N.C. Wyeth’s Dramatic Illustration of Scottish Knight Sir William Wallace Could Command $150,000 at Skinner

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What you see: Wallace Draws the King’s Sword, an illustration that N.C. Wyeth painted for the 1921 book The Scottish Chiefs. Skinner estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was N.C. Wyeth? Newell Convers Wyeth was an American illustrator who brought rousing manly-man adventure tales to life like no other. If you were enamored with pirates as a small child, you have Wyeth’s illustrations for Treasure Island to thank for that. While Wyeth’s commercial illustrations made him immortal, he preferred creating fine art. He was the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth. He died in 1945, along with his young namesake grandson, after his car stalled on railroad tracks and was hit by a train. He was 62.

How prolific was N.C. Wyeth?  “He did almost 2,000 illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post alone,” says Elizabeth Haff, specialist in American and European Works of Art for Skinner. “I don’t know how much he did for Scribner’s.”

This painting has a Scribner’s provenance–there’s a Scribner’s Magazine label on the back, and it comes to Skinner directly from the Scribner family. Does that add to its value? “I think it does add value. He did some of his most exciting work for those [Scribner’s Illustrated Classics] novels,” she says, adding, “In 1919, he struck a deal with Scribner’s where he owned his paintings, but they kept the copyright. With this, he either gave it to Scribner’s, or they bought it from him.”

How did author Jane Porter recruit Wyeth to illustrate her book? “Scribner used him quite a bit,” Haff says, noting his legendary work for the Scribner’s Illustrated Classics series. “The subject matter was his thing, his niche–heroes.” The book must have been a hit; it went through more than one printing.

So what’s going on in this scene? I take it that the unruly Scots are encroaching on their leader, William Wallace, intending to take him prisoner, and he’s drawing his sword and saying, ‘Back off.’ Yes, pretty much. The painting depicts a scene where Wallace shouts, “He that first makes a stroke at me shall find his death on this Southron steel! This sword I made the arm of the usurper yield to me; and this sword shall defend the regent of Scotland.” As Haff explains, “It’s a distinguished sword. It had belonged to the King of England. In 1297, Wallace turned back the English army and captured the sword.”

Have any original N.C. Wyeth illustrations from The Scottish Chiefs gone to auction before? In October 2016, Dallas Auction Gallery sold Sterling Castle, a 1921 oil on canvas mounted on Masonite that was evidently made as a frontispiece to the book. It fetched $500,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? “It’s a great painting, and a very exciting painting. The colors are quite rich, very radiant. The tartans and kilts are so painterly and beautiful in person,” Haff says. “And the attackers’ faces are so expressive. The grimaces are so gruesome. He’s caught William Wallace at a moment where he draws his sword–it’s so dramatic, so arresting. It’s jewel-like, and it’s 100 percent N.C. Wyeth.”

How to bid: Wallace Draws the King’s Sword is lot 375 in Skinner‘s American & European Works of Art sale on January 26, 2018.

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

RECORD: The Story Quilt that Oprah Winfrey Commissioned from Faith Ringgold for Dr. Maya Angelou’s Birthday Sold for $461,000 at Swann

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Editor’s note: With the approach of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

What you see: Maya’s Quilt of Life, a 1989 narrative quilt by artist Faith Ringgold, who Oprah Winfrey commissioned to make it as a birthday gift for Dr. Maya Angelou. At Swann Auction Galleries in 2015, it sold for $461,000–a record for a narrative quilt by the artist.

Who is Faith Ringgold? Born Faith Willi Jones, she is an African-American artist who has worked in several media but is best known for her paintings and textile works of art. She grew up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and is an activist who fights sexism and racism. She began creating narrative quilts in 1980, in part because she had trouble interesting publishers in her autobiography. To date, she has created almost 100 narrative quilts. Ringgold is 87.

