RECORD! An Original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday Strip Sold at Heritage Auctions in 2012 for $203,150

Original Sunday comic strip art for Calvin & Hobbes, drawn by Bill Watterson. It depicts Calvin and Hobbes leaping into a pile of raked leaves.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: Original hand-colored art for a Sunday strip for Calvin & Hobbes, inscribed by artist-writer Bill Watterson. Heritage Auctions sold it in 2012 for $203,150, a record for an original Calvin & Hobbes strip.

The expert: Todd Hignite, vice president of comics and comic art at Heritage Auctions.

How often does original artwork for Calvin & Hobbes come to auction? They’re very rare. I think within the last 17 or 18 years, there have been about 15 to come to public auction, and we’ve sold all of those. There were possibly one or two in Europe before that, but they’re extremely rare. In terms of comic art in general and in terms of scarcity, it’s the first.

Even more so than original artwork for The Far Side? Yeah. Yeah. The reason for the scarcity of Calvin & Hobbes–Bill Watterson never sold the art. He donated–I don’t know the exact terms, maybe it’s a long-term loan–his originals to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University.

The date on this original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip is 10-19-1986, which is early in its run. Do collectors have a clear preference for earlier or later Calvin & Hobbes art, or does that not apply here? With Calvin & Hobbes, it doesn’t matter. The strip ran for a relatively short period.  It came out of the gate fully formed, and it did not decline. It was great from beginning to end. There are no periods that are less desirable.

Is this the only original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip to come to auction? It is. It’s the only Sunday strip that has a public auction record. The majority that have come up have been black-and-white dailys. The only ones that ever come out–He’d occasionally trade artwork for other artwork, or would give artwork to people associated with the syndicate or the production of the strip. The vast majority of originals have been dedicated to someone specific, someone he had some relationship with.

How did Watterson meet and know Brian Basset? Do we know when he gave the strip to him? I think it falls in the category we just talked about–it was a professional association.  We don’t know the date when he gave him it, but it was definitely during the run of the strip.

How good an example is it of an original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip? Does it have everything a collector would want? Or does it not matter, because collectors can’t afford to be picky? I think it’s both. If you’re paying hundreds of thousands for it, you want Calvin and Hobbes on it. The bonus is that Watterson hand-colored it. When he handed it to the syndicate, it was black and white. It’s pretty special by any measure, a very strong example.

So he didn’t typically color the Sunday strips himself? Correct. Sundays were like dailys–99 percent were not colored. He only would have done this because he was giving it to somebody. They were all black and white unless he chose to color it for a specific reason.

Does the inscription on the original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip add value? I would say it did not add any monetary value, but it’s also not irrelevant. It’s part of its history and collectors love that. They love to know the situation, especially with Watterson. How did it come out? He gave it to this person.

And it went from Watterson to Basset to you? Exactly right. Basically every example that has come to market has been in that situation.

Original Sunday comic strip art for Calvin & Hobbes, drawn by Bill Watterson. It depicts Calvin and Hobbes leaping into a pile of raked leaves.

What condition was it in? It was in great condition. There were no condition issues. What you may see in comic art is a condition problem–the paper has toned to yellow, it’s sunstruck because it was in a frame, the watercolors have faded–this had none of that. It’s as nice as you could hope for.

What was its estimate? In our comic and comic art auctions, we don’t have public estimates, but we do put internal estimates on things. The estimate on this was $100,000 to $150,000.

What was it like in person? It’s considered larger than what was printed, but Watterson didn’t draw that much larger than the printed dimensions. It was definitely larger, but not twice as large. There was not that big a discrepancy.

What was your role in the 2012 auction? Were you on the phone with a bidder? Yeah, I’m always on the phone, helping bidders in some way. I don’t recall if I was on the phone with the winning bidder.

And this was not just an instant record for an original Calvin & Hobbes Sunday strip, it was a record for any original Calvin & Hobbes strip? Yes, it was a world auction record for any Watterson art. The number under that is a Calvin & Hobbes watercolor for a calendar cover that we sold earlier that year for $107,000. The calendar art was definitely a benchmark for the Sunday strip.

What do you think it would sell for if it was consigned to you today? It’s hard. I definitely think it would be more than the person paid for it, but it was a huge price. It sold for a really, really strong price then. I think it would sell for a really, really strong price now, but I don’t know how much.

How long do you think this record will stand? What could beat it? If another Sunday strip came out. It would have to be another really good one, like this one. We do a lot of business in Europe and Asia. The market is a lot bigger now than it was then. If another came out, it would beat it. I don’t think this one will be back to market. He [the winning bidder] was very happy to get it.

Not coming back to market? Not even when the current owner dies? Probably, but he’s a young guy. [Laughs]

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Watterson, in my mind, was the most important comic strip artist after Schulz. It was a thrill to sell this. It was kind of a perfect storm with his art–someone at the very top of his art form, and his art basically doesn’t exist on the market. It was special for us to be able to handle it.

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.

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Never heard of Calvin & Hobbes? You have the biggest treat of your life ahead of you. Place your order and start reading.

Also, if it’s not at this link, it’s almost certainly not legitimate Calvin & Hobbes merchandise. Please don’t buy it, whatever it is.

And in case you missed it above, check out the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University. Also, here are links to a daily Calvin & Hobbes strip and a truly legendary Sunday strip. You can follow the museum on Twitter and you can donate funds to it as well.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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

RECORD! Mavis Pusey’s Painting, “Nuvae”, Sold for $42,500 at Rago

Nuvae, a 1968 abstract canvas by Mavis Pusey, features large blocks of royal blue, milk chocolate brown, red, and white paint.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: Nuvae, a 1968 oil on burlap canvas by the late Jamaican-born artist Mavis Pusey. Rago Arts and Auctions sold it in May 2019 for $42,500, a world auction record for the artist.

The expert: Meredith Hilferty, fine art director at Rago Arts and Auctions.

Could we start by talking about Mavis… how do you pronounce her last name? Poo-SAY.

Can we talk about who she was, and her contributions to art? She was a Jamaican-born artist who came to New York at the age of 18. She decided to enroll with the Art Students League and fell into painting. She was firmly an abstract expressionist artist, which was unusual for a woman and for a black artist. She decided she was an abstract expressionist and she did not waver, though it wasn’t highly accepted. It was important that she did not waver. She didn’t let someone push her in a direction that she didn’t want to go.

Was she prolific? She was prolific, but not insanely prolific. This is the first work of hers we’ve ever handled, and I’ve been at Rago for 13 years. She painted a lot, but her work doesn’t come out on the market very often. I wouldn’t be surprised if more paintings come to market because of the recent sale.

Do collectors just love her work and hang onto it for decades? I think so. I think that’s one factor. Another is while she’s always had significant four- and five-figure prices, people weren’t faced with the decision, “Do I want to cash in on this?” A lot of times they love them as works of art, but there’s a personal connection there–they got it directly from the artist. Selling it was not necessarily on their minds.

Do we know why she named this painting Nuvae? We don’t know what it means. We certainly tried to figure it out, but we hit a dead end. She did title her work. We found other works with similar titles–one word, and they’re not words anyone would recognize. She also used titles that were very descriptive. She was inspired by urban landscapes, and some titles reflect that and are descriptive of that. This title doesn’t lead you in any particular direction. I kind of like that. [Laughs] It’s an abstract expressionist work of art in every sense of the word.

Is Nuvae part of a series, or is it a stand-alone work? I’d say it stands alone, but she did works in a similar style in the late 1960s. All stand-alone major paintings from that period relate to each other, but they’re not a series in that there’s no direct connection to each other.

She painted this on burlap. Is that typical for her? She did do quite a few paintings on burlap in this period, but she also painted on canvas. We don’t know why she used burlap. There’s not enough information to know the answer. It could have been that she’d run out of canvas, or it could have been that she wanted to try something else. It was purposeful. I think she was successful with it, and she used burlap for a good period of time.

Nuvae measures 30 inches by 40 inches. Is that a standard size for her? No, she actually would work bigger than this, oftentimes. It’s a big painting, but in the same period, she did 40 by 50, 50 by 60. The scale is significant, for sure.

Is Nuvae typical or atypical of her work? It’s very typical of her work from the late 1960s. A good part of her work is simply abstract and not representative. Others seem to reference urban landscapes, or the figures are much more direct. This has a more curving form that reminds the viewer of a figure..

Nuvae, a 1968 abstract canvas by Mavis Pusey, features large blocks of royal blue, milk chocolate brown, red, and white paint.

Is that central blue passage meant to be a figure? It kind of looks like it has a leg and an arm… I don’t know. There’s certainly a suggestion of a figure there, but I think it’s very loose. I think she was more highly focused on shape and color. She’s not making a direct enough connection for us to say it’s a reclining figure.

Pusey included Nuvae in her application for the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award, and she won it. Does that sort of thing affect a painting’s appeal to collectors? I think it does, absolutely. It’s a great honor for an artist to receive the Pollock-Krasner Foundation award. The appeal to collectors is the artist thought enough of the painting to include it in her application, and she won the award based on that application. It’s hard to say how much it affects the value of the piece, but it appeals to buyers.

What condition is the painting in? For a painting from the late 1960s, it’s in good condition. The things it needs are easily fixed by a good conservator. It’s a little loose on its stretcher.

Would that have anything to do with the burlap canvas? It could be. I’m not a conservator, but burlap is a heavier fabric, and it would certainly put more tension on the stretchers. It’s not really a major issue, but if it’s going to be hung in a museum exhibit or a collector’s home, you’d want it to be at its best, and part of that is having the burlap brought back to a taut configuration.

What is the painting like in person? It goes back to scale. When you stand in front of it, the canvas pulls you in and takes up your vision. The shapes play off each other and almost vibrate. You get the impression of a subtle palette, and it keeps your eye moving around the composition.

What was the previous world auction record for a Mavis Pusey painting? It was the same painting, when it sold at Swann in October 2013 for $33,750. You can see very directly how her market has changed in five and a half years. Before that, her record was set a year before, also at Swann, by Recarte, a larger 1968 painting that sold for $31,200. Not only is her work more and more desirable, but her late 1960s work has held records. That’s what people want.

Mavis Pusey died on April 20, 2019, and the Rago auction took place on May 4, 2019. What role, if any, did the timing of her death play in the new world record? I couldn’t say that it didn’t play a role. Certainly there was a little bit more buzz. But there was serious interest before her death was announced. The catalog came out before that, it was in our advertising and press releases and marketing before that. People were interested in the painting. If [her death] pushed it over…I’m not really convinced it was a major factor. I think this [interest in Pusey] has been building up, and she’s been getting more attention. I don’t think there’s a direct connection there. I don’t think it broke the record because she had just died.

What was your role in the auction? Generally, I put these sales together. Typically, during the day of sale, I’m in my office, talking to buyers about bids. This particular lot had a lot of action. I was called out to the phone table [the table where the auction house manages phone bidders]. I got to watch from the floor and see it break the record. I was glad I was pulled from the office to come out. It was really exciting.

How long do you think this world auction record for Mavis Pusey will stand? What else is out there that could meet or beat it? I think other paintings from the 1960s of the same quality [could do it]. She did also paint larger paintings, so, potentially, you could say they could sell for more, but they haven’t been on the market. We really have to wait and see. We find that when a record is set or an artist dies, more works come on the market. I think it really hinges on that.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I always like to see an artist who hasn’t gotten the recognition they deserve get recognition. I’ve handled works that have set records for many women artists. It’s a satisfying part of the job.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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SOLD! A George Sosnak Grantland Rice Baseball Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases the words "First World Series Aircaster Writer Grantland Rice."

Update: The baseball George Sosnak dedicated to Grantland Rice and the 1921 World Series sold for $2,396.

What you see: A baseball transformed by the late self-taught artist George Sosnak. SCP Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

How prolific was Sosnak? Has anyone done a count or a census of how many balls he decorated? I’ve read in the past that he completed roughly 800 to 1,000 baseballs, but he started roughly 3,000. And he was definitely prolific in the sense of his following and his admirers. His baseballs have been exhibited in many museums, including folk art museums.

He was born in 1922 and died in 1992. Do we know how long he was active as an artist? I definitely think he was most prolific in the 60s and the 70s. In fact he donated some of his work to Cooperstown [The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York] in the early 70s.

What do we know about his creative process? How did he choose his subjects, and how did he create these baseballs? He was definitely focused on notable figures and milestones. He was not confined to players, as you can see by the Grantland Rice baseball we have. He celebrated figures from all facets of the game. In most cases, he started with an autographed ball and built around that–stats, historic data, combined with colorful scenes.

Did Rice autograph it? That’s not the case with this ball, but many Sosnaks I’ve seen have autographs on them.

If a Sosnak has an autograph, how does that factor in to its value to collectors? I think most people collect Sosnak balls for the artistry. That’s where the value is. If the autograph was Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, it might be more valuable, but it’s looked at for its artistic value more than anything else.

Do we have an idea of how long it would take Sosnak to complete a baseball, and how long it might have taken him to finish this one? We can only make an assumption by looking at the detail of his work, the thoroughness of it. If you look at the Grantland Rice ball, every centimeter of the ball’s surface is covered and well thought out and almost tells a story. I imagine it took many hours of work to produce the typical Sosnak ball.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle shows how Sosnak crammed a recap of the 1921 World Series within the borders of this seam of the ball.

