oil on canvas landscape of a vast and lonely lake flanked by snow-capped mountains is by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) and has an estimated value of $700,000 to $900,000.

Experts at Sotheby's estimate that the Nov. 2 sale of items from the Haussner Collection and the sale of the Bierstadt painting may bring more than $8 million. But prices for the seven Old Master paintings sold Oct. 14 for $451,950 had been expected to bring only $134,000 to $186,000.

"We are very pleased. Absolutely," says George. "The sales figures were just about 300 percent over the estimates. But we knew the estimates were low."

One Old Master, the "Birth of Venus" by the Circle of Francesco Albani, depicts Venus riding from a swirling ocean in a chariot as cherubs carrying bouquets of flowers flutter in the air about her. On one side of the chariot, a naked imp rides an enormous fish. The painting, which once belonged to Baltimorean William T. Walters, was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 and sold for $151,000.

"An Extensive Mountainous Landscape with a Cavalry Skirmish, A Ruined Castle Beyond," ascribed to Frederic de Moucheron (1633-1686), was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 and brought $98,000.

There may be several explanations as to why these paintings brought more than estimated. One is that auctioneers may set prices lower than expected to entice buyers, says Richard Opfer, owner of Richard Opfer Auctioneering of Timonium, which will handle some of the sales from the Haussner Collection.

Another is that when artworks are owned privately for many years, they acquire a mystique among collectors, which may boost the amount they bring when at last offered for sale to the public. For example, "Entrance to a Roman Theatre," painted in 1866 by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, once was owned by William H. Vanderbilt and hung in his house on Fifth Avenue in New York. It has been displayed at the Walters Art Gallery, the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and the Walker Art Gallery in London.

"But it hasn't been in circulation for years," says George. "As important as it is in its own right, it becomes more interesting to collectors because it, in essence, is a virgin painting."

Another 130 works from the Haussner Collection will be sold Nov. 3 at Sotheby's in an auction featuring 19th-century furniture, ceramics, decorations and carpets belonging to several different owners. Works from the Haussner Collection include a Berlin porcelain portrait plaque impressed with the initials KPM and estimated at $6,000 to $8,000; a marble bust of Alexander the Great from the late 19th century and estimated at $8,000 to $10,000 and a bronze figure of an elk by Antoine Louis Barye (1796-1875) and estimated at $4,000 to $6,000.

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