What makes Maya’s Quilt of Life a strong example of Ringgold’s work? “It has all the elements she incorporates in her story quilts. They’re called story quilts because they tell a story–they have a narrative,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department. “This scene has text taken from Maya Angelou’s writings. It’s an unusual work, but it’s instantly recognizable as Faith Ringgold’s work. It’s a special piece for a special occasion.”

It looks like Ringgold used the Angelou texts like columns that frame the painting. Is that typical of her work? “That’s not the only way she does it. They could be at the top, or the sides. Sometimes they wrap around,” he says. “The important thing is it’s Angelou’s writing. It’s not just the visual creativity of the artist, it’s the voice of the artist and the women involved.”

It strikes me that with Maya’s Quilt of Life, we have an extraordinary black woman, Oprah Winfrey, commissioning a second extraordinary black woman, Faith Ringgold, to commemorate a third extraordinary black woman, Dr. Maya Angelou. Are you aware of anything other artwork that’s quite like this? “I thought that was pretty cool,” he says. “It’s a great testament to the fiercely independent spirit of Maya Angelou, and a testament to what she inspires in people, and in artists like Faith Ringgold and cultural figures like Oprah Winfrey. It was an affinity between all three women, a great coming-together. It was a birthday present [for Angelou], and it was the prize piece in her art collection.”

This was the first narrative quilt by Ringgold to come to auction. Why was it consigned? “Because Dr. Angelou died [in 2014], it was consigned as part of a single-owner sale. It came from Dr. Angelou’s estate,” he says. “This is the way the family wanted to distribute a large part of her estate.”

How did you arrive at the estimate of $150,000 to $250,000? “Ringgold narrative quilts are very precious, and owners don’t give them up easily. They’re certainly prized objects,” he says. “Many artists we handle don’t have auction records. We looked at gallery prices and what would be a fair market value. Of course we had to know how to factor in the specialness of the piece, but enough was out there to be able to make a reasonable estimate. Like a lot of contemporary artists, Ringgold’s market is just developing. We had to start somewhere. We were just fortunate to start with a really fantastic one that sets the bar high.”

Were you in the sale room for the auction? “It was a packed room. It was almost the perfect auction. Only one piece didn’t sell,” he says. “It was a moment to savor. I was in the back of the room. People applauded when things went high. And Faith Ringgold was there! She and I posed in front of the quilt. It was quite an event. Everyone left happy.”

Were you surprised that the narrative quilt sold for $461,000? “Yes, because it was uncharted territory,” Freeman says. “We knew we had something really wonderful. She’s an important American artist. Her work is in a lot of museums already. But you never know on a given day how the market will respond. We knew it would do well. We didn’t know how well.”

Do we know who bought Maya’s Quilt of Life? “It ended up going to the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas,” he says. “They made it public shortly after the sale. Faith Ringgold gave a talk there subsequently. That’s always a terrific outcome. It was a win-win-win.”

How long do you think the auction record will stand? “It’ll stand for a good while. It was a really great piece, and Faith Ringgold is a great artist,” he says. “If one of her early large canvases–a significant part of her work [came to auction]–that could give this record a run for the money. But you don’t see many at auction. I’m going to enjoy it while it’s a record. It’s a wonderful piece, and the story behind it is great.”

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Swann Auction Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Nigel Freeman is on Twitter. Faith Ringgold has her own website.

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, an exhibit that originated at the Tate Modern in London, features the work of 60 black artists, including Ringgold. It will appear at Crystal Bridges from February 3 to April 23, 2018.

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

RECORD: Heritage Sells Patrick Nagel’s 1980s Painting, Bold, for $200,000

Patrick Nagel (American, 1945-1984). Bold World Record $200,000 Heritage...

Editor’s note: With the approach of the holidays, The Hot Bid shifts its focus to world auction records. 

What you see: Bold, a circa 1980s painting by Patrick Nagel. Heritage Auctions sold it on October 13, 2017, for $200,000–an auction record for the artist.

