An Original Segment of the Berlin Wall Could Command More Than $23,000 at Summers Place

berlinwall_08a.300dpi

What you see: An original four-piece segment of the Berlin Wall, standing almost 12 feet high, almost eight feet deep, and spanning more than 15 feet (including the base slabs). It once belonged to the Parliament of Trees memorial in Berlin. The German phrase stencil-graffitied on the section, spoken by then-German president Richard von Weizsäcker, translates as: “To Unite Means to Learn to Share”. Summers Place Auctions estimates it at £12,000 to £18,000 ($15,600 to $23,400).

 

The expert: James Rylands, director of Summers Place.

 

For those who don’t remember the Berlin Wall, let’s talk about it–why did it go up? Why was it notorious? Why was its dismemberment celebrated? The Berlin Wall was one of the most defining things of the 20th century, from a physical and a psychological point of view. It went up in 1961, and a huge amount of East Germans fled to the west by the time it went up. Something like 20 percent of the population fled to the west. It was put up by the German Democratic Republic, which is an oxymoron–it was an Eastern Bloc Soviet state that restricted movement, and personal movement. Barbed wire went up overnight, and over 10 to 15 years, they refined the wall. It became more elaborate and secure. Literally overnight, families were divided.

 

How many people tried to breach the Berlin Wall? About 5,000 did. We don’t know [exactly] how many died [in their attempt to escape], but it was about 150.

 

Do you remember where you were when the Berlin Wall came down? I remember it very well. I’m 60, and I remember it so clearly. Through the Cold War years, we thought we would all die in our beds [from a nuclear bomb dropped by the USSR]. Total obliteration. When the wall came down, it was just huge. Scenes of euphoria. The Berlin Wall was a very obvious physical manifestation of the regime. It went from people attacking it as a symbol of oppression to being attacked by souvenir hunters. It became an instrument of capitalism, people chipping off sections and selling souvenirs. In the news section of our site, we have a story about 16 places around the world where sections of the Berlin Wall ended up–South Korea, the Vatican, Schengan in Luxembourg–it’s worth reading. The Berlin Wall ran for 96 miles, and most of it was turned to rubble and used to build highways.

 

The fall of the Berlin Wall is one of those ‘where were you when’ moments, but it’s unusual for being a happy moment. Most of those moments–Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination, 9/11–are tragic. This isn’t. You’re right. It rarely gets concrete.

 

Literally! Exactly.

 

It must have been a heck of a party when the Berlin Wall came down. Can you imagine the hangovers after that?

 

I see in the lot notes that the Berlin Wall section in lot 22 stands almost 12 feet tall, but what does it weigh? It’s in four sections, and each bit weighs just under four tons. All together [with the base slabs] it’s about 15 tons, total.

 

The dimensions note that the section is more than 15 feet wide “overall.” What does that mean here? [In the photo ] you can see a bit that hasn’t been painted–

 

Like a stand? Yes. The same thing goes out on the other side. Front to back.

 

So the wall section sits on slabs? Yes. It’s not an easy thing to hop over, especially considering it [the vertical surface] would have been smooth, and it had things [deterrents] on the top as well. To get over that was quite a feat.

 

And this was once part of the Parliament of Trees monument in Berlin, but it was deaccessed? When? Artist Ben Wagin painted on it in 1990, when it became part of the Parliament of Trees. They [the stewards of the monument] built out at that stage and sold it or disposed of it [to reshape the monument]. The consigner acquired it literally after they sold it [later in 1990].

 

So the section was part of the Parliament of Trees very briefly, and then it was released? I think it was. With the Parliament of Trees, parts were moved because they were putting up other buildings on it [the site].

 

How did Wagin choose the von Weizsäcker quote–“To Unite Means to Learn to Share”–to stencil on this segment of the wall? Von Weizsäcker was then president of Germany, commenting on gathering and sharing. West Germany was one of the few countries that could afford to make that happen, to underwrite the whole of East Germany. It was only 45 years since World War II, and then it underwrote a whole new country.

 

Do you know how many other pieces of the Berlin Wall have gone to auction? I’ve been doing sales for 30 years. I started four years before the wall came down. This is the first time I’ve seen or been aware of a large section going up for sale.

 

How did you set the estimate? That was the most difficult thing of all. Most things in an auction have an intrinsic value. With something like this, I’m selling chunks of concrete. What price do you put on the provenance and the history? I think it’s a modest estimate. If it [and its consecutive sister lot] fetch £100,000, I’d be pleased and not surprised.

