RECORD: A Gus Wilson Red-Breasted Merganser Sails Away With $330,000 at Copley Fine Art Auctions

9912_43F0Y2R98

The Hot Bid is on Thanksgiving vacation today. I haven’t got anything turkey-related, so I’m celebrating by reposting a story on a record-breaking duck decoy. 

What you see: A red-breasted merganser drake duck decoy, carved circa 1900 by Augustus “Gus” Wilson. It had been described as the finest Wilson decoy ever offered at auction. Copley Fine Art Auctions sold it in July 2014 for $330,000, achieving an auction record for the artist.

Who was Gus Wilson? He was a Maine native, boat builder, lighthouse keeper, and carver. He took up carving in his teens, probably learning the art from family members, and he remained active for most of his life. He died in 1950 at the age of 85 or 86.

How often do you see a Wilson duck decoy carved with an open bill, as this one is? “It’s very infrequent,” says Stephen B. O’Brien Jr., owner of Copley Fine Art Auctions in Boston, Mass. “There’s less than a handful, and many of those [beaks] are broken off and replaced. The fact that this one is intact makes it a real survivor.”

What makes this duck decoy exceptional? “It’s a big, bold carving. Wilson regularly produced larger, almost oversize carvings,” he says, alluding to the decoy’s generous measurements: seven inches wide, seven inches high, and more than 16 inches long. “It’s got a wonderful sense of sculpture. Combine that with the open bill, which is almost never seen, and it makes it a pinnacle work.

This is described as a “hunted” or “hunt-used” decoy, which means that a hunter actually put it out on the water to lure ducks. Are most Wilson decoys hunt-used? And do collectors prefer hunt-used decoys? “The vast majority of Gus Wilsons found were actually hunted,” O’Brien says. As for hunt-used versus pristine, he says, “It’s a very personal choice. It almost comes down to, in the art world, how some people are attracted to the real world and some people are attached to abstraction. I’m a hunter. I come at it from that perspective. I love a utility decoy that’s been hunted over, that has some wear that shows it was put to its intended use. But you don’t want it to have too much. With replaced heads, tail chips, and shot scars, it starts to take on some negatives. But you can miss out if all you want is pristine birds. They’re pretty hard to find.”

The decoy was carved around 1900. Where was Wilson in his career then? “It places him at about age 35. What’s nice about this merganser is the artist is at the height of his craft. There are subtleties that take more time to create,” he says, explaining that decoy carvers sometimes go through a period when they feel free to indulge in artistic flourishes that transcend the standard shape of the duck decoy–open beaks, fan tails, slightly extended wings–and abruptly stop when they see how their hand-carved treasures suffer nicks and breaks in the field.

How long do you think this auction record will stand? “It’s hard to say. As with any market, if the right piece came up and two people wanted it, the record could easily fall,” O’Brien says. “The decoy market has held up strong over the last 10 years relative to other [categories] in the antiques market. It wouldn’t shock me if it fell. Looking at it from the standpoint of being a great Gus Wilson, it’s probably a bargain price for what it went for.”

Are there any other Gus Wilson duck decoys that rival this one? “For me, I haven’t really seen it,” he says. “That’s why we put a heavy estimate on it. [The presale estimate was $350,000 to $450,000]. “He’s a pretty colorful, proud, bright bird. He had all the bells and whistles that collectors look for–the open bill, the cocked-back head, nice original paint, the paddle tail, and the original rigging [the weight on the bottom that lets the decoy float upright]. I can’t think of a better Gus Wilson decoy. If you asked me to own one Gus Wilson decoy, this would be it.”

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Copley Fine Art Auctions will hold its 2017 Sporting Sale on July 27 and 28 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Copley Fine Art Auctions.

Quack!

 

You’ll Never Be As Cool As This Tattooed Man, Or P.T. Barnum. Want Proof? This 1876 Sideshow Poster Sold for $8,610 at Potter & Potter

346

Update: The 1876 P.T. Barnum sideshow poster advertising  ‘Captain Costentenus, The Greek Albanian, Tattooed from Head to Foot,’ sold for $8,610.

