UPDATE: Bonhams Sells the Portrait of the Godolphin Arabian, Ancestor of Man o’ War and Seabiscuit, for More Than $123,000

99 The Godolphin Arabian

What you see: A circa 1793-1794 oil on canvas painting of the Godolphin Arabian, estimated at £15,000 to £20,000, which equates to $18,000 to $24,000.

What was the Godolphin Arabian? The Godolphin Arabian was one of the three stallions who founded the bloodlines of the thoroughbred horse that we know today. The Godolphin Arabian was foaled in Yemen in 1724, subsequently came to England, and spent most of its life at Gog-Magog, the Earl of Godolphin’s English stud farm. Its descendants include the legendary racehorses Man o’ War and Seabiscuit.

Who painted the Godolphin Arabian? English artist Daniel Quigley, who faced some odd challenges in creating this canvas. He had to copy an original painting by David Morier, which has since been lost. Morier, in turn, never observed his subject live. He relied on the notes of a veterinarian.

What’s up with the horse’s neck? Its improbable thickness might derive from the veterinarian’s notes, which state, “There never was a horse (at least, that I have seen) so well entitled to get racers as the Godolphin Arabian; for, whoever has seen this horse must remember that his shoulders were deeper, and lay farther into his back, than those of any horse ever yet seen.”

Why does the painting have so much text? Quigley was known for producing text-heavy artworks. The horse portrait and the golden words are united on the canvas, and the words name the Godolphin Arabian’s sons and daughters.”All those horses were born in his lifetime,” says Charlie Thomas, director of the house sale and private collections department at Bonhams. “There are no grandchildren.”

What makes this painting exceptional? “It’s great to be reminded why the horse is so famous, and great to be reminded where the thoroughbred race horse comes from,” says Thomas. “Think of all the horses that have run at the Kentucky Derby, at Royal Ascot, at Dubai, at the Melbourne Cup–there’s a good chance that a lot of them descended from this horse.”

How to bid: The Godolphin Arabian is lot 99 in Bonhams’s sale of the Contents of Glyn Cywarch–The Property of Lord Harlech on March 29, 2017 at London, New Bond Street.

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


LAST CALL: Sinfully Pretty, Possibly Unique 1934 Nudist Film Poster at Heritage: Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun

What you see: A movie poster for the 1934 nudist film Children of the Sun, which Heritage Auctions estimates at $400 to $800.

Who made this movie? Samuel Cummins, an exploitation film impresario who launched his career with the silent 1919 opus The Solitary Sin and went on to release Wild Oats, Trial Marriage, and Unguarded Girls, among others. He died in New York City sometime in the 1960s.

Would this poster have been displayed in public? In 1934? Where? At an independent or second-run movie house. The blank area at the top of the poster would have been printed with the venue name and maybe the screening dates. “Most theaters wouldn’t touch films such as these,” says Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage. “A lot of these low-budget indie films had very eye-catching posters. I love the tagline–‘Nature in the raw.'”

Why risk printing a poster at all? Why not rely on word-of-mouth to lure people to the theater? “Your poster was the biggest selling tool you had,” says Smith. “You want to make it semi-tasteful, but just explicit enough to pique one’s interest.”

How racy was it for its time? “It is surprisingly up front. I can imagine a family passing this poster and the mother being outraged that the theater displayed something like this,” Smith says, adding, “In some areas, the theater owner might have taken some poster paint and painted a dress on her.”

What makes this poster special? Smith has not handled another Children of the Sun poster, save for a different version that was consigned along with this one. It has survived in relatively excellent shape, with its navy blues and butter yellows intact and its paper unfolded. “It’s a good poster for a taboo subject from an earlier period,” he says.

How to bid: The Children of the Sun poster is lot 86694 in Heritage Auctions’s Vintage Movie Posters Signature Auction in Dallas, which takes place March 25 and 26, 2017.

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


UPDATE: Erté Vibrant Harper’s Bazaar Cover by Could Fetch More Than $12,000 at Swann Galleries

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Update: The Erté gouache on board sold for $8,125 on March 21, 2017.

What you see: An original gouache on board, Sports d’Hiver, created by Erté for the February 1933 cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

Who was Erté? He was a Russian-born designer and artist who tried his hand at fashion, stage costumes, jewelry, set design, and commercial art, and succeeded at all. His luxurious images helped define the Art Deco style. Born Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in Russia, he went by the name “Erté” to spare the feelings of his family, who disapproved of his career.”Erté” is how his initials, RT, sound when pronounced in French. He had a long professional relationship with Harper’s Bazaar, delivering more than 200 pieces of cover art between 1915 and 1937.