 

Were the two lots of Berlin Wall segments consigned by the same person? Yes.

 

What is the segment with the Von Weizsäcker quote on it like in person? It’s powerful. It’s got a real wow factor. We’ve got seven acres on the Summers Place grounds. We only managed to stand one section up. [They had crane issues.] A point I should make is it’s equally at home outside as inside. In a modern building, a corporate building, a museum with a glass atrium, it will look stunning. It really will. Brutalism and urban street art–it combines the two.

 

How will you sell the Berlin Wall segment on the day? I take it you won’t do the auction outdoors in England in March… Bear in mind that a lot of what we sell is very big. In the sale room, each lot will go up on a TV screen.

 

Who do you think is going to buy this? Who is the audience? In a way, that’s what makes it a rich man’s lot. It’s going to be an institution or someone with a sufficient indoor-outdoor space. And I don’t preclude selling this to the Russians. We sell quite a lot to Russians. I just pray, and this is me taking off my auctioneer hat here, I hope it ends up in a public institution.

 

What about an ex-East German? People who were young when it came down… Berlin is a rich city now. What a wonderful thing, to buy it back.

 

How to bid: The segment of the Berlin Wall is lot 22 in the Garden and Natural History sale on March 12, 2019 at Summers Place 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.

 

Summers Place Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Summers Place Auctions.

 

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

THB Bonus! See My Robb Report Muse Story on Sotheby’s “By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women” Benefit Auction, Co-Chaired by Agnes Gund and Oprah Winfrey

http://www.juliancassady.com

Thought you all might enjoy my story for Robb Report Muse on By Women, For Tomorrow’s Women, a benefit auction with honorary co-chairs Oprah Winfrey and Agnes Gund.

 

Hosted by Sotheby’s, the auction lineup consists entirely of works by women artists. Proceeds will benefit the financial aid program at Miss Porter’s School.

 

Read the story here.

 

 

Giovanni Boldini’s Striking 1890 Portrait of His Friend, John Singer Sargent, Could Fetch Almost $400,000 at Christie’s

2019_CKS_16930_0029_000(giovanni_boldini_portrait_of_john_singer_sargent)

What you see: An oil on panel portrait of the artist John Singer Sargent, painted by Giovanni Boldini in 1890. Christie’s estimates it at £200,000 to £300,000 ($261,800 to $391,200).

 

The expert: Veronica Scarpati, specialist at Christie’s London.

 

How did Boldini and Sargent know one another? Sargent was 14 years’ Boldini’s junior, but they were in the same circles and painted the same subjects. As Sargent was leaving for London [in 1886], he gave his Paris studio to Boldini, and he made it his home for the rest of his life. They always knew of each other and each other’s work.

 

Do we know the circumstances of how the portrait came about? If you look at it, the scale of the work is very intimate [it measures 14 1/4 by 11 inches] and very quickly done. I would imagine it was very informally done. There’s nothing planned about it. It’s very spontaneous. What I love about it is you can see the board [the panel] coming through, especially on the edges. It doesn’t appear to be a commission, or a study. It’s an artist at play, looking up to and admiring [his friend]. That’s why it’s so special. It’s frank and intimate.

 

Do we have any idea how Boldini might have done this portrait? Would he have asked Sargent to pose, or would he have done this from memory? Without having been there, we could infer from the way it’s painted–very immediate and very loose–perhaps a bit of both. I don’t imagine Sargent in the studio holding this pose. Boldini might have had this image in his head and brought forth Sargent’s personality.

 

Yeah, Sargent standing there in the studio like that… that would be uncomfortable. (Laughs) With the stick behind his back…

 

Is this the first of the three known Boldini portraits of Sargent? Do the other two survive? If so, how do they compare to this one? The other two works do survive. One is more complete and lacking the sense of energy which exudes from ours, whilst the other is a sketchy watercolor head study. These are different kinds of works. Whereas ours is more immediate and full of energy, the other two are more posed. We expect they were all painted around 1889.

 

Where are the other two Boldini portraits of Sargent? Have either come to auction before? The less vibrant, composed sketch was owned by the artist Jean Gabriel Domergue, and it was offered in auction in 1965 and 1988. [One of the other two Boldini portraits of Sargent can be seen online; the watercolor head study has proven elusive.]

