A Portrait of the Godolphin Arabian Sells for More Than $123,000

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 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 portrait of 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 portrait of the Godolphin Arabian 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 portrait of the Godolphin Arabian 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 portrait of 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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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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Children of the Sun, a Nudist Film Poster, Offered at Heritage Auctions

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

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 nudist film 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 the nudist film poster 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 nudist film 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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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.

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A Piece of Erté Original Cover Art for Harper’s Bazaar Fetched $8,125

An original gouache on board, Sports d'Hiver, created by Erté for the February 1933 cover of Harper's Bazaar.

Update: The Erté original cover art 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 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 the Erté original cover art 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 Erté original cover 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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The Erté image is courtesy of Swann Galleries.

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A Double Folk Portrait of Young Sisters Sells for Almost $10,000

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

Update: This winsome double folk 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 folk portrait of sisters Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Brackett of Newton, Mass., painted between the 1830s and the 1840s.

Who painted the double folk portrait? 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 double 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 double 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 folk 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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Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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A Chinese Luohan Bed Sells for $3.6 Million

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.

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 Chinese Luohan 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 Chinese Luohan 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 Chinese Luohan 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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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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An Alphonse Mucha Poster of Sarah Bernhardt Commanded $8,750

A poster that advertises Sarah Bernhardt's 1896 American Tour. Alphonse Mucha designed it.

Update: The Alphonse Mucha 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 Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt 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 the Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt 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 Alphonse Mucha poster of Sarah Bernhardt is lot 286 in Swann Galleries’ Vintage Posters sale on March 16, 2017.

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Photo is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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A Ming Dynasty Peony Dish Sells for $2.1 Million

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

Update: The Ming Dynasty 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 Ming Dynasty 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 Ming Dynasty Peony 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 Ming Dynasty Peony 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 Ming Dynasty 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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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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A Strike-a-Light, the Ancestor of the Zippo Lighter, Fetched Almost $1,400 at Bonhams

A brass and steel tinder pistol, also known as a table "strike-a-light", probably made in Germany around 1650. Bonhams has estimated it at £1,000 to £1,500, or $1,200 to $1,800. "It's like a small gun, really," says Bonhams specialist David Houlston. "You pull the trigger, like you do on a gun, and it ignites for you."

Update: The German strike-a-light sold for £1,125 ($1,390).

What you see: A brass and steel tinder pistol, also known as a table “strike-a-light”, probably made in Germany around 1650. Bonhams has estimated it at £1,000 to £1,500, or $1,200 to $1,800. “It’s like a small gun, really,” says Bonhams specialist David Houlston. “You pull the trigger, like you do on a gun, and it ignites for you.”

So it’s not a steampunk insect? No. It’s the great-great-great grandparent of the Zippo lighter. “It’s an ancestor of it,” Houlston says. “It works the same way.”

How does the strike-a-light work? First, load a small, sharp piece of flint in the tiny vice that sticks up from the device, and tighten the jaws to fix the flint firmly in place. Next, take the curved piece of metal that sticks up from the device and pull it forward, toward the end that looks like it has a beak and front legs. Load the pan with gunpowder. Now you’re ready to pull the trigger–the thing that looks like a back foot. The flint will strike the metal and the resulting sparks will fall into the pan, lighting the gunpowder. Voila! You have a light. Now you’re ready to use matches or sticks (stored in the body of the device; the door of the compartment is not visible in the photo) to transfer the flame to a candle or a pipe.

What made this strike-a-light a nifty piece of technology in mid-17th century Europe? Before the arrival of the strike-a-light, people were obliged to bang a flint against metal repeatedly to create sparks for a fire. The strike-a-light took the tedium out of that chore. “It was engineered to make sure [to release] the right amount of force to create a spark each time,” says Houlston.

Does the strike-a-light still work? It’s not clear. “There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work,” says Houlston, explaining that he and his colleagues won’t risk testing it on the small but real chance that it might possibly break. “If it doesn’t work now, I think very little would need to be done to make it work. It shouldn’t take much.”

How to bid: The German strike-a-light is lot 14 in The Oak Interior, an auction that Bonhams London will hold at its New Bond Street venue on March 15, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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A Ludwig Bemelmans Mural Includes Madeline, Future Star of Children’s Books

A detail from a series of nine mural panels that Ludwig Bemelmans drew on the downstairs walls of Hapsburg House, a private lunch club in Manhattan, in 1934.

