SOLD! Sotheby’s Spectacular Diego Rivera Portrait Commands $2.4 Million

9682 - Rivera, 'Matilde Palou'

Update: The Diego Rivera portrait of Matilde Palou sold for $2.4 million.

What you see: Retrato de la Actriz Matilde Palou, a 1951 portrait by Diego Rivera. Sotheby’s estimates it at $2 million to $3 million.

Who is Diego Rivera? He was a great 20th century Mexican painter who married Frida Kahlo twice, and was her husband when she died in 1954. His murals grace the walls of the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Palacio de Bellas Arts in Mexico City. A 1933 mural commission for Rockefeller Center in New York was halted after he refused to remove a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. (The Mexico City mural is a version of the abandoned Manhattan mural.) Rivera died in 1957 at the age of 70.

Who is Matilde Palou? She was a Chilean actress who worked with the legendary Spanish director Luis Buñuel. She was about 40 when she posed for Rivera. She died in 1970 at the age of 64.

Why did Rivera paint this portrait? “The exact reason why he painted it, and why the actress was painted in an outrageously patriotic dress, is a mystery to us,” says Axel Stein, head of Sotheby’s Latin American art department, adding that Rivera painted portraits throughout his entire career, and in the last 10 years of his life, he painted several actresses.

This oil-on-canvas measures 80 1/2 inches by 48 1/4 inches. How unusual was it for Rivera to paint a portrait of this size? “Large portraits are rare in Rivera. I’ve seen less than 15 portraits this large in his catalogue raisonné,” he says, adding that something of this nature comes up about once every 10 years.

What is the meaning of the symbols on Palou’s dress? “We’re not able to identify them all, but they’re about Mexico, and Mexico City,” he says, picking out a prominent image on the second tier of the skirt of the dress that shows an eagle standing on a cactus and holding a serpent in its mouth. The motif alludes to an Aztec tale about the founding of the city of Tenochtitlan, and it appears on the Mexican flag. Her dress also reflects the style of the region of Chapa de Corzo, which is near the Guatemalan border.

What else makes this work special? “Diego Rivera is about the power of the image. When you see this in person, there is power,” he says. “I brought her [this portrait] to a highlights exhibition in Los Angeles a month ago. People who came into the exhibit who didn’t know Rivera asked, ‘Who is this?’ You cannot go by and pretend you haven’t seen it. It leaves you in a state of wonder.”

How to bid: The Rivera portrait is lot 8 in the Latin America: Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s New York on May 25.

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

SOLD: A Mesmerizing Work by Jonathan Borofsky Fetches $9,375 at LAMA

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Update: The Borofsky sold for $9,375.

What you see: Man with a Briefcase (C), a woodcut with collage on handmade paper by Jonathan Borofsky. It’s the fourth of a 1991 limited edition of 12, and it measures 92 inches by 39 inches. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

Who is Jonathan Borofsky? He is an American artist who works in many media, but he might be best known for his monumental sculptures, which have been displayed outdoors in cities around the world. Man with Briefcase is a motif that appears often in his work, and has appeared since at least 1980, in sizes ranging from 11 inches to 32 feet. Borofsky will turn 75 in December.

What makes the Man with a Briefcase image so strong? “It’s an object in a square, a simple cutout of a man with a briefcase in silhouette, with no details,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “In this case, with this image, there’s no horizon. It’s kind of floating in space in an almost surrealistic fashion. It’s almost impossible to tell if the figure is facing away from you or facing toward you. It’s almost a mirror. You kind of see what you want to see. Is it a man going to work? A man who lost his job? There are so many ways to look at it and bring your own imagination to bear.”

Borofsky explores the Man with a Briefcase image in different mediums, at wildly different sizes, over several years. Is that a drawback for collectors? “Just the opposite, from a market perspective,” Loughrey says. “The market reacts positively to artists who continue and hold these themes and give interesting variations on those themes. You can see it in Picasso, you can see it in Warhol, you can see it in Lichtenstein. It shows that Borofsky is one of the great contemporary artists. I’ve never seen this particular piece before, but it’s obvious it’s Borofsky. It couldn’t be anyone else. It’s that instant recognition that’s rewarding and comforting and helps you understand an artist’s work.”