 

This portrait was first sold at auction at Christie’s in 2003 [the lot is too far in the past to find through the auction house’s website search engine]. How did it do then? How did that performance shape its current estimate? What other factors shaped its estimate? Back in 2003, the market was much smaller, and concentrated on connoisseurship, whereas in the last few years in particular, we have seen more openness within our collectors—who, despite being traditional buyers in one category or another, will both recognize and appreciate the skill and importance of artists they wouldn’t normally collect, and translate that enthusiasm into active bidding. Alongside this, we have had more and more cross-category sales in recent seasons, which has helped with the cross-pollination. The Adventurous Spirit Collection, from which this work is offered, is a perfect example of this.

 

Is there a contingent of collectors out there who deliberately seek artists’ portraits of other artists, who would be keen to go after this? Definitely. Working at an auction house such as Christie’s, you find that there are collectors for pretty much everything. There are some that love self-portraits of artists. There’s something to be said for artists’ portraits of artists. I’d be lying if I said I could think of three names off the top of my head [of collectors who’d want it] but it’s exactly what speaks to cross-category buyers. If you love Boldini or Sargent, it’s a jewel, and you’re drawn to it because of the narrative between them.

 

This strikes me as being more lively than Boldini’s formal portraits of sitters. Does the Singer portrait represent a departure for him? It’s really comfortable in its intimacy. Every time I view it with a colleague or a client, they say, “Wow, that’s so modern.” The way he attacks the board with the paint–the red in the tie is very strong, and just above the shoulder, there’s green. They’re contrasts on the color wheel, but it works. It’s immediate. It’s not structured. There’s no sense of having a patron watching over his shoulder. Just one artist who understands and admires another artist, just painting. That’s what makes it modern and unbridled.

 

Did Boldini choose that sense of sketchiness to impart movement to the portrait? Definitely. There’s a sense of movement, a sense of dynamism. Look at the lines in the background, the left quadrant. There’s one very strong, deep black line. Very strong diagonals and verticals in the background add energy. The trouser leg is a couple of lines–that’s it. You definitely get a sense of movement, even though the figure is standing still.

 

This is an oil on panel, but if you’d told me this was a chalk or a pastel, I’d have believed you. How is Boldini getting that effect? He’s using very rapid brushstrokes. There’s no hesitation whatsoever. It’s him attacking the board, building up the colors of his composition as he goes. See where he spends his time–on the hands, the head, the neck. He spends less time on the right foot. That’s almost a ghost of where the shoe should be. I think the eyes are very warm and soft. The hands still look sketchlike, but he’s definitely concentrating, paying attention, because what is an artist without his hands? For all the looseness, there’s a sense of a triangular composition. You’re drawn to the face, then the hands, and back up. It’s really brilliant. It’s almost as if he didn’t think about it, but there’s definitely rhythm and reason behind the composition.

 

What is the portrait like in person? It’s a jewel, an absolute jewel. Our photo studio is amazing, and worked hard to get the colors as true as they are. Though they came very close, it’s never the same as seeing a piece in the room. With this piece, the pictures don’t do it justice. It’s really luminous. The colors are richer and more saturated. It seems more alive than it looks. It vibrates with energy when you see it in the flesh. And the scale of it is small and helps create the sense of it being jewel-like.

 

From the looks of the provenance, Boldini never gave this portrait to Sargent. Why might he have kept it? There’s no hard and fast reason why. I imagine because it’s a really lovely piece, a nice memento, he kept it close to his heart because he really treasured it. We can only speculate, and imagine where this testament of friendship would have sat in his studio, possibly making an interesting talking point with his clients.

 

How to bid: The Giovanni Boldini portrait of John Singer Sargent is lot 29 in the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Christie’s London on February 27, 2019.

 

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

 

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

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

 

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

Sotheby’s Could Sell A 1914 Paul Manship Bronze for $250,000

10048 Lot 81

What you see: Indian Hunter, sculpted in 1914 by Paul Manship. Sotheby’s estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

 

The expert: Charlotte Mitchell, specialist at Sotheby’s.

 

How many versions of Indian Hunter did Paul Manship make? He cast the tabletop version in an edition of 15 in 1914. He cast a monumental version as a commission in 1917. It was the only one of those versions he cast. There are two authorized reproductions, including the one outside the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There are no others outside those.