Do we know what media he used to produce this–markers? Paint? From what I’ve read, the media was India ink.

Do we know why he chose Grantland Rice to showcase on this ball? Sosnak was an aficionado of baseball and all baseball facts. He himself was a minor league umpire. He had a lot of experience in the game, and a lot of passion for it. What inspired this ball is appreciation for the great historical figures of the game. Grantland Rice was as prolific as it gets in his field.

Did Grantland Rice commission this ball, or ever see it? We don’t know that, but Sosnak was known to give balls to subjects as gifts. We’ve done a lot of athletes’ estate sales, and we see Sosnak balls received as gifts.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases his portrait of Grantland Rice broadcasting the 1921 World Series over the telephone system.

How might the fact that Grantland Rice appears on this ball affect its value to collectors? Or does the … decorative intensity matter more? All the factors combine to contribute to the value–subject matter, graphic quality. This one in particular has a dual subject, a dual purpose. It acknowledges Grantland Rice and also memorializes the 1921 World Series.

Forgive me as I don’t know off the top of my head, but why was the 1921 World Series significant? The 1921 World Series might be acknowledged as the first broadcast World Series.

Is that why Sosnak uses the word “Aircaster”–a word I’ve never encountered before? I think it’s a primitive term for “broadcaster”. Grantland Rice telephoned the play-by-play. It was a very primitive broadcast via telephone over four New England radio stations. That ground-breaking aspect is being celebrated on this ball.

Is there a date on this ball? Do we know when Sosnak made this? There’s no date. The only thing we have to go by is a very faint Rawlings stamp on the baseball. It looks like it was probably late 1970s, based on the type of ball it’s on.

What details do Sosnak collectors want in a baseball, and does this one have them? First, I would say great imagery. One panel has a wonderful image of Grantland Rice broadcasting, and you have the Yankees logo and the Giants logo, the two World Series combatants. It has great titling, and a complete, complete play-by-play of the game. It’s just covered. The decorative quality and historical content is just fabulous.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases how tightly Sosnak crammed the ball's surface with information about how the 1921 World Series played out.

Where does this Sosnak ball rank on the scale of information-density? It’s on the higher end of the scale, I would say. But there are many like it.

And collectors prefer Sosnak balls that are thoroughly jammed with text? Absolutely. The greater sampling of his work, the better.

Do we know about the provenance of this ball? We really don’t. There’s no long chain of custody here prior to our consigner. He’s had it for many years and we can’t trace it beyond that.

What condition is it in? This one is in relatively high grade for a Sosnak ball. They are susceptible to wear and chipping. This one shows very little of that. He’d typically put a coat of shellac over the ball to protect the ink.

That has to be a problem with Sosnak balls–you want to pick them up and turn them over, to see everything on them. Yeah, there’s something to see on all sides. If you want to fully digest it, there’s a lot of reading to be done.

Another angle on the baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak, showing statistics and facts about the 1921 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants.

How many Sosnak balls have you handled? How often do they tend to come up? We’ve had probably a dozen in our history. In various auctions, half a dozen to a dozen per year come up. They’re very collectible, and there’s not a lot of turnover. When collectors acquire them, they tend to hang onto them for a while.

Have you handled it? What’s it like in person? I have. It’s stunning, it’s gorgeous. The colors are very, very vibrant. They don’t seem to have faded or changed much since it was created. He used high-quality materials and on top of that, it’s very well-preserved.

What’s the world auction record for a Sosnak? The highest price I could find is $15,500, a Stan Musial, part of his personal collection, sold in 2013.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Sostak balls are all unique. Every time you see one, you have to be in awe. It will stick in my mind because I got a history lesson about Grantland Rice and the 1921 broadcast. I not only appreciate the artistry of the ball, I got an education as well.

How to bid: The George Sostak Grantland Rice baseball is lot 10 in SCP Auctions‘s current sale, which opened June 5 and closes on June 22.

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.

SCP Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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

George Sosnak Dedicated a Baseball to Grantland Rice and the 1921 World Series. It Could Achieve $7,000 at SCP Auctions

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases the words "First World Series Aircaster Writer Grantland Rice."

What you see: A baseball transformed by the late self-taught artist George Sosnak. SCP Auctions estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

The expert: Dan Imler, vice president of SCP Auctions.

How prolific was George Sosnak? Has anyone done a count or a census of how many balls he decorated? I’ve read in the past that he completed roughly 800 to 1,000 baseballs, but he started roughly 3,000. And he was definitely prolific in the sense of his following and his admirers. His baseballs have been exhibited in many museums, including folk art museums.

He was born in 1922 and died in 1992. Do we know how long he was active as an artist? I definitely think he was most prolific in the 60s and the 70s. In fact he donated some of his work to Cooperstown [The National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York] in the early 70s.

What do we know about his creative process? How did he choose his subjects, and how did he create these baseballs? He was definitely focused on notable figures and milestones. He was not confined to players, as you can see by the Grantland Rice baseball we have. He celebrated figures from all facets of the game. In most cases, he started with an autographed ball and built around that–stats, historic data, combined with colorful scenes.

Did Grantland Rice autograph it? That’s not the case with this ball, but many Sosnaks I’ve seen have autographs on them.

If a George Sosnak baseball has an autograph, how does that factor in to its value to collectors? I think most people collect Sosnak balls for the artistry. That’s where the value is. If the autograph was Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb, it might be more valuable, but it’s looked at for its artistic value more than anything else.

Do we have an idea of how long it would take Sosnak to complete a baseball, and how long it might have taken him to finish this one? We can only make an assumption by looking at the detail of his work, the thoroughness of it. If you look at the Grantland Rice ball, every centimeter of the ball’s surface is covered and well thought out and almost tells a story. I imagine it took many hours of work to produce the typical Sosnak ball.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle shows how Sosnak crammed a recap of the 1921 World Series within the borders of this seam of the ball.

Do we know what media George Sosnak used to produce this–markers? Paint? From what I’ve read, the media was India ink.

Do we know why he chose Grantland Rice to showcase on this ball? Sosnak was an aficionado of baseball and all baseball facts. He himself was a minor league umpire. He had a lot of experience in the game, and a lot of passion for it. What inspired this ball is appreciation for the great historical figures of the game. Grantland Rice was as prolific as it gets in his field.

Did Grantland Rice commission this ball, or ever see it? We don’t know that, but Sosnak was known to give balls to subjects as gifts. We’ve done a lot of athletes’ estate sales, and we see Sosnak balls received as gifts.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases his portrait of Grantland Rice broadcasting the 1921 World Series over the telephone system.

How might the fact that Grantland Rice appears on this ball affect its value to collectors? Or does the … decorative intensity matter more? All the factors combine to contribute to the value–subject matter, graphic quality. This one in particular has a dual subject, a dual purpose. It acknowledges Grantland Rice and also memorializes the 1921 World Series.

Forgive me as I don’t know off the top of my head, but why was the 1921 World Series significant? The 1921 World Series might be acknowledged as the first broadcast World Series.

Is that why George Sosnak uses the word “Aircaster”–a word I’ve never encountered before? I think it’s a primitive term for “broadcaster”. Grantland Rice telephoned the play-by-play. It was a very primitive broadcast via telephone over four New England radio stations. That ground-breaking aspect is being celebrated on this ball.

Is there a date on this George Sosnak baseball? Do we know when Sosnak made this? There’s no date. The only thing we have to go by is a very faint Rawlings stamp on the baseball. It looks like it was probably late 1970s, based on the type of ball it’s on.

What details do Sosnak collectors want in a baseball, and does this one have them? First, I would say great imagery. One panel has a wonderful image of Grantland Rice broadcasting, and you have the Yankees logo and the Giants logo, the two World Series combatants. It has great titling, and a complete, complete play-by-play of the game. It’s just covered. The decorative quality and historical content is just fabulous.

A baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak. This angle showcases how tightly Sosnak crammed the ball's surface with information about how the 1921 World Series played out.

Where does this George Sosnak baseball rank on the scale of information-density? It’s on the higher end of the scale, I would say. But there are many like it.

And collectors prefer George Sosnak baseballs that are thoroughly jammed with text? Absolutely. The greater sampling of his work, the better.

Do we know about the provenance of this George Sosnak baseball? We really don’t. There’s no long chain of custody here prior to our consigner. He’s had it for many years and we can’t trace it beyond that.

What condition is it in? This one is in relatively high grade for a Sosnak ball. They are susceptible to wear and chipping. This one shows very little of that. He’d typically put a coat of shellac over the ball to protect the ink.

That has to be a problem with George Sosnak baseballs–you want to pick them up and turn them over, to see everything on them. Yeah, there’s something to see on all sides. If you want to fully digest it, there’s a lot of reading to be done.

Another angle on the baseball transformed by self-taught artist George Sosnak, showing statistics and facts about the 1921 World Series between the Yankees and the Giants.

How many George Sosnak baseballs have you handled? How often do they tend to come up? We’ve had probably a dozen in our history. In various auctions, half a dozen to a dozen per year come up. They’re very collectible, and there’s not a lot of turnover. When collectors acquire them, they tend to hang onto them for a while.

Have you handled it? What’s it like in person? I have. It’s stunning, it’s gorgeous. The colors are very, very vibrant. They don’t seem to have faded or changed much since it was created. He used high-quality materials and on top of that, it’s very well-preserved.

What’s the world auction record for a Sosnak? The highest price I could find is $15,500, a Stan Musial, part of his personal collection, sold in 2013.

Why will this George Sosnak baseball stick in your memory? Sostak balls are all unique. Every time you see one, you have to be in awe. It will stick in my mind because I got a history lesson about Grantland Rice and the 1921 broadcast. I not only appreciate the artistry of the ball, I got an education as well.

How to bid: The George Sostak Grantland Rice baseball is lot 10 in SCP Auctions‘s current sale, which opened June 5 and closes on June 22.

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.

SCP Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Images are courtesy of SCP Auctions.

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

SOLD! Ben Austrian’s White Hen with Chickens Flew Away With (Scroll Down to See)

Ben Austrian's "White Hen with Chickens" shows a mother hen at left, with 13 yellow chicks clustering near her on a bed of straw. One of the chicks perches on her back.

Update: Ben Austrian’s White Hen with Chickens sold for $6,875.

What you see: White Hen with Chickens, painted in 1913 by American artist Ben Austrian. Freeman’s estimates it at $7,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Raphaël Chatroux, associate specialist in the fine art department at Freeman’s.

Who was Ben Austrian? What do we know about him and his work? He’s a local boy, born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania. He had a lonely childhood, and he was sick very often. The air in Reading was quite polluted, so he had to spend his summers outside the city at a relative’s farm. He called it his vacation home. He went there for many years, from his early childhood until his mid-teens.

And he was self-taught, yes? Yes. Not by choice, but by necessity. Austrian’s family was very poor, and they didn’t have the means to send him to art school. At the age of five, his parents gave him a box of watercolors. During the summer, he was by himself and experimented with it. At an early age, he knew he wanted to become an artist. His mom was supportive, but his dad was wary. It was hard for a local artist to break through. He wanted him to work in the family business, which started as a dry-goods shop and evolved into a steam laundry. Austrian always painted on the side.

How did his career evolve? The first phase is from his early years until his father dies when Austrian is 27. He did have a few successes. He was very persistent in trying to show his art, though he wasn’t able to devote himself to it full time. His dad dying was a wake-up call to sell the family business and devote himself to art.

Did he paint hens and chicks exclusively? No, but it’s what he started painting in the very beginning–he painted what he knew. The first things he painted were chickens and landscapes. He painted other animals, such as ducks and horses, and at one point, his cat paintings were as popular as his chicken paintings. As he aged, he turned solely to landscapes.

And when he was a kid on the farm in the summer, he would feed the chickens? Exactly. He grew up surrounded by them. In a letter, he said, “I paint chickens because I love them.”

Was Austrian prolific? Do we have a count of how many works he made? There’s no catalogue raisonné. It’s hard to estimate the number of paintings he did, but he was prolific. It’s in the thousands. It’s difficult, too [to get a more precise count], because he wasn’t so good at keeping track of all of them, especially the early ones. A lot of the paintings are very similar, with similar names, like Mother Hen and Chicks. It’s tough to establish a chronology and an exhaustive summary of what he did. In the 1900s, he started putting dates on paintings.

Was he well-known in his time, or did his reputation grow later? He was well-known while he was alive. He was considered a Reading celebrity and he was smart about it–he was able to create a business out of it. When he worked for his dad, he knew to paint an original before meeting one of his dad’s clients. He was very strong-headed, and he did everything possible to break through. His partnership with the Bon Ami Company helped a lot. It assured his legacy, and it’s part of why he’s famous today. They made reproductions [of his works] that people could have on their fridge or in their wallet.

In reading about Austrian, I came across a claim that he taught his chickens to pose for him. Is that true? It seems crazy, but it’s true. You can find a lot of pictures of Austrian in his studio, surrounded by hens and chicks. He loved them. He talked to them every day, and he gave them names–some were elaborate. He raised them all on his own, so they only knew him. There was a special bond between the animals and Austrian. He had an incubator as well. [He did] whatever he needed to study their behavior and be as accurate as possible.

