An Unheated Tourmaline That Weighs 100.59 Carats Could Command $1 Million

The Jena Blue, an 100.59 carat unheated tourmaline, could sell for $1 million at Heritage Auctions.

What you see: An unheated “Paraíba-type” tourmaline from Mozambique, weighing in at 100.59 carats. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $700,000 to $1 million.

The expert: Craig Kissick, director of nature and science for Heritage Auctions.

How was the tourmaline discovered? It was mined in Mozambique in 2001. A really large rough was pulled out that weighed 262 carats. The person who acquired it was looking for top-quality rough material.

Is Mozambique known for its tourmalines? Yes, especially for gem “Paraíba-type” tourmalines. Tourmalines are a prolific type of mineral also found in Brazil, California, and Afghanistan. There are quality examples from each area.

This large unheated tourmaline is described as “copper-bearing”. What does that mean? Does the presence of copper affect the appearance of the stone’s color? Absolutely. Copper-bearing tourmalines have a gorgeous bluish-green hue. That’s what sets them apart. “Paraíba” is a word for the purest form of copper-bearing tourmalines of this color from Brazil.

What does the phrase “Paraíba-type” mean? The GIA (Gemological Institute of America) can refer to any copper-bearing tourmaline as Paraíba, but old-school people in the business call them “Paraíba-type” or “Paraíba-like” if they’re not from Brazil. There are people who will pay an unlimited amount of money if they get a true Paraíba from Brazil.

And this stone, called the Jena Blue, is believed to be the largest unheated tourmaline? That’s very, very important. We do believe it’s the largest unheated tourmaline gemstone in the world.

Why is it important that it’s unheated? It’s a purity standpoint, and a value driver. There are purists out there who want no enhancements. So much material is enhanced. This is among the small percentage that is not.

But how would heat treatment improve a natural tourmaline? Heating essentially juices the visual attributes of the stone. It will often brighten or intensify the color.

What’s the next-smallest known unheated tourmaline? This is a very casual answer, but in my experience, people looking for 20-carat or 30-carat examples have enough trouble finding them. You normally see five carats. For most people, that’s a plenty big stone, fine for a ring.

Why is this unheated tourmaline called the Jena Blue? The collector prefers to be anonymous, but my understanding is the Jena Blue is some sort of contraction of two of his grandchildrens’ names.

The stone is described as “flawless”. What sorts of flaws can appear in a tourmaline? Because of how it grows, in long, columnar crystals, tourmaline is not an inherently clear material. It’s more likely to be translucent than transparent. You’re not going to hold up a tourmaline and be able to read a book through it.

This unheated tourmaline has what’s called a “native cut”. Why was that cut chosen, and how does the cut enhance the qualities of the stone? The piece was required to be cut before it left Mozambique, and it has not been recut. They [the original owner] wanted to end up with a stone that was over 100 carats. It pains me to say it, but could you recut it and come up with a visually nicer and smaller stone? You could. It was cut for yield, for the largest stone possible.

The chosen cut has a lot of facets to it…The faceting around it gives it a little sparkle. Because of the size of the stone, there’s sort of a large window in the top that allows you to see through it. Because it’s so clear, it almost washes the color out. If this stone were smaller or more included [afflicted with inclusions, a type of flaw] it could be bolder, and it could have more richness in it.

About 162 carats were discarded in cutting this unheated tourmaline. Do we know why the gem-cutter chose to dispense with so much of the rough? I don’t know the answer, but my educated guess is that with a big chunk of rough, only a certain area is gemstone material. It could have been highly occluded. It could have been damaged, or cracked. Some is lost to get down to the finished product.

What is the Jena Blue tourmaline like in person? It’s huge. I don’t say this to downplay it at all, but when you compare it to a typical gemstone, it’s cartoonish. If you were of a mind to make it into jewelry, it would be comical. And it’s very clear. To me, it’s a little more clear than colorful in person.

What is it like to hold the Jena Blue tourmaline? [Laughs] It’s scary, because you don’t want to drop it or hurt it. It’s kind of like holding a baby.

How well does it fit in the palm of your hand? I’m six-foot-five and 275 pounds. If your hand was 20 percent smaller than mine, and if you cupped your hand so it’s concave as opposed to flat, it would cover the palm of your hand. It’s gonna nestle in there just fine. But people tend to want to handle it with two hands, because they’re nervous about it.

Is the Jena Blue tourmaline heavy? No, it doesn’t feel that heavy. It’s probably a bit more than a golf ball, weight-wise. That being said, if you put it in a pendant around your neck, it’s not going to be everyday jewelry.

How did you set the estimate for the Jena Blue tourmaline? Are there any direct comparables on record? It’s a hard comp. We’ve got a precedent in that material like this can go for one million or north of that. But it’s so singular, it’s hard to know what the market is.

Is there a world auction record for a tourmaline? I’m guessing that stones such as this tend to sell on the private market, and not at auction… I don’t know the world auction record. I really couldn’t answer. Nobody sees stuff like this very often. It’s so singular, there’s not much to compare it to.

So when the Jena Blue tourmaline sells, it might automatically set a world auction record for any tourmaline? That’s very well possible. I think there probably are million-dollar-plus Paraíba-type examples out there, through gem dealers. You virtually never see 100-carat-plus tourmalines at auction, so there’s not much of a sales record.

Who would comprise the market for the Jena Blue tourmaline–natural history collectors, or people who might want to fashion the stone into jewelry? I think a natural history collector. If someone fashioned it into jewelry… it’s too big. It’s like Flava Flav’s clock. You can see it coming from a mile away. I want to believe the attributes that were important to the original collector will drive the day. There’s a lot of stones in the auction catalog that you could make into jewelry. The Jena Blue doesn’t strike me as that.