 

Do we know how he made this sculpture? Did he rely on a live model, or pose a model for a reference photograph, or create it from memory? The image of the Native American is something Manship drew upon time and time again in his career. We don’t know exactly how the sculpture was done, but we can say a lot was drawn from memory or experience. After a time of study in Europe he gained an appreciation for archaic Greek art and translated it into this subject.

 

What makes this sculpture a Paul Manship? What details or aspects mark this as his work? I think this really embodies a distinct aesthetic. It’s uniquely naturalistic and detail-oriented, and simultaneously, it’s contemporary and simplified. A few aspects I love about his work on Indian Hunter are the braids–they’re incredibly detailed. The ribs are muscular and realistic. With the left hand gripping the bow, you see the detail on the fingers and the fingernails.

 

Manship sculpted Pronghorn Antelope first, earlier in 1914. How do the sculptures relate to each other and complement each other? They were cast together and meant to be viewed as a pair. He drew upon his interpretation of the myth of the labors of Hercules. He recast Hercules as a Native American hunter and cast the Cerynian Hind as an antelope. He translated a Greek myth that would have been familiar with while abroad in Rome and put his own unique spin on it, in a language that would have been more familiar to him.

 

Did this tabletop version of Indian Hunter originally come with a similar-size version of Pronghorn Antelope? Though they were cast together, they weren’t always sold together. This was sold as a single piece. Seeing them together is certainly wonderful. There’s an activation of energy with the release of the imaginary arrow.

 

Was Pronghorn Antelope done in a limited edition of 15? To the best of our knowledge, it was.

 

He initially created the sculptures for himself, to decorate his New York apartment. Did he approach these differently than he did his commissioned pieces? Is that visible in the works? They’re completely indistinguishable from something he did on commission. Though maybe he made one for New York and the other 14 were created and intended for distribution. What he created for his home is not separate from other commissions.

 

Manship’s interest in Greek art shines through here and ennobles his subject. But was that controversial in 1914–to ennoble a Native American as a figure equal to the heroic male sculptures of ancient Greek art? I don’t know how to answer that. I can say that when they were produced, they were received very well by the public at the time. Herbert Pratt [a head of Standard Oil] saw them and commissioned large-scale versions with Manship.

 

How hands-on was Manship in the casting of the bronzes? He didn’t produce on a mass scale, making us think he was quite involved in the process.

 

How often does Indian Hunter come up at auction? They don’t come up very often. At least 11 are in museums. Three or four have come up previously in pairs, and there was a sterling silver version, separate from the 15 that were cast. You could consider it a sixteenth version. It sold in May 2013 for $425,000.

 

What’s the record for an Indian Hunter at auction? A pair sold for $782,500 at Christie’s in 2012.

 

And this sculpture was originally sold alone? It was passed down in the collector’s family for decades. They’ve only ever owned Indian Hunter. It seems they only acquired this work.

 

This is the first time this particular one has come to auction. How rare is it to have a Paul Manship that’s fresh to market? It depends on the version we’re discussing, but it’s not that many. He didn’t produce anything en masse. One of my favorite things about the work is it’s fresh to market. We’ve never seen this exact work before. I think that’s something generally exciting for the client as well.

 

Did Manship number the bronze? No. That’s not generally something he did with his casts.

 

What is it like in person? It has a beautiful, rich surface. The patina is very rich and soft as well. One of my favorite aspects is the braids. The detail is quite crisp and precise.

 

How to bid: Indian Hunter is lot 81 in the American Art sale at Sotheby’s New York on March 6, 2019.

 

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

 

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

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

SOLD! Swann Galleries Sold the Circa 1865 Tintype of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker For (Scroll Down to See)

M38897-6_8 002

Update: The circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor sold for $9,375.

 

What you see: A circa 1865 tintype of American physician Mary Edwards Walker, taken in the year she received the Medal of Honor for her service during the Civil War. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $6,000 to $9,000.

 

The expert: Deborah Rogal, associate director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

How often was Walker photographed around this time, and during her life? Do we know how many photos of her exist, tintype or otherwise? There are several known photos of her from all periods of her life, but fewer than ten, I’d say.

 

Do we have a more precise date on the tintype than 1865? I’m wondering if this is the first portrait of her wearing her Medal of Honor. No. I wish we did. There’s no way for us to pinpoint a more specific date. It’s dated primarily on the presence of the medal, which she won in 1865, and the overall appearance.

