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Copley Fine Art Auctions is the world's leading American sporting art auction company. Located in Hingham, MA, Copley specializes in antique decoys and 19th- and 20th-century American, sporting, and wildlife paintings. Principal Stephen O'Brien Jr., a fourth-generation sportsman with a refined colle...Read more
The McCleery Eider
Matinicus Isle, ME, c. 1880
16 ½ in. long
“This is arguably the most sophisticated of all eider decoys, with flowing lines and stylized abstract paint worthy of a Zen calligrapher.”
— Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America", 2010
This iconic decoy was first collected by Dr. James M. McCleery, who was among the greatest of decoy connoisseurs from any generation. Since its discovery, it has transfixed collectors and writers. Indeed, when McCleery purchased this eider, it came with a special “Cataloger’s note” by Gary Guyette which reads, “In sixteen years of heavy exposure to eider decoys from New England and Nova Scotia, I’ve never seen one, by any maker, with paint quality and condition that even comes close to this decoy.” It then led off the museum exhibition catalog of the McCleery Collection in 1992, and, eight years later, it was noticeably absent from the auction catalog of the same collection. Historian and curator Robert Shaw worked with both McCleery and his decoys on numer- ous occasions and explains that the doctor “considered this particular decoy the finest he owned, and, because of his devotion to it, the McCleery Family withheld it from the auction of his collection…”
This singular sculpture next surfaced publicly in 2010 as the front dust-jacket feature of Shaw’s Bird Decoys of North America book, in which the author writes, “This is arguably the most sophisticated of all eider decoys, with flowing lines and stylized abstract paint worthy of a Zen calligrapher.” It last appeared in 2014 when it joined an Elmer Crowell preening pintail and Lothrop Holmes merganser as the top waterfowl decoys ever sold at auction.
The form, paint, and condition of this decoy are peerless. The aforementioned Maine and Maritime specialist attributed the origin to Matinicus Isle, which lies an hour’s boat ride east- north-east of Monhegan Island, far off the coast of Maine. The Museum of American Folk Art and several prominent private collections hold a small number of lesser flat-bottomed eider decoys that have related construction, head carving, and paint. At least one of these flat-bottomed eider is branded “W. L. AMES” for Wilmer L. Ames (b. 1853) of Matinicus Isle, supporting the bird’s island of origin.
The design and execution of this eider are sublime. The clean and sweeping lines of the broad body are finished with the celebrated plumage pattern. The body’s refinements are matched in the drawn-back head, which has full cheeks, a sharp chine along its crown, and incised carving around the bill and even the black patches of the head. The head is inletted into the body and fastened with a single nail which is capped with a square peg.
In original paint with light gunning wear.
Provenance: Dr. James M. McCleery Collection
Thomas M. Evans Jr. Collection
Literature: Robert Shaw, "Call to the Sky: The Decoy Collection of James M. McCleery, M.D.," Houston, TX, 1992, p. 3, exact decoy illustrated.
Robert Shaw, "Bird Decoys of North America," New York, NY, 2010, p. 147 and front dust-jacket cover, exact decoy illustrated.
James Julia and Gary Guyette Inc. “Important Auction of Rare Waterfowl Decoys and Bird Carvings,” Fairfield, Maine, April 1990, lot 124, exact decoy illustrated and discussed.
“The 1990 Year in Review,” Decoy Magazine, pp. 4, 8-9 and front cover, exact decoy illustrated.
“Year in Review 2014,” Decoy Magazine, p. 8 and front cover, exact decoy illustrated.
Exhibited: Houston, Texas, "Call to the Sky: The Decoy Collection of James M. McCleery, M.D.," Houston Museum of Natural History, 1992-1993.
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