Why will the Jena Blue tourmaline stick in your memory? To me, it’s the singular nature of the stone. As a collector, I always enjoy anomalies. There aren’t other tourmalines like it out there. This is a one-time thing. It’s an incredible item. Personally, I’m more into dinosaurs than gemstones, but even I can’t deny it’s something.

How to bid: The large unheated tourmaline is lot #72111 in The Jena Blue Collection of Gemstones & Minerals Signature Auction, taking place October 5, 2020 at Heritage Auctions.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Craig Kissick has appeared on The Hot Bid twice, discussing a large specimen of crystallized gold as well as a matched set of bull mammoth tusks.

Heritage Auctions filmed a 360-degree video of the Jena Blue tourmaline and posted it on its YouTube channel.

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A William Wendt Painting Could Fetch $80,000 (Updated October 13, 2020)

Flickering Light, a 1921 landscape painting by California plein-air master William Wendt, could fetch $80,000.

Update: The William Wendt painting sold for $137,575–more than double its low estimate.

What you see: Flickering Light, a 1921 William Wendt painting. Bonhams estimates it at $60,000 to $80,000.

The expert: Scot Levitt, specialist in California and Western paintings for Bonhams.

Who was William Wendt? He was a plein-air painter who was one of the leaders and foremost artists of California Impressionist painting. Because it never rains in Southern California, it’s easy to prop up an easel.

Was he self-taught? No, he wasn’t. Surprisingly, there’s little info on him–no journals, no scrapbooks, and no children. He was born in a small town in what is now Germany. He hated his father and hated his work as an apprentice in a furniture shop. He emigrated to America, got a job working in cabinetry, and he started painting. He did get art training, mostly in Chicago. He was known to paint up to 20 paintings a day, because it was fun and he was good at it. He was painting like a madman.

Chicago isn’t a great place for plein-air painting. Is that why Wendt moved? Back then, there was a huge influx of people to the West Coast because the railroads opened it up. It was advertised as a land of opportunity.

How prolific was Wendt? Is there a catalog raisonné for him? There’s no catalog raisonné, but there’s a coffee table book on his works that’s a catalog raisonné of sorts. It’s by John Alan Walker, and it covers 878 paintings by Wendt. He tried to document all of them.

Does that number–878 paintings–hold up as a good number for Wendt’s lifetime output? I’d say he painted well over 1,000, but the actual number, we don’t know. One thousand is a guess.

Where was William Wendt in his career in 1921, when he painted this work? 1921 was his heyday. He had a gallery in Los Angeles, the Stendahl Gallery, which handled all the big hitters in the market back then. He was making a pretty good living in Laguna Beach. His popularity ground to a halt when the Great Depression hit in 1929. It [his style of painting] was on a collision course with Modernism. This was his older, mature period. He did numerous paintings of sunlight coming through the trees.

So this William Wendt painting is a stand-alone, but the theme of sunlight coming through trees appears often in his work? Authors have suggested the sunlight represents a God-like, heavenly spiritual body coming through, bringing beauty and energy to the world. Wendt was a religious man. They [he and his compatriots] embraced a very Thoreau-esque way of looking at the world. They wanted to glorify the beauty of nature and look at God’s creation. They tried to do pleasant homages to nature, and that’s what Wendt became famous for doing.

Is this William Wendt painting a good example of his work? It’s got a lot of detail to the branches, and a lot of variety of light. It has an abstract quality to it.

Is the scene in this William Wendt painting a real place, or is it his own invention? If it’s real, do we know where he painted it? It probably was a real place, and we don’t know where it is.

This William Wendt painting jumped out at me because it looks like it could have been painted in New England in the autumn… That’s not how it strikes me. I just don’t interpret it that way.

So the painting looks clearly Californian to you? I think so.

What is the William Wendt painting like in person? The colors are bright, and they pop. There’s really nice, sharp detail.

How thickly is the paint layered on the surface of the canvas? I’d say moderately. Not thin and not thick. You can definitely see the brushstrokes. He definitely worked quickly. It’s not labored.

What’s the world auction record for a William Wendt painting? Was it set at Bonhams? It was set with us in 2015, and it sold for just over $1.5 million. The reason why it brought $1.5 million is it was on the cover of Plein Air Painters of California, The Southland, by Ruth Westphal. It was the first of two books that became the bibles of California plein-air painting. From a notoriety point of view, I knew it would do well.

Why will this William Wendt painting stick in your memory? There are never any figures in his paintings. It has a quiet solitude about it. It looks like a very convincing scene, with that late light that comes when the sun starts to get a little low. It sort of gives you a happy feeling.

How to bid: The William Wendt painting is lot 57 in the California and Western Art auction taking place at Bonhams Los Angeles on October 13, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Scot Levitt has appeared before on The Hot Bid, talking about a Gilbert Munger painting of El Capitanan early Sydney Laurence painting of the mountain now known as Denali, and a casting of Frederic Remington’s famous bronze, Broncho Buster.

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A Karl Benjamin Painting Could Fetch $50,000 (Updated October 19, 2020)

Laguna Seascape II, a 1954 painting by the late Karl Benjamin, could sell for $50,000 or more at LAMA.

Update: The Karl Benjamin painting sold for $37,500.

What you see: Laguna Seascape II, a 1954 work by the late Karl Benjamin. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

The expert: Clo Pazera, specialist at LAMA.

Who was Karl Benjamin, and how does he fit in with mid-century California artists? He was a key part of the hard-edge movement, a term coined by Jules Langsner. He put together The Abstract Classicists. Benjamin was in the show, and it was the birth of hard-edge painting.

How prolific was Benjamin? I know a catalog raisonné on him is underway. Do its authors have a notion of his productivity? I’m not sure about the number of works he produced in his lifetime, but I’m sure it’s a hefty number.