 

Could we talk a bit about Walker’s life story? I did not know about her until I spotted this lot in the Swann catalog. I also didn’t know about her until we received the object. She was an extraordinary person. It’s amazing she’s not more widely appreciated for who she was.

 

Her parents were progressive. They encouraged her education and encouraged her to dress how she wanted. She went to Syracuse Medical College and graduated as a doctor. She married [a fellow medical student] and privately practiced together. As far as I understand, trusting female doctors was not something patients found easy to do [so the practice struggled]. From her youth, she wore uncommon dress. In some ways, that was the most radical thing she did. She carried on, progressively getting more masculine [in her choice of clothing], but she wouldn’t refer to it that way. She didn’t wear corsets and was really outspoken about it. It caused a lot of backlash.

 

Let’s talk about her work during the Civil War, which led to her becoming the first, and so far, only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. When war broke out, she volunteered her services as a doctor. She crossed enemy lines [to tend to patients]. I think she believed powerfully in the ability to serve, and she was proud of her service. She wore her Medal of Honor in almost every photo taken of her after the war, and she refused to relinquish it. She was very proud of it, and deservedly so. After the war, she became a vocal proponent of women’s rights.

 

How did she win the Medal of Honor? As far as I understand, she attempted to retroactively receive a commission from the Army, partly to receive benefits. People didn’t know what to do with her. I think the medal was a way for them to give her recognition without giving her formal status as a veteran, which she was asking for. It was the first time a woman was awarded the medal. She believed she earned it for her bravery. She was very brave. She traveled in the south, and she was taken as a prisoner of war. [She was captured in April 1864 and released in a prisoner exchange four months later.]

 

The government rescinded the medal in 1917, two years before she died. But her medal was NOT taken away because she was an outspoken activist for women’s rights, correct? I do think her being a woman was an element, but it was not because of that. [The government of the time] questioned how the Medal of Honor was awarded in the past. Many others had theirs retroactively rescinded. [More than 900 recipients suffered the same fate as Walker. Some were removed because they were not technically members of the military when they earned the honor.] She got it back after her death. [President Jimmy Carter restored the honor to Walker in 1977.]

 

The tintype shows her wearing pants. Was it a brave act for a woman to pose for a photo in 1865 while wearing pants? Absolutely. There are women willing to record themselves wearing pants–women in bloomers, and women who served in the army and dressed as men to do that. But I don’t think they dressed that way as a matter of course through their lives. What sets Walker apart is her commitment. She dressed this way throughout her life. [She felt] women should not be forced to wear clothing that impacted their health and denied them the range of possibilities that men had. There was another level on which she was very brave. There are anecdotal stories of her wearing pants and being chased or having objects thrown at her, and she was arrested at least once for dressing this way. But she was very sure of herself. An appealing aspect to her personality was that she was so confident and articulate about her choices.

 

Would she have worn an outfit like this on the battlefield, or are these more formal clothes? The outfit in the tintype, I’d say, is certainly more formal than what she wore during the war. She would have dressed in a more casual manner. I understand that she styled herself a uniform like the Army uniform.

 

Is there any information recorded on the tintype itself? There is not, which is typical for tintypes of the period. Tintypes were an incredibly popular medium for doing portraits. There were studios, and there were itinerant tintypists. They were accessible and quick to produce. You see a lot of soldiers commemorating their own service or giving them to family members while they are away.

 

Can we tell by looking why Walker might have had this tintype made–whether she did it for herself, or for someone else, or to promote herself? It’s impossible to know for sure, given that tintypes are unique objects by definition. It’s possible to imagine she made it for herself or someone close to her.

 

What’s that light-colored thing that’s behind her in the picture? It looks like a studio prop. It could be a partially obscured portrait stand, which was used to position your body so you don’t make a move during the exposure and make a blurry image.

 

How did this tintype come to you? Was Walker identified as the sitter when it was consigned, or did you identify her? It came from a consigner we have a relationship with, who has a lot of expertise in the period and its images. He came to us with the attribution, and we did additional research. We were not able to find a previous publication of the piece, and we believe it’s unique and undocumented.

 

How did the tintype manage to go unpublished until now? Anything I could say would be guessing. It probably descended through family members. It was not part of her estate when she died. We do see this all the time–things appear out of nowhere, and we’re able to rediscover them.

 

I imagine Walker would have been easy to identify regardless, given that she’s wearing pants and a Medal of Honor. The object is small, but an aspect of tintypes is the detail. The medal is really quite clear when you look at it with magnification. It’s incredible to see that.

