Fool’s Gold: A 16th Century Portrait of Elisabet the Court Jester Could Fetch $767,000 at Sotheby’s

LOT 5 - Jan Sanders van Hemessen (£400,000 - 600,000)

What you see: A 16th century oil on oak panel portrait of Elisabet, court fool of Anne of Hungary, painted by Jan Sanders van Hemessen. Sotheby’s estimates it at £400,000 to £600,000 ($511,947 to $767,921).

Who was Jan Sanders van Hemessen? He was a Netherlandish painter who was born in Belgium and who traveled to Italy to study before his career fully took off. “He painted important people throughout his life,” says Andrew Fletcher, senior director and head of auction sales of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s. “He was one of the more sought-after painters of his time.”

This painting has been attributed to different artists over the centuries. How unusual is that? Not at all. “Early Netherlandish paintings are notoriously difficult to attribute,” he says. “The fact that the attribution swung [over time] is very typical of works of this type and this date.”

How odd is it to find a formal portrait of a court fool from the 16th century? “An actual commissioned portrait of a court fool or jester, where the court fool or jester sits for a portrait as a lady or a gentleman might, is exceptionally rare,” Fletcher says. “There’s a tiny number of paintings of court fools in fool guise.”

What’s with the rings around her neck? Fletcher and his colleagues consulted multiple art historians on several aspects of the painting. A second portrait of Elisabet, located in Vienna, depicts her with rings on her neck. That portrait further cements her importance, but it does not explain why she wore the rings in that manner. The current best guess is the rings might have something to do with magic tricks. “One of the traits of a court fool is to be a conjuror,” he says. “That’s the only trait we could think of that the rings would be relevant to. Someone could come up with another idea tomorrow. We can’t be more specific than that.”

Elisabet is shown holding a letter. Apparently, that might mean she was literate. Why would a 16th century female court jester need to know how to read? “Given that a large part of a jester’s role [could be] making wordplay with puns, they must have been literate people. The letter suggests she has a level of education you might not normally expect. Chances are she probably did, and she may have had responsibility toward the children,” Fletcher says, explaining that she might have served in a governess-like role to the children of Anne of Hungary, who was the wife of Ferdinand I, an Austrian archduke who became Holy Roman Emperor.

Someone–probably Anne of Hungary–paid to have this portrait done, and Elisabet sat for portraits more than once. What does that say about her, and about what she meant to those who knew her? “It’s a portrait of exceptionally high quality, but it’s of a court jester. Those two facts, combined, suggest she must have been held in incredibly high regard,” he says. “You get the impression that she played an important role in the court, and the court had an emotional attachment to her. You don’t go to the expense of commissioning a portrait of a court fool unless she means more to you than a court fool might mean.”

How to bid: The portrait of Elisabet is lot 5 in the Old Masters evening sale at Sotheby’s London on July 5.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

An Original Song of the South Animation Cel with Walt Disney’s Signature Could Command $5,000 at Heritage Auctions

Song of the South Br'er Rabbit Production Cel with Walt Disney Signature...

What you see: An original production cel from Song of the South, a Disney film released in 1946. It pictures Br’er Rabbit, the lead character of the stories depicted in the film. Walt Disney signed it on its cream-colored mat. Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions, says it could sell for as much as $5,000.

Are original production cels from Song of the South scarcer than original cels from other Disney movies? “There are fewer in that Song of the South wasn’t all animated. Some was live action,” Lentz says.

Are cels from Song of the South more sought-after than other Disney cels? “They’re considered highly desirable because they have an aura of the unknown,” he says. “Disney has not released the film in any format in the United States because of political incorrectness.” Set in the Reconstruction-era South, the film follows young Johnny’s visit to his grandfather’s plantation in Georgia, where he meets Uncle Remus, a plantation worker who tells the boy folk tales.

How rare is it to find an original Song of the South cel with a Walt Disney signature? “The thing about Walt Disney was he was a very, very busy man. A lot of Disney signatures were done by studio artists. Even secretaries did them. So when you get one done by Walt, that is rare,” Lentz says, noting that he has handled fewer than three Disney-signed original production cels from Song of the South.

How do we know that the Walt Disney signature is genuine? Lentz consulted another expert for verification. “I sent it to someone in the business who specializes,” he says.

