Nis­bet sofa open to de­bate

Waterloo Region Record - - Arts & Life - JOHN SEWELL

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.

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