 

Have any other images of Walker gone to auction? What did they fetch? Records for Walker are very scarce. Christie’s sold a signed 1877 photograph of her in April 1996 for $4,370.

 

I imagine you’ll get cross-competition for this from several groups–tintype collectors, fans of early photographs, medical historians, military history fans, people interested in women’s rights… We expect that, certainly. It touches a lot of aspects of history in America, and it appeals to a wide audience. The conversations happening in the country now are relevant to the conversations that happened in Walker’s lifetime–what she could wear, could women vote, how we respond to women who have strong opinions. I see the line of conversation through history. Has it changed or not changed? She’s clearly still relevant. Her passion and her strength resonates strongly, and I hope collectors will feel that.

 

What condition is the tintype in? The image itself has not faded. I do see handling issues that are common with this piece, but the details retained in the image are incredible. I was looking at it yesterday. Her hands are clasped, and under the loupe, you can see the veins in her hands. The tintype format allows us to retain a sense of immediacy. I felt her presence strongly in the image. Paper images of the period don’t retain detail at the same level.

 

When I saw this lot, I felt angry, because I had never heard about Walker before, and this is how I learned about her–not in school, but by leafing through an online auction catalog. Do you understand what I mean? Exactly. I felt some of the things you’re describing. I feel lucky to be able to offer the image and expose her more. She was a bit of a difficult person, so opinionated, so strong, and so unable to cede to the [women’s rights] movement around her. It had an impact on how she’s remembered today. It’s unfortunate. She should be remembered for her foresight and her contributions. History is not written by women. That’s not new, but we can change that. She’s the only female Medal of Honor winner. She’s one of the first female doctors in the country. She’s incredible, and I hope we’ll be able to reenter her in our history.

 

How to bid: The circa 1865 tintype of Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor is lot 15 in the Photographs: Art & Visual Culture auction at Swann, taking place February 21, 2019.

 

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.

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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

 

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

This Exquisite 19th Century American Quilt Has a Heartbreaking Backstory. Skinner Could Sell It for $60,000

unnamed

What you see: A pieced and appliquéd cotton memorial quilt, created circa 1863 by Mary (aka Polly) Bell Shawvan. Skinner estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

 

The expert: Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner.

 

How do we know that Mary Shawvan made this quilt around 1863? The answer to both is family tradition. [The family] consigned it in 2003, and it was well-enough documented when it was made to know it was 1863, more or less. He [John, Mary’s husband] died later in 1863. The supposition is she finished it in 1863, then he died. We found no reason to argue. The family always thought that she finished it before he died.

 

And the family showed it in quilt competitions after John’s death? They showed it because Mary was proud of her work, and it was a symbol of lamentation in the family. It was meant to be a homecoming gift for John [who was fighting for the Union in the Civil War when he was killed in the Battle of Chickamauga]. It was put away after his death. It doesn’t change the fact that it’s a pure distillation of folk quiltwork. Mary Shawvan shows herself at her most artistic. She didn’t follow a pattern. This is a fully freehand design.

 

How often do you see 19th century quilts designed like this–as if the entire thing is a single canvas? Not often. Certainly not to this degree. Quilts with one overarching design throughout are not unprecedented, but they’re rare.

 

What challenges did she face in making this quilt? To distill an image across 84 by 81 1/2 inches is difficult. It would require a lot of planning and effort. It’s easier to lay out 36 blocks. That’s why you don’t see many done like this.

 

Would she have worked alone on this quilt, or might her children have helped? Traditionally, this kind of thing was done by one person. There’s no reason to believe she had help. Certainly, she would have worked it over the course of several months. She was essentially a single mother when he was at war, and they had six children. She probably put hundreds of hours into it unless she was really good and really fast.

 

I was going to ask if she was inspired to make the quilt after learning that he died at the Battle of Chickamauga, but it sounds like he died after or around the time she finished it. We term it a memorial quilt, but it’s a memorial quilt by circumstance. It was not intentional. It imbues the whole thing with a sense of melancholy, but it doesn’t diminish its beauty.

 

Is it unusual to see a 19th century quilt with a yellow background? That is a lot of yellow. It is. You probably can’t see it, but there’s a pattern to it. It’s printed. It’s a very subtle pattern in the color itself. It’s not sewn on. It gives the background color of the quilt a bit more life.