According to the lot notes, this piece has an ‘original Courvoisier cel setup’ and is in its ‘original Courvoisier mat.’ What does that mean, and why is that good? In the 1930s and 1940s, Disney worked with Gustav Courvoisier to sell animation cels through the latter’s San Francisco gallery. “The studio thought it was a great way to promote the films,” Lentz says. Disney studio artists painted backgrounds for cels offered through Courvoisier. These cels usually have a cream-colored mat and notations in tiny script that identify which films they brought to life. Courvoisier died around the time Song of the South came out.

How does this cel stack up to other Song of the South cels you’ve handled? “It’s one of the few I’ve seen with a Walt Disney signature and a happy Br’er Rabbit, who is the star of the show,” he says. “It’s a great, great piece. This is as good as it gets.”

How to bid: The Disney-signed Song of the South cel is lot #95187 in the Animation Art sale Heritage Auctions will hold in Dallas on July 1-2.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Will Ernest Biéler’s Swiss Misses Set a New Record at Sotheby’s?

Lot 41- Trois jeunes Filles de Granois- Bieler- Sotheby's Zurich June 2017

What you see: Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois (Three Young Girls of Granois), a 1920 work on paper by Swiss artist Ernest Biéler. Sotheby’s estimates it at 500,000 to 700,000 in Swiss francs, which is pretty much the same amount in US dollars.

Who is Ernest Biéler? He was a Swiss artist who succeeded in virtually every media he tried, from painting to drawing to mosaics to stained glass windows. He cofounded the Ecole of Savièse, an artistic movement that celebrated rural Swiss peasant life. He died in 1948 at age 84.

What makes Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois an iconic Biéler work? “It’s really an important work, and it’s a good summary of what he attempted to do,” says Stéphanie Schleining Deschanel, director and co-head of Swiss art for Sotheby’s, explaining that the Ecole of Savièse artists “wanted to discover the purity and the traditions of the Swiss 19th century world.”

How often did Biéler portray small groups, as he does here? “He usually depicted individual figures. It’s very rare to have three people in the same composition,” she says. “In this case, the village of Savièse is very important. It’s the subject of the painting. The three girls have different dresses, but their faces are slightly the same. For him, it was more important to depict Swiss traditions rather than the people themselves.”

Why did he and his compatriots find inspiration in Savièse? “It was a space in the middle of nowhere. It was totally unknown by the world and by Switzerland,” she says. “Those costumes are really what they wore. They are well-depicted, and the hats are also very typical of Swiss tradition. It’s a good testimony to the fashion of the time.”

Did Biéler use live models? “They’re real people, from his direct environment, but he had no models. He found inspiration in observing people,” she says.

This work is currently the third most-expensive Biéler sold at auction. How do you think it will do this time around? “It’s very difficult to predict. It’s an iconic work, and it has potential,” she says, noting that she witnessed its previous sale in November 2007, when it commanded 601,000 Swiss francs ($543,616) against an estimate of 300,000 to 400,000 Swiss francs ($271,356 to $361,808). “It’s very powerful. Fantastic quality. It’s really a museum piece. I think the painting has the potential to achieve a higher price than it achieved 10 years ago.”

How to bid: Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois is lot 41 in the Swiss Art / Swiss Made auction at Sotheby’s Zurich on June 27.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

WHOA! David Jagger’s Intense Self-Portrait Fetched More Than $281,000–and a New Record–at Bonhams

David Jagger R.O.I. (British, 1891-1958) Self Portrait 40.6 x 30.5 cm. (16 x 12 in.) (Painted in 1928)

NEW RECORD FOR THE ARTIST AT AUCTION: The David Jagger self-portrait sold for £221,000 ($281,570)–a new record for Jagger at auction, beating the previous record by more than £100,000.

What you see: A self-portrait by David Jagger, painted in 1928. Bonhams estimates it at £20,000 to £30,000, or $26,000 to $39,000.

Who is David Jagger? He’s a 20th century British painter who specialized in portraits of aristocrats. Winston Churchill, Boy Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell, and several members of the British royal family sat for him. It’s unclear if or how he might be related to Mick Jagger. He died in 1958, at the age of 66 or 67.

