Nisbet sofa open to debate
Q. This sofa was sold to us in 2000 as an 1830 Thomas Nisbet sofa by a dealer in a Niagara Peninsula antique centre for $3,000. However, there is no label.
How can one be sure? Michael, Halifax
A. There was a fine exhibition of Nisbet’s furniture held at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, in Guelph in 2012 (now the Art Gallery of Guelph). A catalogue of this show titled “The Art of Thomas Nisbet: Master Cabinetmaker” curated by David Nasby shows a good range of Nisbet furniture, and Nasby points out features distinctive of Nisbet’s work. Thomas Nisbet worked in St. John, N.B., beginning in the 1820s and through the 1830s. Mahogany, the wood of your sofa, was favoured by Nisbet, and features on yours such as the rope twist-carved feet were characteristic of Nisbet. But the work of other St. John and surrounding Maritime cabinetmakers also contains these elements of a calibre equal to Nisbet. The acanthus leaves do not have quite the depth and form of those done in a Nisbet workshop. The crest rail carving is well done but shallow compared with Nisbet pieces. I also suspect, incidentally, that the feet have lost a few inches in ring turnings, which affects the overall balance of the piece. Your sofa is circa 1830 but I’d be looking at other makers. Research should reward you with a maker’s name, which will maintain investment value. In a presently demanding furniture market, I’d say, without attribution, it is worth about $1,500.
Q. I acquired this vase with a heron attached when clearing out my mother’s possessions after she had to move into a nursing home. I remember seeing it in the 1930s in the living room of our farm house near Endcliffe, Manitoba. The vase measures 29.5 centimetres high (11.5 inches) and the base is 14 cm across (5.5 inches). I can find no names or markings anywhere on the vase except for some pencil writing with “Y/C” and “B/E.” I can’t imagine it has much value, but I would be interested in anything you can tell me about it. Ken, Ottawa
A. You have a spill vase, meant for twisted paper or wood strips used much like a match. The spill would be lit in a fire then taken along to light candles, a pipe or even another fire. It dates to the 1890s or early 1900s England and was made by the Bretby Art Pottery, Woodville, Derbyshire, Eng. The C.H. Brannam pottery firm made the same design a bit earlier, but their wares are always clearly marked. The initials might be those of an artist working at Bretby.
The pottery was established in 1883, and with the heron and bamboo your vase reflects the Aesthetic Movement taste for nature. Some had a petalled candle holder socket that sat in the largest receptacle. This scarce decoration is charming and worth $95 today.
Q. We used to spend our winters in Florida, and I loved going to estate sales there. I found this watercolour at one sale, which I thought was done by a good painter. His name is Chaim Gross, the cardboard backing in the frame is 15 by 20 cm (6 by 8 inches) and there is a personal note in the back of the painting to someone called Morris. I paid $10. I would appreciate learning more about this artist. Daniel, Ottawa
A. Chaim Gross (1904-1991) is held in high regard as a figurative artist in the media of sculpture, painting and drawing. He was born in Austria, and his Jewish parents raised him in an environment appreciating their cultural roots and the beauty of art. He began his art studies in Budapest and moved to New York City in 1921. He continued at the BeauxArts Institute of Design under Elie Nadelman, his most influential teacher. He focused on the human figure, including violinists as in your pleasant lithograph print — not an original watercolour. Check under the lower matte edge for a pencil signature and a numbered limited edition. That would be worth $100. Your instinctive eye served you well, regardless.
John Sewell is an antiques and fine art appraiser. To submit an item to this column, go to the Contact John page at www.johnsewellantiques.ca. Please measure your piece, say when and how you got it, what you paid and list any identifying marks. A high resolution jpeg must also be included. (Only email submissions accepted.) Appraisal values are estimates only.