How rare is original Erté magazine cover art? “They don’t come up with great frequency,” says Swann Galleries specialist Christine von der Linn. “We were lucky to get the cover, because we sold one in September,” she says, referring to a July 1922 Harper’s Bazaar cover by Erté, La Cage Improvisée, which Swann Galleries sold last September for $45,000 against an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000.

Why is it estimated at $8,000 to $12,000? “What I love about it is it reflects the quintessential Erté characteristics,” von der Linn says. “There’s a beautiful woman in a vibrant outfit. There’s a sense of movement. The distant mountains in the background give you a sense of where she is. And there’s this perfect detail of hundreds of painstakingly detailed dots, representing snow, kicking up behind her. That makes the piece. That was something he was known for.”

Wait, do you mean that Erté personally painted all those little white dots by hand? Yes. “When he worked, he was in a different world,” says von der Linn, recalling a passage in which Erté discussed his routine of putting classical music on in the background and disappearing into a work-trance. “His dedication to the piece blossomed in creating that detail,” she says.

How to bid: The original Erté art for the February 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover is lot 85  in Swann Galleries’s March 21 Illustration Art sale.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. The Erté image is courtesy of Swann Galleries.

UPDATE: Skinner Double Folk Portrait of Young Sisters Sells for Almost $10,000


Update: This winsome folk double portrait sold at Skinner for $9,840 on March 4, 2017, well above its $4,000 to $6,000 estimate.

What you see: A double portrait of sisters Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Brackett of Newton, Mass., painted between the 1830s and the 1840s.

Who painted it? We don’t know. It’s unsigned. Nor do we know which girl is Mary Elizabeth and which girl is Caroline, or what happened to the girls later in life, or whether the flowers pictured in the sketch book they hold have any special symbolism. We do know that the artist lived with the Brackett family for a year at their Waverly Avenue home in Newton and paid the rent with his brush. Before moving on, he depicted all nine Brackett children and rendered a full-length portrait of their parents, Charles and Lucy.

What sets this folk portrait apart from other folk portraits? “I’ve seen a lot of folk portraits over the last 13 years. The good ones pop right out, for whatever reason–a modern look, an interesting composition, or interesting elements incorporated in the overall painting,” says Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner. “I liked it since the first time I saw a picture of it. It sticks out because it’s an interestingly composed double portrait, and the girls wear bright colors under a bright sky.” The portrait is also notable for showing the two outdoors and holding a sketch book rather than a pet or a toy. Girls were encouraged to draw, but drawing was seen as an indoor activity.

Why is the folk portrait estimated at $4,000 to $6,000? It is fresh to market, having remained in the sitters’ family until they consigned it to Skinner. Its subject matter–a pair of pretty little girls, dressed in identical pink gowns–increases its value. “There were many more old men who could afford to have their portraits painted than families who could afford to have all their children painted,” says Barber. “It could be just a rarity issue.”

How to bid: The double portrait of the Brackett sisters is lot 332 in Skinner’s March 4, 2017 auction of American furniture and decorative arts.

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


UPDATE: Christie’s Sells a Chinese Zitan Bed with Bodacious Legs for $3.6 Million


Update: Christie’s sold the 18th century Chinese Luohan bed for $3.6 million.

What you see: An 18th century Chinese Luohan bed, made from Zitan wood, estimated at $2 million to $3 million. (A Luohan is someone who is enlightened, but has yet to become a Buddha.) Though it’s at least three centuries old, the three-rail bed is as sleek and as modern-looking as anything you’d find in a Holly Hunt showroom.

What is Zitan wood? It’s a dense, slow-growing Chinese hardwood that was prized by the wealthy, and by scholars. It has a tight wood grain and a wine-purple color.

It’s called a “bed”, but did its 18th century Chinese owners use it like a bed? It might have had pillows on it, and owners and guests might have napped on it, but the bed served as an indoor-outdoor couch, according to Christie’s specialist Michelle Cheng: “It’s so expensive, it would have been used for various activities throughout the day–sitting on it to look at antiques, discuss poetry, and contemplate scenery.” Servants would have moved the heavy bed around at the bidding of its owner.

What else made this bed a status symbol with the Chinese elite? “Zitan wood is a prestigious, luxurious material, and the carver had to waste a lot of it to get to this form,” Cheng says.

What sets the bed apart from other Chinese furnishings of the time? “It’s unusual for the dramatic curve of the legs, and their sheer chunkiness,” Cheng says. “It seems like they can’t support the bed, they’re so curved. They are bodacious legs.”

