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Historic maritime club’s collection 'decimated' by sell-off

The private India House Club has been sending most of its art and antiques to auction

William Bradford's The Clipper Ship "Bonita" is up for sale at Northeast Auctions (est $50,000-$80,000)

The India House Club, New York, which held one of the nation’s largest private collections devoted to maritime history, has been selling off most of its 1,000 objects. Only 70 works will remain after forthcoming sales at Northeast Auctions in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, this weekend and Christie’s in September, The Art Newspaper has learned. Herbert Lewis, a governor of the club in charge of its library and art collection, informed members of the impending auctions via an email sent on 9 August—a little more than a week before the sales.

In the email, Lewis says that after a complete renovation of the historic interior, “most [of the club’s paintings] will be put back on view”, but he adds: “the cluttered and crowded look of much of the pictures on the walls in the recent past calls to mind the much clichéd dictum of legendary architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe that ‘less is more’.”

The India House Club first started selling its art and antiques at Sotheby’s in 1987 and has continued to do so quietly since then. When we reported on the last set of sales (The Art Newspaper, January 2011, p6), Stacey Gershon, the club’s curator said: “We’re not planning any further reduction in our collection.” She did not respond to emails. Of the latest consignments, Lewis says: “We’re not going to comment on it. We’re a private club.”

A 1935 catalogue of the collection listed over 1,000 items, including paintings, ship models and prints along with Asian artefacts. “There were 79 ship portraits by significant artists such as Samuel Walters and Antonio Jacobsen and now only five will remain. All of the prints are gone as are a large portion of the 19th-century ship models,” says Margaret Stocker, a former curator at the club, who is writing a book on the collection.

The India House Club has suffered dwindling membership. In 1999, 700 members were on the rolls but this year, there are fewer than 300. Fees are $1,495 and go down to $295.

“This was a collection formed in the 19th century and now India House’s holdings are decimated,” Stocker says.

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