Most lots showcased on The Hot Bid do well at auction. Some perform exceptionally well. Here are all the lots featured on The Hot Bid that went on to set a world auction record in 2019.
Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, painted between 1830 and 1835 by American folk artist Ammi Phillips. Estimated at $800,000 to $1.2 million, it sold at Christie’s New York for just under $1.7 million and a world auction record for the artist. In explaining what makes the winsome portrait distinctly American, John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas, said, “Every country has its folk art, painted by people who didn’t go to the national academy. What makes it quintessentially American is he was painting Americans–successful sitters who were documenting their lives. The other aspect that makes it quintessentially American is [the notion that] time is money. The quicker he was able to render a portrait, the quicker he was on his way.”
Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s estimated it at $4 million to $6 million, and it sold for almost $7.2 million. It set two world auction records: One for Vigée Le Brun, and another for any female artist of the pre-modern era. In discussing how Vigée Le Brun captured the sitter’s ferocity, Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s, said, “It’s the look on his face, but a lot of it is the pose. It’s amazing to me, the masculine power–“Let me hold a large sharp sword”–but the sword has beautiful detailed carving. It’s a work of art in itself. There’s a balance to the sense of power that comes from the sword, the pose, and the look.”
Let Me Off Uptown, an 80 inch by 78 7/8 inch work by African-American artist Emma Amos that incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, it sold at Swann Auction Galleries for $125,000 and a world auction record for Amos. Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, said of the piece, “It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.”
A U.S first state “Butcher” album prototype, stereo example, of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today, which was owned by John Lennon, who inscribed and dated it and drew a sketch on the back cover. A subsequent owner of the album obtained signatures from Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Julien’s Auctions estimated it at $160,000 to $180,000. It fetched $234,400–a record for a Beatles “Butcher” album. It left Lennon’s possession when he traded it for a Beatles bootleg. Martin Nolan, executive director of Julien’s Auctions, explained why the exchange made sense to the musician: “Lennon surely thought that getting his hands on the recording was more important to him at the time. He could get another album cover on his wall if he still needed it. Morrell [Dave Morrell, the other party involved in the swap] was not interested in monetary value. He in turn got something he wanted.”
Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Estimated at $70,000 to $100,000, it sold for $225,075 at Bonhams New York–a new world auction record for Demas Nwoko, and more than double his previous record. The painting had been purchased in Nigeria and had been stashed under a bed in Boston for five decades when Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams, learned of its existence. “I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed,” he says, recalling. “We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, ‘What about this, is it special?’ I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.”
A 1935 Negro League baseball broadside, picturing six of the eight active teams of the time. Hake’s Auctions estimated it at $10,000 to $20,000 and sold it for $8,850, a world auction record for this particular piece of baseball ephemera. Philip Garry III, Hake’s sports consultant, talking about what the piece is like in person, said, “It’s big. It’s 22 inches by 28 inches. A very imposing piece. The clarity is excellent, compared to team photos and other broadsides. The images are so good, you can identify all the people on there. It’s just a great item. If you’re going to have one piece, this is the one to have. It has so much going for it.”
Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Hake’s estimated it at $5,000 to $10,000. It commanded $14,278 and a new record for artwork from the original series of the legendary comic book. “The Sandman is a very tough series to describe. It’s very deep, very literate,” says Alex Winter, president of Hake’s, adding, “It won awards that no comic book had won before. It’s on another level in many different ways. There might have been stand-alone issues, but most were multi-story arc issues, with three to four [storylines] in an issue. Some comic books can be summed up as ‘Batman beats Superman.’ With The Sandman, you can’t say that.”
Original, first-generation NASA videotape recordings of the Apollo 11 moon walk and subsequent events. Sotheby’s estimated the three reels of tape at $1 million to $2 million, and sold them for $1.8 million, a record for vintage videotape. Cassandra Hatton, vice president and senior specialist for books and manuscripts at Sotheby’s, said of the group, “Everything about these tapes is original, untouched, and unenhanced. I sat and watched every second of every reel. It’s exactly what mission control saw as it was happening.”
Seated Woman, a 1962 sculpture in mahogany by Elizabeth Catlett. Estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, Swann Auction Galleries sold it for $389,000 and a world auction record for the artist. Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, described the sculpture as having “a beautiful surface. It is a thing people want to handle. It stands about two feet tall. It’s larger than its size–it’s got a bigger presence. It’s got a certain heft and weight to it. You’re drawn to it. It’s very attractive.”
This is a two-fer of sorts. An unpainted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype crossed the six-figure threshold at Hake’s in July 2019, setting a new world auction record for any Star Wars action figure. Five months later, a fully painted Boba Fett rocket-launching prototype sold for $185,850. In explaining why the Kenner toy company fabricated more than one Boba Fett prototype, Hake’s President Alex Winter said, “Prototypes for action figures are much more layered than for other things. They go through various stages, various color treatments. That’s why there’s so many Boba Fett prototypes. Only a handful have been at auction. It’s still fairly uncommon for them to come up. We happen to have had the luxury of two back to back [in March 2018 and July 2019], and one coming up [in November 2019].”
Medicine Man, an undated painting by the late Native American artist Oscar Howe. The Santa Fe Art Auction estimated it at $25,000 to $35,000 and sold it for $25,000, which represents a world auction record for Howe. Gillian Blitch, president and CEO of the Santa Fe Art Auction, said, “It’s not abstract art in the way that Braques or Picassos were. It was about animating the figure so you’d understand what’s going on. [Howe] rejected any notion that his work was derivative of Cubism. That’s not what he was doing. In Medicine Man, the subject remains intact, unlike in Cubism, where the figures are fragmented and reorganized.”
Special thanks to the following for permitting re-use of their images for this story:
Swann Auction Galleries, for the Elizabeth Catlett sculpture and the Emma Amos mixed-media work.
Bonhams, for the Demas Nwoko painting.
Christie’s, for the Ammi Phillips portrait.
Santa Fe Art Auction, for the Oscar Howe painting.
Sotheby’s, for the Apollo 11 moon walk tapes and the portrait by Vigée Le Brun.
Julien’s Auctions, for John Lennon’s personal “Butcher” cover of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today album.
Hake’s, for the original art from The Sandman, the 1935 Negro Leagues broadside, and the Boba Fett prototype.
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