How did he teach chickens to pose for him? He always started by painting the hen first, and alone, because the chicks will always harass the mom. He’d put her in something like a nest, so she’d be quiet. With the chicks, the key to catching their attention was speaking to them–he could imitate their mom’s cackle. Or he’d use an object, like a piece of raw meat hanging from a stick. They’d gather round, infatuated with it, and that would give him a minute to catch the overall composition. Cigars would hypnotize them. They would freeze when they saw the light of a cigar. That would keep them quiet for a few moments.

In looking at the catalog for the sale, it’s clear that 100 years ago or so, there was a market for paintings of chicks and hens. I see several works by Austrian, and paintings of chicks by Mary Russell Smith and Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait. Who was the audience for these works when they were new? Who bought and collected them? I’ll start by saying Austrian was not the first one [to paint chicks and hens] and not the only one. He was late in the game. When Mary Russell Smith died, he was very much a kid. Because Austrian was self-taught, he didn’t copy from other artists, but it [scenes of chickens] was a popular genre of the time. There were lots of dealers who handled these paintings, and Austrian often chased private collectors himself. He sold a lot to department stores and jewelry stores, which saw art as a way to get people to feel comfortable and spend more money. Wanamaker’s [a Philadelphia department store] had a lot of Austrians, and John Wanamaker bought directly from him–he bought for himself and for his stores. It was a good source of income.

What detail of White Hen with Chickens do you like best, and how does it speak to Austrian’s mastery? It’s quite a good painting because you have a lot of chicks, which is what matters, and an imposing motherly figure that anchors it all. What I like is the composition itself. I like the contrast between the quiet mom and the undisciplined children. They’re running around, some are on her back, and some are about out of the picture frame, but mom doesn’t move. She’s self-composed. That’s what I like, the organized chaos in the painting.

Have Austrian’s paintings always been collected, or was there a fall-off after his death? I think he’s always been steadily collected. There was never really a fall-off.

How often do Austrians come to market? And is it unusual to have this many in a single sale? What’s unusual here is the collection provenance. They’re from the Bon Ami Company itself, which helped shape his legacy and his image. It’s never sold works by Austrian before. It’s an event for them to come up for sale. Bon Ami is a golden provenance for a Ben Austrian painting.

Why are they selling the paintings now? They’re reshaping their collection and taking a more curated approach. They’re not trying to get every painting linked to Ben Austrian. And it’s a good way to raise brand awareness of the company, through Ben Austrian.

So this is the first time the Bon Ami Corporation has sold any of its Austrians? They’re fresh to market.

And that’s why you’re comfortable selling several in the same auction–because of the Bon Ami provenance? Exactly. The Bon Ami name helps because it ties the collection together.

White Hen with Chickens measures 20 inches by 26 inches. Is that an unusual size for Austrian? I wouldn’t say it’s typical, but it’s on a larger scale. It’s the largest devoted to chickens. At 20 inches by 26 inches, the birds are pretty much life size, which was something Austrian was well aware of. When hens are in the paintings, the paintings tend to be larger. When it’s just chicks, they tend to be smaller. It has to do with the emotions you’re supposed to feel. A small work with two chicks fighting over a bug is cute, and you can hold it in your hand. A hen is more serious. It has to be bigger, and it has to hang on the wall. He was very well aware of those visual tricks.

What’s the world auction record for a Ben Austrian painting? It’s a painting of a dog and a cat–no chickens–that sold at Pook & Pook in 2011 for $80,000. I dug a bit deeper and found the fourth-highest auction record is very similar to the White Hen with Chickens painting. It sold in 2004 for $40,000.

What is White Hen with Chickens like in person? What’s very nice about the painting is on one hand, you have a subject that’s very whimsical and cute–the children are agitated and the mom is quiet. It’s not a hen with chicks, it’s a mother and her children. That’s why you like it–he’s able to put humanity into the painting without being versed in sentimentalism. He’s very naturalistic in style, but he’s able to give some warmth to it, so it’s not kitsch. And if you look up close, the technique is perfect. The colors are not at all muddy or dark. They’re very pure, very bright, even though [the scene] takes place in a barn. For the chicks, he wanted something light and fuzzy, so he drew an outline and created a soft, sfumato-like blur, which gave that effect. You think it’s whimsical, but you can see the skills there. His technique is spot-on, and he learned it by himself.

How to bid: White Hen with Chickens is lot 48 in the American Art & Pennsylvania Impressionists auction at Freeman’s on June 9, 2019.

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

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Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.

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SOLD! A Roberto Montenegro Painting from the 1920s Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

Roberto Montenegro's "Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses)" features at least six Mexican women in regional dress that frames their faces in white rings of cloth. They carry colorful bouquets. Though they are dressed identically in white, each woman is individual and distinct. All are somber; none smile.

Update: Roberto Montenegro’s Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) sold for $81,250.

What you see: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses), painted in the 1920s by Roberto Montenegro. Christie’s estimates it at $70,000 to $90,000.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

How prolific was Montenegro? He was very prolific. He worked for five decades. He continued to paint into his sixties. He died in 1968.

Why hasn’t he received the scholarly attention that some of his peers have gotten? He’s a very well-known artist, and he’s always included in surveys of Mexican art. The market likes him. What’s missing is a volume that captures the depth of his career and really studies his accomplishments.

How do we know that he painted this sometime in the 1920s? It’s not dated, but stylistically, it’s related to a Montenegro painting of Maya women that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) owns, and that dates to 1926.

When–on what occasions–do Tehuanas [women native to the Tehuantepec area of Mexico] don this distinctive ceremonial garb? Weddings and funerals? To me, in this particular painting, because they’re holding flowers and almost appear to be compressed in a tight space, almost stacked against each other, it appears to be a processsion. Their demeanor is serious. It’s more an expression of reverence. The faces are not laughing or smiling. Do you remember the Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller collection? That picture was Tehuanas too. That’s a feast, a very different atmosphere, celebrating. This seems to be a little more serious. A religious offering, maybe a funeral, but we can’t tell.

What is mexicanidad, and how is it reflected in this painting? It’s a term that refers to putting elements of Mexican culture in the forefront of a painting or an artistic expression. A lot of artists reflect mexicanidad in different ways. Frida Kahlo was a master of mexicanidad. Everything she did or said or wrote deeply embraced her Mexican identity. She took it to another level in dress and in how she expressed herself.

The lot notes say that Montenegro traveled in Europe almost continually from 1905 to 1920, looking at historic and contemporary European art. Do we know how soon he painted this after he returned to Mexico? I wish we could, but sadly, no. His sister [who owned the painting] has passed away. She would have known.

This looks really Cubist to me. Do we know if he looked at Cubist works during his travels? I think he had seen avant-garde art in Europe, like Diego Rivera had. Montenegro obviously knew the work of other artists like Rivera, who had a Cubist period.

Is this the first time he plays with the geometric potential of these Tehuana outfits? I think Diego did it too. What’s different about this treatment in this particular painting–it’s very graphic, very frontal. It seems to confront the viewer. That’s what’s attractive about the painting. And it’s very sculptural.

Sculptural? Is the paint piled up on the surface of the canvas? No, no, the painting is flat. When I say sculptural, the shapes almost appear to be 3-D in the way that Montenegro overlaps the headdresses with the faces in the back. There’s a sense of transparency, almost.

Are his other depictions of Tehuanas this geometric? No, they’re not. If you look at his murals, the Tejuanas are soft and others don’t have headdresses. I think this is one of the few that do.

Do we know anything about his working style? Did he pose models for this, or take reference photos, or did he imagine this scene? I think these women are archetypes.

From memory? Yeah, from memory.

Why is this painting so effective? I think it’s very striking. Part of that is you’re looking at this very frontally. It’s almost them looking at you rather than you looking at them.

Is this typical or atypical of his work? I think it’s an outlier. He used a lot of Mexican motifs, but it’s an outlier in the way the picture is constructed.

What is the painting like in person? What’s interesting about the painting is it’s very tight. It’s effective in that you feel this is a group of women in a small procession. They’re very strategically placed in the picture plane, but they have their own personalities.

How often do Montenegros appear at auction? Normally there’s one every season. They don’t circulate too much. He’s not an artist people are trading constantly. When collectors find a Montenegro, they tend to keep it for generations.

From the looks of the lot notes, this has never been to auction before–correct? No, never.

How rare is it to have a Montenegro that’s fresh to market? Every two years, there’s a surprise. This was a total surprise. We didn’t know about the picture until [the heirs] contacted us. It was owned by his sister. She lived in California. Montenegro gave it to her on one of his trips to visit, and it’s been in the family all these years. I don’t know if it’s been published. It’s really the first time it’s been seen. It’s really great. It’s one of my favorite things in the sale.

What condition is it in? Very good shape. We cleaned it superficially, but it’s in great shape.

What’s the auction record for a Montenegro? It was set at Christie’s. It was one of his self-portraits in a sphere, from 1955. It sold in 2017 for $187,500.

So this could set a new record for the artist, maybe. Let’s just say it’s conceivable.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It is a memorable painting. It’s very graphic. And it’s lovely in the flesh, really, really lovely. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a rediscovered artwork. This example has never been seen or published in color. Now the image is out there, and people can refer to it. We love to sell things, and we love to contribute to the understanding of an artist by presenting something that’s so good and special.

How to bid: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) is lot 13 in the Latin American Art sale taking place at Christie’s New York on May 22 and 23, 2019.

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

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Virgilio Garza has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a record-setting Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller family and a Fernando Botero circus painting.

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

SOLD! A Roy Lichtenstein Unique Ceramic Panel, Commissioned by Gunter Sachs for His St. Moritz Penthouse, Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

COMPOSITION, a unique ceramic panel by Roy Lichtenstein, is a long, horizontal work that features a yellow sun with streaming rays, a rainbow in primary colors, and green tendrils. It is curvy and geometric and is shown as it was displayed in Gunter Sachs's St. Moritz bathroom: upside down.

Update: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION sold for $1.28 million.

What you see: COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. Sotheby’s estimates it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down.]

The expert: Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s Day Auctions of Contemporary Art in New York.

How often did Lichtenstein make porcelain enamel panels? Is this it? There are a few nuances to unpack here. In 1964, Lichtenstein began creating enameled panels in limited editions of six or eight. He’d send schematic drawings to the fabricator, who would make the pieces. Unlike the other panels Lichtenstein did, this one is unique.

Did Gunter Sachs see one of those limited edition Lichtenstein panels and commission one from him for his St. Moritz residence? Essentially, yes. Lichtenstein met Sachs on the beach at Southampton in 1968. Sachs, by then, was well-known in the art world as a patron and a critic. I think he came to meet Lichtenstein through Andy Warhol. Once they met, they started a discussion about commissioned works. Sachs made this fabulous apartment in the penthouse [of Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland] dedicated to displaying pop art in every form. It was a pop art haven, almost. It spoke to the type of person Gunter Sachs was, loving and living with his art.

What are the dimensions of the panel? 24 by 77 1/2 inches, a shape that was meant to fit a specific area in Sachs’s apartment.

Where in the bathroom was this panel installed? Sachs had a bedroom and bathroom en suite. This panel ran the width of the area below his double sink in the bathroom.

So it needed to be enamel. Exactly. Sachs and Lichtenstein exchanged letters about the subject, and they developed it together. There were two panels–the other has a Leda and the Swan theme, and it ran the width of his bathtub. The two panels are considered a conceptual pair, but two very different works. The other one has been in a private collection for seven to eight years now.

Is any of the correspondence between Sachs and Lichtenstein included with the panel? It’s not part of the lot. We don’t have it. We have asked the Lichtenstein Foundation for a copy of it. It’s a dialogue–not just one-sided by either party. Sachs wanted objects that were beautiful in his home, and Lichtenstein wanted to produce something current with what he was working on. He was starting to conceptualize other vehicles for his Pop vernacular–sunrises, hot dogs. In the late 1960s, it merges into his Modern painting series, a comment on modernity and Modernism. He was looking at Léger and Sonia Delaunay, and he put his own very colorful, Pop-y spin on it.

When was the panel removed from the penthouse apartment? Sotheby’s sold Sachs’s estate in May 2012. The panel was taken out ahead of the sale.

What condition is it in? It’s in exceptional condition. The enamel has stayed bright and fresh and reflective throughout its existence. It looks like it was made yesterday. It [this condition] is what you look for, especially if it’s used.

Is this one panel or two? It’s one single panel, a single piece of metal with enamel on top of it. The sun over the lake looks like it’s a dividing element, but it’s one single panel.

What’s it like in person? It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in. Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.

What’s the world auction record for a Lichtenstein porcelain enamel panel? It’s Crying Girl, from 1964, the fourth in an edition of five. It sold at Christie’s New York in November 2015 for $13.3 million.

How did you come up with the estimate? We looked up what it sold for last time–$800,000 to $850,000 in 2012 [converted from British pounds]. The market for Lichtenstein has changed significantly since then. Lichtenstein’s record is $95.3 million. We’ve seen $40 million and $50 million prices for the artist for canvases from the 1960s. We also looked at editioned enamel works. They’ve sold for four million to $12 million when they feature the iconic women Lichtenstein was known for in the 1960s. It’s an abstract work, and it’s an enticing estimate. And there’s truly nothing like it available.