It seems that Benjamin took an unusual path to becoming an artist, in that it wasn’t his primary goal. Could you talk about how his career evolved? He had studied at Northwestern and joined the Navy in World War II. Then he moved to the west coast and started teaching at an elementary school. That led him to his interest in the fine arts. He went to Claremont Graduate School for art. It was a good move, because it had a thriving art scene in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. That’s probably why his career took off. He had his first solo show in 1954 though he had only been painting for four years at that point.

The Karl Benjamin painting you’re offering, Laguna Seascape II, dates to 1954. Was it in that solo show? It was! The Karl Benjamin estate has a copy of the original checklist, and the painting has a label from the show on the back. It’s great to have confirmation it was in the show.

So that 1954 exhibition was Karl Benjamin’s breakthrough? Yes, and he was obviously building up to it. 1954 to 1955 was when he started to really move into the style he became best-known for. You see his style start to crystalize. He does semi-representational pieces and starts moving into fully abstract pieces.

Are early Karl Benjamin paintings prized by collectors though they don’t match the fully abstract aesthetic of his later work? Benjamin is one of the rare cases where his early works are very desirable and sought after.

This is a small question, but I wanted to ask it. This Karl Benjamin painting is called Laguna Seascape II. Do we know where Laguna Seascape I is? I don’t know. We’ve offered a work by him called North of Santa Barbara Coast II, and the checklist for the 1954 show had both I and II, but it only had Laguna Seascape II. It’s possible that Laguna Seascape I is out there. I don’t know where.

Is the seascape in the Karl Benjamin painting a real, identifiable place in Laguna Beach, California, or is it his own invention? It’s interesting, because he never lived in Laguna Beach that I’m aware. His parents lived on the Santa Barbara coast. I don’t know what interest Laguna Beach had for him. I’m not sure what the significance was.

Are Karl Benjamin paintings of abstract landscapes relatively rare? They are relatively rare because he did move into pure abstraction pretty quickly. He only did landscapes for seven or eight years, and he was fully abstract for four decades.

Could you talk about the use of color in this Karl Benjamin painting? In his early works, the color is much more muted, which makes sense if he’s trying to do a seascape. He used bright Pop colors later in his career.

What is the Karl Benjamin painting like in person? Are there details that the camera doesn’t capture? There’s much more of a painterly quality to this piece, almost a pebbly texture to it, which you see in his earlier works. I don’t know how he got the texture on the pieces. His later style is more flat and perfect. A lot of hard-edge people put a lot of varnish on top [of their works] to give them a sheen and obscure the brushstrokes. That was the hard-edge look.

How has the Karl Benjamin painting market changed over time? The J. Paul Getty Museum’s Pacific Standard Time initiative was a major boost to California artists. Karl Benjamin certainly benefitted from the increased exposure it provided. It was a city-wide initiative with various exhibits about artists who were active from 1945 to 1980. One of the main exhibits had a really beautiful piece by Karl Benjamin. That helped his career. Since then, his market has been pretty steady.

Does this sale mark the first time this Karl Benjamin painting has come to auction? Yes. Early in his career, before he was well-established, he did a lot of exchanges for artwork, or gave pieces to his friends. This person [who first owned it] was a colleague of Benjamin’s. The painting has been exhibited, but it’s never been offered.

What’s the world auction record for Benjamin? Was it set at LAMA? It was set with us. It was a piece from a similar period, a 1955 work offered in 2013. It was estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 and realized $71,875.

Was the record-setting Karl Benjamin painting an abstract landscape, like this one? It was untitled, and had a similar color pattern. I don’t think it’s a landscape, but it was more when he was moving into pure abstraction.

Could this Karl Benjamin painting set a new record for the artist? The 1955 untitled piece was a great piece, but so is this. It really depends.

Why will this Karl Benjamin painting stick in your memory? It is very evocative of the seaside, that sort of calm you find with the sea. There’s just something about it that’s therapeutic.

How to bid: The Karl Benjamin painting is a featured lot in the Modern Art & Design Auction taking place at LAMA on October 18, 2020.

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Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

Clo Pazera appeared on The Hot Bid before, talking about an iconic Julius Shulman image of the Stahl house, aka Case Study House #22, and an untitled Ed Moses abstract

Karl Benjamin’s estate has a website.

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Diane Arbus Photographs Owned by Albino Sword Swallower Sandra Reed Could Together Command $80,000 (Updated September 29, 2020)

A Diane Arbus double portrait photograph of albino sword-swallower Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, could sell for $20,000 or more at Potter & Potter.

Update: Lots 233 and 234 sold for $6,000 each. The circa 1965 group photo, lot 231, fetched $12,000.

What you see: A gelatin silver print of albino sword-swallower Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, taken in 1970 by Diane Arbus. It and three other images from the same session come directly from the estate of Sandra Reed. Potter and Potter estimates each at $10,000 to $20,000.

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter.

Do we know the story behind how Diane Arbus and Sandra Reed met? Did Reed know who Arbus was? I don’t know the story behind that, but I’m sure it’s chronicled. Obviously, Arbus had a fascination with sideshows, circuses, and unusual people. It’s a hallmark of her work. Joe, who works for me, could relate it better. Johnny Fox (a sideshow performer whose collection Potter & Potter sold in November 2018) had Arbus photos that Sandra Reed had given him. When Joe was doing the research on the photos, he found Reed’s phone number and called her. She had a vague recollection of the photo session, but it wasn’t like, “Oh, by the way, I’m the sword-swallower in the pictures by Diane Arbus”. Again, I’m speaking for Joe, but [I get the sense that it was] “Oh, I remember a lady came to the fairground and took pictures”.

Is it possible that Reed never realized the significance of having posed for Diane Arbus? The photographs in this auction were Reed’s property. She’s deceased. She died last year. The family consigned them.

Do we know how the Arbus photos came to Sandra Reed? Would Arbus have sent them to her? That’s speculation. Her kids are so far removed [from Reed’s time as a sword-swallower], they have no memory of it.