What you see: An 1876 poster advertising the P. T. Barnum attraction, ‘Captain Costentenus, The Greek Albanian, Tattooed from Head to Foot.’ Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $5,000.

We live in a world where the barista who takes your coffee order has an amazing sleeve. Just how weird was a tattooed man in the late 19th century? “Well, he was exhibited in a sideshow with Siamese twins, the bearded lady, and midgets. This was not an everyday occurrence,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “I’m not an expert on tattoo history, but I’d say he’s one of the most famous [tattooed men].”

Would women have been allowed to see Captain Costentenus? Would he have appeared under a sideshow tent, or at Barnum’s dime museum, or both? And would he have just sat there and given his spiel, or did he do tricks as well? Yes, both, and his drawing power as a fully tattooed man was strong enough that he’d have only had to sit there, as exposed as decency would allow, and tell his story. “He would have had a little speech that he would give, a short lecture, real or imaginary, on his background, to stir up the imaginations of the people who were viewing him,” he says. “I think he retired wealthy.”

The poster says his appearance was changed “…in Chinese tartary as punishment for engaging in rebellion against the king.” That’s crap, right? Not true? “We’ll say he took liberties with the truth,” Fajuri says, adding, “I could see tattoos being used as punishment, certainly if they’re on the face. There might be a grain of truth in there, in the same way that the first person Barnum exhibited was old, but not 175 years old.”

Did Captain Costentenus set the template for what tattooed people in sideshows should look like? “No. They generally did not have their faces done,” he says. “Even today, that’s pretty extreme.”

But if his face is tattooed, why does Captain Costentenus also have a full, bushy beard? “I don’t know!” he says, laughing. “Maybe it’s a cultural thing. He’s Albanian.”

Did P.T. Barnum invent or popularize tattooed people as sideshow attractions? “Barnum had a lot of people working for him, and a lot of people copied him,” Fajuri says. “He set the standard for all these kinds of showmen.”

Just how rare is this Captain Costentenus poster? “Two months ago, Swann sold one. I don’t think it had an imprint [that says ‘P.T. Barnum’] at the top. It got $6,750 on an estimate of $800 to $1,200, Until I saw the one at Swann, I thought this might be the only one. It may be the only one with the Barnum imprint,” he says, adding, “It was custom made for this performer. Stock posters were a thing, but this a portrait of this person, custom made for them.”

Does the P.T. Barnum name add to the poster’s value? “Sure. It’s like the name ‘sterling’ on silver. He’s the guy who’s the godfather of all of this. Let’s hope it adds a premium,” he says. “No one has ever sold one [a Captain Costentenus poster] with the Barnum name on it. I don’t think it’s going to hurt it.”

And it was already bound to do well regardless, because there’s an eager contingent that collects vintage images of tattooed people… “Yes. You assess correctly. Those people are very actively interested in the subject,” he says. “Let’s hope that makes it a cross-collectible.”

What else makes this poster memorable? “We’ve sold a lot of weird things over the years, and we’ve never had anything like it,” Fajuri says. “In a business where we sell odd and unusual things, this is in the top twenty, top twenty-five things we’ve offered.”

How to bid: The Captain Costentenus poster is lot 346 in the Circus-Sideshow-Wild West auction at Potter & Potter on November 18.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

SOLD! A Masterpiece of Native African Art Sold For $975,000 at Sotheby’s

9620 Lot 24

Update: The Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure sold for $975,000.

What you see: A Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure from what is now the Republic of the Congo. It probably dates to the late 19th century, and the artist is unknown. Sotheby’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

What is a reliquary figure, and how did the native African people use it? According to Alexander Grogan, head of the African and Oceanic department at Sotheby’s New York, the figure was once attached to a basket that would have held ancestral relics–“bones, mixed with magical material in a kind of bundle.” The whole might have been kept in a sacred grove along with other reliquaries. The figure was separated from its basket at some point in its past, either by a European dealer or a collector who was only interested in the figure, or the basket could have fallen apart without being replaced. “They would have shined the figures with sand and water to keep them bright,” Grogan says. “It [the polishing] was not just to make them look good, it was part of the process of venerating the ancestors.”

The figure stands almost 28 inches tall. Is that typical for a Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure? No. “This is a very large one. It’s really one of the grandest and most fancy examples, and one of the most famous,” he says.