How does the Gunter Sachs provenance add value? It’s a great name to attach to any work. The fact that he commissioned it, had a hand in what it looked like, and lived with it for 50 years really adds to it. Having a huge name associated with a work of art adds quality and rarity. That’s what collectors look for.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a fantastic summation of everything Lichtenstein was doing in the 1960s. You have the BEN-Day dots and the primary colors. It really stands out as a unique and exceptional work. Your eye wants to linger over it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Lichtenstein panel? It was displayed upside-down in Gunter Sachs’s apartment. The correct orientation is as we have it in the catalog, with the moon on top and the reflection at the bottom. But you can display it in your home however you like.

Why did Sachs display it upside-down? Was it an error? I wouldn’t say it’s an error. Owner’s artistic license, we’ll call it. He liked it that way, for whatever reason. We’ll never know the true reason.

How to bid: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION is lot 137 in the Contemporary Art Day Auction at Sotheby’s New York on May 17, 2019.

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

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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

A Roberto Montenegro Painting, Done in the 1920s and Newly Rediscovered, Could Sell for $90,000

Roberto Montenegro's "Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses)" features at least six Mexican women in regional dress that frames their faces in white rings of cloth. They carry colorful bouquets. Though they are dressed identically in white, each woman is individual and distinct. All are somber; none smile.

What you see: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses), painted in the 1920s by Roberto Montenegro. Christie’s estimates it at $70,000 to $90,000.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

How prolific was Montenegro? He was very prolific. He worked for five decades. He continued to paint into his sixties. He died in 1968.

Why hasn’t he received the scholarly attention that some of his peers have gotten? He’s a very well-known artist, and he’s always included in surveys of Mexican art. The market likes him. What’s missing is a volume that captures the depth of his career and really studies his accomplishments.

How do we know that he painted this sometime in the 1920s? It’s not dated, but stylistically, it’s related to a Montenegro painting of Maya women that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) owns, and that dates to 1926.

When–on what occasions–do Tehuanas [women native to the Tehuantepec area of Mexico] don this distinctive ceremonial garb? Weddings and funerals? To me, in this particular painting, because they’re holding flowers and almost appear to be compressed in a tight space, almost stacked against each other, it appears to be a processsion. Their demeanor is serious. It’s more an expression of reverence. The faces are not laughing or smiling. Do you remember the Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller collection? That picture was Tehuanas too. That’s a feast, a very different atmosphere, celebrating. This seems to be a little more serious. A religious offering, maybe a funeral, but we can’t tell.

What is mexicanidad, and how is it reflected in this painting? It’s a term that refers to putting elements of Mexican culture in the forefront of a painting or an artistic expression. A lot of artists reflect mexicanidad in different ways. Frida Kahlo was a master of mexicanidad. Everything she did or said or wrote deeply embraced her Mexican identity. She took it to another level in dress and in how she expressed herself.

The lot notes say that Montenegro traveled in Europe almost continually from 1905 to 1920, looking at historic and contemporary European art. Do we know how soon he painted this after he returned to Mexico? I wish we could, but sadly, no. His sister [who owned the painting] has passed away. She would have known.

This looks really Cubist to me. Do we know if he looked at Cubist works during his travels? I think he had seen avant-garde art in Europe, like Diego Rivera had. Montenegro obviously knew the work of other artists like Rivera, who had a Cubist period.

Is this the first time he plays with the geometric potential of these Tehuana outfits? I think Diego did it too. What’s different about this treatment in this particular painting–it’s very graphic, very frontal. It seems to confront the viewer. That’s what’s attractive about the painting. And it’s very sculptural.

Sculptural? Is the paint piled up on the surface of the canvas? No, no, the painting is flat. When I say sculptural, the shapes almost appear to be 3-D in the way that Montenegro overlaps the headdresses with the faces in the back. There’s a sense of transparency, almost.

Are his other depictions of Tehuanas this geometric? No, they’re not. If you look at his murals, the Tejuanas are soft and others don’t have headdresses. I think this is one of the few that do.

Do we know anything about his working style? Did he pose models for this, or take reference photos, or did he imagine this scene? I think these women are archetypes.

From memory? Yeah, from memory.

Why is this painting so effective? I think it’s very striking. Part of that is you’re looking at this very frontally. It’s almost them looking at you rather than you looking at them.

Is this typical or atypical of his work? I think it’s an outlier. He used a lot of Mexican motifs, but it’s an outlier in the way the picture is constructed.

What is the painting like in person? What’s interesting about the painting is it’s very tight. It’s effective in that you feel this is a group of women in a small procession. They’re very strategically placed in the picture plane, but they have their own personalities.

How often do Montenegros appear at auction? Normally there’s one every season. They don’t circulate too much. He’s not an artist people are trading constantly. When collectors find a Montenegro, they tend to keep it for generations.

From the looks of the lot notes, this has never been to auction before–correct? No, never.

How rare is it to have a Montenegro that’s fresh to market? Every two years, there’s a surprise. This was a total surprise. We didn’t know about the picture until [the heirs] contacted us. It was owned by his sister. She lived in California. Montenegro gave it to her on one of his trips to visit, and it’s been in the family all these years. I don’t know if it’s been published. It’s really the first time it’s been seen. It’s really great. It’s one of my favorite things in the sale.

What condition is it in? Very good shape. We cleaned it superficially, but it’s in great shape.

What’s the auction record for a Montenegro? It was set at Christie’s. It was one of his self-portraits in a sphere, from 1955. It sold in 2017 for $187,500.

So this could set a new record for the artist, maybe. Let’s just say it’s conceivable.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It is a memorable painting. It’s very graphic. And it’s lovely in the flesh, really, really lovely. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get a rediscovered artwork. This example has never been seen or published in color. Now the image is out there, and people can refer to it. We love to sell things, and we love to contribute to the understanding of an artist by presenting something that’s so good and special.

How to bid: Untitled (Tehuanas in Traditional Huipil Grande Headdresses) is lot 13 in the Latin American Art sale taking place at Christie’s New York on May 22 and 23, 2019.

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

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Virgilio Garza has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a record-setting Diego Rivera painting from the Rockefeller family and a Fernando Botero circus painting.

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

A Roy Lichtenstein Unique Ceramic Panel Hung Upside-down in a Bathroom in a St. Moritz Penthouse. Sotheby’s Could Sell It for $1.2 Million.

0033 Lichtenstein Roy composition 1969-1 (1)

What you see: COMPOSITION, a porcelain enamel panel commissioned from Roy Lichtenstein in 1969. Sotheby’s estimates it at $900,000 to $1.2 million. [Note: It’s shown here upside-down.]

The expert: Nicole Schloss, Head of Sotheby’s Day Auctions of Contemporary Art in New York.

How often did Lichtenstein make porcelain enamel panels? Is this it? There are a few nuances to unpack here. In 1964, Lichtenstein began creating enameled panels in limited editions of six or eight. He’d send schematic drawings to the fabricator, who would make the pieces. Unlike the other panels Lichtenstein did, this one is unique.

Did Gunter Sachs see one of those limited edition Lichtenstein panels and commission one from him for his St. Moritz residence? Essentially, yes. Lichtenstein met Sachs on the beach at Southampton in 1968. Sachs, by then, was well-known in the art world as a patron and a critic. I think he came to meet Lichtenstein through Andy Warhol. Once they met, they started a discussion about commissioned works. Sachs made this fabulous apartment in the penthouse [of Badrutt’s Palace in St. Moritz, Switzerland] dedicated to displaying pop art in every form. It was a pop art haven, almost. It spoke to the type of person Gunter Sachs was, loving and living with his art.

What are the dimensions of the panel? 24 by 77 1/2 inches, a shape that was meant to fit a specific area in Sachs’s apartment.

Where in the bathroom was this panel installed? Sachs had a bedroom and bathroom en suite. This panel ran the width of the area below his double sink in the bathroom.

So it needed to be enamel. Exactly. Sachs and Lichtenstein exchanged letters about the subject, and they developed it together. There were two panels–the other has a Leda and the Swan theme, and it ran the width of his bathtub. The two panels are considered a conceptual pair, but two very different works. The other one has been in a private collection for seven to eight years now.

Is any of the correspondence between Sachs and Lichtenstein included with the panel? It’s not part of the lot. We don’t have it. We have asked the Lichtenstein Foundation for a copy of it. It’s a dialogue–not just one-sided by either party. Sachs wanted objects that were beautiful in his home, and Lichtenstein wanted to produce something current with what he was working on. He was starting to conceptualize other vehicles for his Pop vernacular–sunrises, hot dogs. In the late 1960s, it merges into his Modern painting series, a comment on modernity and Modernism. He was looking at Léger and Sonia Delaunay, and he put his own very colorful, Pop-y spin on it.

When was the panel removed from the penthouse apartment? Sotheby’s sold Sachs’s estate in May 2012. The panel was taken out ahead of the sale.

What condition is it in? It’s in exceptional condition. The enamel has stayed bright and fresh and reflective throughout its existence. It looks like it was made yesterday. It [this condition] is what you look for, especially if it’s used.

Is this one panel or two? It’s one single panel, a single piece of metal with enamel on top of it. The sun over the lake looks like it’s a dividing element, but it’s one single panel.

What’s it like in person? It’s impressive. It holds its own in our gallery. It pulls you in. Your eye wants to follow the curve of the rainbow. It’s really an exciting work to see in the flesh. It’s much brighter than it looks in the illustration. It’s quite vibrant.

What’s the world auction record for a Lichtenstein porcelain enamel panel? It’s Crying Girl, from 1964, the fourth in an edition of five. It sold at Christie’s New York in November 2015 for $13.3 million.

How did you come up with the estimate? We looked up what it sold for last time–$800,000 to $850,000 in 2012 [converted from British pounds]. The market for Lichtenstein has changed significantly since then. Lichtenstein’s record is $95.3 million. We’ve seen $40 million and $50 million prices for the artist for canvases from the 1960s. We also looked at editioned enamel works. They’ve sold for four million to $12 million when they feature the iconic women Lichtenstein was known for in the 1960s. It’s an abstract work, and it’s an enticing estimate. And there’s truly nothing like it available.

How does the Gunter Sachs provenance add value? It’s a great name to attach to any work. The fact that he commissioned it, had a hand in what it looked like, and lived with it for 50 years really adds to it. Having a huge name associated with a work of art adds quality and rarity. That’s what collectors look for.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s a fantastic summation of everything Lichtenstein was doing in the 1960s. You have the BEN-Day dots and the primary colors. It really stands out as a unique and exceptional work. Your eye wants to linger over it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about the Lichtenstein panel? It was displayed upside-down in Gunter Sachs’s apartment. The correct orientation is as we have it in the catalog, with the moon on top and the reflection at the bottom. But you can display it in your home however you like.

Why did Sachs display it upside-down? Was it an error? I wouldn’t say it’s an error. Owner’s artistic license, we’ll call it. He liked it that way, for whatever reason. We’ll never know the true reason.

How to bid: Roy Lichtenstein’s COMPOSITION is lot 137 in the Contemporary Art Day Auction at Sotheby’s New York on May 17, 2019.

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NEW RECORD! Demas Nwoko’s Children on Cycles Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Children on Cycles by Demas Nwoko features a black truck at the top, with four black children, some in white and some in yellow on a red background. The four children are streamlined and abstract, with heads but no faces.

Update: Children on Cycles sold for $225,075–a new world auction record for Demas Nwoko, and more than double his previous record.

What you see: Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams.

How prolific is Nwoko? Not at all, really. His later career was as an architect. In the last 10 years, I’ve only seen four or five come to market. We’ve been lucky enough to sell three in the last four years.

When did he stop painting? I would say by the end of the 1960s he had pretty much stopped painting to concentrate on architecture.

He hasn’t gone back? No. He was born in 1935. He’s a very elderly gentleman. I think he’s hung up his paintbrush.

Do collectors prefer works from this point in his artistic career? The early 1960s is more unusual and very nice to have in some ways. He was at his most formative.

The painting is undated. How do we know he made it circa 1961? Because it was bought at the Mbari Exhibition in 1961 [in Nigeria], and it was painted for that. It was his first exhibition.

Is this image typical of his work? I would say it’s typical. When I was sent the image, I recognized it immediately. It’s definitely his kind of subject and his manner of painting. His output is not large, and he’s not a household name, but that doesn’t make him less important as an artist.

Could you tell the story of how the painting was rediscovered? I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed. We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, “What about this, is it special?” I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.

Speaking of it having been stashed under a bed for 50-odd years, what sort of condition is it in? Putting it under a bed keeps it pretty safe. It got a bit dusty, but the dust can be taken off. [Under a bed] is the safest place, normally. It’s important not to move it because it can get damaged.

The family didn’t display it? It’s so easy for us, knowing what it’s value is, to say, “What are they doing? Are they mad?” If you didn’t think it was anything, you wouldn’t know it was anything.

Still, I’m surprised they didn’t hang it up. It has wall presence, yes? I agree. Every piece of art is taken a different way. For whatever reason, they didn’t display it.

So Children on Cycles was known, but considered lost until now? In some ways, it was. The only previously known image of it was a black and white photo in the archives of the Harmon Foundation.

