Copper in the Arts

December 2021

Rare Angel Weathervane To Be Auctioned By Christie’s

Christie’s Auction House recently listed a rare copper weathervane depicting the Angel Gabriel, attributed to J. W. Fisk of New York and dating back to the late 1800s.  

News.jpgA 19th Century copper weathervane depicting Angel Gabriel, attributed
to J. W. Fisk of New York.  
Photograph courtesy of Christie's New York. 

The weathervane has a rich history of acquisitions, and was first owned by Adele Earnest (1901-1993), one of the six founding trustees of the Museum of American Folk Art (now the American Folk Art Museum). She sold the vane to pioneering collector Stewart E. Gregory (1913-1976) of Wilton, Connecticut, who served as the Museum’s vice president from 1971 to 1974 and in 1970, this weathervane was part of a dramatic display of over forty vanes and sculptures at the US Pavilion at the World Exposition in Osaka, Japan.

The sale of Gregory’s collection for over $1.3 million in 1979 was considered a watershed moment in the market for American folk art and this Angel Gabriel weathervane, which sold for $16,000, was widely reported in the press. Its purchaser was legendary film and play director Mike Nichols (1931-2014), whose notable achievements on the stage and the big screen include Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966), The Graduate (1967), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Director, Broadway’s Annie (1977-1983), Working Girl (1988), The Birdcage (1996) and Primary Colors (1998).

This fine example of Americana craftsmanship is a masterful survival of the form, and, although the subject was rendered by several manufacturers, this model is exceedingly rare. 

From the pose, with the left arm bent and resting on the right shoulder, to the two-part pleated dress and protruding feet, the model illustrated here closely follows a design published in 1893 by J.W. Fiske of New York. A model that shares the overall pose but differs in details of the dress and positioning of the left hand is thought to have been made in circa 1872 possibly by the Mott Co. of Chicago (Sotheby's, New York, 10 October 2019, lot 11). The Mott company also operated out of New York where it was the main competitor of the Fiske operation and it is possible that these similar models illustrate the rivalry between the two firms.


Christie’s New York, 20 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, (212) 636-2000

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