SOLD! A Happy Christmas Scene of London by Britain’s Answer to Rube Goldberg Fetched More Than $10,000 at Bonhams

WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON (BRITISH, 1872-1944) The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street signed 'W. HEATHROBINSON' (lower right) pen and ink and watercolour 43 x 30cm (16 1516 x 11 1316in).

Update: William Heath Robinson’s The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street sold for £7,500, or $10,668.

 

What you see: The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street, an undated work on paper by William Heath Robinson. Bonhams estimates it at £3,000 to £5,000, or $4,200 to $6,900.

 

Who was William Heath Robinson? He was the British counterpart to the American illustrator Rube Goldberg, gaining fame for drawing ridiculous, absurdly overcomplicated machines that might involve pulleys, steam engines, candles, and maybe all three and more. In the UK, the phrase “Heath Robinson contraption” served the pop-culture shorthand role that the phrase “Rube Goldberg device” still serves here. His wacky, klunky machines inspired the code-breakers at Bletchley Park to name one of their automatic analysis machines in his honor. He also illustrated editions of classic books such as The Arabian Knights, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, and several Shakespeare plays. Robinson died in 1944 at the age of 72.

 

How did this illustration come to be? Did Robinson create it for a book? “I think it was published in Nash’s Magazine, a London magazine that merged with The Pall Mall Magazine in 1914,” says Jenny Hardie, a specialist in the modern British and Irish art department at Bonhams. “I don’t think it was a cover. I think it was within the magazine. It’s been hard to track down an original copy and find a date. Circa 1910 to 1920 has been my thought.”

 

Please don’t take this the wrong way–I love the U.K. so much that I honeymooned in London in the month of January–but this illustration has more happy British people in it that I’ve ever seen in one place. Is that typical of Robinson’s work? “He had a good-natured approach to his subjects,” she says. “It was typical of his work to see a jolly outlook from all his characters. That’s why it’s such an endearing piece. The British are not seen as outwardly jolly, or dancing in the streets. His work is very, very humorous and good-natured.”

 

Do you think the scene and the setting–London at Christmas on Regent Street, which still pretty much looks like this a century later–will expand the bidding audience for the artwork? “Images of London have a large popular appeal. Adding double-decker buses and a Bobby on the beat in a central London location… I would anticipate it would appeal to collectors of his work inside and outside the U.K.,” she says. “It’s an iconic location, and a quite specific location. It might appeal to people who are not as interested in his contraptions. And it’s such a fun image.”

 

You point out that The Spirit of Christmas on Regent Street does not have a Heath Robinson contraption in it. Will that make it less interesting to collectors? “In a way, I don’t think it really matters,” she says. “The ones with contraptions in them do well, but this subject is so specific, people will be interested in it for what it is. It’s specific to its time and place. Though it has no contraptions, it’s a really lively piece.”

 

How often do original William Heath Robinson works come to auction? “They come fairly regularly, but it’s unusual for a collection to come to auction all at once,” she says, explaining that the Bonhams sale contains seven other pieces by Robinson (they appear as lots 22 through 29).

 

How unusual is it to have an original William Heath Robinson that’s fresh to market? “Quite a few have been offered at auction before, but what’s unusual about this one is it was acquired from the estate of the artist in 1978,” she says, noting that six in the  group of eight in the sale went from the estate to the consignor and ultimately to Bonhams.

 

Was London at Christmas an unusual subject for Robinson? “In July 1989 at Christie’s South Kensington, The Spirit of Christmas on the Riviera sold for £20,000, the second-highest result for him at auction,” she says. “It could have been part of a series on Christmas in different places around the world, but I was not able to find anything more comparable to that work.”

 

What’s the record for a Robinson at auction? “£23,000, set at Bonhams in 1989 by a piece called Aerial Life,” she says.

 

What the heck happened in 1989 that made Robinson so desirable to bidders? Hardie laughs. “I’m not sure why the prices he achieved then were so high,” she says, noting that the third-place entry on the most-expensive list sold in 1990. “He had a moment with those three works.”