Who was Patrick Nagel? He was an American commercial illustrator who gained fame for his portrayals of beautiful dark-haired women. His best-known works are like Bold–images that focus on the woman’s face. Nagel (pronounced to rhyme with ‘bagel’) did commissions for Playboy and is probably best known for creating the artwork for the cover of Duran Duran’s 1982 album, Rio. He died in 1984 of a heart attack that might have been caused by a congenital heart defect that was first noticed during his autopsy. Nagel was 38.

Did Nagel have a specific woman who he relied on as a model? “He did use models, specific models, but he would alter them so they’re not portraits, they’re idealized,” says Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, adding, “In May, we sold a Nagel titled Joan Collins, #411, for $100,000. [If you know its title,] you say, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see it,’ but if you just saw it [without knowing the title], you wouldn’t think it was Joan Collins.”

Why, or for whom, did Nagel make this painting? “In the 1980s, he hooked up with Mirage Studios, and they had him do paintings on spec,” he says. “Bold is from that body of work. He only did them during the last two or three years of his life.”

Why is it called Bold? “In general, Nagel didn’t title his paintings,” Jaster says. “To the best of my knowledge, there wasn’t a title for this painting. It was [named] by me or the cataloger. If we’re going to coin a title, it’s nice if it’s based on information we have. If we know who the sitter is, it’s obvious.”

How rarely do original works by Nagel come to auction? “Paintings rendered on canvas are a little more rare,” he says. “The untimely nature of his death–he died a young man–means they are very limited, maybe along the lines of 40 to 50 paintings for Mirage Studios. If we’ve sold 20 of them, which is about right, we’ve probably sold half of his body of work from that period.”

When did the secondary market for Patrick Nagel gain momentum? “The earliest Nagel [auction sales] I can find in our records are in 2008,” he says. “From 2008 to 2012, we sold a fair amount of Nagel, but they were all illustrations, not paintings on canvas. We had one in 2012 that brought $56,000 and one in 2013 that brought $158,500. The first on canvas, to the best of my knowledge, was October 2012. From that point on, every one on canvas got [at least] $50,000, but probably the average is more like $125,000.”

Why did Bold do so well? Why did it set a new record for Nagel? “She’s got a very alluring, very hypnotic gaze. Very typical Nagel,” he says, adding, “It was a timing thing. If two people want something, it gets a high price. Sometimes it’s predictable, sometimes it’s not.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “I hope not too long,” says Jaster, laughing. “I’m being a little cheeky, but it’s a strong piece, and it deserves to be the record-holder. It’s quintessential Nagel.”

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

 

SOLD! This Casually Perfect 1951 Henri Cartier-Bresson Shot From Italy Fetched $30,000–Double Its High Estimate–at Phillips

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Update: Cartier-Bresson’s Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy sold for $30,000–double its high estimate.

What you see: Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy, a photograph that Henri Cartier-Bresson shot in 1951. This gelatin silver print was made later, however. Phillips estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was Henri Cartier-Bresson? Born in France, he was the king of the candid photographers, and he’s regarded as a father of street photography. He co-founded Magnum Photos, a cooperative photojournalists’ agency, in 1947. His images of the funeral of Mahatma Gandhi in 1948 cemented his reputation. He died in 2004 at the age of 95.

Do we know anything about the lead-up to this photo–how long Cartier-Bresson stood there, and how many other photos he might have taken at this spot? “Here, he’s standing at the top of the stairs. For Cartier-Bresson, he would sometimes stay for a few minutes. He wouldn’t have stayed for a long amount of time. He would shoot and keep walking,” says Rachel Peart, specialist and head of sale for Phillips. “Cartier-Bresson was famous for not wanting to crop his photos afterward. He was very deliberate about what he put in his lens.” Subsequent research of auction records revealed a few iterations of the image appearing for sale in the late aughts and early teens.

I look at this photo and it reminds me of a game of Jenga–pushing the boundaries of how much can you add before the whole thing topples and falls apart… “I think that’s what makes Cartier-Bresson such a great photographer,” she says. “When it comes to composing an image, it’s technically perfect. The railings lead your eye through the picture plane and also divide it. He continued to draw throughout his lifetime, and the fundamentals of composition are evident in all of his work.”