Does the sculpture depict a well-known character from the Kota-Ndassa culture? “It’s a representation of an idealized ancestor, an ancestor who’s going to help you,” Grogan says. “It’s a progenitor of your clan who has gone before you. In Kota culture, you venerate it. Ancestor worship is a big part of cultural religious practice in this part of Africa. It [the reliquary] connects to the physical remnants of a real ancestor and forms a conduit between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

Is the figure male or female? “Both males and females are represented, but we don’t know much about individuals. At some point [they] would have known who it was,” he says. “Even compared to the rest of the Kota corpus, this reliquary figure is a very fancy object. It represents a very wealthy and powerful individual.”

Is the fan-like object on the top of the figure’s head and the flip-do-like pieces that flank the face all part of a hairstyle? Yes. “In a very, very abstract way, it represents braids coming down the side of the head and a coiffure on the top,” he says.

The reliquary figure is described as “weeping” because of the lines that stream down its face. Are the lines purely decorative, or are they actually meant to make the face look like it’s weeping? “A work of art with such specific little motifs and things has the potential for rich symbolism and meaning, but we don’t know what it depicts,” he says. “The two-colored cheeks and the iron bands on the cheek allow the artist to show off different colors. It’s a tour de force. ‘Weeping’ is a speculative way to describe what the bands mean.”

Do we know why its mouth is depicted as being open? “The teeth shown there are pointed. The Kota would file their teeth to points,” he says, adding that men and women both engaged in the practice. “The figure reflected] the way the Kota people had their teeth. It was a symbol of beauty.”

What are the bean-like white things inside the mouth and on the forehead? They’re cowrie shells. “Each of them is a fancy embellishment–yet another texture, yet another color,” he says. “They give the impression of richness.”

Is the figure entirely made of metal? No. It’s a wooden structure covered with metal plates. “The sculptor creates a sort of wooden carcass, and on top of that are metal plates held in place with little pins,” Grogan says. “The back is naked wood.”

When did Westerners learn about Kota-Ndassa art? Europeans first reached the area in the 1870s or so. Some reliquary figures and other pieces were eventually taken to Paris, where they made an impression on the city’s artists. “Kota sculptures were among the first African sculptures people like Picasso saw in the early 20th century,” he says. “You can imagine Picasso looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s what I was after.’ There are some Picasso works where you can see Kota motifs.”

How did this figure leave Africa? We don’t know its history prior to the 1960s, when it’s recorded as belonging to collector René Rasmussen. Two more dealers held it before Edwin and Cherie Silver purchased it in 1979. “It was the first major piece the Silvers acquired, and it was at the center of their collection of Kota reliquary figures,” he says. “You could say it was the crown jewel of the Silver collection because they displayed it in the center of the group. It was the most attention-grabbing piece. You’d see it as you walked in. You came through the door into a sunken living room, and there was a grand piano with nine Kota figures on it and a Calder mobile above, looking onto the valley where the Getty Center is now in Los Angeles.”

What else makes this figure special? “You have a Kota artist stepping way, way above their traditions to become a great world artist,” he says. “The figure is rooted in Kota culture, but the artist achieves something much greater. That’s how I would define a masterpiece.”

How to bid: The Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure is lot 24 in The Collection of Edwin & Cherie Silver, an auction of tribal and aboriginal art that takes place on November 13 at Sotheby’s New York.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter. Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Is This Diamond Green With Envy? No, Natural Radiation. And It Could Fetch $3.3 Million At Phillips

Rare and Important Fancy Intense Green Diamond Small

What you see: A fancy intense green diamond that weighs 5.62 carats. Phillips estimates it at HK $22 million to $26 million, which is about $2.8 million to $3.3 million.

So, just how rare are green diamonds? “We know colored diamonds are quite rare compared to colorless diamonds, and green diamonds are particularly rare,” says Terry Chu, head of jewelry, Asia, senior director, at Phillips. “Blue diamonds are caused by the presence of boron in the diamond crystal structure. Green diamonds are not caused by any impurity. They’re caused by natural radiation–subtle energy that can change the diamond crystal to a green color if it penetrates it over a long span of time–millions of years. Very often, the radiation can only penetrate to the outer layer. Usually only the skin of the diamond crystal is green, and when the diamond cutter polishes it, the green will be gone.”