 

In 2016, a museum dedicated to William Heath Robinson opened in England. Does that affect the value of his originals at all? “It’s great that there’s a museum devoted just to him. Perhaps more people will want to collect his work. But we don’t see more consignments coming in as a result,” she says.

 

Why will this Robinson work on paper stick in your memory? “It’s so detailed. The more you look at it, the more you find other things in it that are really fun, whether it’s the neighbors toasting each other from their windows, or the Christmas crackers falling from the sky,” she says. “The man shimmying up the lamppost to get the apple is fun as well. In its style and subject matter, it’s a really fun work which will hopefully do very well.”

 

How to bid: The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street is lot 29 in the Modern British and Irish Art sale at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge on March 27, 2018.

 

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

 

 

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SOLD! Christie’s Auctions A Ming Dynasty Six-poster Huanghuali Bed for an Eye-Opening $1.9 Million

huanghuali six poster canopy bed

Update: The Huanghuali six-poster canopy bed sold for $1.9 million.

 

What you see: A very rare Huanghuali six-poster canopy bed, dating from the 17th to the 18th century. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

 

What is Huanghuali? “It’s one of the most desirable hardwoods for Chinese furniture, and one of the most luxurious of all woods,” says Christie’s specialist Michelle Cheng. “It’s very durable, impermeable to insects. It’s extremely hard wood. You’ve got to have extremely sharp tools [to carve it]. It naturally has a beautiful luster. It’s very attractive in terms of grain and presentation.”

 

How do we know this is a bed? “Because of the form. Chinese furniture comes in specific forms and does not deviate from them,” she says. “We know this is a bed because of its size, the canopy, the railings, and the platform.”

 

Did the Chinese use beds with posts in the same way as Europeans did–using curtains to turn them into small rooms? “Beds were part of a lady’s dowry. When she married, it was brought to her home as part of her domestic space. It was draped with fabric for privacy,” she says. “The lady would entertain female friends in her private chamber, sitting on the bed. She would sleep alone, unless she was visited by her husband, drawing the curtains to create a private space for herself.”

 

Why does the bed have six posts rather than four? “It’s related to architecture,” she says. “You have a ‘doorway’ with six posts.”

 

I realize we can’t go back in time to watch the bed being built, but can you give me a notion of how much work would have gone into the creation of this bed? “It’s a lot of work to make one of these beds,” she says. “Everything comes apart. There are over 24 pieces in the bed, and at least 15 in the canopy. That’s a significant number of pieces to have to carve and to visualize, engineering-wise, how to fit together. The pieces lock in place using a mortise and tenon technology. They have to be pretty exact or the canopy can’t hold itself up.”

 

The word “Jiazichuang” appears in the headline of the Christie’s lot description. What does Jiazichuang mean? And how can we tell that the bed dates to some time between the 17th and 18th centuries?Jiazichuang is a Chinese word for canopy bed,” she says. “The bed dates to the Ming Dynasty, and we can tell from the quality of the carving to the quality of the wood that was used. As Huanghuali dwindled, the quality of the wood became not-as-great. Its impressive size and proportions make for an impressive bed. The carvers were able to waste a lot of wood–they would have carved a lot of material away to create the openwork.”

 

Do the carved decorations on the bed–the chilong medallions, ruyi struts, and the lingzhi scrolls–have any particular meanings? “They have a lot to do with fertility, longevity, and good luck,” she says. “Chilong, or baby dragons, are interpreted as a wish for sons. The lingzhi and ruyi are symbols of longevity for yourself, your family, and your children. They all tie into this desire for procreation.”

 

Who was this bed for? “The woman who owned the bed was from a prosperous family,” she says. “They were important in the community and had wealth and power. It’s a very large bed in terms of its width and height.”

 

How large? Is it possible to compare it to a modern bed? “It’s probably like a king size bed, but it’s hard to draw a straight line. This is one of the larger pieces we’ve had,” she says. “There are people who own and sleep on beds like these. It’s something you can do. It’s just a matter of finding the correct size mattress.”