People hear stories like this all the time, of some amazing piece of art discovered in an attic or a basement after decades… this stuff actually happens. What’s nice about the story as well is the artist is like a J.D. Salinger figure. He was an incredibly talented artist who became a recluse. He became an architect and became known as an architect. I think it’s glorious, the fact that his art is coming to light and fetching strong prices.

Is he reclusive, or does he just not promote his artistic career? I would say the latter. He’s not in any way promoting his art. He’s not a hermit, but he doesn’t go to art events.

Did he paint Children on Cycles from his observations of his surroundings, or is this an invented image? I don’t know. It could be his imagination, but he’d certainly see children on cycles. The red road is redolent of the baked clay roads they have in Africa. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what he observed.

What is it like in person? Are there aspects of the painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? In my view, it looks better in the flesh. When you get in front of the original work, it’s a lot more impressive. It’s the simplicity and the spareness of the work. The colors are strong and glowing.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000? We’ve sold two or three Nwokos in the past two or three years. It [the range] is about right. I won’t be surprised if it performs a bit better. It’s one of the nicest and best Nwokos I’ve seen.

What’s the world auction record for a Nwoko? Was it set at Bonhams? Yes, we did set it. We sold Metro Ride in October 2017 in London and Rickshaw Ride in October 2018 in London for the same sum–$106,503.

What are the odds that Children on Cycles will set a new auction record for Nwoko? At the risk of giving it the kiss of death, I think there’s a chance it will break the record. Nothing is certain at auction, but at $107,000, it hasn’t got far to go.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Probably because of the way it was discovered! [Laughs] Quite often, one goes to a collector and [the work to be consigned] is hanging on a wall to great fanfare. This came along rather gently.

How to bid: Children on Cycles is lot 6 in the Modern & Contemporary African Art sale at Bonhams New York on May 2, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Giles Peppiatt appeared on The Hot Bid once before, speaking about a record-setting sculpture by Ben Enwonwu.

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SOLD! John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Spirit of Night Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

John Atkinson Grimshaw's Spirit of Night shows a fairy-like woman with delicate wings, wrapped in a see-through gown festooned with stars. She holds a wand and hovers over a seaside city. Her face, shown in profile, is haloed in gold.

Update: John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Spirit of Night sold for $362,500.

What you see: Spirit of Night, an 1879 oil on canvas by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Christie’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Laura Mathis, specialist, 19th century European Art at Christie’s, and head of this European Art sale.

Do we know why Grimshaw might have painted Spirit of Night? Was this a book illustration? It’s not clear why Grimshaw picked up this subject matter, but it doesn’t seem to be a book illustration. This is more from his love of poetry. It inspired him to turn to this subject, that’s my feeling.

About that. The lot notes say the painting had a tablet with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, To Night. Was the painting directly inspired by the Shelley poem?  I think it’s all but certain he was. The words “Spirit of Night” appear as the second line of the Shelley poem. He was interested in Keats and Browning. Tennyson was a favorite. Five of his 16 kids got their names from Tennyson’s poetry.

How does the painting depict the poem? In Shelley’s poem, the poet describes the personification of night emerging from her cave, ushering the personification of day from the world, putting all the creatures to sleep. I think that’s what’s happening here.

Is the city below her identifiable as a specific place? I don’t think the city is meant to be identifiable. It’s probably meant to stand in for any town. It’s by the water, which is mentioned in the poem. He wanted to explore [the effects] of reflected light.

How many fairy pictures did Grimshaw make? It’s hard to give an exact number, but there were approximately seven or eight. They were quite popular in Victorian times but the subject was on the wane by the time Grimshaw turned to it.

Where does Spirit of Night rank among them? I would say definitely it has an interesting and important place in the corpus of fairy painting.

Grimshaw was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Where do we see that influence in Spirit of Night? Grimshaw starts painting in a lot of ways by looking at the Pre-Raphaelites. The use of color in the fairy wings speaks to the influence on his art and the level of detail as well, the lacy details of the fairy wings. If you get up close to the painting, the veining looks like dragonfly wings. The Pre-Raphaelites were almost fanatically interested in the most minute details of nature. That very close attention to nature is very Pre-Raphaelite.

How does the painting testify to his talent? To me, all of Grimshaw’s paintings testify to his talent. Not only was he self-taught, his family actively discouraged his painting. That he became an artist at all is a triumph. His mother would throw his paints on the fire and turn off the gas to his room, so he didn’t have heat. When he got married, he left home, and his wife, who was also his first cousin, was very instrumental in encouraging him to become a painter.

How does he achieve the luminescent effects? Because he didn’t have formal training, he taught himself. He would look at the beveled edges of mirrors to learn what the effect looks like, and his kids would bring home opalescent glass that he would keep by his easel as a reference.

Is the fairy outlined in white or silver? It’s a sort of silvery-white. It’s a very hard color to describe. The diaphanous cloth that covers her is a tour-de-force. The stars woven into the cloth is a direct reference to the poem. He doesn’t always have the easiest time painting the human form, but he really gets it spot on here.

Is that because he had a model for the Spirit of Night? Yes.

Let’s talk about that–his relationship with Agnes Leefe, and whether it was unusual or not. It sounds a bit sketchy to modern ears, but it seemed to be above board. Leefe was a ward who modeled for him and became a companion to his wife and children as well. It was like taking in a distant relative. The Grimshaws had a sad life. Of the 16 kids, six survived to adulthood. He would jokingly refer to Leefe as Little Orphan Annie.

How did they meet? I don’t know how they met, except it was in Leeds [where Leefe performed as an actress]. His daughter recalls her mom being not super thrilled when he brought her home, but she came around quick. There didn’t seem to be any impropriety. He and his wife were very happy, though Leefe’s death [from tuberculosis] was hard on them. It probably brought back memories of the losses of their other children.

How often do Grimshaw fairy paintings appear at auction? Fairly infrequently. There were two in the 1990s and two, including this one, in the 2000s. His landscapes appear more reliably.

When was the last time a Grimshaw fairy painting came up? The most recent one was in 2004, at Christie’s London. It went for just over $500,000. This one came up at Christie’s New York in 2002. It brought $537,500. The fairy pictures are tricky to price because they appear so infrequently. They’re atypical, compared to the landscapes. But 19th century European art is very image-driven. You have to take that into account when estimating.

What’s the record for a Grimshaw fairy painting? It’s this one, sold in 2002.

So there’s a chance it could reset the record? We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

What condition is the painting in? It’s in really nice condition. It does have an old lining on it but all the artist’s glazes are intact.

What is it like in person? The figure really does seem to be glowing. It pops and glows. The detail in the wings, too–you don’t pick up their lacy dragonfly quality until you get close to the painting.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? The fun of working in 19th century painting is covering so many schools and styles, and getting to see new things. I love to see an artist who’s so controlled and staid go completely outside the box. This definitely falls into that. The opalescent effect in the wings and the drapery–you don’t get that in Grimshaw’s moonlight scenes. Those are more about reflecting the light off of moss and brick. They’re beautiful, but this is in a class of its own.

How to bid: Grimshaw’s Spirit of Night is lot 51 in the European Art auction at Christie’s New York on April 30, 2019.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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SOLD! A Minnie Evans Work on Paper Sold For (Scroll Down to See)

A circa 1960s portrait by Minnie Evans shows a copper-colored face of indeterminate gender crowned with an elaborate, colorful headdress and surrounded by flourishing plants.

Update: The circa 1960s Minnie Evans work sold for $8,000.

What you see: Beautiful Portrait Surrounded by Vivid Flora, a circa 1960s work on paper by self-taught African-American artist Minnie Evans. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

I’d like to start by talking about Evans herself, and how she became a self-taught artist, and how her story matches other people who became self-taught artists. She seemed compelled to make art. Is that true of many other self-taught artists? It’s very typical. We like to say our artists are untrained and unschooled in art, but something happens and they’re driven to create art. She was definitely driven to create art, and create garden-like drawings that came from her surroundings as a gatekeeper for a garden. [Evans worked as the gatekeeper for Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina from 1948 until she retired in 1974.]

She started making art at the age of 43. Is that unusually late for a self-taught artist to embark on a career? It’s hard to say what’s typical. Most artists don’t have the opportunity [to make art] until later in life. Evans created art as the gatekeeper because she had the time to do it.

Was she prolific? She was very prolific. She did a lot of drawings. Like a lot of these artists, she was somewhat obsessed with making art.

Has anyone come up with a conservative number of works that she made over her lifetime? I don’t know if there’s an actual number. She did a lot as the gatekeeper of the garden, selling them for 50 cents. There’s probably an untold number out there.

Was Evans discovered and recognized in her lifetime? She was. There was a folk art show at the Corcoran in the 1980s of self-taught African American artists [Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980]. The show kicked off outsider art mania. It woke people up to what incredible artists we have in this country who are not influenced by academic or European masters.

Is this piece typical of Evans’s work? It’s very typical and very desirable. It’s got a central face with flora around it, and the colors are beautiful and strong, with one color bleeding into the next. It’s a really good indication of what her work looks like.

Is this a self-portrait? I don’t think it’s a self-portrait. It doesn’t look like her. She had a rounder face. I think there’s one distinct facial type that she does, and like the colors, the faces range the gamut from Caucasian to Native American to African-American depending on the individual piece.

How is she producing the effect of colors bleeding into the next–by mixing crayon and colored pencil? Back in the day I’m sure no one thought this would be as important as it is. [She worked with] everything she could get her hands on. That’s how most folk artists worked. Because no one considered them artists, they didn’t have the means to buy the best materials. I don’t know how she did it [the effect], but she did the best with what she had.

This is undated, but it has a circa date of the 1960s. Is that the period of her career that collectors prefer? Her strongest periods were the 1950s and 1960s. The look of it is really powerful and detailed. People like this period because the colors are strong and vivid and just beautiful. This is what they want to live with. In the 1970s, she was older, and not as strong, and may have spent less time on [each work].

The lot notes describe the piece as being in excellent condition. What does that mean here? I’m looking at the condition of the paper and the work. There’s no tears, no holes, and if it had paint on it, it means there’s no cracking or crazing or flaking off. Overall it’s in great condition.

Is that unusual for an Evans, given that she sold them directly to visitors to the garden where she worked as a gatekeeper? Remarkably, her paintings did well over time. We typically find them in really good condition. It would have been easy just to discard it if it was bought as a fluke. People saved them. Even if you didn’t know what it was, it’s very likable. You’d enjoy having it in your house and looking at it.

What’s the provenance for this work? This is from a longtime collector who had a fabulous collection [they’re] selling most of in this auction.

What is the work like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? The only thing you don’t see in the photo when you look at it in person is how the colors bleed into each other and how calming it is to be around the piece. It’s a wonderful piece.

How many Minnie Evans works have you handled at Slotin over the years? I’ve sold between 50 to 70 pieces, with her highest being over $30,000.

Would that be the auction record for Minnie Evans? That is the auction record. It was a larger piece, maybe two times the size of the one here. It was from the Rosenak collection, Chuck and Jan, who wrote the Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists. It had a lot of detail in it, faces and flowers and birds. I sold it 10 years ago. Maybe now it would go for $50,000 to $60,000. Prices have jumped so much on her work, if I had it back, it might have doubled by now.

How to bid: The Minnie Evans portrait is lot 0161 in the Spring Masterpiece Sale at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia on April 27 and 28, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Manwhich ultimately sold for $1,200. He also discussed a painting by African-American artist Sam Doyle that later commanded $17,000.

Minnie Evans died in 1987 at the age of 95, but her memory lives on at Airlie Gardens through a sculpture garden that bears her name.

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

A Demas Nwoko Painting Was Rediscovered Under a Bed in Boston. Bonhams Could Sell It for $100,000.

Children on Cycles by Demas Nwoko features a black truck at the top, with four black children, some in white and some in yellow on a red background. The four children are streamlined and abstract, with heads but no faces.

What you see: Children on Cycles, a circa 1961 painting by Nigerian artist Demas Nwoko. Bonhams estimates it at $70,000 to $100,000.

The expert: Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams.

How prolific is Nwoko? Not at all, really. His later career was as an architect. In the last 10 years, I’ve only seen four or five come to market. We’ve been lucky enough to sell three in the last four years.

When did he stop painting? I would say by the end of the 1960s he had pretty much stopped painting to concentrate on architecture.

He hasn’t gone back? No. He was born in 1935. He’s a very elderly gentleman. I think he’s hung up his paintbrush.

Do collectors prefer works from this point in his artistic career? The early 1960s is more unusual and very nice to have in some ways. He was at his most formative.

The painting is undated. How do we know he made it circa 1961? Because it was bought at the Mbari Exhibition in 1961 [in Nigeria], and it was painted for that. It was his first exhibition.

Is this image typical of his work? I would say it’s typical. When I was sent the image, I recognized it immediately. It’s definitely his kind of subject and his manner of painting. His output is not large, and he’s not a household name, but that doesn’t make him less important as an artist.

Could you tell the story of how the painting was rediscovered? I was just sent this image by the Bonhams representative in Boston. It came from the son of the collector. It had been under a bed. We knew the collector had been in Nigeria in the 1960s. They asked, “What about this, is it special?” I said it was very special indeed. It’s nice to liberate it from its dusty lair under the bed.