How rare is it to find a rough green diamond that reduces to a stone of more than five carats? “The finished product is 5.62 carats, so the original rock was maybe seven or eight carats,” she says, adding that in 15 years of experience in gem and jewelry auctions, this is the first green diamond of its kind that she has handled. “But I would not use five carats [as a benchmark]. I would say most green diamonds are below three carats. One other green diamond that was not even five and a half carats–it was 5.03 carats–made over $3 million per carat 18 months ago.” (It sold at Christie’s Hong Kong in May 2016.)

This stone is described as a “fancy intense” green diamond. What does that mean? “Fancy intense is a color grade given by the Gemological Institute of America, the most reputable laboratory in diamond grading,” she says. “When grading a colored diamond, it’s based on saturation, from faint to fancy vivid. Fancy intense is below fancy vivid, which is the most saturated. It’s one grade below fancy vivid.”

Why did the jeweler choose a cushion modified-cut for the green diamond? “It has a more balanced outline,” she says. “No matter which side or which angle you look at it [from], it’s a nice shape. It’s still a brilliant cut style, and brilliant cut styles make it more appealing. With diamonds in general, the round brilliant cut is most popular, and the most everlasting shape and cutting style.”

Why did you put the green diamond in a white gold ring? “When I saw this stone, I wanted to show the pure, real color,” she says. “White gold [allows] the best, most true presentation of the green color of the diamond.”

Is it comfortable to wear on your hand? “A diamond never looks too big on any woman,” she quips. “Don’t worry. One carat of diamond weighs about 0.2 grams. That means five carats equals one gram. It will never be too heavy or too big.”

This looks more like a mint green, or an ice green. Are there green diamonds that have more of an emerald color, or a spring green color? “It’s a pure green color. There’s no secondary color in the hue,” she says. “A yellow-green color is not pure green, and technically, an emerald green is a blue-green. It would not be a pure green. This diamond may look like a mint or an ice green, but those are not standardized technical terms.”

What is the green diamond like in person? “Throughout my career, every time I handle a rare stone, I always have a feeling of how amazing nature is,” Chu says. “When you explain what causes a green diamond, when you think about the whole process, you feel so small. A human being lives maybe 100 years. In a geological span, that is nothing. And the color–no mater how clever or technically advanced human beings are, we cannot duplicate the green color created in nature.”

How to bid: The rare and fancy intense green diamond and diamond ring is lot 607 in the Jewels and Jadeite sale at Phillips Hong Kong on November 27.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips.

Special shout-out to Aja Raden, author and green diamond fan extraordinaire.

SOLD! Heritage Auctions Sells the British First Edition of the First Harry Potter Book for $81,250

J_K_Rowling_Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher_s_Sto

November 17, 2017 update: Bonhams reclaimed the world auction record for the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in a November 15 sale when an author’s presentation copy, inscribed by Rowling, commanded £106,250 ($140,204) on an estimate of £30,000 to £40,000 ($39,600 to $52,800).

Update to the Update: Hooray! Heritage Auctions sold the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for $81,250–well above the $56,249 fetched by a different copy at Bonhams in November 2016. Congratulations to James Gannon and all at Heritage!

Update: As of 8 am EST, the British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone offered by Heritage Auctions carried a high bid of $50,000, with buyer’s premium. That’s about $7,000 shy of the current world record for the book. The auction closes today.

What you see: A British first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, published in 1997. Heritage Auctions doesn’t typically publish estimates, but its internal estimate is around $20,000, and it had an opening bid of $10,000.

Who is J.K. Rowling? Who is Harry Potter? C’mon, really? I have to explain this? Okay, in case some form of the Internet survives million and millions of years into the future, but these cultural references do not: J.K. Rowling is the author of the Harry Potter series, which is about a maltreated orphan who discovers he is a wizard and gets to go to Hogwarts, a wizarding school in some vaguely British locale served by a shiny red train. Rowling’s publisher recommended she reduce her name to gender-ambiguous first and middle initials to better attract young male readers. (Her first name is Joanne; she doesn’t actually have a middle name, but chose ‘K’, for Katherine, to honor her paternal grandmother.) Harry Potter was a hit pretty much from day one and became an unimaginably huge global phenomenon. As of 2017, 20 years after the first Harry Potter book appeared, Rowling is the ninth-best-selling fiction author ever. She is 52.