How does this 1951 image illustrate Cartier-Bresson’s concept of “the decisive moment” in photography? “It’s not something he staged or posed. He waited for the moment when everything lined up,” she says. “Here we have the women going about their day. He was able to freeze the moment and hold them in time.”

Why was he in the Italian town of L’Aquila in 1951, and where was he in his career by then? “He was on assignment for Harper’s Bazaar,” Peart says. “He had founded Magnum by this point, he was on assignment for many publications, and he was very much a household name.”

This image was printed after 1951, but probably before the rise of the formal secondary market for photography. Why would he have had it done? “What we predominantly see in the Cartier-Bresson market are later prints, and after 2004, none are made–there are no posthumous prints,” she says, noting that Cartier-Bresson never did the actual printing himself, but he did supervise and approve the output. “A lot of them would have been printed for collectors or for exhibitions. Unless people requested the image, he didn’t make prints of them. There are other pictures of his that you see at auction more frequently [because people asked for them].”

How many prints of Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy were made? It’s hard to tell. Perhaps 30 exist in the 17 5/8 inch by 11 3/4 inch size, and one of them fetched $10,625 at Christie’s in 2011. A similar image taken from the same vantage point and printed at a smaller size has appeared at auction at least twice (the name of the photo is not standardized, which makes it difficult to confirm how often it and its variants have gone to auction). One sold in June 2015 at Westlicht, a Viennese auction house specializing in photographs and vintage cameras for €4,800 ($5,400), and the other sold at Swann Galleries in November 2016 for $6,500.

The lot notes say the photo was acquired directly from the artist. But acquired by who? The consignor is Peter Fetterman, who runs an eponymous photography gallery in Santa Monica, California. “He was working directly with Cartier-Bresson as a dealer and it turned into a friendship,” she says. “He would buy from Cartier-Bresson and for himself as well. There’s one Sam Tassa portrait of Henri Cartier-Bresson, but otherwise, they’re all from Peter Fetterman, who got them directly from Henri.”

Why is Fetterman selling these photographs now? “Cartier-Bresson is obviously an artist he loved and very much respected, and he loved building the collection. But he felt it was the right time to put it out into the world,” Peart says.

What else makes this Cartier-Bresson image special? “It’s Henri Cartier-Bresson doing what he does best, taking this moment from a town in Italy and making it so compositionally dense and rich,” she says. “You can revisit his images over and over, and this one really epitomizes that.”

How to bid: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Scanno, L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy is lot 37 in Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Eye of the Century, taking place at Phillips New York on December 12.

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

A note: In 2009, L’Aquila was near the epicenter of an earthquake that measured as high as 5.9 on the Richter scale. It killed more than 300 people and damaged thousands of buildings. It’s unclear if the vista that Cartier-Bresson captured in 1951 survives, but it was pretty much intact in 2008. More than seven years after the quake, the Italian city is still recovering from its effects.

 

SOLD! A Masterpiece of Native African Art Sold For $975,000 at Sotheby’s

9620 Lot 24

Update: The Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure sold for $975,000.

What you see: A Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure from what is now the Republic of the Congo. It probably dates to the late 19th century, and the artist is unknown. Sotheby’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

What is a reliquary figure, and how did the native African people use it? According to Alexander Grogan, head of the African and Oceanic department at Sotheby’s New York, the figure was once attached to a basket that would have held ancestral relics–“bones, mixed with magical material in a kind of bundle.” The whole might have been kept in a sacred grove along with other reliquaries. The figure was separated from its basket at some point in its past, either by a European dealer or a collector who was only interested in the figure, or the basket could have fallen apart without being replaced. “They would have shined the figures with sand and water to keep them bright,” Grogan says. “It [the polishing] was not just to make them look good, it was part of the process of venerating the ancestors.”