A closeup shot of Doreen and Sandra Reed, taken by Diane Arbus circa 1970 on the grounds of the sideshow where Sandra performed as a sword-swallower. Both women happen to be albinos.

So we know these photos belonged to Sandra Reed because they come directly from her family? They’re not stamped by her, but they’re clearly from the session and they’re clearly from Reed’s collection. We also have Reed’s scrapbooks from her time on the shows [they comprise lots 236 and 237], and her traveling trunk, with her name on it. I really wanted the swords in the Arbus photos, but I can’t locate them.

Do we know how the photo session for the Arbus sword-swallower photos came about? Was it planned, or spontaneous? I don’t know, but her work is well-documented. I know that the large prints of Sandra Reed are some of her most iconic works. She took many different shots.

Many of the Arbus sword-swallower photos you’re offering include Sandra Reed’s sister, Doreen. Do we know why Doreen happened to be there? To me, that says they were both on the show. I think they were both albino.

Even though Doreen is not wearing a costume, and Sandra is? Right.

Also included in the sale is a circa 1965 group shot Diane Arbus took of the performers at Huber's Museum. It carries the same $10,000 to $20,000 estimate as the photos featuring Sandra Reed.

The auction includes a fifth Arbus photo, a group shot taken in 1965 at Huber’s Museum. What does it say about Arbus that she returned to these subjects so regularly? It’s clearly a big part of her life’s work. Obviously, she was interested in chronicling people who you did not see on the subway. Or if you do, you stare at them. There’s one guy in the Huber’s Museum photo who’s still alive, and performs as an Elvis impersonator and an escape artist. Mario Manzini. He’s up front, with dark hair, crouching, and in chains. If you ever need an Elvis who can escape from handcuffs, he’s your guy.

The two Arbus sword-swallower photos that you offered as one lot in the 2018 Johnny Fox sale sold for $28,800, and a record for a sideshow item at auction. Did that sale lead to the consignment of the four photos you’re offering now? One thousand percent, absolutely. It’s how Reed’s family found us.

What was your reaction to the 2018 sale? You had estimated those Arbus sword-swallower photos at $1,000 to $1,500, so I imagine it was a surprise. I thought they could get there, but the condition of the photos were less than great, and they were small. I estimated them conservatively. They had all the hallmarks of the potential to do very well–never before at auction, and the auction had a lot of buzz around it, because everybody knew Johnny.

A long shot of Sandra Reed (right) and her sister, Doreen, taken by Diane Arbus circa 1970.

How do these four Arbus sword-swallower photos compare to the two that set a record in 2018? These are much larger, and they have fewer condition issues. I put a higher estimate on them, but there’s no reserve. If you have $5,000, you can have a Diane Arbus photo, assuming no one else bids against them. And you can see three different versions of kind of the same photo–a distant shot, a close-up, and a medium-length shot. I can see someone wanting to buy all three for that reason.

None of the four Arbus sword-swallower photos show Sandra Reed with her sword. One of the two that sold for a record in 2018 did. Do you think that will matter? I don’t think so. Some of Arbus’s great photos of her have nothing to do with swords.

Diane Arbus also photographed the Reed sisters with two unidentified women, at least one of whom appears to be a performer in the sideshow.

What are the Arbus sword-swallower photos like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come across on camera? You’ll never have the same feeling as holding them in person. They’re the real thing.

But these are gelatin silver prints. I’m under the impression that those types of photographs have a silkiness to them– There’s that, but it’s not about the texture, it’s about the history. It’s a physical object, touched by a great photographer and touched by and owned by the subject of the photograph. Those are the things that speak to me. They’re imposing because of the story they tell and the people who interacted with them. They don’t carry physical weight, but they carry historical weight.

How much of the $10,000 to $20,000 estimate for each Arbus sword-swallower photo comes from the fact that Sandra Reed, the person shown in all four, owned them? It might not be half, but it’s certainly 25 percent of it. If you’re a photo collector, I’m not sure if you give a shit, but I certainly would. For me, that’s fantastic. Boy, is that a selling point.

Did the 2018 Arbus sword-swallower photos go to a sideshow memorabilia collector or a collector of Diane Arbus photographs? Neither. I don’t know them to be an Arbus collector, but I know them to be an art collector.

Why will these four Arbus sword-swallower photos stick in your memory? The serendipitous nature of it, whatever word you want to use that describes happenstance–the nature of getting the consignment like this. It’s like a giant puzzle that gets unassembled and reassembled, and we end up putting it together in surprising and potentially profitable patterns.

How to bid: The four Diane Arbus photographs from Sandra Reed are lots 232 to 235 in the Potter and Potter auction; the 1965 Arbus group portrait is lot 231. All appear in the Circus, Sideshow & Oddities sale taking place on September 26, 2020.

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Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He’s talked about a vintage Harry Houdini postcard from the magician’s personal collectionan oversize Alexander: The Man Who Knows poster, a Daisy and Violet Hilton poster from the conjoined twins’ vaudeville years, an impressive talking skull automaton that went on to sell for $13,200, a magician automaton that appeared in the 1972 film Sleuth, a rare book from the creator of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion,  a Will & Finck brass sleeve holdout–a device for cheating at cards–which sold for $9,000a Snap Wyatt sideshow banner advertising a headless girl, a record-setting stage-worn magician’s tuxedo; a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

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An Andy Warhol Portrait of Keith Haring and His Lover Could Command $250,000 (Updated Oct 2, 2020)

Update: The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose sold for $504,000–more than double its high estimate. Hooray!

What you see: An untitled Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover, Juan DuBose. Sotheby’s estimates it at $200,000 to $250,000.

The expert: Harrison Tenzer, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Online Sales in New York.