 

This bed is described as being “very rare.” What makes it so rare? “Its impressive size, and the elaborateness of the carving on its rails,” she says. “This bed, in itself, is quite impressive for its use of materials and for the decorations you see. It’s showing off different techniques as well.”

 

Why will this bed stick in your memory? “Everything is well put-together and thought out,” she says. “I love the bottom rail of the canopy, with the interlocking medals. None of the medals are fudged to make them fit the proportions. The quality of the craftsmanship is at the highest level.”

 

How to bid: The Huanghuali six-poster Chinese bed is lot 952 in Christie’s Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction planned for March 22 and 23, 2018 in New York City.

 

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

 

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A Powerful Set of Prints by Harlem Renaissance Artist Aaron Douglas Could Command $30,000 at Swann

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What you see: Defiance, one of four prints from the Emperor Jones series by Aaron Douglas. It’s from a small group of reprints done with the same wood blocks in 1972, almost 50 years after the originals. Swann Auction Galleries estimates the set at $20,000 to $30,000.

 

Who was Aaron Douglas? He was a Kansas-born African-American painter, graphic artist, and muralist who was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African-American cultural talent that bloomed in the Harlem section of New York City in the 1920s. His illustrations for Alain Locke’s 1925 book, The New Negro: An Interpretation led to a series of commissions from figures who led the Harlem Renaissance. In 1944, Douglas founded the art department at Fisk University, a university in Nashville, Tennessee, and led it for 22 years. He died in 1979 at the age of 79.

 

Was Douglas known as a printmaker, or was this series based on the Eugene O’Neill play Emperor Jones a one-off? “He was not known as a printmaker, and they’re the only wood block prints I’m aware of off the top of my head,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department. “It’s from his classic Harlem Renaissance period. It’s unclear when [the prints] were commissioned, but he was published in other magazines at the time. It’s not surprising that he was tapped to do an interpretation of Emperor Jones.”

 

Best as we can tell, a small but indeterminate number of Emperor Jones prints were made in 1926, and then three more sets of reprints–15, 15, and finally 20–were made in 1972, with Douglas assisted by printmaker Stephanie Pogue. Do we know why the printing was done that way? “The blocks were first carved in 1926. Pogue assisted Douglas at the end of his career. The blocks themselves did not change,” he says. “It’s not unusual for an artist who made prints in the 1920s not to do large numbered editions of prints. It’s not like a contemporary print that’s editioned and sold through a gallery. Later in Douglas’s life, people asked for his works, and he decided to reprint the wood blocks. Why there are three separate reprintings, I don’t know. Maybe they sold out and he did more.”

 

Are the 1926 prints and the 1972 prints consistent in quality? “If you have your choice, you always want earlier printings. But there are very few examples of Emperor Jones prints done in the 1920s,” he says, noting that the only early set of four that Freeman has seen appeared in a museum exhibition. “There’s not a significant difference in the way they look. They’re printed from the same blocks. There’s not really a significant quality difference. She helped him print a strong impression. They’re more or less the same.”

 

There might be as many as 100 sets of Emperor Jones prints out there, but the Swann lot notes describe them as scarce. What makes them scarce? Are most of them in museum collections? Were some sets lost? Are collectors just reluctant to let them go? “You just don’t see them coming to auction that often,” he says. “We’ve only had a set once before in my department , and we see a lot of work. They’re things you don’t see very often.”

 

What’s the auction record for a set of Emperor Jones prints, and what’s the auction record for anything by Aaron Douglas? The Emperor Jones record was set at Swann in October 2008 when a group sold for $22,800. Swann also handled an original 1926 gouache of an Emperor Jones image that sold for $90,000 against an estimate of $35,000 to $50,000 in February 2008. A smallish 1944 painting by Aaron Douglas, Building More Stately Mansions, holds the record for any Douglas work at auction. Swann sold it for $600,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 in February 2008.