Speaking of it having been stashed under a bed for 50-odd years, what sort of condition is it in? Putting it under a bed keeps it pretty safe. It got a bit dusty, but the dust can be taken off. [Under a bed] is the safest place, normally. It’s important not to move it because it can get damaged.

The family didn’t display it? It’s so easy for us, knowing what it’s value is, to say, “What are they doing? Are they mad?” If you didn’t think it was anything, you wouldn’t know it was anything.

Still, I’m surprised they didn’t hang it up. It has wall presence, yes? I agree. Every piece of art is taken a different way. For whatever reason, they didn’t display it.

So Children on Cycles was known, but considered lost until now? In some ways, it was. The only previously known image of it was a black and white photo in the archives of the Harmon Foundation.

People hear stories like this all the time, of some amazing piece of art discovered in an attic or a basement after decades… this stuff actually happens. What’s nice about the story as well is the artist is like a J.D. Salinger figure. He was an incredibly talented artist who became a recluse. He became an architect and became known as an architect. I think it’s glorious, the fact that his art is coming to light and fetching strong prices.

Is he reclusive, or does he just not promote his artistic career? I would say the latter. He’s not in any way promoting his art. He’s not a hermit, but he doesn’t go to art events.

Did he paint Children on Cycles from his observations of his surroundings, or is this an invented image? I don’t know. It could be his imagination, but he’d certainly see children on cycles. The red road is redolent of the baked clay roads they have in Africa. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s what he observed.

What is it like in person? Are there aspects of the painting that the camera doesn’t pick up? In my view, it looks better in the flesh. When you get in front of the original work, it’s a lot more impressive. It’s the simplicity and the spareness of the work. The colors are strong and glowing.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000? We’ve sold two or three Nwokos in the past two or three years. It [the range] is about right. I won’t be surprised if it performs a bit better. It’s one of the nicest and best Nwokos I’ve seen.

What’s the world auction record for a Nwoko? Was it set at Bonhams? Yes, we did set it. We sold Metro Ride in October 2017 in London and Rickshaw Ride in October 2018 in London for the same sum–$106,503.

What are the odds that Children on Cycles will set a new auction record for Nwoko? At the risk of giving it the kiss of death, I think there’s a chance it will break the record. Nothing is certain at auction, but at $107,000, it hasn’t got far to go.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Probably because of the way it was discovered! [Laughs] Quite often, one goes to a collector and [the work to be consigned] is hanging on a wall to great fanfare. This came along rather gently.

How to bid: Children on Cycles is lot 6 in the Modern & Contemporary African Art sale at Bonhams New York on May 2, 2019.

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

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Giles Peppiatt appeared on The Hot Bid once before, speaking about a record-setting sculpture by Ben Enwonwu.

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

John Atkinson Grimshaw’s “Spirit of Night” Could Fly Past $500,000 at Christie’s New York

John Atkinson Grimshaw's Spirit of Night shows a fairy-like woman with delicate wings, wrapped in a see-through gown festooned with stars. She holds a wand and hovers over a seaside city. Her face, shown in profile, is haloed in gold.

What you see: Spirit of Night, an 1879 oil on canvas by John Atkinson Grimshaw. Christie’s estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

The expert: Laura Mathis, specialist, 19th century European Art at Christie’s, and head of this European Art sale.

Do we know why Grimshaw might have painted Spirit of Night? Was this a book illustration? It’s not clear why Grimshaw picked up this subject matter, but it doesn’t seem to be a book illustration. This is more from his love of poetry. It inspired him to turn to this subject, that’s my feeling.

About that. The lot notes say the painting had a tablet with a quote from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem, To Night. Was the painting directly inspired by the Shelley poem?  I think it’s all but certain he was. The words “Spirit of Night” appear as the second line of the Shelley poem. He was interested in Keats and Browning. Tennyson was a favorite. Five of his 16 kids got their names from Tennyson’s poetry.

How does the painting depict the poem? In Shelley’s poem, the poet describes the personification of night emerging from her cave, ushering the personification of day from the world, putting all the creatures to sleep. I think that’s what’s happening here.

Is the city below her identifiable as a specific place? I don’t think the city is meant to be identifiable. It’s probably meant to stand in for any town. It’s by the water, which is mentioned in the poem. He wanted to explore [the effects] of reflected light.

How many fairy pictures did Grimshaw make? It’s hard to give an exact number, but there were approximately seven or eight. They were quite popular in Victorian times but the subject was on the wane by the time Grimshaw turned to it.

Where does Spirit of Night rank among them? I would say definitely it has an interesting and important place in the corpus of fairy painting.

Grimshaw was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters. Where do we see that influence in Spirit of Night? Grimshaw starts painting in a lot of ways by looking at the Pre-Raphaelites. The use of color in the fairy wings speaks to the influence on his art and the level of detail as well, the lacy details of the fairy wings. If you get up close to the painting, the veining looks like dragonfly wings. The Pre-Raphaelites were almost fanatically interested in the most minute details of nature. That very close attention to nature is very Pre-Raphaelite.

How does the painting testify to his talent? To me, all of Grimshaw’s paintings testify to his talent. Not only was he self-taught, his family actively discouraged his painting. That he became an artist at all is a triumph. His mother would throw his paints on the fire and turn off the gas to his room, so he didn’t have heat. When he got married, he left home, and his wife, who was also his first cousin, was very instrumental in encouraging him to become a painter.

How does he achieve the luminescent effects? Because he didn’t have formal training, he taught himself. He would look at the beveled edges of mirrors to learn what the effect looks like, and his kids would bring home opalescent glass that he would keep by his easel as a reference.

Is the fairy outlined in white or silver? It’s a sort of silvery-white. It’s a very hard color to describe. The diaphanous cloth that covers her is a tour-de-force. The stars woven into the cloth is a direct reference to the poem. He doesn’t always have the easiest time painting the human form, but he really gets it spot on here.

Is that because he had a model for the Spirit of Night? Yes.

Let’s talk about that–his relationship with Agnes Leefe, and whether it was unusual or not. It sounds a bit sketchy to modern ears, but it seemed to be above board. Leefe was a ward who modeled for him and became a companion to his wife and children as well. It was like taking in a distant relative. The Grimshaws had a sad life. Of the 16 kids, six survived to adulthood. He would jokingly refer to Leefe as Little Orphan Annie.

How did they meet? I don’t know how they met, except it was in Leeds [where Leefe performed as an actress]. His daughter recalls her mom being not super thrilled when he brought her home, but she came around quick. There didn’t seem to be any impropriety. He and his wife were very happy, though Leefe’s death [from tuberculosis] was hard on them. It probably brought back memories of the losses of their other children.

How often do Grimshaw fairy paintings appear at auction? Fairly infrequently. There were two in the 1990s and two, including this one, in the 2000s. His landscapes appear more reliably.

When was the last time a Grimshaw fairy painting came up? The most recent one was in 2004, at Christie’s London. It went for just over $500,000. This one came up at Christie’s New York in 2002. It brought $537,500. The fairy pictures are tricky to price because they appear so infrequently. They’re atypical, compared to the landscapes. But 19th century European art is very image-driven. You have to take that into account when estimating.

What’s the record for a Grimshaw fairy painting? It’s this one, sold in 2002.

So there’s a chance it could reset the record? We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

What condition is the painting in? It’s in really nice condition. It does have an old lining on it but all the artist’s glazes are intact.

What is it like in person? The figure really does seem to be glowing. It pops and glows. The detail in the wings, too–you don’t pick up their lacy dragonfly quality until you get close to the painting.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? The fun of working in 19th century painting is covering so many schools and styles, and getting to see new things. I love to see an artist who’s so controlled and staid go completely outside the box. This definitely falls into that. The opalescent effect in the wings and the drapery–you don’t get that in Grimshaw’s moonlight scenes. Those are more about reflecting the light off of moss and brick. They’re beautiful, but this is in a class of its own.

How to bid: Grimshaw’s Spirit of Night is lot 51 in the European Art auction at Christie’s New York on April 30, 2019.

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Minnie Evans Work on Paper Could Sell for $8,000

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What you see: Beautiful Portrait Surrounded by Vivid Flora, a circa 1960s work on paper by self-taught African-American artist Minnie Evans. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

I’d like to start by talking about Evans herself, and how she became a self-taught artist, and how her story matches other people who became self-taught artists. She seemed compelled to make art. Is that true of many other self-taught artists? It’s very typical. We like to say our artists are untrained and unschooled in art, but something happens and they’re driven to create art. She was definitely driven to create art, and create garden-like drawings that came from her surroundings as a gatekeeper for a garden. [Evans worked as the gatekeeper for Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina from 1948 until she retired in 1974.]

She started making art at the age of 43. Is that unusually late for a self-taught artist to embark on a career? It’s hard to say what’s typical. Most artists don’t have the opportunity [to make art] until later in life. Evans created art as the gatekeeper because she had the time to do it.

Was she prolific? She was very prolific. She did a lot of drawings. Like a lot of these artists, she was somewhat obsessed with making art.

Has anyone come up with a conservative number of works that she made over her lifetime? I don’t know if there’s an actual number. She did a lot as the gatekeeper of the garden, selling them for 50 cents. There’s probably an untold number out there.

Was Evans discovered and recognized in her lifetime? She was. There was a folk art show at the Corcoran in the 1980s of self-taught African American artists [Black Folk Art in America, 1930-1980]. The show kicked off outsider art mania. It woke people up to what incredible artists we have in this country who are not influenced by academic or European masters.

Is this piece typical of Evans’s work? It’s very typical and very desirable. It’s got a central face with flora around it, and the colors are beautiful and strong, with one color bleeding into the next. It’s a really good indication of what her work looks like.

Is this a self-portrait? I don’t think it’s a self-portrait. It doesn’t look like her. She had a rounder face. I think there’s one distinct facial type that she does, and like the colors, the faces range the gamut from Caucasian to Native American to African-American depending on the individual piece.

How is she producing the effect of colors bleeding into the next–by mixing crayon and colored pencil? Back in the day I’m sure no one thought this would be as important as it is. [She worked with] everything she could get her hands on. That’s how most folk artists worked. Because no one considered them artists, they didn’t have the means to buy the best materials. I don’t know how she did it [the effect], but she did the best with what she had.

This is undated, but it has a circa date of the 1960s. Is that the period of her career that collectors prefer? Her strongest periods were the 1950s and 1960s. The look of it is really powerful and detailed. People like this period because the colors are strong and vivid and just beautiful. This is what they want to live with. In the 1970s, she was older, and not as strong, and may have spent less time on [each work].

The lot notes describe the piece as being in excellent condition. What does that mean here? I’m looking at the condition of the paper and the work. There’s no tears, no holes, and if it had paint on it, it means there’s no cracking or crazing or flaking off. Overall it’s in great condition.

Is that unusual for an Evans, given that she sold them directly to visitors to the garden where she worked as a gatekeeper? Remarkably, her paintings did well over time. We typically find them in really good condition. It would have been easy just to discard it if it was bought as a fluke. People saved them. Even if you didn’t know what it was, it’s very likable. You’d enjoy having it in your house and looking at it.

What’s the provenance for this work? This is from a longtime collector who had a fabulous collection [they’re] selling most of in this auction.

What is the work like in person? Are there aspects of it that the camera doesn’t quite pick up? The only thing you don’t see in the photo when you look at it in person is how the colors bleed into each other and how calming it is to be around the piece. It’s a wonderful piece.

How many Minnie Evans works have you handled at Slotin over the years? I’ve sold between 50 to 70 pieces, with her highest being over $30,000.

Would that be the auction record for Minnie Evans? That is the auction record. It was a larger piece, maybe two times the size of the one here. It was from the Rosenak collection, Chuck and Jan, who wrote the Museum of American Folk Art Encyclopedia of Twentieth Century American Folk Art and Artists. It had a lot of detail in it, faces and flowers and birds. I sold it 10 years ago. Maybe now it would go for $50,000 to $60,000. Prices have jumped so much on her work, if I had it back, it might have doubled by now.

How to bid: The Minnie Evans portrait is lot 0161 in the Spring Masterpiece Sale at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia on April 27 and 28, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page.

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Manwhich ultimately sold for $1,200. He also discussed a painting by African-American artist Sam Doyle that later commanded $17,000.

Minnie Evans died in 1987 at the age of 95, but her memory lives on at Airlie Gardens through a sculpture garden that bears her name.

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

SOLD! An Antonio Jacobsen Schooner Portrait Sailed Away with (Scroll Down to See)

Antonio Jacobsen's 1911 portrait of the schooner dubbed Goldfield depicts the white-bodied vessel in profile, prow to the left. Its four masts are topped by, respectively, an American jack, a line flag, a flag with the ship's name, and the American flag.

Update: The Antonio Jacobsen portrait of the Goldfield sold for $8,400.

What you see: A portrait of the Goldfield, a four-masted schooner, painted in 1911 by Antonio Nicole Gasparo Jacobsen. Eldred’s estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

How prolific was Jacobsen? Extremely prolific. It’s estimated that he painted over 6,000 works. He had a long career, and he was also good and reasonable, so he was popular.

Did he only paint portraits of ships? Pretty much. 99 percent of what we see are ship portraits.

Do we know how many of his ship portraits depict schooners? I’m not sure, but what’s interesting about Antonio Jacobsen’s career is it follows the development of American naval history. Earlier paintings are more likely to be traditional sailing ships.