How did Andy Warhol and Keith Haring become friends? In 1989, Haring told Rolling Stone: “Before I knew [Warhol], he had been an image to me. He was totally unapproachable. I met him finally through Christopher Makos, who brought me to the Factory. At first Andy was very distant. It was difficult for him to be comfortable with people if he didn’t know them. Then he came to another exhibition at the Fun Gallery, which was soon after the show at Shafrazi. He was more friendly. We started talking, going out. We traded a lot of works at that time.”

When would these meetings have happened? I don’t know, but it was probably the early 1980s.

The release for the auction says Haring was “greatly influenced by Andy Warhol”. How did that influence show up in Haring’s work? Warhol was really an elder statesman of the art world for Haring’s generation. All the artists who came up in the 1980s really looked up to him. Haring was influenced by his pop iconography and the idea of art as a business. Haring was interested in making his art available to the largest number of people–he drew his work in the subway, and printed it on hats and t-shirts. At the Pop Shop [Haring’s boutique in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan] you could buy things for very little. It was all directly influenced by Warhol. Haring even invented a character, Andy Mouse, which was a mash-up of Andy Warhol and Mickey Mouse. Both Warhol and Haring were obsessed with Walt Disney and saw Mickey Mouse as a symbol of American culture. Warhol, in his own way, was an American legend like Mickey Mouse.

Did Andy Warhol and Keith Haring ever collaborate? I’ve done some research and the only true collaboration I can find–and I can’t confirm it’s the only one–is a poster they did for the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival. This is speculation, but Warhol did a number of collaborations with Basquiat that were not well received by the art community. It caused a rift between Warhol and Basquiat. After that experience, I think Warhol was pretty spooked by collaborating with young artists.

I’ve seen some of the Warhol-Basquiat things. I didn’t realize they were flops at the time. They weren’t seen as great examples of either of their work. Now, there’s a lot more appreciation for them, but they were not as successful as Warhol or Basquiat wanted.

So Haring and Warhol rarely worked together to make art, but it was strong enough to have meaningful effects? There are so many photographs of Haring and Warhol at parties. It’s clear from documentary archives that they spent a lot of time together. It’s interesting, because the two men were very different. Warhol was shy and withdrawn, and Haring was out dancing every night. They’re very different artists.

Do we know how this particular Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring came about? We don’t know the specifics of how it came to be, but this was a time in Warhol’s career when he was doing a lot of commissioned portraits of celebrities and friends in his network. He’d start with Polaroids and made silkscreens from selected images.

When was the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring made? 1983.

So everyone was happy and producing art when this silkscreen was made. AIDS was just starting to bubble up, but Haring was still healthy.

Is this the only portrait Andy Warhol made featuring Keith Haring? The catalog raisonné that covers this Warhol period hasn’t been created. It’s hard to know for certain. We sold another double portrait in 2018. It’s the same dimensions and the same image, but in different colors. If we have had one come up and sold it, I imagine there are others.

So there’s more than one variation on the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring. It’s a unique painting, not an editioned work. Warhol would have done the same silkscreen of Haring, but painting it with different color ways. They’re unique paintings, not prints.

Do we know how this particular one, with the orange background, ended up with Haring? Did Warhol give it to Haring, or did Haring choose it? That, we’re not sure. In 1983, Haring had just blown up and just become a sensation. I’m not sure Haring would have been in a place to ask Warhol [for the variation he liked best]. He would accept any gift he gave him.

Is this the only known portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose, regardless of who made it? Or are there others? I don’t know. There might be photographs. I haven’t researched it.

The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring has no title. Do we know why? Is that deliberate? We’re still doing research on it. But it was a gift to Haring, and it was a fully finished piece of artwork. I want to make it clear that it wasn’t a drawing or a a provisional castoff. It’s a unique, well-painted 1980s Warhol portrait, given to his friend.

Haring lived with this Warhol portrait. Sotheby’s sent along a photo that shows it hanging in Haring’s apartment. What does that say about how Haring regarded the work? He lived in many different apartments. I can’t confirm it was always on display. But it moved with him, and we have images of the work in different contexts.

Was it in Haring’s final apartment? Yes.

…But when you’re an artist, wall space in your own home is always scarce, no matter how big your home is. What does it say that Haring usually or always found room for this Warhol portrait of him and his lover? This particular work was pretty major. Juan DuBose was in Haring’s life for pretty much the decade of his major success. They had a contentious relationship at the time. Haring would have regarded the painting with mixed emotions. But he was from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, and in his twenties, he was painted by the most famous artist alive. He was also out as a gay man. To be painted by Warhol with his African-American male lover… that’s a pretty major departure from five to six years earlier, when he was playing it straight in Pennsylvania.

So it wasn’t just a portrait to Haring. It captured milestones in his life. He claimed his identity as an artist, as a gay man, and as an important man in the community. And it ticks the box of celebrity, because Warhol painted him.

What is the Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring like in person? Are there aspects that don’t come over on camera? It pops so much in person. It’s in great condition, and very vibrant. It appears much flatter in the photo. When you experience it in person, it’s a very well-executed, crisp screen.

With regard to the sale itself–how much of Haring’s personal art collection does it include? This represents all of it, to my knowledge.

Haring died in 1990. Why sell his personal art collection now? Why not earlier? For some time, the Haring foundation wanted to do a sale. Now is a perfect time because the market for many of the artists in the auction has matured. Street artists and graffiti artists, at the time of Haring’s death, were not valuable. The interest in a more inclusive market just wasn’t there in the early 1990s.

Why will this Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and his lover stick in your memory? It’s a subject that burns like fire. It’s in-your-face and bold. There’s so much joy and eroticism and heat in the portrait, and we know what’s going to happen to each of these three men. Unlike Warhol, who was active for four decades in a major way, Haring only had one decade. But he burned so bright, like a candle lit at both ends.