Do we know any more about Jagger? “There’s been very little written about David Jagger. Right now, there’s a catalogue raisonne being written, and will be published at the end of the year. That’s going to fill an art-historical gap in the appreciation of the artist,” says Matthew Bradbury, director of modern British and Irish art at Bonhams. “He came from an artistic family. He’s always been a respected artist, but for many years he’s been in the shadow of his brother, Charles, a very reputable and talented sculptor.”

What changed for Jagger? “Prior to 2008 or so, many of his works had been to auction and made unspectacular prices. We set the record for a David Jagger society portrait, Olga, in 2006, which sold for £46,800 ($60,158),” Bradbury says. “It was a far-and-away record for the artist, and it set the ball rolling, really. It flushed a few other paintings out that made even higher prices.”

But why did Jagger paintings take off all of a sudden? “Why in the last 10 years those prices started to develop is a little difficult to pinpoint,” Bradbury says. “It comes down to one or two collectors taking it upon themselves to collect the artist and having the deep pockets to do so.”

Is this self-portrait unique? “If you google David Jagger and look at Wikipedia, there’s a self portrait in black and white that I believe is a larger version of the same one. Where it is, I don’t know,” he says. “It’s almost identical in how the shoulders are eradicated so that it’s a suspended face on a black background. It’s very similar in style.”

What makes this self portrait so strong? “It has an incredibly modern feel about it,” Bradbury says. “It stands apart from his traditional society portraits. You can’t escape his gaze at all. It follows you. It’s absolutely intense, and very powerful when you stand in front of it, for sure. The two record portraits that sold previously had the same feel about them.”

How to bid: The Jagger self-portrait is lot 25 in Bonhams’s Modern British and Irish Art auction scheduled for June 14 at London, New Bond Street.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

SOLD! Rockwell Kent’s Spellbinding 1930 Version of Moby Dick Commands $1,560 at Swann

M35763-7 002

What you see: One of the 280 pen-and-ink illustrations that Rockwell Kent did for a three-volume 1930 limited edition release of Moby Dick. This particular copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

Who was Rockwell Kent? He was one of the best-known American artists of the first half of the 20th century. He was noted for his landscapes and seascapes before making his name as an illustrator. People mixed him up with Norman Rockwell so often that it became a running joke between the two men. Kent died in 1971 at the age of 88.

How did the limited edition printing of Moby Dick come about? Publisher R.R. Donnelley approached Kent in 1926 to do a version of Two Years Before the Mast, and he suggested doing the Melville novel instead. “Kent loved the sea, and the water. He was a master of painting light, and was able to capture that, even in his woodcuts,” says Christine von der Linn, specialist at Swann. “Moby Dick was originally slated to be a one-volume book, and it grew to three.”

Kent’s illustrated Moby Dick came out in 1930, during the Great Depression. How well did it sell? “It was so popular, the limited edition of 1,000 sold out,” she says. “It launched Kent’s name, and caused a revival of interest in Moby Dick. It was so popular that a one-volume trade edition was put out.”

This copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Does that affect its value? Yes. It’d be worth one-third to one-half more if it came with the slipcase, von der Linn says, noting that the Kent limited edition was jokingly referred to as ‘Moby Dick in a can.’

That image of the whale diving deep into the ocean with the boat in its mouth looks cinematic. Was Kent influenced by the movies at all? “He was certainly aware of the current culture and would have seen movies, but he was not thinking in a cinematic way,” she says. “He loved black and white, and he tried to distill the most dramatic details out of a scene. He was always thinking about reaching the reader in the most visually direct way possible.”

But that drawing, tho. “That image is phenomenal. You can’t look at that and not get chills,” she says. “You understand everything about the novel. It’s incredible.”

What else makes Kent’s version of Moby Dick so spectacular? “It blows you away with the overall beauty of it,” she says. “As you flip through the pages, you feel it come to life through Kent’s illustrations. That’s the mark of a successful illustrated book–if you can make the words leap off the page and spring to life.”

How to bid: The limited edition Rockwell Kent-illustrated Moby Dick is lot 184 in Swann’s Art, Press & Illustrated Books sale on June 13.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

SOLD! The Brett Whiteley Painting Fetched $538,366 at Bonhams Sydney

Lot 37_Whiteley

Update: Brett Whiteley’s Hummingbird and Frangipani sold for AU $719,800, or $538,366, at Bonhams Sydney.