This is a schooner, and he painted it in 1911. Is that unusual for him? It’s pretty classic for him. It’s a little late for him. After 1905, you start to see yachts and racing scenes and more interesting things. He had achieved success in his career [by then]. He was financially sound. The captain or the lead engineer might have commissioned it. If there were multiple owners, he might do multiple portraits of the same ship.

What do we know about the Goldfield? We don’t know too much about it.

Do collectors have a preference for an era or phase of his career? Every collector is different. Certain Antonio Jacobsen collectors only want certain lines of steamships. Some like to collect family ships–their great-grandfather might have invested in a certain ship, and they want that. Generic collectors prefer them to 1890 to 1895. When you start to get to the early 1900s, unless it’s a great example, they don’t pay quite as much.

What details mark this as an Antonio Jacobsen? The treatment of the ship is very typical, and the water is very typical. For post-1905 paintings, Jacobsen employed his kids sometimes to do the water and the sky. With this one, and it’s more of a feeling, he did the water rather than his kids. In my opinion, and there’s no way to tell for sure, his kids might have played a part in the sky in this one, but I think the water and the ship are all him.

What points to the waves being typical of him? It’s more the way he painted the waves. They have a wonderful modulation of colors, and [it’s in] the way the boat touches the water.

Could you explain the meanings behind the pennants that top some of the masts? Obviously one is the American flag and one has the ship’s name. What are the second and the first ones? The line was part of WW. They co-owned the ship. The pennant on the foremast [the one with a blue background and white speckles] is the American jack. It represents it as an American ship. A lot of times it was on when the ship was moored. Above the American flag, there’s a wind indicator.

How did he do this? Would he have worked from a template, or did he view the ship in person? Most likely, he observed it in person and created a sketch. Generally what would happen is the ship would come into port and the captain or the owner would ask [would commission a painting from Jacobsen]. He’d sketch it and would deliver it the next time they were in town.

What condition is it in? This one is in pretty good shape. There’s a little inpainted sky. At one point in its life it suffered some sort of paint loss or damage, and the restorer carefully fixed it.

How did you arrive at the estimate? We’ve been in business since 1948, and we’ve sold hundreds of Jacobsens over the years. When you have 6,000, 7,000 paintings, there’s a lot of art out there. A lot of the paintings are owned by New England people.

What is it like in person? It’s a pretty fair representation. It’s a vibrant picture in person. The sails have a little air in them. It’s in movement. One of the things I like about it is the activity on the deck. It’s a nice detail to have.

How to bid: Jacobsen’s portrait of the Goldfield is lot 423 in the Spring Sale at Eldred’s on April 5 and 6, 2019.

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

Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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WOW! Emma Amos’s Let Me Off Uptown Set a New World Auction Record for the Artist

Emma Amos's mixed-media work Let Me Off Uptown is a large, square piece that showcases a dancing couple who hold hands. The black, besuited gentleman dancer tips his hat to the light-skinned woman, who has black stiletto heels and a spaghetti-strap red dress that falls to the knee. A green circle behind the couple draws the eye to them. Tiny figures appear across the background. All are jubilant. Most are dancing. All races and ages are represented, and there's at least one dancing dog.

Update: Let Me Off Uptown sold for $125,000, more than tripling the previous world auction record for the artist at auction. Hooray!

What you see: Let Me Off Uptown, which measures 80 inches by 78 7/8 inches and was created by African-American artist Emma Amos between 1999 and 2000. It incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.

The lot notes say Let Me Off Uptown is “a significant work from Emma Amos’s important series of paintings on fabric from the late 1990s that celebrate African-American women”. How big is the series? Is it still ongoing? She did a large group of work in the 90s where images of women were painted on canvas not on stretcher bars [a traditional treatment for paintings] but on hanging cloth. It extended to the mid-2000s. She’s not working on it now.

What do we know about how Amos made the mixed media work? Artists like Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold, when they came up in the 1960s and 1970s, the gallery system was very difficult for women to get any representation. Male abstract painters predominated. There were few spaces in the art world for empowering images of African-American women. She was very much a part of the African-American movement and the women’s movement. She took all those elements in the 1980s and 1990s and found a way to paint the imagery and make it her own–large figurative subjects about women, the bodies of women, and the roles women had in society. This is more celebratory. It’s about African-American culture and about jazz. It shows how jazz brings different people together.

Is the woman in red a self-portrait? Is she Amos? I don’t believe so.

Why did she name the work Let Me Off Uptown? It’s a reference to Harlem. That was where you got off the train to listen to jazz music.

Did she use models for the main figures or any of the smaller figures? I don’t know precisely her practice, but I would think it’s a variety of sources. [The man] could be someone she knows, I really can’t say, but it’s not portraiture. It’s not important who these people are–it’s what they represent. For centuries, images of African-Americans in art were either put on the sidelines, completely secondary, or they were caricatures. Since the Harlem Renaissance, [African-American artists have] taken over the representation of their figures and made a viable language. Like other contemporary artists, Amos has focused on the figure, and has embraced making figurative art that shows African-Americans doing things. In her case, they have larger symbolic meanings. They speak to a larger discourse about how we view African-Americans and African-American figures in our art. She wants to change the way we look at art.

The lot notes say Amos “has long sought to deconstruct traditional representations of beauty”. How does she do that here? With these images of celebratory figures and dancers [she asks] what is a beautiful figure? Can an African-American woman stand in for other figures that traditionally represent women and ideals of beauty? That is where she’s coming from. The classical models from art history are Eurocentric. Black bodies, shapes and colors and the way they look, are not necessarily considered ideal in art. She makes ordinary people heroic. These [the two main figures] are painted six feet high, at a scale and size that are almost lifelike, if not lifelike. She says they are people we should celebrate.

Do any of the smaller figures carry meanings that might not be immediately obvious? When you first look at it, it looks like lots of fun, dancing figures, but a lot of them are subversive. Some are unclothed. Different races and genders together. Music and freedom. At the beginning of the 20th century, jazz was revolutionary. It represented freedom and improvisation. She’s definitely tapping into that here. It’s a great party of twirling figures, having a great time.

What details stand out to you? The fun thing about her work is the different levels it works on. It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.

Amos included this work in her 2000 application for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation fellowship, which she won. Does that affect collectors’ interest in the work, or its value, at all? I think it’s a nice plus. It certainly shows the reputation of her work strongly.

I’d been calling her a fabric artist but it seems like “mixed media artist” is better… She’s really a painter, a collage artist, and a printmaker. It’s a bit simplistic to call her a fabric artist. That’s one element of her work. Sometimes she paints on textile, but she’s a multimedia artist, absolutely.

What is Let Me Off Uptown like in person? It has a human scale to it. It’s about six feet high. What you can’t necessarily see in the catalog is there’s a wonderful variety of texture. The surface has a wonderful shimmer. There’s a richness to it. It doesn’t just have a flat, uniform surface.

Are her works usually this colorful and lively? Let Me Off Uptown is not an anomaly. Her works are often dynamic and brightly colored, with large figures taking up the whole picture plane.

How rarely do pieces by Amos appear at auction? We’ve been selling her work in our auctions since the start of our African-American Fine Art auctions in 2007. Primarily they were prints and works on paper. Then last year [in October 2018], we sold Arched Swimmer, the first large, unique painting we had of hers. It was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 and, with the buyer’s premium, sold for $40,000 and set an auction record for her. That painting set the stage for this one. It’s quite possible this work will set a new record. Her work is in people’s minds. That’s why it felt like a good time to bring this to auction now.

Why might Let Me Off Uptown beat the sum achieved by Arched Swimmer? First of all, it’s a larger, more complex piece. Arched Swimmer was 30 inches by 32 inches, and it was a stretch canvas. It was not one of the larger hanging pieces, and it’s a quarter of the size of the work we’re selling now. I think we’ll have a lot of interest in it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think it’s a fantastic image of dance and jazz. It’s a joyous image, and it’s what her work is all about.

How to bid: Let Me Off Uptown is lot 163 in the African-American Fine Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on April 4, 2019.

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

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Nigel Freeman has appeared on The Hot Bid many times before, talking about a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, a story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelou, an Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask. The Ringgold and the Johnson set records for the respective artists.

Emma Amos has a website. She’s represented by the Ryan Lee Gallery.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

An Antonio Jacobsen Schooner Portrait from 1911 Could Command $10,000

Antonio Jacobsen's 1911 portrait of the schooner dubbed Goldfield depicts the white-bodied vessel in profile, prow to the left. Its four masts are topped by, respectively, an American jack, a line flag, a flag with the ship's name, and the American flag.

What you see: A portrait of the Goldfield, a four-masted schooner, painted in 1911 by Antonio Nicole Gasparo Jacobsen. Eldred’s estimates it at $8,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

How prolific was Jacobsen? Extremely prolific. It’s estimated that he painted over 6,000 works. He had a long career, and he was also good and reasonable, so he was popular.

Did he only paint portraits of ships? Pretty much. 99 percent of what we see are ship portraits.

Do we know how many of his ship portraits depict schooners? I’m not sure, but what’s interesting about Antonio Jacobsen’s career is it follows the development of American naval history. Earlier paintings are more likely to be traditional sailing ships.

This is a schooner, and he painted it in 1911. Is that unusual for him? It’s pretty classic for him. It’s a little late for him. After 1905, you start to see yachts and racing scenes and more interesting things. He had achieved success in his career [by then]. He was financially sound. The captain or the lead engineer might have commissioned it. If there were multiple owners, he might do multiple portraits of the same ship.

What do we know about the Goldfield? We don’t know too much about it.

Do collectors have a preference for an era or phase of his career? Every collector is different. Certain Antonio Jacobsen collectors only want certain lines of steamships. Some like to collect family ships–their great-grandfather might have invested in a certain ship, and they want that. Generic collectors prefer them to 1890 to 1895. When you start to get to the early 1900s, unless it’s a great example, they don’t pay quite as much.

What details mark this as an Antonio Jacobsen? The treatment of the ship is very typical, and the water is very typical. For post-1905 paintings, Jacobsen employed his kids sometimes to do the water and the sky. With this one, and it’s more of a feeling, he did the water rather than his kids. In my opinion, and there’s no way to tell for sure, his kids might have played a part in the sky in this one, but I think the water and the ship are all him.

What points to the waves being typical of him? It’s more the way he painted the waves. They have a wonderful modulation of colors, and [it’s in] the way the boat touches the water.

Could you explain the meanings behind the pennants that top some of the masts? Obviously one is the American flag and one has the ship’s name. What are the second and the first ones? The line was part of WW. They co-owned the ship. The pennant on the foremast [the one with a blue background and white speckles] is the American jack. It represents it as an American ship. A lot of times it was on when the ship was moored. Above the American flag, there’s a wind indicator.

How did he do this? Would he have worked from a template, or did he view the ship in person? Most likely, he observed it in person and created a sketch. Generally what would happen is the ship would come into port and the captain or the owner would ask [would commission a painting from Jacobsen]. He’d sketch it and would deliver it the next time they were in town.

What condition is it in? This one is in pretty good shape. There’s a little inpainted sky. At one point in its life it suffered some sort of paint loss or damage, and the restorer carefully fixed it.

How did you arrive at the estimate? We’ve been in business since 1948, and we’ve sold hundreds of Jacobsens over the years. When you have 6,000, 7,000 paintings, there’s a lot of art out there. A lot of the paintings are owned by New England people.

What is it like in person? It’s a pretty fair representation. It’s a vibrant picture in person. The sails have a little air in them. It’s in movement. One of the things I like about it is the activity on the deck. It’s a nice detail to have.

How to bid: Jacobsen’s portrait of the Goldfield is lot 423 in the Spring Sale at Eldred’s on April 5 and 6, 2019.

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

Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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

SOLD! Original Art from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman Sold For… (Click to See)

Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. It was penciled by Mike Dringenberg and inked by Malcolm Jones III. At the top we see a splash page featuring Rose Walker and Dream. Fun Land appears in some of the lower panels. The page depicts Dream planting dreams in the characters' heads, and we see the dream he planted in Fun Land's head. The page is rendered in black and white.

Update: The page sold for $14,278–a new record for artwork from the original series of The Sandman.

What you see: Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Penciled by Mike Dringenberg and inked by Malcolm Jones III, Hake’s Americana & Collectibles estimates it at $5,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles.

How often do original pieces of art from the Sandman series of comic books come to auction? The Sandman is its own universe at this point. The basis of The Sandman is the 75 [issues] plus one special that ran between 1989 and 1996. [There are also two later series.] Upwards of 2,000 original pieces of art could come from that series. We don’t know how many have come on the market, but we’ve had two. It’s safe to say it’s a fraction of what was created for the comic book.

I see three images with the lot. Is that what the winning bidder gets, or are some of the images there solely for context? You just get the first piece [the piece on the left of the three shown with the lot]. The next image is a detail of the panel, and the next is the cover of the comic book it was published in.

The lot notes says there are seven panels in the original art, but I only see five. Where are the two that I missed? The middle panel of the bottom three panels, the Fun Land panels, has three different narrative scenes in it. [It looks like one panel, but it counts as three.]