How to bid: The Andy Warhol portrait of Keith Haring and Juan DuBose will appear in Dear Keith: Works from the Personal Collection of Keith Haring, a Sotheby’s online sale taking place from September 24 through October 1, 2020.

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RECORD! A Wedgwood First Day’s Vase Sold at Christie’s for More Than $600,000

A Wedgwood First Day's Vase, rendered in black basalt and orange-red encaustic enamel and dating to 1769. It became the most expensive piece of Wedgwood at auction when Christie's offered it in 2016.

What you see: A Wedgwood “First Day’s Vase”, dating to 1769. Estimated at £120,000 to £180,000 ($151,000 to $226,000), it sold for £482,500 ($607,000) at Christie’s in 2016, setting a record for any piece of Wedgwood.

The expert: Jody Wilkie, international specialist head of European ceramics at Christie’s, as well as a senior vice president and co-chairman of decorative arts.

Who was Josiah Wedgwood? He’s known for several different things. He’s a master potter, a master businessman, and arguably, the first person to do modern marketing for his works. He had a whole coterie of friends–artists and intellectuals–who traded ideas off each other. In the late 18th century, all things scientific were just having their birth, and potting was arguably a science. When Josiah Wedgwood made these [ceramics, he noted] the chemistry of how the clays reacted. He developed whole new materials that didn’t exist. And he would have been considered a cutting-edge contemporary artist.

So Josiah Wedgwood is the sort of person we could pluck from the 18th century and drop in the 21st, and he’d hit the ground running? Except he had a bad leg. [Josiah Wedgwood’s right leg was amputated below the knee due to complications from smallpox.]

He’d be all over Instagram today. Without question. There’s a story told about him and how he realized that marketing was the key to unlocking financial success in his business. In 18th century England, there was a huge industry in pottery, and particularly creamware, which was pale ivory-colored in imitation of porcelain. The middle classes couldn’t afford porcelain, so they had creamware. In 1759, Wedgwood had a showroom [in London], and Queen Charlotte came and bought a creamware tea service. Wedgwood decided his creamware could be called Queen’s ware. Everyone wanted to buy it because it was Queen’s ware.

Josiah Wedgwood understood the power of celebrity influencers. He recognized something like that could be helpful to him, so he did it. You could say he was the father of modern marketing.

Where was Josiah Wedgwood in his career in 1769, when he made this First Day’s Vase? He was ten years into his business and starting a new factory in England called Etruria, outside of Stoke-on-Trent, where the Wedgwood Museum is today. That whole area of England used to be one pottery after another. He decided to start a bigger enterprise, a modern factory.

A Wedgwood First Day's Vase, rendered in black basalt and orange-red encaustic enamel and dating to 1769. It became the most expensive piece of Wedgwood at auction when Christie's offered it in 2016.

Why did he call it a First Day’s Vase? The reason for the name is it was one of the first pots to come out of the brand new kiln. It’s known that he potted them, and his business partner, Thomas Bentley, turned the wheel.

Was it unusual for Josiah Wedgwood and Thomas Bentley to physically create the ceramics themselves in 1769? I think so. They did it because the First Day’s Vases were what they were. I don’t think Wedgwood was necessarily potting every day at the factory, but he was very much a hands-on owner. When doing tests to come up with new material, he would have been involved, for sure.

I understand that six First Day’s Vases went into the kiln, and four emerged. Are they all decorated identically, or do they differ? They’re basically identical. They definitely all have the same inscription on the back. The inscription is in Latin, and it translates as, “The arts of Etruria are reborn”.

Josiah Wedgwood was not aiming low. He definitely had a high opinion of himself. That’s why he got where he was.

Why did Josiah Wedgwood choose to decorate the First Day’s Vase in the manner that we see here? The whole point of the exercise was to copy Greek vases. At that point in the 18th century, Neoclassical art was in vogue. One of the great antiquities collectors was William Hamilton, the English ambassador to Naples. The shape of this vase was based on a piece in the William Hamilton collection, as is the decoration.

This Wedgwood First Day’s Vase and similar-looking Wedgwood pieces would have connected with the sorts of people who went on the Grand Tour? The 18th century was the height of the Grand Tour. They’d see the original, then go to a Wedgwood showroom and buy one just like it.

What can we tell, just by looking, how difficult this Wedgwood First Day’s Vase might have been to make? We know it posed challenges–six went into the kiln, and only four came out… Making any pottery, any vase, was a highly tricky enterprise because all the kilns were wood-fired. All kinds of physical problems could exist. Things would explode, things would crack. The reason they put six in was they were praying one or two would come out in a usable form. The fact that four came out–that’s a really good yield.

The Wedgwood First Day’s Vase measures 10 inches high. I know that the bigger a pot gets, the harder it is to see the design through to completion. Was Josiah Wedgwood pushing his luck by rendering the vase at this size? Ten inches, to my mind, is a doable size. It’s big enough to make a statement. The perfection of the First Day’s Vase is in its proportions and its shape. If it slumped to one side [in the kiln] or the curve of a shoulder wasn’t perfect, you’ve lost it.

Do we know where the other Wedgwood First Day’s Vases are? Yes. Two are at the Wedgwood Museum, and one is still in a private collection.

What is the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase like in person? My colleagues in London were the ones who really dealt with it and cataloged it. I came over for the sale. When I came over, I was surprised at how small it was. In my mind, it was such a big deal. In the photographs, it had presence. One of the beauties of black basalt [the type of Wedgwood ceramic used for the vase] is it has a wonderful silken surface, very smooth, and it has a light weight. Because of its shape, it fits in your hand very well. That’s the whole point of ceramics–they’re very tactile.

I’ve been told by people who have handled the full range of Wedgwood–pieces dating to the 18th century up to now–that the 18th century pieces feel different. Do you agree? I definitely agree. I’d say it’s lighter, and that silken surface… it draws you. If you touch it with your fingers, you can feel the difference. It’s the craftsmanship. There are techniques that were done in the 18th century that you can’t do now.