How rare are first editions of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone? Pretty rare. Bloomsbury printed 500, 300 of which went to British libraries, where they presumably lived hard lives before they were retired from circulation in favor of fresher, later-printed editions of the book.

Is the copy now at Heritage Auctions an ex-library copy? No. It’s one of the 200 that were not sent to British libraries. James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage, says this copy has had multiple owners. It is described as being in “nearly fine” condition, which Gannon says “has to mean it wasn’t handled very much.”

Even though only 500 copies of the British first edition of Harry Potter were printed, and we don’t know how many of them survive, I seem to see the book at auction fairly often. Why is that? In response, Gannon cites a favorite quote of his: “‘Nothing makes a book common like a high price.’ It’s true. They come out of the woodwork when people see an auction result and think, ‘I’d sell for that.'”

How valuable are ex-library copies of the British first edition? “Being an ex-library copy usually hurts the value a lot, but not in this case,” he says. He notes that while some British librarians probably realized the value of the book and pulled it and replaced it with a copy from a later press run, and it’s likely that some collectors approached British libraries and offered fat donations in exchange for their first editions, he has not handled any copies that have those backgrounds.

Are American first editions of the first Harry Potter book worth anything? Yes, but not nearly as much as the British first edition. “In my mind, it’s a $2,000 book,” Gannon says, adding that the American first edition press run was 35,000–significantly bigger than the British, and reflective of the hold the story already had on the imaginations of readers by the time of the initial American printing. “If you have a set of the seven American Harry Potters, and if one is the first edition in its jacket, that’s where most of the value is.”

As of August 30, which is about two weeks before the auction ends, the book had been bid up to $19,000. Does that mean anything? “Not to me. All that matters is the last number. It’ll make more than $20,000, that’s for sure,” Gannon says. “I do have clients who call me every few months and ask me when I’m getting a copy.” The auction record for a British first edition of the first Harry Potter book belongs to a copy sold at Bonhams in November 2016. It commanded £43,750 ($56,249), was described as being in “exceptionally fine” condition, and included a few interesting typos, such as spelling out the author’s name on the copyright page.

What else stands out about this book? “It’s interesting to me, from a pure market consideration, how this is a book everyone knows is very rare,” he says. “A lot of famous modern first editions, even The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, they’re coveted, and they come up, but Harry Potter is rare. If I was a collector, I’m not sure I could get a copy I can afford in my lifetime. As time goes on, it’s only going to get more expensive.” He recalled an episode from his previous role at Heritage Rare Book Shop in Los Angeles (no connection with the auction house), when he paid $15,000 for a signed British first edition, priced it at $30,000, and stocked it next to a first edition of Walden that was listed at $10,000. “People got peeved at us, but it was an instance of supply and demand with the Harry Potter book. The supply is tiny, and the demand is huge.”

How to bid: The British first edition of the first Harry Potter book is lot #45111 in the Rare Books Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions in Dallas, which ends on September 14.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram. Rowling is on Twitter, too, and she is fiercely awesome there on a regular basis.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Fact: Billie Holiday Is The Greatest Female Jazz Singer. Also Fact: This Scarce 1949 Concert Poster Sold For $13,750 At Heritage Auctions

Billie Holiday Sacramento Auditorium Concert Poster (Joe Glaser Presents...

Update: The vintage 1949 Billie Holiday poster sold for $13,750.

What you see: A vintage 1949 concert poster for jazz singer Billie Holiday. Heritage Auctions doesn’t explicitly give estimates on vintage concert posters, but officials confirmed it at $10,000, or double its opening bid.