 

Why will these Emperor Jones prints stick in your memory? “It’s his classic Harlem Renaissance graphic style. This is the style everyone equates with Aaron Douglas. This is what people think of, what they associate with him the most,” he says. “This is a scarce opportunity to acquire an original work of art in that style. The reason Douglas had such success is he was a very talented graphic artist and designer who was able to synthesize the design ideas and the Art Deco style of the period and infuse it with a strong African-American voice. The black silhouette became about the black figure. He created a depiction of African-Americans that was modern and a celebration of African-American culture, which fit right into the idea of the Harlem Renaissance.”

 

How to bid: The group of Emperor Jones prints by Aaron Douglas is lot 7 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on April 5, 2018.

 

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

 

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SOLD! The Original Owner Paid 10 Cents for Batman’s 1939 Comic Book Debut. Hake’s Sold It for Almost $570,000

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Update: The May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, featuring the debut of Batman and holding a CGC universal grade of 5.0, sold for $569,273.61.

 

What you see: A May 1939 copy of Detective Comics #27, which featured the debut of Batman. It has a Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) universal grade of 5.0. Hake’s Americana & Collectibles estimates the comic book’s value in excess of $500,000.

 

How often do copies of Detective Comics #27 come to auction? “Not often. The caveat is this is universal grade. It’s in its original state–no restoration, no conservation. When you factor that in, it appears even less often,” says Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. “Most copies are not in the original state.”

 

How many copies of Detective Comics #27 have a CGC grade higher than 5.0? “The CGC census has a total of 67 copies. Only 32 are universal. All the others have restoration,” he says. “Of the universals, there are 16 rated higher and 15 rated lower. 5.0 is mid-grade, but with the universal label, it’s a high grade. 5.0 is very acceptable for a book of this age with no restoration.” He also adds, “Batman is rarer as far as graded universal copies, and Batman is certainly more popular in movies than Superman. I think it’s only a matter of time before Detective Comics #27 eclipses Action Comics #1 [Superman’s debut]. It’s a rarer book.”

 

But we should say–not every copy of Detective Comics #27 is reflected the CGC census– just those that were sent to CGC for grading. “Yes, but CGC is the top of the mountain,” he says. “It’s the preferred grading company.”

 

Why are comic books that feature the debut of a major character the most sought-after by collectors? “For the same reason that rookie cards are popular,” he says. “People gravitate to where a star started. Typically, with the debut of a character, they don’t have established track record, so the print run is lower,” he says, noting, “Batman didn’t appear in Detective Comics #1. Whatever worked got its own book. When the popularity was there, Batman got his own title.”

 

Batman is on the cover of Detective Comics #27, which has a banner announcing that his adventures are “starting this issue.” Would the comic book’s value be affected if Batman was not on the cover? “Not much at all,” he says. “There are character debuts that are not touted on the cover. It certainly helps, but it doesn’t have any bearing. It’d still be the first appearance of Batman even if Batman wasn’t on the cover. And it wasn’t like he was on the cover of the next issue. The issue was created months ahead of its appearance on the newsstand. The creators would see if something worked, and then they’d take the next step.”

 

How rare is it to have a comic book consigned almost directly from the person who bought it off the rack as a little kid, decades ago? “Pretty rare. It didn’t come directly from that person. There was one middle-man in between. But it’s still fresh to market,” he says. “To have a new discovery like this is a rare opportunity. People are fairly excited about that.”

 

Is the original owner still alive? How old was he when he bought this comic book? Yes, he is, and we’re not sure. “He certainly was a child when the book came out,” he says. “Maybe he was 10 years old.”

 

Why does the comic book have a 5.0 rating from CGC? “It has cover blemishes,” he says, pointing out the fact that the original owner wrote “Vol. 3 No. 3” at the top of the cover. “There’s a split on the spine, some dust, some soiling, some age. It’s what you’d expect of a book that’s been read several times. But it wasn’t rolled up, and it wasn’t put in his back pocket. The colors are strong and bold, with no fading.”