What you see: A detail from a series of nine mural panels that Ludwig Bemelmans drew on the downstairs walls of Hapsburg House, a private lunch club in Manhattan, in 1934.

Who is Ludwig Bemelmans? He was an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant who toiled in Manhattan’s hotel-restaurant world until he discovered a knack for writing and illustrating children’s books. He debuted Madeline, his greatest creation, in 1939.

Why did Ludwig Bemelmans draw these mural panels? Hapsburg House’s owners tapped Bemelmans to design menu covers and decorate the walls with murals. The upstairs murals were lost, much to the artist’s dismay, when a new owner bought the property in the 1950s and painted over them. The downstairs murals, which featured whimsical black-and-white gouache scenes of the Vienna of Bemelmans’s boyhood, were salvaged when the venue closed in the 1970s. “I kind of see it as pieces of the man, pieces of the artist,” says Darren Sutherland, specialist for books, maps, manuscripts, and historical photographs at Bonhams.

Wait, is that Madeline in the Ludwig Bemelmans mural? Maybe. “There’s echoes of Madeline everywhere,” says Sutherland, noting that scenes of schoolgirls shepherded by nuns appear on three of the nine panels. This mural might show Bemelmans playing with ideas that would animate the stories, five years before the first appeared. One vignette shows gape-mouthed girls clinging to a nun as a caged lion roars, but there’s no Madeline figure in the group to say ‘poo poo’ to it. “It’s the first public expression that I know of,” says Sutherland.

Why are the Ludwig Bemelmans mural panels estimated at $40,000 to $60,000? Bemelmans went on to create other murals. Panels rescued from the children’s room on Aristotle Onassis’s yacht, Christina, fetched more than $550,000 at Sotheby’s in 1999, but they may have been in better shape. Some of the color variations in the 1934 group could be patination, but others are due to overpainting, which suggests that Bemelmans may have tweaked the work over time.

How to bid: The Ludwig Bemelmans mural panels are lot 119 in Bonhams’s Fine Books and Manuscripts auction, scheduled for March 9, 2017 in New York. You can see all nine by clicking the lot number.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove Typewriters Sell for $37,500

A pair of pale green Hermes 3000 typewriters, made between 1963-1970, which belonged to Larry McMurtry.

Update: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove typewriters sold for $37,500 on March 8, 2017.

What you see: A pair of pale green Hermes 3000 typewriters, made between 1963-1970, which belonged to Larry McMurtry.

Who is Larry McMurtry? He operates Booked Up, a used bookstore in Archer City, Texas, but he’s probably better known as the author of Lonesome DoveThe Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment. All three books became movies or miniseries; Lonesome Dove won a Pulitzer Prize, and films based on McMurtry’s books have won 10 Academy Awards. He and a co-writer won three more Oscars for their adaption of the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain.

Why are these typewriters special? McMurtry used them to write Lonesome Dove, his masterpiece about Texas rangers on a cattle drive, which was published in 1985. The author is particular about his tools; even now, at age 80, he has no interest in switching to a computer.

Why are there two Lonesome Dove typewriters? McMurtry kept one typewriter in Archer City, Texas, and the other in Washington, D.C., the site of the original Booked Up store (it has since closed). Each weighs 16 pounds. It made more sense for McMurtry to keep a typewriter in Texas and another in D.C. rather than lug one machine between both places.

How do we know that McMurtry definitely wrote Lonesome Dove on them? “Larry McMurtry gave them to me and said, ‘I wrote Lonesome Dove on them,” says James Gannon, director of Rare Books for Heritage Auctions of Dallas, who collected the typewriters from the author on November 1 of last year. Gannon is obtaining a letter of provenance from McMurtry.

Why do the Lonesome Dove typewriters carry an estimate of $10,000? Typewriters that can be linked to prominent authors are rare; typewriters that were unquestionably and exclusively used to write legendary books are even rarer. The Lettera 32 Olivetti typewriter that author Cormac McCarthy relied on to write The Road, Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men, and All the Pretty Horses sold at Christie’s in 2009 for $254,500–well above its $20,000 estimate. “It’s like owning one of Dickens’s pens or one of Shakespeare’s quills,” says Gannon. “A typewriter is the focus of a writer’s day-in, day-out existence. That seems to resonate with collectors.”

How to bid: Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove typewriters are lot #45314 in Heritage Auction’s Rare Books Signature Auction on March 8, 2017 in New York.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions, HA.com.

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