Who was Billie Holiday? Born Eleanora Fagan, Billie Holiday is arguably the best female jazz singer who ever stepped before a microphone. Born to a teenage single mother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Holiday had a hair-raising childhood. By the time she was discovered in a Harlem nightclub at age 18, she had done a stint in reform school, dropped out of school entirely, fought off a rapist, took work as a prostitute, and served time in a workhouse. She sang with the bands of Count Basie and Artie Shaw. She gravitated toward men who beat her and exploited her, and in her later years, she struggled with drug addiction. She died in 1959 at the age of 44, succumbing to cirrhosis of the liver.

How rare was it to show a black woman performer’s photo on a concert poster in 1949? “It was fairly common to see photos on concert posters by 1949, but it was less common for a female artist, and virtually unknown for Billie Holiday,” says Giles Moon, consignment director of entertainment and music memorabilia at Heritage Auctions, adding that the poster shown above is one of two copies that are known.

Where was Billie Holiday in her career by 1949? “She was a big enough star at that point to be a huge draw,” he says. “She didn’t have to have a huge band. She was a star in her own right. She was continuing to have legal problems and continuing to have drug problems, which didn’t help, but she was very successful by this point and would continue [to be] through the 1950s.”

By 1949, she had lost her cabaret license–Harry Anslinger, then the head of the predecessor of the Drug Enforcement Agency, made Holiday a prime target. Might that be why she played the Sacramento Auditorium? She would not have needed a cabaret license for that venue? Moon agrees and points out that the name of the city is spelled incorrectly on the poster. “It’s a common trait with a lot of posters from this period,” he says. “Maybe they didn’t have time to reprint it.”

Last year, Heritage sold the first known example of this poster, which happens to advertise the same show at the same place, for $35,000. Did the owner of this poster come forward as a direct result of that spectacular sale? “Yes, it did come because [of the 2016 auction], and that is often the case,” he says, explaining that it was consigned by the descendants of someone who distributed the poster to record stores and other public places ahead of the 1949 show. “It got a lot of attention when it sold for $35,000. We believe this is only the second.”

What tends to happen at auction when a second copy of a multiple that has only appeared once before goes to the block? “It could go one of two ways. It might not sell for as much because the person who was in the first auction won’t bid for a second copy, because he’s already got one. But it could go the other way,” Moon says. “Those who weren’t in on the bidding at the time, or who were shy [could jump in] and it could reach that level again. Though original concert posters have been around for a while, only in the past two or three years have people started to understand their rarity. Paying $35,000 for a poster–ten or 15 years ago, that would have been unheard of. Many of the lots in this sale are the only known copies, or are extremely rare. People are beginning to realize that if you miss out, the chances are it won’t appear again.”

Are Billie Holiday posters rare, whether they show her face or not? Yes. More than once, posters for concerts that featured her didn’t even mention her name, odd as that might seem. Elsewhere in the same lineup, Heritage is offering an original concert poster for the first Newport Jazz Festival, which took place in 1954. It’s the only known copy of the poster. Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald both appeared at the Rhode Island show, but neither woman is named, and nor are any other artists who performed. “It’s very, very hard to find anything related to Billie Holiday,” Moon says, noting that the situation extends to memorabilia, too. “If it has her signature on it, it can get $2,000 to $4,000. Few if any jazz artists can rival that. Maybe Charlie Parker.”

What else makes this Billie Holiday poster special? “I’ve seen many original concert posters. I’ve been doing this for nearly 30 years now. This one and the one last year are the first [examples] that I have seen. It’s a really rare and really striking poster,” he says. “It’s interesting. She’s one of the most enduring jazz artists of the period. The market for jazz is still strong for the top artists. But it’s not generally the strongest market. It doesn’t compare to rock ‘n roll or R & B. But because she has such star power, such star quality, this is the most desirable poster in the sale.”

How to bid: The Billie Holiday poster is lot #89114 in the Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on November 11.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Florine Stettheimer’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and His Alter Ego Rrose Sélavy Could Sell For a Million or More at Christie’s

Stettheimer, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy

What you see: Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy, a 1923 painting by Florine Stettheimer. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

Who was Florine Stettheimer? She was a wealthy American woman who was, and is, regarded as an artist’s artist. Marcel Duchamp and Georgia O’Keeffe attended her salon. She might be the first woman artist in history to paint a nude self-portrait. She wasn’t keen on self-promotion; she had one small solo show at the Knoedler gallery in 1916, which flopped, and she never did another. While Stettheimer’s sisters ignored her wish to have her art destroyed after she died, they gave most of it to museums, leaving little for collectors to acquire. Two years after her death, the Museum of Modern Art staged a Stettheimer retrospective. And if you were lucky, you caught the Florine Stettheimer show at the Jewish Museum in New York earlier in the year (this Duchamp portrait was in it). She died in 1944 at the age of 72.

