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Displaying items by tag: Ralph Esmerian

Tuesday, 11 February 2014 14:25

American Folk Art Museum Announces New Acquisitions

The American Folk Art Museum in New York has acquired a number of traditional folk art works as well as pieces by self-taught artists, enhancing its already-expansive permanent collection. With objects dating from the eighteenth century to the present, the museum is devoted to preserving, conserving and interpreting works of traditional and contemporary folk art.

Among the recent acquisitions is ‘The Peaceable Kingdom,’ a painting by the Quaker artist Edward Hicks. Hicks painted at least 62 versions of The Peaceable Kingdom over a period of more than 30 years. This particular version was given to Hicks’ daughter as a wedding present and remained in the Hicks family for many years. It was later represented by Edith Gregor Halpert and her pioneering American Folk Art Gallery, Terry Dintenfass, and the Sidney Janis Gallery. The painting was donated to the Folk Art Museum by Sidney Janis’ son Carroll, and his wife, Donna.

Other highlights include an elaborate architectural portrait by self-taught artist Achilles Rizzoli titled ‘The Kathredal’; a 19th-century watercolor book purchased at the recent Sotheby’s sale of the collection of Ralph O. Esmerian; an ethereal work by Thornton Dial that was gifted to the museum by the artist’s family; and a crayon and pencil drawing on pieced paper by the Mexican-American artist, Martín Ramirez, which was donated to the Folk Art Museum by David L. Davies, a former Museum trustee, and Jack Weeden, who had previously established a $1 million exhibition fund in their names.

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On January 25, Sotheby’s held the auction ‘Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the collection of Ralph O. Esmerian’ in New York. The sale, which included over 208 lots ranging from watercolors, portraits, pottery, furniture and weathervanes to carvings, needlework, sculpture and scrimshaw, fetched $12,955,943, significantly exceeding its pre-sale estimate of $9.5 million. The sale set a new record total for any auction of American folk art. 

The top lot of the auction was a carved figure of Santa Claus by wood carver Samuel Robb, which sold for $875,000, far surpassing its pre-sale estimate of $250,000. Other important sales included Ruth Whittier Shute and Samuel Addison Shute’s portrait of Jeremiah H. Emerson, which brought $665,000; a rare carved pine pheasant hen weathervane from the late 19th century, which sold for $449,000; and ‘The Carver Limner,’ a painting depicting three members of Freeport’s Carver family, which fetched $521,000.

Esmerian, the former chairman emeritus of New York’s American Folk Art Museum, is currently serving a six-year sentence for fraud. The sale at Sotheby’s was ordered by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and generated $10.5 million for Esmerian’s creditors including Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

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On January 25, 2014 Sotheby’s will hold the auction Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian in New York. The sale includes over 200 works including watercolors, portraits, pottery, painted furniture, weathervanes, carvings, needlework, sculpture and scrimshaw. Together, the collection marks the most important assemblage of American folk art to ever appear at auction. The sale carries a pre-sale estimate of $6.4 million to $9.5 million.

Nancy Druckman, Head of Sotheby’s Folk Art Department, said, “Ralph Esmerian is known for his profound connoisseurship, discernment and passion for the best in American folk art. Each of the examples in the collection is distinguished by the highest quality in design, pattern, color, texture and form. A pervasive respect and understanding of the inspiration and expertise of the various makers is present in each of the pieces, as they represent both the traditions and inventiveness of American art.”

Highlights from the sale include a drawing of a man with a plough by outsider artist Bill Traylor, an important Federal paint decorated slant front desk attributed to Johannes Braun and a rare fireboard with a view of Boston Harbor from 1825-35.  

The Ralph Esmerian collection will be on view in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries during Americana Week in New York beginning January 18, 2014.  

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In an effort to curb the massive debts accrued by the American Folk Art Museum’s former chairman, Ralph Esmerian, the institution has decided to sell over 200 works from its collection at an auction at Sotheby’s. Esmerian, the former owner of the jewelry company Fred Leighton, is currently serving a six-year jail sentence for wire fraud and other charges.

In 2005, Esmerian promised to donate 263 works from his illustrious collection to the Folk Art Museum. However, he used some of those same works as collateral to secure multi-million-dollar loans with Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Late last month, Manhattan’s U.S. Bankruptcy Court arranged a settlement with the museum allowing the Folk Art Museum to keep 53 of the promised works as long as they enhance the institution’s collection and aid its educational mission. The remaining works, which include paintings, sculptures, scrimshaw, and needleworks, will be sold at Sotheby’s.

The trustee responsible for liquidating Esmerian’s estate has decided to sell the remainder of the collection through Sotheby’s, much to Christie’s dismay. Christie’s filed an objection to the settlement on March 15, 2013 claiming that Sotheby’s intimidated the trustee into choosing them to host the important auction.

The Esmerian sale will be held in December 2013 or January 2014 and the profits will go towards repaying the creditors the former chairman defrauded.    

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Wednesday, 02 January 2013 13:13

Folk Art Museum to Relinquish Promised Artworks

When Ralph Esmerian, owner of the jewelry company Fred Leighton, filed for bankruptcy and was sentenced to six years in jail for fraud in 2011, the American Folk Art Museum felt the repercussions. Esmerian, a prominent donor and former chairman of the institution, had promised the museum 263 works from his illustrious collection. Since Esmerian’s downfall, the museum has been working with a trustee of the case to reach an agreement, which was recently realized.

The settlement between the Folk Art Museum and Esmerian states that the institution is entitled to 53 of the artworks he promised to donate. While the chosen pieces are yet to be specified to the public, they were selected for their exceptional quality and include portraits, needleworks, fraktur, sculpture, pottery, and scrimshaw. The retained works will enhance the museum’s collection and aid its educational mission.

The Folk Art Museum will be forced to part with the other 210 promised works, which will most likely be sold at auction in an effort to settle other bankruptcy estate claims.

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American Folk Art Museum chairman emeritus and pioneering folk art collector Ralph Esmerian, 71, was sentenced on Friday 22 July to six years in federal prison along with 1,800 days of community service. He was also ordered to pay a $20m fine for bankruptcy, wire fraud and other charges.

According to court papers, Esmerian had double pledged millions in collateral to obtain $210m in loans to purchase and operate the Madison Avenue jeweller Fred Leighton, known for gems once belonging to Marie Antoinette and a Hollywood clientele favoring vintage jewellery.

At the sentencing, US District Court Judge Denise Cote said that Esmerian "lived a life of fraud and deceit on a massive scale".

In the Southern District Court of New York on 15 April, Esmerian had entered a guilty plea forgoing his trial. At the hearing, Judge Cote asked Esmerian, “Did you understand you were violating the law?” and he replied, “I knew it was something wrong.”

The prosecutor David Massey said Esmerian had “embezzled, concealed and converted to [his] own use debtor property worth at least $20m”. Esmerian borrowed $177m from Merrill Lynch Mortgage Capital Inc in 2005 and 2006 and during that time sold pledged collateral valued at $5m and doubled pledged $6m in collateral to obtain a $40m loan from another lender.

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