The figure stands almost 28 inches tall. Is that typical for a Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure? No. “This is a very large one. It’s really one of the grandest and most fancy examples, and one of the most famous,” he says.

Does the sculpture depict a well-known character from the Kota-Ndassa culture? “It’s a representation of an idealized ancestor, an ancestor who’s going to help you,” Grogan says. “It’s a progenitor of your clan who has gone before you. In Kota culture, you venerate it. Ancestor worship is a big part of cultural religious practice in this part of Africa. It [the reliquary] connects to the physical remnants of a real ancestor and forms a conduit between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

Is the figure male or female? “Both males and females are represented, but we don’t know much about individuals. At some point [they] would have known who it was,” he says. “Even compared to the rest of the Kota corpus, this reliquary figure is a very fancy object. It represents a very wealthy and powerful individual.”

Is the fan-like object on the top of the figure’s head and the flip-do-like pieces that flank the face all part of a hairstyle? Yes. “In a very, very abstract way, it represents braids coming down the side of the head and a coiffure on the top,” he says.

The reliquary figure is described as “weeping” because of the lines that stream down its face. Are the lines purely decorative, or are they actually meant to make the face look like it’s weeping? “A work of art with such specific little motifs and things has the potential for rich symbolism and meaning, but we don’t know what it depicts,” he says. “The two-colored cheeks and the iron bands on the cheek allow the artist to show off different colors. It’s a tour de force. ‘Weeping’ is a speculative way to describe what the bands mean.”

Do we know why its mouth is depicted as being open? “The teeth shown there are pointed. The Kota would file their teeth to points,” he says, adding that men and women both engaged in the practice. “The figure reflected] the way the Kota people had their teeth. It was a symbol of beauty.”

What are the bean-like white things inside the mouth and on the forehead? They’re cowrie shells. “Each of them is a fancy embellishment–yet another texture, yet another color,” he says. “They give the impression of richness.”

Is the figure entirely made of metal? No. It’s a wooden structure covered with metal plates. “The sculptor creates a sort of wooden carcass, and on top of that are metal plates held in place with little pins,” Grogan says. “The back is naked wood.”

When did Westerners learn about Kota-Ndassa art? Europeans first reached the area in the 1870s or so. Some reliquary figures and other pieces were eventually taken to Paris, where they made an impression on the city’s artists. “Kota sculptures were among the first African sculptures people like Picasso saw in the early 20th century,” he says. “You can imagine Picasso looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s what I was after.’ There are some Picasso works where you can see Kota motifs.”

How did this figure leave Africa? We don’t know its history prior to the 1960s, when it’s recorded as belonging to collector René Rasmussen. Two more dealers held it before Edwin and Cherie Silver purchased it in 1979. “It was the first major piece the Silvers acquired, and it was at the center of their collection of Kota reliquary figures,” he says. “You could say it was the crown jewel of the Silver collection because they displayed it in the center of the group. It was the most attention-grabbing piece. You’d see it as you walked in. You came through the door into a sunken living room, and there was a grand piano with nine Kota figures on it and a Calder mobile above, looking onto the valley where the Getty Center is now in Los Angeles.”

What else makes this figure special? “You have a Kota artist stepping way, way above their traditions to become a great world artist,” he says. “The figure is rooted in Kota culture, but the artist achieves something much greater. That’s how I would define a masterpiece.”

How to bid: The Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure is lot 24 in The Collection of Edwin & Cherie Silver, an auction of tribal and aboriginal art that takes place on November 13 at Sotheby’s New York.

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

Florine Stettheimer’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and His Alter Ego Rrose Sélavy Could Sell For a Million or More at Christie’s

Stettheimer, Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Selavy

What you see: Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy, a 1923 painting by Florine Stettheimer. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

Who was Florine Stettheimer? She was a wealthy American woman who was, and is, regarded as an artist’s artist. Marcel Duchamp and Georgia O’Keeffe attended her salon. She might be the first woman artist in history to paint a nude self-portrait. She wasn’t keen on self-promotion; she had one small solo show at the Knoedler gallery in 1916, which flopped, and she never did another. While Stettheimer’s sisters ignored her wish to have her art destroyed after she died, they gave most of it to museums, leaving little for collectors to acquire. Two years after her death, the Museum of Modern Art staged a Stettheimer retrospective. And if you were lucky, you caught the Florine Stettheimer show at the Jewish Museum in New York earlier in the year (this Duchamp portrait was in it). She died in 1944 at the age of 72.