 

How did you arrive at the presale estimate of “in excess of $500,000”? “We have set price ranges,” he says, referring to the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. “But it’s very subjective, especially for a comic book that turns up as infrequently as this one. It’s a very, very volatile market when you have something like this, where there’s a lot of people lined up and not enough copies for those people.” This particular copy is the first Detective Comics #27 that Hake’s has handled in its 51 years of existence.

 

Why will this comic book stick in your memory? “Because it’s so historic,” Winter says. “This is right up there. It’s like a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card. It’s an iconic item that transcends collecting. It’s easily identifiable as a piece of pop culture, and you don’t have to be a comic book fan or a Batman fan to appreciate it. It’s rewarding to have a high-caliber piece like this, and it’s exciting that it’s fresh to market.”

 

How to bid: The copy of Detective Comics #27 is item 1152 in the Hake’s Americana & Collectibles sale that opens on February 20, 2018 and closes on March 15, 2018.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Aboriginal Artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Monumental 1991 Canvas Commands More Than $430,000 at Sotheby’s

Emily Kame Kngwarreye - Kame-Summer Awelye II (est. £300,000-500,000)

Update: Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Kame-Summer Awelye II sold for £309,000, or about $430,400.

 

What you see: Kame-Summer Awelye II, a monumental December 1991 canvas by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $418,000 to $697,690.

 

Who was Emily Kame Kngwarreye? Born in 1910 in Utopia, an Aboriginal community in Australia’s northern territory, Kngwarreye [pronounced ‘no worry’] is one of the most significant and successful Aboriginal artists. She embraced painting late in life, when she was almost 80. Though her career was brief, it was exemplary. Her works started selling for six figures at Australian auctions at the turn of the century. She died in 1996 at the age of 85 or 86.

 

What does the name of the painting mean? “Summer ceremony,” says Tim Klingender, Aboriginal art specialist at Sotheby’s. “Awelye means ceremony. It means singing, dancing, and body painting as performed in traditional [Aboriginal] ceremonies, relating to the Dreaming of one’s totems and country.”

 

This is one of a group of four monumental works by Kngwarreye. Another is in a museum. Do we know where the other two are, and if they have come to auction? And is this the first of the four to go to auction? “The other two are both in private collections, and were both exhibited in the artist’s two retrospectives,” he says. “This is the first of the four to appear at auction.”

 

The lot notes say Kame-Summer Awelye II was painted ‘during a time of intense ceremonial activity.’ Could you explain what these ceremonies were, and how Kngwarreye participated? “Indigenous desert people meet at various times of the year to perform ceremonies, relating to rain, animals, plants, ancestors and initiations,” he says. “At such ceremonies, ancient songs and dances are performed, bodies painted, and sand mosaics are created on the ground and danced upon.”

 

The lot notes say that Kngwarreye might have daubed paint on the torsos of those who participated in the ceremonies. Did the paint patterns she applied to their bodies look in any way like the patterns we see in this painting? “In some cases, yes. In others, they are paintings of her country, Alhalkere,” he says. [Alhalkere is an area in central Australia that’s about 142 miles north of Alice Springs.]

 

In what ways does the painting reflect or represent the Northern Territory landscape? “These paintings are aerial views of ‘landscape’ from above–painterly views of landscape infused with the spiritual energy of the ancestors, or creation, or Dreamtime beings,” he says.

 

The lot notes also state that the painting ’emphasizes the intrinsic connection of the individual to the landscape as a form of personal expression.’ Could you say more about this?  “To artists such as Emily, their inherited country and their connection to it are everything,” he says. “Her paintings are a celebration of that connection.”

 

Kngwarreye was in her early eighties when she made this painting. Do we know if it was difficult at all for her to make a painting of this size? How did she approach its creation? “Amazingly, she could handle large scale works with ease,” he says. “Google Big Yam Dreaming in the NGV to see a work she painted on a massive scale in the second-to-last year of her life.”