Do we know how her portrait of Marcel Duchamp came to be? “We don’t know what spurred her to focus on Duchamp, but she did a series of full-length figures standing by objects that had meaning to the individual,” says Paige Kestenman, a specialist in American art at Christie’s. “Duchamp was one of her closest friends, so it makes sense that she’d include him in the group.” It’s unclear how large the portrait series was, but other subjects included fine art photographer Alfred Stieglitz and composer Virgil Thomson, who once owned the Stettheimer painting that we’re talking about.

Let’s talk about what Stettheimer has surrounded him with in the painting. Do I see a little horse head above Duchamp? “That looks like a chess piece, which Duchamp was very interested in. He was almost obsessed with the game of chess. It also represents the symbol he designed for the Société Anonyme,” she says, referring to an arts organization that Duchamp co-founded in 1920 with Katherine Dreier and Man Ray. “The grid [the horse head is housed in] resembles a chessboard.”

It looks like this is a double portrait. Who is Rrose Sélavy? “Rrose Sélavy seems to have emerged as an alter ego or component of Marcel Duchamp’s personality around 1920,” she says, noting that the artist went as far as signing some of his ready-mades with her name, and posing for Man Ray dressed as Sélavy. “In her portraits, Florine Stettheimer was constantly exploring not just the physical likeness of the art icons of her day, but a deeper sense of their identities,” she says. “This portrait is a bit tongue-in-cheek and satirical as well.”

What is Duchamp doing in this portrait? “He’s dressed in a suit, sitting in a chair, and turning a metal rod that operates a mechanical coil that lifts his persona higher and higher,” she says. “He’s literally projecting her.” Sélavy is shown sitting on a platform that bears her name.

What’s the story behind the unusual frame? “It’s the original frame, and it enhances the overall work,” Kestenman says. “It says ‘MD’ along the entire length. It mimics the ‘MD’ repeated on Duchamp’s chair in the composition, and it mimics the sense of Duchamp’s constantly promoting himself, and exploring themes of identity.”

Did Stettheimer design or build the frame? “In doing research on the frames, I saw different information on if she designed the frame and had it built to spec or if she built some of them,” she says. “She certainly designed the frame, and it’s very well-preserved.”

Did Stettheimer do other portraits of Marcel Duchamp? He appears as one of several figures in some earlier paintings by her (look for the red-headed guy). “This is the first portrait of him,” she says.

Last time I checked, Stettheimer’s work rarely appeared at auction. Is that still true? “Her work is very rare on the market. There have been only six or seven works at auction in the last several years, including this one, which sold in 1990 for $110,000,” she says. “This is the only figural work that’s been to auction. The modernist market has changed a lot since then, and it’s changed for female modernists as well.”

The estimate for this portrait is $1 million to $1.5 million. Even if it sells for well below its low estimate, it will probably set a new record for Stettheimer at auction. How did you arrive at these numbers? “Of course it’s more difficult to set an estimate when there are no direct comparables in the market recently,” she says, adding that she and her colleagues looked at the freshest auction results and considered the drawing power of Marcel Duchamp and the changes in the market over the last 27 years. “Florine Stettheimer is so rare to market, especially her portraits,” she says. “Following the retrospective at the Jewish Museum, it’s an important time to offer work by her.”

How to bid: Florine Stettheimer’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy is lot 8 in the American Art sale on November 21 at Christie’s New York.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Also see a past entry on The Hot Bid about the current auction record for Florine Stettheimer, which belongs to an undated floral still life sold at Skinner.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. Christie’s also wrote a story about the lot that contains interviews with Dr. Rossi’s widow, Gemma, and his son, Roberto.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Christie’s