What, because of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)-type rules coming in? There are an awful lot of techniques that are highly caustic and couldn’t be used today. But at a certain point in the 18th century, labor was dead cheap. The artist could take the time to develop his technique and make these things perfect. Later, labor became more expensive, and the objects have a more manufactured quality.

What condition was the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase in prior to the auction? A-maze-ing. It had two little tiny surface chips to the underside of the foot rim, and a tiny little nick at the mouth that could have been there when it was made. That’s it. No cracks, no wear, nothing. The finial was in one piece, but it had come off the surface of the cover and been stuck back on. In the general scheme of things, that’s nothing.

The provenance reflected in the lot notes show that the First Day’s Vase descended in the Wedgwood family for centuries. How might that have made it more interesting to collectors? It’s not that Wedgwood owned it and it hadn’t changed hands. That didn’t matter as much as it having stayed in one piece and having been taken care of. But it was the Wedgwood family that had it.

Was this the first of the Wedgwood First Day’s Vases to go to auction? It’s the only one to go to auction. The two in the Wedgwood Museum I don’t think ever left the factory, so, by default, they went into the museum. This one was owned by the Wedgwood family. The other, I understand, is with the family. It hasn’t gone anywhere.

What was your role in the auction? I was on the phone with a buyer. It was very exciting. We went into it knowing it was sold. We didn’t know at what level it would sell.

Did you think it would set a new record for any piece of Wedgwood? No, no, I didn’t go into it thinking it would make a record price. Personally, I don’t care about records. [Laughs.] For me, it’s the object that speaks.

Well, isn’t it good and right that a First Day’s Vase, of all of Wedgwood’s many pieces, holds the world auction record? If anything is going to set the record for the manufacturer, the first piece made [at Etruria] should be it. As a footnote, on the last day of operations, Wedgwood did a modern version of the vase and called it the Last Day’s Vase. For collectors, having a Last Day’s vase is a big deal. It’s a landmark.

Do you remember how many bidders there were at the start of the battle for the First Day’s Vase, and how long it took to drop to two? As I recall, the whole thing, from start to finish, was six or seven minutes. It went back and forth a lot. Getting any bidding started on any major lot is a game of chicken. No one wants to be the first to open their mouth. It started slowly, which was no surprise.

Were you surprised by the final price? I was. I thought it would sell for around £250,000.

Were you shocked to see it get £482,500? It was a lot of money for the period, and a lot of money for English ceramics. It proves that when you’ve got something unique, an object out of the ordinary, of exquisite quality and an icon of the time in which it was made, it’s going to perform like that. That’s why we put it in an Exceptional Sale rather than a ceramics sale.

I had noticed that and was wondering about that. That particular object is a standout that would appeal to audiences beyond the field of Wedgwood ceramics. Museums and private collectors bid on it because it was what it was. When it was on view, it was in a single standing case, surrounded by silver and all kinds of grand objects. People who walked into the gallery were drawn to it.

How long do you think this world auction record for Wedgwood will stand? What could beat it? Would the other First Day’s Vase in private hands have to come to market? I think this record is going to stand for a while. It would take one of the other ones [being consigned], but I don’t know if it would make the same money. I think the odds of it being denied an export permit because the British want to keep it [in their country] is great. If it can’t leave the country, why bid on it?

Why will the Wedgwood First Day’s Vase stick in your memory? Because of the whole story behind the vase, and also because the man who bought it is a longtime client. He’s an extraordinary gentleman, and it’s all tied in. Being on the phone [representing the buyer] made it more personal than standing there, taking down prices.

Could you clarify what happened after the collector won the bidding? The original buyer of the First Day’s Vase was American. The museum that has it now was not the direct underbidder. Because of the system of [issuing] export papers in Britain, they were able to make a case and raise the money [to keep it in the country]. They felt it was taken away from its home and it needed to come back home. I advocated for my client to have it for his lifetime, and put in his will that it would go back to the museum, but that’s not the way it works. It was ultimately put back in the same case it had been in since 1979.

The winning bidder had a place for it in his house? He absolutely knew where it was going. I’m extremely disappointed that the collector never got to see it in person. He was 94 when he bought it. He never got to have it in his hands.

Is he still alive? He is still alive, and he’s that much older. If the piece came up now, in 2020, I don’t know if he would be bidding on it. I can’t say [for sure], obviously, but I do think there comes a tipping point.

But the First Day’s Vase remains the Holy Grail of Wedgwood collectors? It is the Holy Grail, as it were.

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RECORD! A Natee Utarit Painting Set a World Auction Record for the Artist at Phillips Hong Kong in November 2019

King, a monumental 2011 painting by Natee Utarit. It holds the world auction record for any work by the Southeast Asian artist.

What you see: King, a 2011 oil on linen by Natee Utarit. It set the world auction record for any work by the artist when Phillips Hong Kong sold it in November 2019 for HK $2.7 million (about $353,000) against an estimate of HK $1 million to $1.5 million ($128,000 to $192,000).

The expert: Sandy Ma, international specialist at Phillips.

Who is Natee Utarit? He’s a Thai artist who works in Bangkok. He’s been deemed one of the most significant and important artists in Southeast Asia right now. He’s known for his distinct style of painting and famously has a track record of works being exhibited in museums and institutions.

How prolific has Natee Utarit been? He’s been painting all through his life. He was born in 1970, and had his first show as early as 1990. As for a total [on output to date], I’m not sure, but on average, for the last year or two, he’s been doing as many as five to ten shows a year. He’s not only a painter. He sculpts and works in mixed media.