 

Are there other details that don’t quite show up on camera? Every single bird is done by what’s called stuffed work. It’s cotton batting that gives them a three-dimensionality. It’s very unusual in quilt-making. The kind of stuffed work you see on this quilt is especially difficult work, requiring an incredibly talented hand to do it.

 

Are the birds and the flowers there just because they look nice, or is there an iconography to the quilt? Do the birds represent John, Mary, and the kids, for example? As far as I can tell, the only real symbol is the eagle, which denotes patriotism. It [any iconographic significance] was possibly known to Mary, but it was not passed down in the family. What you’re looking at are choices of design and color. There’s no memorial imagery here.

 

The quilt measures 84 by 81 1/2 inches. Is that a typical size for a 19th century American quilt? It’s about the typical size. The smallest dimensions you see are six feet, or 72 inches, and maybe they go up to 100 inches. It’s no bigger or smaller than typical quilts of the period.

 

Do we know how the Shawvans used the quilt? All we know is what we were told from family lore. John was such a beloved husband and father that [the quilt] represented melancholy, and it was put away and not used. Because it was not used, it remained as vibrant as the day it was made when it was consigned to us 130 years later. That’s unusual for a quilt of any kind, never mind a folk art masterpiece like this one. Usually, the reds and pinks have a tendency to go light brown quicker than others, or lose their vitality. The fact that they’re as vibrant as they are speaks to it not seeing the light of day for a century and a half. In addition, I think the birds’ wings use silk, which has a tendency to shatter in place, and shred. “Shatter” is a word used to describe what happens to silk when it loses its integrity. It shatters like glass, but it doesn’t come out of where it is. The black silk [on the birds’ wings] is totally intact.

 

Skinner first sold the quilt in 2003. How did it perform then? We offered it at $50,000 to $75,000 at the time, and it sold for $149,000. It was purchased by a private collector in the Boston area who knew the story, and knew it was put away in melancholy circumstances. He put it away in the same plastic bag that the family consigned it in. This is undoubtedly the best quilt we’ve ever sold.

 

Really? What makes it the best quilt Skinner has ever sold? All the different ways a piece of folk art can be valuable, this is [valuable]. It has a great story, it has great artistry, it has a charming and whimsical approach to composition, and the condition is as good as any quilt can be.

 

How many different types of collectors will compete for this quilt? Certainly quilt and textile people. Also, folk art people, which can include quilt people. The person who bought it in 2003 was not a quilt collector, but a folk art collector. And lovers of history, and American history, specifically. John Shawvan was a color sergeant and a father of six. He enlisted when he didn’t have to, for a cause he believed in. There’s a huge group of collectors of American historical items who appreciate it when you can identify specific persons and families [connected to the item].

 

How do we know he believed in the Union cause? He enlisted in October of 1861 though he had substantial family obligations. That implies to me that he believed so strongly in the cause he was almost compelled to leave his family. What other reason could there be?

 

Were you at Skinner when the quilt sold the first time? No. I was here in 2003, but it predates my tenure by about seven months.

 

Why will this quilt stick in your memory? I will never forget it because it’s so rare to have this confluence of characteristics. It’s a fully realized folk masterpiece of a quilt, with a full family history, a compelling story, and impeccable condition.

 

How to bid: The Shawvan memorial quilt is lot 65 in the American Furniture & Decorative Arts sale scheduled at Skinner on March 2, 2019.

 

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.

 

You can follow Skinner on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Chris Barber spoke to The Hot Bid last year about a Jess Blackstone robin and in February 2017 about an unusually charming double folk portrait that ultimately sold for $9,840.

 

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

SOLD! LAMA Sold Kenneth Nolan’s 1985 Canvas “Songs: Yesterdays” For (Scroll Down to See) Also! Happy Birthday to The Hot Bid

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Update: Kenneth Noland’s Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas, sold for $550,000 at LAMA–just over five times its low estimate.

 

And a special note: Today is the second anniversary of the debut of The Hot Bid. The first post featured LAMA’s Peter Loughrey talking about an Alma Thomas oil on canvas that went on to set an auction record for the artist.

 

What you see: Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas from the late Kenneth Noland. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $100,000 to $150,000.

 

The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.

 

How prolific was Noland? He was very prolific. He quickly became a prominent figure in the Color Field school. Of all the artists who emerged from that movement, he became one of the most celebrated, with the target series in the late 1950s and early 1960s. By 1963, he was fairly well-established.