What you see: Hummingbird and Frangipani, a 1986 oil on board by Australian artist Brett Whiteley. It comes directly from its original owner to Bonhams, which estimates it at $280,000 to $350,000 in Australian dollars, or $210,000 to $260,000 in U.S. dollars.

Who is Brett Whiteley? He was one of the leading Australian artists of the 20th century. He traveled the world, living in England and the U.S. as well as Australia. In 1978 he achieved the feat of winning the Archibald Prize, the Sulman Prize, and the Wynne Prize, the only time all three prestigious Australian art awards have gone to the same person. Overall, he won each award twice. He made several attempts to quit alcohol and drugs, but ultimately died of an opiate overdose in 1992, at the age of 53.

How often did Whiteley portray hummingbirds and frangipani? “He was fascinated with birds, and painted them from the 1970s onward,” says Alex Clark, an Australian art specialist at Bonhams. “You can often find frangipani hidden in the backgrounds of his paintings. You can find them all over Sydney, and being a Sydney boy, he had a close connection to them. This is a very beautiful painting that combines two of his favorite subject matters.”

How often did he paint birds? “He’s renowned for his birds,” he says. “In general, the bird is a sign of peace and freedom. Whiteley led a bit of a tumultuous life. When he painted birds, he was in a happier place. It gave him a lot of joy.”

How does Hummingbird and Frangipani showcase Whiteley’s strengths? “He has an amazing ability to give movement to paintings,” Clark says. “In this, you see it in the beautiful sweeping line of the hummingbird’s wing.”

What else makes Hummingbird and Frangipani a strong Whiteley work? “It’s an extremely elegant work, and it has great wall power,” he says. “It’s exciting to handle a work of this nature, especially since no one has seen it for 30 years. And his bird paintings are very sought-after.”

How to bid: Whiteley’s Hummingbird and Frangipani is lot 37 in the Australian Art and Aboriginal Art auction at Bonhams Sydney on June 6.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

SOLD! That Striking 1968 MoMA Poster Fetched $4,250 at Swann Galleries

M34751-13 001

Update: The Tadanori Yokoo poster sold for $4,250.

What you see: Word Image, a poster designed by Tadanori Yokoo for a 1968 show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Swann Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who is Tadanori Yokoo? He is a Japanese graphic artist and painter who has been compared to Andy Warhol and Peter Max. The 1968 MoMA exhibition poster represents one of his few American commissions. He will turn 81 in June.

What was Word and Image? “This was one of the first really major international poster shows,” says  Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “For us, it was a seminal exhibit, and by us, I mean the poster community.”

Why was Yokoo chosen to create the poster for this MoMA show? While stating that he is unaware of the backstory, Lowry points out, “He was an up-and-coming artist. No one was going to say, ‘Oh, you’re going with the easy standard.’ This was something new. And this was the first mainstream poster he did. In three years, he went from an unknown artist to designing the image for the first major poster retrospective in the U.S.”

What makes this poster so strong? “It works in the manner that it’s supposed to do–it catches your attention,” Lowry says. “As you walk down the street, it sinks into your head and embeds in your cortex as you pass by. The poster screams at you till you hear it with your eyes. That’s exactly what it does. It’s a great, great poster.”

What other aspects make Word Image work? “What you can’t tell is those are Day-Glo colors–bright pink, bright red, bright blue,” Lowry says. “And he is visually literalizing the name of the show–‘word’ with mouth, and ‘image’ with eye. The message speaks for itself. The only typography is the title at the top and the details at the bottom.”

How rare is this poster? It’s not rare, but it’s not common, either. Lowry says that Yokoo’s Word Image poster took off at auction only after a 1965 Yokoo poster unexpectedly pulled in $52,800 against an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000 at a Swann sale in 2013, prompting collectors and dealers to comb through their holdings for vintage Yokoos. Since then, a Word Image poster has appeared at auction at least once a year.

How to bid: Yokoo’s Word Image poster is lot 293 in Swann Galleries’s Graphic Design auction on May 25.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.