Why is the bed estimated at $2 million to $3 million? “This is a great example of the type, and the quality of the material is extremely high,” Cheng says. “And it’s a very elegant object. It’s really stunning. When you stand in front of it, you’re overcome by its subtle quietness.”

How to bid: The bed is lot 643 in The Marie Theresa L. Virata Collection of Asian Art: A Family Legacy, which takes place at Christie’s New York on March 16, 2017.

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

UPDATE: Now at Swann Galleries: Sarah Bernhardt Loved This Mucha Poster So Much, She Used It for Her American Tour

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Update: The Alphonse Mucha-designed poster of Sarah Bernhardt sold for $8,750.

What you see: A poster that advertises Sarah Bernhardt’s 1896 American Tour. Alphonse Mucha designed it.

Who is Sarah Bernhardt? The French actress was the world’s first superstar. Dubbed “The Divine Sarah” by her fans, she dominated the stage and later acted on film, posthumously earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Who is Alphonse Mucha? He was a Czech-born artist whose distinctive, alluring style shaped the visuals of the Art Nouveau movement.

What makes this poster special? “This was the image that was used for the very first Bernhardt poster. It catapulted Mucha to international recognition and stardom,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries’ vintage poster department. The poster’s origin story sounds like a fairy tale. In December 1894, Bernhardt contacted the Paris print shop where he worked to commission an image to advertise her new play, Gismonda. The city was shutting down for Christmas, so the task fell to Mucha. “He was the only employee there, the poor lonely expat. He was the only one who could possibly help, and he does so.” He produced a long, slim design that was bracingly fresh and new. Bernhardt, overjoyed, demanded to see Mucha, reportedly telling him, “You have made me immortal.”

Why is it estimated at $7,000 to $10,000? The poster boasts the image that made Mucha famous, and it debuts motifs that would define Mucha’s style–the halo around Bernhardt’s head, and the mosaic-inspired details. It’s definitely valuable, but it lags behind the $12,000 to $18,000 sum typically asked for an original 1894 Gismonda poster. It was printed in 1896, in America; it’s seven inches shorter, probably due to removing the word ‘Gismonda’ from the top of the design; and the text at the bottom is different. “The Gismonda is more collectible, mostly because it’s his first big poster,” says Lowry.

How to bid: The Bernhardt 1896 tour poster is lot 286 in Swann Galleries’ Vintage Posters sale on March 16, 2017.

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Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Photo is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.








UPDATE: Sotheby’s Dishes Up an Ultra-Rare Piece of Ming Dynasty Porcelain


Update: The Ming dynasty reserve decorated peony dish sold for $2.1 million.

What you see: An exceptionally rare and large fine blue-and-white reserve decorated peony dish, estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million.

When was the Xuande Period? It lasted from 1426 to 1435. Though it was brief, it was a productive and important period for Ming dynasty porcelain. “Everything came together,” says Angela McAteer, vice president and head of Sotheby’s Chinese works of art department. “There was widespread use of the imperial reign mark, the dragon became symbolic of the court, and the court really took control of the kiln production,” she says, explaining that it focused the Chinese porcelain works on its own needs rather than creating its greatest prizes as diplomatic gifts.

How was this Peony dish made? With skill and difficulty. “In this period, even firing something of this elegance, form, and size is challenging,” says McAteer, who notes how “well-potted” it is. “Getting a uniformity to the blue color is a challenge. Getting a realistic, crisp outline on the floral decorations is a challenge. There were various points where they could have been tripped up in making something like this.”

What makes the dish exceptionally rare? Only three others like it are known. As visually striking as its reserve decoration is–rendering in blue what would normally be in white, and vice-versa–it was technically difficult and far more expensive to make. “Cost is primarily the thing. It involved more layers of production, and more steps,” McAteer says, stating that the cobalt needed for the blue color probably was imported. “It’s a large dish, and the cobalt covers the inside and the outside. It would have required a huge amount of raw material.”

Was the dish ever used? “Absolutely, it would have been used to furnish the court, presumably for banqueting,” says McAteer, while adding that we cannot be sure of exactly how the Chinese court used it. Its most recent European owner refrained from putting it to work. “It has a wonderful, brilliant glaze that is remarkably unscuffed,” she says. “It would have had a wall mount. That’s why it’s so wonderfully well-preserved. It wasn’t used to hold keys.”

How to bid: The peony dish is lot 6 in the Ming: The Intervention of Imperial Taste auction at Sotheby’s New York on March 14, 2017.

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