 

How often do his works come up at auction? Fairly often. There’s a lot of material out there. It trades hands with good regularity.

 

Is Songs: Yesterdays a one-off, or part of a series? It’s part of a series from the 1980s, when he returned to the chevron shape. He started it in the 1960s and he revisited it. The [1980s] works were named after songs. I don’t think this one was named after the Beatles song. I think he named it after an older song called Yesterdays. He not only revisited the shape of the icon, but he goes back to his own history, the music of his youth.

 

Chevrons are a recurring theme in Noland’s work. Is there a ranked order to the popularity of specific themes in his work? Do collectors prefer his circles/targets to his chevrons, for example? If you asked the artist that, he would say “Absolutely not,” but the market has spoken. Circles/targets sell for the most. The chevrons are a very iconic part of his work. If you ranked [the themes] by their price in the market, the place of chevrons seems to be second.

 

I understand that Noland stained his canvases rather than brushing the color on with paints. Has he done that here? His earliest works, yes, were part of the stained canvases. Many artists were disengaging with the brush after [Jackson] Pollock. In this case, in the 1980s, Noland returned to the brush and palette knife.

 

How did he produce the texture on the chevrons? Did he use a palette knife? Definitely with a scraping device. A palette knife is typically how an artist would get this type of texture. If not a palette knife, a variation on the palette knife. A trowel, for example.

 

The pink area doesn’t show any evidence of brush strokes. Do we know what Noland did there? I looked for the technique in anticipation of your call. I didn’t find something that proved how he got it. The pink area is very flat. He’s playing with texture with paint. He contrasts an area where there’s no sign of the artist’s hand to an area with overt sign of the artist’s hand.

 

Songs: Yesterdays measures 88.5 inches by 69.1 inches. Is that a typical size for Noland? It’s a typical size from the 1980s. His 80s works tend to be fairly robust in scale.

 

Did Noland name the painting? He would have.

 

He painted this in 1985 and died in 2010. Is this considered a late work for him? It’s a late period work. I spoke to him in 2008 or 2009 on a very early abstract piece I was selling, and he was very quick to point out that he was busier now than ever. Past his mid-career, he still had a fairly long, strong output. He returned to the circles after the chevrons. It’s interesting that when he returned to the old icons, he returned to the chevrons first.

 

Has the market for Noland works changed over time? Are there things collectors want now that they didn’t want as much ten years ago? It comes down to supply and demand. Paintings from 1963 are just rarer. There are not many opportunities [to bid], so they tend to sell for much higher. Works from the 1980s are much more available. In the last two or three years large 1980s chevrons have come up on the market. On December 3 in France, one estimated at $70,000 to $90,000 sold for $272,000. It was a chevron that was an almost identical-looking picture, and it was the same size [as this one]. There’s definitely a trend where the prices tend to be going upward. I imagine this last one selling for $272,000 is going to trigger a lot of people to sell, if they’ve been paying attention to the market.

 

How often have you handled works by Noland? Not very often. This is probably the first major painting I’ve had. I’ve certainly sold a lot of his prints and graphics. I think most of his material has likely surfaced in New York and Washington, D.C. L.A. is not one of the obvious places where people collect his work.

 

What is it like in person? It’s vibrant. It’s really quite impressive. It’s in flawless condition, which is always nice. It almost vibrates right in front of your eyes. It’s not subtle like some of his chevrons. This is really bold, and pops out.

 

Are there any details that elude the camera? Not really. The subtlety of the pink area, which we discussed as being devoid of the sign of the artist’s hand, is definitely much more obvious in person. There’s a stark contrast between the purity of the color field and the texture of the stripes of the chevrons.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? I tend to like colorful, bright, optimistic works. It’s sort of who I am. If you look at the chevron work up for sale, it’s one of the brightest and most optimistic. In others, I think the colors tend to be more muted and a little darker.

 

How to bid: Songs: Yesterdays is lot 197 in the Modern Art & Design Auction at LAMA on February 17, 2019.

 

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click 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.

 

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Peter Loughrey has appeared on The Hot Bid since the beginning–literally. The blog’s first post was on an Alma Thomas painting that LAMA ultimately sold for a world auction record. He has also discussed works by Jonathan Borofsky and Wendell Castlean exceptional 1969 dune buggy, an Ed Ruscha print that set a world auction record at LAMA, and a hyperrealistic sculpture by Carole Feuerman that ultimately set an auction record for the artist.

 

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

 

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