How to bid: The Borofsky is lot 39 in the May 21 Modern Art & Design Auction at LAMA.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

SOLD: Phillips London Sells Ruud van Empel’s Ethereal Boy & Girl for More Than $88,000


Update: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl sold for £68,750, or $88,688.

What you see: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl, the first of a limited edition of seven prints, created in 2008. Phillips estimates it at £50,000 to £70,000 (about $64,000 to $90,000).

Who is Ruud van Empel? He’s a Dutch visual artist who pushes the boundaries of photography. Boy & Girl belongs to his World series, which, along with the Moon and Venus series, brought him international recognition. He will turn 59 in November.

No, really, what is this? “It is completely fictional,” says Genevieve Janvrin, co-head of photographs for Phillips Europe. “The children don’t exist. The forest doesn’t exist. It’s all in his head. For every one child you see, he’ll photograph five. He takes photos of leaves, Dutch foliage, and will move the leaves around. It literally takes him months to create each work, The Photoshop tool is his paintbrush. It’s almost like a puzzle, putting pieces together in a different way that confuses you and seduces you at the same time.”

Boy & Girl is a dye destruction print that has been face-mounted on Plexiglas. How do these techniques affect the artwork? “It’s a very shiny print–incredibly shiny,” says Janvrin. “In addition to that, it’s face-mounted on Plexiglas, a very highly reflective polished glass. It really shines at you. It’s not matte at all–full gloss. And it [looks] squeaky clean. The boy is in white shorts in a muddy forest, but no one is mucky. This is not reality. It’s all incredibly perfect and beautiful.”

It’s also fairly large, at 95 inches by 67 1/2 inches. How does that enhance its impact? “When you stand in front of this one, you really feel like you’re there. The foliage is all-encompassing,” she says. “There’s a huge amount of depth in the work. His attention to detail is incredible.”

How often does Boy & Girl come up at auction? This is only the second to appear. Another from the edition sold in 2015 at another auction house for £80,500, or around $126,000.

What else makes Boy & Girl compelling? “For me, personally, there’s a lot more going on than in some of the others [from the series],” she says. “The children are not looking at the viewer, not engaging you. It creates much more of a narrative. They’re moving–where are they going? And they’re very small. That foliage usually comes up to your ankles. You get the sense that the children have almost been shrunk. He usually puts [his child models] in very gendered clothes, but the clothes on these two are very pared down. It’s either an aftermath, or an Edenesque beginning–a powerful discovery of who they are and what they are doing.”

How to bid: Boy & Girl is lot 84 in Phillips’s May 18 Photographs auction in London.

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

SOLD! Martial Raysse’s Gift to Hotel Chelsea Manager Stanley Bard Commands $50,000–10x Its Low Estimate


Update: Martial Raysse’s UNTITLED (EYES) sold for $50,000–ten times its low estimate.

What you see: UNTITLED (EYES), a 1963 mixed media collage by the French artist Martial Raysse. He inscribed it, “To Stanley Bard Avec l’amitié de Martial Raysse (To Stanley Bard, with the friendship of Martial Raysse).” Freeman’s estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

Who is Martial Raysse? In the 1960s Raysse cofounded the Nouveau Réalisme art movement with Yves Klein and Arman, two fellow residents of the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan. His compatriots banished him from the group after he abandoned making art from consumer objects to paint on canvas instead. It’s unclear when he moved out of the Hotel Chelsea. Raysse set the auction record for the most expensive painting by a living French artist when his Last Year in Capri (Exotic Title) garnered $6.58 million at Christie’s London in 2011. He turned 81 in February.

Who is Stanley Bard? He managed the Hotel Chelsea for more than 40 years, enhancing and cementing its reputation as an artists’ sanctuary. He died in February at the age of 82. Freeman’s is selling almost 100 works from his personal collection–art that graced his own apartment rather than the walls of the hotel he ran.