Do we know how her portrait of Marcel Duchamp came to be? “We don’t know what spurred her to focus on Duchamp, but she did a series of full-length figures standing by objects that had meaning to the individual,” says Paige Kestenman, a specialist in American art at Christie’s. “Duchamp was one of her closest friends, so it makes sense that she’d include him in the group.” It’s unclear how large the portrait series was, but other subjects included fine art photographer Alfred Stieglitz and composer Virgil Thomson, who once owned the Stettheimer painting that we’re talking about.

Let’s talk about what Stettheimer has surrounded him with in the painting. Do I see a little horse head above Duchamp? “That looks like a chess piece, which Duchamp was very interested in. He was almost obsessed with the game of chess. It also represents the symbol he designed for the Société Anonyme,” she says, referring to an arts organization that Duchamp co-founded in 1920 with Katherine Dreier and Man Ray. “The grid [the horse head is housed in] resembles a chessboard.”

It looks like this is a double portrait. Who is Rrose Sélavy? “Rrose Sélavy seems to have emerged as an alter ego or component of Marcel Duchamp’s personality around 1920,” she says, noting that the artist went as far as signing some of his ready-mades with her name, and posing for Man Ray dressed as Sélavy. “In her portraits, Florine Stettheimer was constantly exploring not just the physical likeness of the art icons of her day, but a deeper sense of their identities,” she says. “This portrait is a bit tongue-in-cheek and satirical as well.”

What is Duchamp doing in this portrait? “He’s dressed in a suit, sitting in a chair, and turning a metal rod that operates a mechanical coil that lifts his persona higher and higher,” she says. “He’s literally projecting her.” Sélavy is shown sitting on a platform that bears her name.

What’s the story behind the unusual frame? “It’s the original frame, and it enhances the overall work,” Kestenman says. “It says ‘MD’ along the entire length. It mimics the ‘MD’ repeated on Duchamp’s chair in the composition, and it mimics the sense of Duchamp’s constantly promoting himself, and exploring themes of identity.”

Did Stettheimer design or build the frame? “In doing research on the frames, I saw different information on if she designed the frame and had it built to spec or if she built some of them,” she says. “She certainly designed the frame, and it’s very well-preserved.”

Did Stettheimer do other portraits of Marcel Duchamp? He appears as one of several figures in some earlier paintings by her (look for the red-headed guy). “This is the first portrait of him,” she says.

Last time I checked, Stettheimer’s work rarely appeared at auction. Is that still true? “Her work is very rare on the market. There have been only six or seven works at auction in the last several years, including this one, which sold in 1990 for $110,000,” she says. “This is the only figural work that’s been to auction. The modernist market has changed a lot since then, and it’s changed for female modernists as well.”

The estimate for this portrait is $1 million to $1.5 million. Even if it sells for well below its low estimate, it will probably set a new record for Stettheimer at auction. How did you arrive at these numbers? “Of course it’s more difficult to set an estimate when there are no direct comparables in the market recently,” she says, adding that she and her colleagues looked at the freshest auction results and considered the drawing power of Marcel Duchamp and the changes in the market over the last 27 years. “Florine Stettheimer is so rare to market, especially her portraits,” she says. “Following the retrospective at the Jewish Museum, it’s an important time to offer work by her.”

How to bid: Florine Stettheimer’s Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy is lot 8 in the American Art sale on November 21 at Christie’s New York.

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.