 

Why did she, among all of the Aboriginal artists in the Utopia community, break out and gain fame? “Because of the uniqueness and quality and development of her style,” he says. “In such a short period, she produced a phenomenal body of work–some 3,000 paintings in seven years.”

 

How does Kngwarreye’s personal story as an artistic late bloomer play into the demand for her paintings and affect their value? “Not particularly,” he says. “It has always been her art that has drawn attention first and foremost.”

 

What’s the current auction record for a Kngwarreye painting? Does she still hold the record for any Aboriginal artwork at auction? “Her auction record is AUD$2,100,000 [a sum that’s roughly the same in American dollars], for Earth’s Creation 1, sold in November 2017 at Fine Art Bourse in Sydney, Australia. That’s the second highest price for an Indigenous work, and the highest for any Australian woman artist,” he says.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate for this work? “Considerably smaller examples from this particular period have sold for around AUD$500,000,” he says. “A work on this scale and quality is exceptionally rare.”

 

Why will Kame-Summer Awelye II stick in your memory? “This grand painting is joyous, beautiful, spectacular, rare, and grounded in the oldest continuous culture on earth,” he says. “Seen firsthand, the painting’s layers of fine overlaid multi-toned yellow pigments give the painting a depth reminiscent of a golden celestial starscape, like an earthly reflection of the heavens.”

 

How to bid: Kame-Summer Awelye II is lot 38 in Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art auction in London on March 14, 2018.

 

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

 

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SOLD! A 1930 Howard Cook Print of the Chrysler Building Commanded $10,625 at Swann Galleries

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Update: The Howard Cook print featuring the Chrysler Building sold for $10,625.

 

What you see: Chrysler Building, a print by Howard Cook. Swann estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Howard Cook? Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cook created watercolors and WPA murals but is best known for his prints. He earned Guggenheim Fellowships twice, in 1932 and 1934, and his works are in the collections of the British Museum, the Smithsonian Art Museum, Harvard University, the Whitney, and the Met, among others. Though he was enamored of the American southwest and ultimately settled there, he spent the late 1920s and early 1930s in New York City. He died in 1980 at the age of 78.

 

How popular is Cook among collectors, and how prolific was he? “He’s very popular. When it comes to those who collect 20th century prints and American views, he’s one of the top artists. That’s been true since American prints began to flourish at auction 25 years ago,” says Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings. “He made over 225 different prints in all media–woodcuts, lithographs, etching. He was prolific compared to Grant Wood, who made 20 lithographs, and Edward Hopper, who made maybe 50 different etchings.”

 

How sought-after are Cook’s New York images? “Very. They’re the top of his market,” he says. “His views are either panoramic views or singular buildings.”

 

How does Cook’s choice of subject matter–the Chrysler Building–affect the value of this print? “It’s great. It’s an iconic building. The print dates from the year of the completion of the building [1930]. It’s just what collectors want,” he says. “It’s from the Art Deco period, so it’s less static than the Empire State Building.”

 

Is Chrysler Building a stand-alone print, or is it part of a series? “Of the 225 images he printed in his career, he did 30 views of New York,” he says. “All were stand-alone. Cook was not a serial printmaker.”

 

What would he have based this print upon? Did Cook take a photograph of the Chrysler Building from this angle? Did he stand on the street and make sketches? “We don’t know of him as a photographer,” he says. “My thinking is he sketched it in person, and he knew it from photographs. But he was not known for working from photographs.”

 

Is this Cook’s only depiction of the Chrysler Building? Yes. “He did other skyscrapers in New York more generally,” he says. “We have another one in the sale, the lot before this one, of Wall Street, and there are skyscrapers in it, but it’s not the sort of grand, isolated building view [like the Chrysler Building].”

 

How involved was he in the creation of his prints? Did he pull them himself, or did he oversee the work of professional printmakers? “Cook was very much involved in making his prints, from start to finish,” he says, noting that the only time he relied on others was when he created lithographs. “He would come up with the idea for the print, he etched it, and he pulled it on his own press.”