How often does Natee Utarit paint in the style we see in King? He’s primarily known for his figurative works. What really draws people in is not just the richness of the canvas and how beautiful it looks, but the complexity in the images as well. He puts in a lot of effort and thought in his works to talk about important socio-political issues.

Has he talked about what drew him to this style of still life painting, and why it suits his approach to creating art? Primarily, he uses his painterly style and traditional framing because he wants to lull the viewer into a false sense of familiarity. The subjects are painted from arrangements of figurines and found objects in his studio. He’s able to infuse a lot of messages into his work by using this language [the visual language of the still life]. I think it really does play to his idea of blurring reality and artifices in his work.

How does he do that? With scale and the juxtaposition of the objects he finds. One object is bigger than the other, making you think that the object is distorted.

He might show an object bigger than it would be in real life? Yes.

Does he make preparatory sketches? Usually there is a sketch. I’m sure he reworks and reworks the composition until it’s exactly how he wants.

King is an allegorical still life that references the life and legacy of the 19th century Thai King Rama IV.

King is big. It measures 78 and 3/4 inches by 125 and 7/8 inches. Does Natee Utarit normally work at this scale? He doesn’t always work this big. King is considered one of his very major works. It’s from the Illustration of the Crisis series, and this is already one of the largest paintings in the series. It’s from a trio of works called God, King, and Country.

Wait, so God, King, and Country are in turn part of a larger series by Natee Utarit, called the Illustration of the Crisis? It’s a series within a series? Yes. It’s a series of his major series. He started painting it around 2010 or 2011. People really love this particular series of works. It captures the turmoil in Thailand’s political landscape in the mid-2000s.

How does King compare to God and Country, the other two works in the trio? In terms of composition, this one has a lot more stage presence and a figurative approach where the other two are more abstract. God and Country are in private hands.

King Rama IV of Thailand shapes the narrative of King. Is this the only Natee Utarit work that explores his reign and its effect on the country? I’m not sure if it’s the only one, but it’s the only one I know of that addresses the story and the legacy of King Rama IV in such a prominent way. [The King ruled Thailand from 1851 to 1868.]

Now I’m going to ask you to walk me through the composition of King. How has Natee Utarit loaded it with messages and meaning? The golden stature of the deity represents King Rama IV himself. The statue looks through a telescope at a scientific model of a dissected cow. Utarit’s talking about the legacy of King Rama IV, who was known as the father of science and technology–he’s immortalzing that part here. The model of the cow perches on top of scales, which supports the idea of King Rama IV’s reign as a proponent of knowledge and the rule of law. The fallen crown [a white object at the lower left, which overlaps the wheel] is a Western-type of crown. It alludes to the fact that Thailand was never colonized, which is a source of pride for Thai people. Utarit himself doesn’t go deep into the meanings of each part of his work. Part of the charm is he wants us to discover meanings on our own, ourselves.

Is that a golf club bag at the left? The deity is not facing the golf club bag. It almost looks like a cannon. The story of King Rama IV is he’s a proponent of knowledge, science, and technology rather than using cannons and military might to rule over the kingdom.

What does the white classical-looking statue represent? It’s a statue of the French enlightenment philosopher, Voltaire.

What does Voltaire represent here? He’s gesturing toward a book he wrote in his lifetime arguing for freedom of thought, civil liberty, religious tolerance, and a constitutional monarchy. It [the painting lets Utarit] talk about the story of Thailand through the lens of King Rama IV versus Western civilization, and he’s really in favor of the rule of law, constitutional monarchy, and freedom of thought.

When did the secondary market for Natee Utarit works begin? It started as early as the 1990s. It really has been over that many decades, and it’s been growing steadily. My recollection is that the previous auction record for Utarit was in 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong with a work from the Illustration of the Crisis series. Another record was set in 2015 at Christie’s Hong Kong.

Does the price fetched by King represent a large advance on the earlier records, or was the rise more steady? There’s a very steady progression of prices for Natee Utarit [represented by the records for his work], from $180,000 to $220,000 to $350,000.

What is King like in person? Are there any aspects that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? I think the camera doesn’t get the scale of the work. It’s stunning in real life. The massive scale of the work is really prominent when you stand in front of it. It not only shows you how well Natee Utarit can paint–the surface is so bright and smooth–but it’s filled with the luminosity of the oil paint itself.

Are there any other things about King that a digital reproduction wouldn’t show? About the scale–there’s an interesting point. The painting is so heavy that we had to reinforce the wall it was hanging on. The frame is very heavy, and the whole is very heavy. It had to have eight art handlers to lift it at one time.

What was your role in the sale of King? I was in the room for the auction. I believe I was bidding on behalf of a client. The room was packed. Even before the auction, we knew King was going to be a huge success, because of how many people registered to bid on the work. I think there were around ten bidders on the work itself. Bidding went on for a while before the record was set. When it was, there was a huge sense of achievement and happiness that the work was being appreciated by so many people.

When did you know you had set a new world auction record for Natee Utarit? When the work came in for sale, we were quite sure it was going to be a record for Utarit. It was reinforced by the fact that before the sale, it toured to Singapore and Hong Kong for preview exhibitions, and there was a lot of interest in the work.

How long do you think the Natee Utarit record will last? My guess is… it would be possible [to set a new record] whenever a work from the Altarpiece series appears at auction, but that’s quite unlikely. They’re said to be in institutions.

Would it have to be King coming back to auction? The Illustration of the Crisis series is his most sought-after series. I think this is the best work of the three [from the God, King, and Country group]. It’s hard to say how long it will stand. It’s unlikely it’ll be toppled anytime soon, but you never know.

Why will this Natee Utarit painting stick in your memory? The first time I looked at this work in person, I knew it was going to be a huge hit at auction. It’s really one of the most major pieces to come to auction by the artist, and so many symbolisms and hidden meanings are within the work. We knew what a rare chance it was to represent the work and we knew going into the sale it would be a major success.

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