Also see a past entry on The Hot Bid about the current auction record for Florine Stettheimer, which belongs to an undated floral still life sold at Skinner.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. Christie’s also wrote a story about the lot that contains interviews with Dr. Rossi’s widow, Gemma, and his son, Roberto.

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

The Original Poster Artwork For A 1935 Movie Starring Katharine Hepburn Could Command $6,000 at Bonhams

An original artwork of Sylvia Scarlett by Anselmo Ballester

What you see: Original gouache and pencil artwork by Anselmo Ballester for a mid-1930s Italian movie poster for Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Bonhams estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Anselmo Ballester? He was an Italian artist, based in Rome, who spent almost five decades creating movie poster art for Italian and American studios. “He was one of a handful of artists U.S. studios turned to to create the Italian versions of their movie posters. You had to redesign the entire poster for overseas audiences, and they were designed in the country of exhibition,” says Dr. Catherine Williamson, director of books and manuscripts and entertainment memorabilia for Bonhams. His posters featuring actress Rita Hayworth are absolute standouts. Ballester died in 1974 at the age of 77.

How rare is it for the original artwork for a vintage movie poster–any vintage movie poster–to survive and come to auction? “It is rare-ish,” she says, explaining that Bonhams has held an annual movie poster sale for three or four years, and there have been two to five pieces of original movie poster art in each. “Often, they’re drafts–not final versions of the work,” she says. “I haven’t seen a lot of his artwork come onto the market.”

Sylvia Scarlett was considered a flop in the United States, and some suspected that it had to do with Hepburn’s character, who spends most of the film cross-dressing to pass herself off as a boy. Was Ballester aware of the film’s box office troubles when he got the commission for the Italian movie poster? “The artists didn’t have a lot of information about the movies. Often, it’s clear they didn’t watch the movie or read the script before making the poster,” she says. “The studio probably knew Sylvia Scarlett was not successful, and that might have to do with the decision to foreground Katharine Hepburn in men’s garb [and let a more feminine image, rendered in red, dominate the composition.] Hepburn with long, curly hair is not an accurate depiction of what she looked like in that film.”

Sylvia Scarlett featured the first on-screen pairing of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, but Ballester’s poster design focuses on Hepburn alone. Why? “He understood that moviegoers wanted to see stars,” she says. “His posters are very star-forward. He placed the most beautiful Hollywood stars front and center, and they look even more beautiful [on his posters] than they are on screen. That was his signature.”

But… he left out Cary Grant. Cary Grant! “Honestly, his posters are all about beautiful women,” Williamson says. “Sometimes, male stars make it onto his posters, but they don’t get the same treatment. If he can put women on the poster, he certainly does.”

Ballester rendered the gouache and pencil in two colors. Is that unusual, or did he normally limit his palette? “It depends. Maybe it tells us it’s a preliminary piece,” she says. “The fully executed ones are not monochromatic or bichromatic. They show the full range of colors.”

Did the studio go ahead with Ballester’s poster design for Sylvia Scarlett for the Italian market? “I think what we have is not what was used,” she says, noting that the final version gives the title as Le Grand Aventura de Sylvia and the art doesn’t seem to look like his work.

I understand it’s common for the original artwork for a movie poster, which is unique, to sell for less than the actual movie poster, which had a press run in the hundreds or the thousands. Why? “Poster collectors collect posters. People who collect art are perhaps less interested in poster art,” Williamson says, adding, “There’s not a lot of original movie poster art, and there’s not really people who just collect original movie poster art. There’s not enough to support it as a collecting discipline. It’s too hard. There’d be no fun in it.”

When do collectors prefer foreign market movie posters over the American versions? “In general, the poster from [the film’s] country of origin are more valuable,” she says. “The exception is when the artwork is so superior, collectors decide they would rather have a gorgeous version of the Italian poster with Rita Hayworth than the American version of the same film.”

How to bid: The Sylvia Scarlett original poster art is lot 91 in TCM Presents… Vintage Movie Posters Featuring the Ira Resnick Collection, taking place November 20, 2017 at Bonhams New York.

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