 

The lot notes for the print say this was an ‘edition of 50 (from an intended edition of 75),’ and also that it is ‘numbered ’75’ in pencil.’ I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here. Could you explain? “When he worked on editions himself through his gallery, the Weyhe Gallery in New York, he would propose an edition number, and would print them in batches of maybe ten or 20 at a time and deliver them to be sold on his behalf,” he says. “Over a period of a couple of years, he was able to sell only so many. He never reached his printing goal of 75. We know this through the artist’s notes and gallery sales records.”

 

So what does the number ’75’ actually mean here? “That was what he hoped the edition would be,” he says. “These prints were not numbered in the traditional sense. He would intend for an overall edition at the start of the process and would deliver batches at a time to the gallery. It’s not like they were sequentially numbered. Chrysler Building was going to be an edition of 75 until he couldn’t sell more than 50 or so. We know it wasn’t 75.”

 

Sometimes, when there’s a large press run of an art print, the early ones look better and crisper than the later ones. Does the batch printing approach that Cook took with Chrysler Building affect the quality of the prints? Is their quality consistently high? “Each was printed more or less identically,” he says. “It’s not like number one is more or lesser than number twenty. Because they’re smaller editions, there’s such attention to detail and quality. He didn’t let anything of lesser quality out to the gallery.”

 

How often does this print come to auction? “It’s a scarce one. We’ve seen less than ten at auction in the last 30 years,” he says, noting that the number might not represent ten individual prints–the same print could have gone to auction twice or more in that time. He adds that the auction record for Chrysler Building was set at Swann in November 2015 when one sold for $17,500, and four of Cook’s top ten most-expensive lots at auction have been Chrysler Building prints; first place belongs to a 1930 panoramic New York City scene called Harbor Skyline.

 

Was Chrysler Building a tricky print to make? “If you look at the imaging, look at the lines, they’re very detailed, almost hairline in the shadows,” he says. “That requires great attention to detail, and it [the ink] would have been hand-applied to the block. To have the blacks as rich as they are in the shadow areas, with no breaks or wear, is stunning. It looks like photographic perfection when you see it.”

 

What makes this print stick in your memory? “You can see the craft in it,” he says. “It has such a precision to it, on such a small scale–it’s only 10 1/8 inches by 6 3/4 inches–but he’s able to show the grandeur of the city. You really get the sense of a soaring city in such a small format.”

 

How to bid: Howard Cook’s Chrysler Building is lot 195 in Swann‘s 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings auction on March 13, 2018.

 

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

 

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SOLD! The 1964 French Bride of Frankenstein Re-release Movie Poster, Estimated at $300 to $500, Commanded $250

260.00

Update: The French movie poster for the 1964 re-release of Bride of Frankenstein sold for $250.

 

What you see: A French poster for the 1964 re-release of the 1935 classic horror movie Bride of Frankenstein. Julien’s Auctions estimates it at $300 to $500.

 

This Bride of Frankenstein poster was designed for the French market, and for a 1964 re-release of the film, which by then had a long reputation as a cinema classic. How does that affect the poster’s value? “Awareness of international designs is changing, and awareness of how scarce and rare they are is changing,” says consigner Neville Tuli, founder and chairman of the Osian group, which includes the Osianama Archives of world film memorabilia based in New Delhi, India. “I feel sad that the French design has not had its due. France is the home of posters. It’s difficult because the suppliers and distributors [of this re-release poster] didn’t keep archives in a historical manner.”

 

Some of the most expensive movie posters at auction have advertised 1930s horror movies. The world auction record belongs to a 1931 Dracula poster, sold in 2017 for more than $525,000, and 1930s horror movie posters have consistently fetched six-figure sums at auction. How might these strong sales influence the bidding for this French re-release poster? “Obviously, it will have a positive impact,” he says. “First releases of movie posters, you get them once in ten years, and they now sell for in excess of $300,000 and $400,000. Collectors are now looking for re-releases and posters from other countries.”