What led Raysse to give Bard this work? We’re not sure what the circumstances were, but the two would have met at the Chelsea. “We didn’t know what it was at first,” says Alasdair Nichol, vice chairman at Freeman’s. “Nobody seemed to know. The writing was hard to make out. I loved it as an image even by an anonymous artist. When it turned out to be a Martial Raysse, it made it a more interesting proposition.”

What makes UNTITLED (EYES) so strong? “The bright red color, and the eyes,” Nichol says. “I love it. The moment you see it, it stays with you. It’s a pretty indelible image. It feels very much of its time as well, with the 1960s model eyelashes. The neon color reinforces it. It’s electric.”

How to bid: Martial Raysse’s UNTITLED (EYES) is lot 32 in the Stanley Bard Collection: Life at the Chelsea sale at Freeman’s on May 16.

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

LAST CALL: Spiral Magic: Wright Has an Onyx Noguchi Sculpture That Could Exceed $500,000

Noguchi_Magatama v22





What you see: Magatama, a 1946 sculpture carved from onyx by Isamu Noguchi. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

Who is Isamu Noguchi? Born in Los Angeles to an American mother and a Japanese father, he grew up in both countries and became a leading sculptor of the 20th century. He also created memorable furniture designs for the Herman Miller company. He created what is now the Noguchi Museum in 1985 in Queens. He died in Manhattan in 1988 at the age of 84.

What does Magatama mean? It’s a word that describes curved beads that appear in jewelry and ceremonial objects from pre-historic Japan.

How often did Noguchi sculpt in onyx? “Pretty darn infrequently. The sculpture itself is unique,” says Richard Wright, founder and president of the eponymous auction house, noting that he made at least one other sculpture in the semi-precious material. Its whereabouts are unknown.

What makes Magatama such a powerful sculpture? “The best Noguchi sculptures, to my thinking, are directly carved in stone. He did work in other materials, but stone is best,” he says. “To me, the striations are almost like a counterpoint. It’s linear, while the form is round and smooth. It’s sensuously curved. He must have enjoyed the opposition of the strong, linear lines over the curved form. And the spiral itself is an ancient symbol of the universal and the infinite.”

How does the sculpture’s celebrity provenance–Noguchi gave it to director John Huston, and it was later owned by actor Tab Hunter–affect its presale estimate? “It’s been 20 years since a Noguchi stone sculpture from the 1940s has come to market,” he says. “It’s never been to auction. It’s clearly a work that’s exceptional and has a nice backstory. It adds collector interest that hopefully translates to additional value.”

Magatama measures just over three inches high, just over five inches wide, and five inches in diameter. How does it feel to hold it in your hand? “It feels pretty good,” Wright says. “I’m sure through its life it was often picked up. The scale of it, the weight of it, the smooth feeling of it makes you want to hold it. It’s impressive. And it does have a really strong presence in person. It radiates an aura.”

How to bid: The Noguchi sculpture is lot 5 in the Masterworks auction at Wright on May 25.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Wright.

SOLD: Heritage Sold the 1907 Ty Cobb Baseball Postcard That Cobb Used and Mailed for $84,000–Seven Times Its Estimate

Ty Cobb rookie postcard 1

UPDATE: The 1907 Ty Cobb baseball postcard, which Cobb used and mailed just before playing his first World Series game, commanded $84,000–seven times its estimate.

What you see: A 1907 Seamless Steel Tubes postcard picturing Ty Cobb in his rookie year. Cobb wrote a message on it and mailed it from Chicago on October 7, 1907, the day before he played in the World Series against the Cubs, who ultimately won in four games. Heritage Auctions estimates the postcard at $10,000 plus.

What Cobb wrote on the postcard: “Well, we have won the pennant and here for world series. I led in hitting, stolen bases 60, assists, and second 100 runs, hit 355 unofficially – hope you lots of luck, will be glad to hear at any time. Royston GA., have an offer to go with all-Americans out to California. Excuse this advertising card.”