 

Why is this poster estimated at $300 to $500? “Everything is estimated very low, the way most auctions like to,” he says. “People like to think they’re getting a bargain. If it passes $3,000 to $4,000, that’s a fair price.”

 

Why are so many Bride of Frankenstein movie posters so visually strong? “The Bride of Frankenstein, even though she’s barely on the screen, captured the imagination of the world–the hairstyle, the whole look,” he says. “If you see post-1935 posters [for the movie], she’s given as much [visual] importance [as Frankenstein], sometimes even more. She has such a remarkable face. She naturally attracted the public when she appeared on publicity materials,” he says, noting that it was not just common but imperative for movie marketers to redesign and release new posters that capitalized on breakout stars. “If you see the original poster for Marilyn Monroe’s film, Asphalt Jungle,  she’s not there. [There are several poster designs for the 1950 film, and some show Monroe, but none showcase her.–Ed.] In the poster for the 1954 re-release, it’s all her. If the star captures the public’s imagination, they change the publicity material to give the star extra weight.”

 

Is there more than one version of this Bride of Frankenstein 1964 French re-release poster? “You always have four to six poster designs, but in this case, the main design is the same, and they just changed the color of the background,” he says. “I have another with a green background.”

 

How rare is this poster? “At auction, it rarely comes up,” he says. “For diehards who go searching [at public auction and in private sales], it comes up every six months. We’re talking about a handful.”

 

Was this poster on your shopping list for the Osianama Archives, or did it just pop up one day, and you grabbed it? “My shopping list is to build a history of world cinema,” he says. “My reasons for collecting are different from what collectors focus on. I’m building for a larger framework–India and the world, and India’s relationship to the world. I see the iconography [that Indian cultures] have created over 4,000 years, and it’s the greatest sci-fi and horror imagery you could imagine. I try to create understanding and show the links between Indian iconography and 100 years of cinema.”

 

Unlike earlier posters for the Bride of Frankenstein, Frankenstein and his bride are given the same visual weight here, and she seems to have a determined look on her face. Do you think that’s a deliberate statement by the designers, or is it just a matter of wanting to put a new spin on things? “Probably the story line got clearer by the 1960s,” he says. “Her scream led to his heartbreak, and the destruction of everything. I can’t say how the designers would have thought this up. I don’t know if it’s a feminine power statement or a statement of equality. But on the others, we don’t see the same equality. Here, they are equals on the poster. It’s open to conjecture.”

 

Why will this poster stick in your memory? “I have many different versions [of posters for the Bride of Frankenstein], and the French version has an austerity about it that’s unique,” he says. “So many versions of the Bride of Frankenstein show him carrying her in his arms, or show her in the laboratory. Here, there’s not much but magenta, black, and white. They pared it down to the essentials of the figures.”

 

Why are you selling this poster now? “Because I’m trying to become debt-free,” he says, laughing. “For 20 years, I tried to build a cultural network for the country without taking government funds or donations. I wanted to create it on its own terms. Financially, for the last five or six years, I’ve struggled with bank debt. I’m selling 500 pieces out of 200,000. I have to keep the integrity of everything else alive. I want to be debt-free. If I have to sell a few items to do that…”

 

You own an auction house. Why not use it to sell the 500 pieces? “There’s no interest in these things in India. The finest Indian movie poster can’t sell for $50 or $100,” he says. “We have a great love of cinema in India but not a great culture of cinema in India, and they are two different things.  It takes a long time for a cinematic culture to emerge, and it’s emerging, but there are so many steps and layers to creating it.”

 

How to bid: The La Fiancée de Frankenstein poster is lot 260 in the Osianama Archives auction scheduled for March 8, 2018 at Julien’s Auctions.

 

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.

 

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Julien’s is conducting a second, online-only auction from the Osianama Archives that concludes on March 19, 2018.

 

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

 

Also see the website for Osianama, Tuli’s impressive, ambitious 18-year-old arts endeavor.

 

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.