So, just how rare is this? “The card itself, without writing, is $3,500 to $5,000 because a handful of them are known,” says Heritage sports card expert Peter Calderon. “A note on a vintage card is extremely hard to find, and a message from a player is very, very rare.”

This 1907 baseball postcard was commissioned by a Detroit factory that made exhaust systems for steam locomotives–not a tobacco company or a gum manufacturer. Why would a company like that want to offer something like this? “It was based out of Detroit, and using players was common,” says Calderon. “Considering how rare the card is, it probably wasn’t produced in large numbers. It may have been just a giveaway [in Detroit] by the company.”

Who did Cobb send this to? Tom Bird, who was a teammate of his when he was playing in the minor leagues with the Augusta Tourists. The postcard has descended in Bird’s family and comes directly to Heritage from them. “He probably had it sitting around and wanted to send a note. That’s one of the neat things about it,” says Calderon. “Cobb had a reputation of being a dirty player, but he signs it ‘Tyrus,’ like he’s signing a Christmas card, and he says, ‘Excuse this advertising card.’ It shows the humbler and humane side of him, which he is not known for.”

The Cobb postcard has an estimate of $10,000 and up, but as of April 24, the high bid was $28,000–$33,600 with buyer’s premium. Where do you think it is headed? “It could go to $40,000, $50,000–who knows?” says Calderon. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a used postcard like this. It’s one of a kind. On every level, it has everything. It’s Ty Cobb. It’s a full message. It’s about baseball. It’s everything a collector could want.”

How to bid: The Ty Cobb rookie postcard is lot #80708 in the May 11-13 Sports Collectibles Catalog Auction at Heritage.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

SOLD: Potter & Potter’s Genuine 19th Century Gambler’s Case Fetches $6,765



Update: The 19th century gambler’s case sold for $6,765.

What you see: A circa 1880 American-made gambler’s case, with several sets of mother-of-pearl chips, a pistol with a mother-of-pearl handle, a full set of playing cards, a cigar cutter with a mother-of-pearl handle, a two-bladed pocket knife with a scrimshawed ivory handle, an ivory dice cup, and miscellaneous dice. Potter & Potter estimates it at $3,000 to $5,000.

Why would a gambler need a case with all this gear? Why not rely on house equipment? “You don’t want to miss an opportunity for a game,” says Gabe Fajuri of Potter & Potter. “You’ve got your deck of cards, your chips. Put in your ante, and let’s go.”

The lot description says this is ‘one of the few gambler’s boxes we have seen composed of apparently all-original material.’ What does that mean? “The problem is, a lot of gambler’s cases end up being put together. Collectors call those ‘fantasy pieces.’ I don’t think that’s true here,” Fajuri says. “Can I prove the dice are original to it? No. Can I prove the cigar cutter, the knife, the gun are original to it? No. But the pieces fit together. The style fits together. They all have the same age and wear. It’s what an antiques dealer would call ‘right.'”

How complete is this gambler’s case? “It’s hard to say. It’s not like this was a catalog item,” he says. “My guess is [the gambler who commissioned it] said, ‘Please make this to my specifications’ around the gun or the chips.”

Is anything in the case gaffed or altered? “There’s nothing crooked about any of this stuff,” he says. “If you find real cheating devices in a case, you almost have to dismiss it out of hand. It’s not a magician’s case. It’s not hidden away.”

Ivory and mother-of-pearl are luxury materials. Does this mean the gambler who owned this case was successful? “It could be to intimidate [other players] or put them at ease, depending on what he was going for,” he says. “Or maybe he shot somebody and took his stuff. I don’t know.”

Have you had a genuine gambler’s case before at Potter & Potter? “One or two. This is nicer,” Fajuri says. “Again, the feel, the fit, the material used to make it has a quality and an authenticity that makes me feel good about it.”

How to bid: The gambler’s case is lot 978 in Potter & Potter’s Gambling Memorabilia Auction on May 6 and 7, 2017.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Images are courtesy of Potter & Potter.