The lot notes say the artwork contains a “splash panel.” What is a splash panel, and why might the artist have used one here? In the beginning stages, it meant a full page of art. As it evolved [it came to mean] a bigger than normal panel. A true splash is one full page, one scene, almost like a cover.

The illustration at the top, of Dream holding Rose Walker, is the splash panel? Yes.

Why might Dringenberg have used a splash panel here? That’s a question for the artist, but what’s interesting about The Sandman is the different artists he [Neil Gaiman] used, and their styles are all incorporated with the comic book. He worked closely with the artists and co-created with the artists. The Sandman series let them do different things no one had seen in comic books before. It was a groundbreaking series. Gaiman picked artists with very different styles for different story lines. There were no rules. Every artist was very distinct, and not every artist did a complete story line. The Doll’s House story line [depicted in this panel] ran from issues nine to 16.

The art comprises two boards that together measure 11 inches by 17 inches. Is that typical for art created for comic books? No, it’s never been a typical practice. Usually there’s one sheet and that’s that. It’s not like it’s never been done by anybody before, but it’s not the norm, no.

Why might Dringenberg have done that here? I guess it’s his artistic process. Maybe it was easier for him to do this and put it on the page. I would think the effect [of the splash page] is the reason why it was done the way it was done.

And Dringenberg did the watercolor effect we see behind Dream and Rose Walker? It’s all him. It’s not penciled in by anybody else. This is a guy who did many different things, unlike a comic book artist. Usually, comic book artists who paint just paint, and those who draw just draw. He mixed media together, which is why his art is well liked. It’s different and quite striking. What makes the page so nice is that top panel.

Could you explain why most comic books have a pencil artist and an ink artist? Many times an artist does pencil and another does ink. Sometimes one does it all. You look for a team that works together and makes a page look cohesive. Here, Dringenberger did the penciling and Malcolm Jones III came in over the top of the penciling [with ink] and made it more detailed.

What is happening on this particular page? What is happening in the story? The Sandman is a very tough series to describe. It’s very deep, very literate. It won awards that no comic book had won before. It’s on another level in many different ways. There might have been stand-alone issues, but most were multi-story arc issues, with three to four [storylines] in an issue. Some comic books can be summed up as “Batman beats Superman.” With The Sandman, you can’t say that.

The page shows three characters from The Sandman–Dream, Rose Walker, and Fun Land. Which one do collectors most want to see? Dream is the lead character of the series. His official name is Morpheus, but he’s also called Dream and The Sandman. Every time you have the Sandman, it’s desirable. The top splash panel makes it unique. As a collector, it’s what you look for.

Dream is depicted planting dreams in the other characters’ heads. Does that make the original artwork more interesting to collectors than panels or pages that show Dream doing other things? It’s something he was known to do, yes. It’s more interesting. As a Sandman fan, it’s an element that I like.

Did Neil Gaiman have veto power over the artwork that was created for The Sandman comic book? I don’t know his work process, but I think he would have been right there with the artist every step of the way. I think he picked artists who he knew would work well. It was a collaborative process.

Is there any indication that Gaiman asked for changes or edits to the artwork that we see in this panel? No, there’s no indication of it here.

Do collectors of original comic book art for The Sandman have a preference for a specific era within the series, or do they go after everything and anything because so little has come to auction? It’s a combination of it being so rare, and I don’t think you’ll find Sandman fans who don’t like the entire run. It had a definite story line. It didn’t go on and on. It was very much Neil Gaiman’s creation. People who love Neil Gaiman love everything he did. Some fans of Sandman go for one page from every artist associated with the series. Then it comes down to the fact that relatively few pages have come to market.

Where are the rest of the hundreds of pieces of art used to create the original 75-plus-one-special series of The Sandman? Are they with the artists who made them, or with DC Comics, which published the series, or with Neil Gaiman…? That’s a question probably everybody is asking, because there are so few pages that have come up. One of the other artists on the series, Jill Thompson, she had some Sandman art herself and sold it. It’s a combination of Neil Gaiman probably kept some art and the artists certainly kept some art. DC, I don’t know. It’s one of the great questions–where is it, who has it.

The owners have generally been closed-mouthed? Typically, if the artist has the art, it’s not a big secret. I don’t know if it’s a well-kept secret or if the question has never really been asked of the right people. There could be plenty in the hands of private collectors that we don’t know about, either.

How did this panel come to you? This and another killer piece, the Rob Liefeld Deadpool, came from the same person. He passed away, and the family liquidated. The story from the family is he bought it at a comic book convention in the early 90s. I don’t know if he bought it from a dealer or the artist. It’s been off the market since it was created. That makes it more desirable. It is, as they say, fresh to market.

The lot notes describe the panel as “clean.” What does “clean” mean here, when we’re talking about a functional piece of art that wasn’t created to be collected? It’s a term that lets you know it was well cared for. The art has no notable defects or blemishes.

What’s the current auction record for an original piece of comic book art for The Sandman? It’s a hard thing to track down because some auction houses don’t track results. Heritage Auctions sold the paperback cover art to Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes for $26,290 in 2017, but it’s technically not from the original run. The next result Heritage had happens to be from page 30 of Number 14, the same issue we have. It sold for $13,145 in 2014. That was five years ago, and the market has changed dramatically. I’d love to say we’ll exceed what they got. The fact that it’s already at $6,000 bodes well, but it’s hard to predict where it will end up. [The Heritage example] didn’t have a splash, but it had Dream in every panel, and it’s very distinct.

Yes, let’s talk about how the lot is doing. We’re conducting this interview on February 26, 2019. The online bids are just above $6,000, with 15 days to go until the auction closes. Is that meaningful? To have a piece jump off to where it is already does bode well. I personally like to see an item take off early. Usually, it translates to more action in the later days, but not always. A lot of art guys are used to bidding feverishly in the final hours.

What is this piece like in person? You definitely get the impact of it. The splash takes it to a different dimension.

How does this panel from The Sandman compare to the other two sold at Hake’s? The other two we had were very nice. The Jill Thompson brought $7,000 in 2014, and the Sam Kieth featured a character, John Constantine, who existed [In the DC Comics world] previous to The Sandman. There was no Sandman character, but it still brought $3,500 in 2015.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The splash art at the top makes it different from the run of the series. This one you look at and boom, you focus on the top panel. Even if you’re a fringe comic book person, if you see it hanging somewhere, you think, “Oh, that’s Sandman.” There was stunning art through the whole run. As much as The Sandman was about the writing, the artwork is spectacular. With comic books, sometimes the art is great but the story is just ok, or the art is just ok but the story is great. With this, all 75 issues plus the special are great. It never jumped the shark. I’m a lifelong comic book geek. If someone came in and asked me, “What should I read?” I’d hand them The Sandman.

How to bid: The original comic book art from The Sandman is item 1112 in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Auction #226, which ends on March 14, 2019.

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

Hake’s Americana & Collectibles is on Twitter and Instagram. Neil Gaiman is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Image is courtesy of Hake’s.

Alex Winter spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a record-setting 1978 Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure and a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

Learn more about The Sandman comic book on the DC Vertigo site.

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

Emma Amos’s Let Me Off Uptown Could Sell for $60,000

Emma Amos's mixed-media work Let Me Off Uptown is a large, square piece that showcases a dancing couple who hold hands. The black, besuited gentleman dancer tips his hat to the light-skinned woman, who has black stiletto heels and a spaghetti-strap red dress that falls to the knee. A green circle behind the couple draws the eye to them. Tiny figures appear across the background. All are jubilant. Most are dancing. All races and ages are represented, and there's at least one dancing dog.

What you see: Let Me Off Uptown, which measures 80 inches by 78 7/8 inches and was created by African-American artist Emma Amos between 1999 and 2000. It incorporates several media, including oil and photo transfer on linen canvas, metallic paint, glitter, collage, and African fabric borders. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

The expert: Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department.

The lot notes say Let Me Off Uptown is “a significant work from Emma Amos’s important series of paintings on fabric from the late 1990s that celebrate African-American women”. How big is the series? Is it still ongoing? She did a large group of work in the 90s where images of women were painted on canvas not on stretcher bars [a traditional treatment for paintings] but on hanging cloth. It extended to the mid-2000s. She’s not working on it now.

What do we know about how Amos made the mixed media work? Artists like Emma Amos and Faith Ringgold, when they came up in the 1960s and 1970s, the gallery system was very difficult for women to get any representation. Male abstract painters predominated. There were few spaces in the art world for empowering images of African-American women. She was very much a part of the African-American movement and the women’s movement. She took all those elements in the 1980s and 1990s and found a way to paint the imagery and make it her own–large figurative subjects about women, the bodies of women, and the roles women had in society. This is more celebratory. It’s about African-American culture and about jazz. It shows how jazz brings different people together.

Is the woman in red a self-portrait? Is she Amos? I don’t believe so.

Why did she name the work Let Me Off Uptown? It’s a reference to Harlem. That was where you got off the train to listen to jazz music.

Did she use models for the main figures or any of the smaller figures? I don’t know precisely her practice, but I would think it’s a variety of sources. [The man] could be someone she knows, I really can’t say, but it’s not portraiture. It’s not important who these people are–it’s what they represent. For centuries, images of African-Americans in art were either put on the sidelines, completely secondary, or they were caricatures. Since the Harlem Renaissance, [African-American artists have] taken over the representation of their figures and made a viable language. Like other contemporary artists, Amos has focused on the figure, and has embraced making figurative art that shows African-Americans doing things. In her case, they have larger symbolic meanings. They speak to a larger discourse about how we view African-Americans and African-American figures in our art. She wants to change the way we look at art.

The lot notes say Amos “has long sought to deconstruct traditional representations of beauty”. How does she do that here? With these images of celebratory figures and dancers [she asks] what is a beautiful figure? Can an African-American woman stand in for other figures that traditionally represent women and ideals of beauty? That is where she’s coming from. The classical models from art history are Eurocentric. Black bodies, shapes and colors and the way they look, are not necessarily considered ideal in art. She makes ordinary people heroic. These [the two main figures] are painted six feet high, at a scale and size that are almost lifelike, if not lifelike. She says they are people we should celebrate.

Do any of the smaller figures carry meanings that might not be immediately obvious? When you first look at it, it looks like lots of fun, dancing figures, but a lot of them are subversive. Some are unclothed. Different races and genders together. Music and freedom. At the beginning of the 20th century, jazz was revolutionary. It represented freedom and improvisation. She’s definitely tapping into that here. It’s a great party of twirling figures, having a great time.

What details stand out to you? The fun thing about her work is the different levels it works on. It’s a really strong image of a dancing couple, but as you look at it, little details show her sense of humor and intelligence. Look at her [the main female figure’s] dress. The bodice is covered with smiling lips. [laughs] It’s a cheeky, fun thing. You don’t notice it at first, and it’s all very seamless. She really integrates everything well. It comes from her great sense of material–from her fabric and printmaking and painting, which she brings together in works from the 1990s and 2000s.

Amos included this work in her 2000 application for a Pollock-Krasner Foundation fellowship, which she won. Does that affect collectors’ interest in the work, or its value, at all? I think it’s a nice plus. It certainly shows the reputation of her work strongly.

I’d been calling her a fabric artist but it seems like “mixed media artist” is better… She’s really a painter, a collage artist, and a printmaker. It’s a bit simplistic to call her a fabric artist. That’s one element of her work. Sometimes she paints on textile, but she’s a multimedia artist, absolutely.

What is Let Me Off Uptown like in person? It has a human scale to it. It’s about six feet high. What you can’t necessarily see in the catalog is there’s a wonderful variety of texture. The surface has a wonderful shimmer. There’s a richness to it. It doesn’t just have a flat, uniform surface.

Are her works usually this colorful and lively? Let Me Off Uptown is not an anomaly. Her works are often dynamic and brightly colored, with large figures taking up the whole picture plane.

How rarely do pieces by Amos appear at auction? We’ve been selling her work in our auctions since the start of our African-American Fine Art auctions in 2007. Primarily they were prints and works on paper. Then last year [in October 2018], we sold Arched Swimmer, the first large, unique painting we had of hers. It was estimated at $10,000 to $15,000 and, with the buyer’s premium, sold for $40,000 and set an auction record for her. That painting set the stage for this one. It’s quite possible this work will set a new record. Her work is in people’s minds. That’s why it felt like a good time to bring this to auction now.

Why might Let Me Off Uptown beat the sum achieved by Arched Swimmer? First of all, it’s a larger, more complex piece. Arched Swimmer was 30 inches by 32 inches, and it was a stretch canvas. It was not one of the larger hanging pieces, and it’s a quarter of the size of the work we’re selling now. I think we’ll have a lot of interest in it.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? I think it’s a fantastic image of dance and jazz. It’s a joyous image, and it’s what her work is all about.

How to bid: Let Me Off Uptown is lot 163 in the African-American Fine Art sale taking place at Swann Auction Galleries on April 4, 2019.

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

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

Nigel Freeman has appeared on The Hot Bid many times before, talking about a set of Emperor Jones prints by Harlem Renaissance artist Aaron Douglas, a story quilt that Oprah Winfrey commissioned Faith Ringgold to make about Dr. Maya Angelou, an Elizabeth Catlett painting, and a Sargent Johnson copper mask. The Ringgold and the Johnson set records for the respective artists.

Emma Amos has a website. She’s represented by the Ryan Lee Gallery.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

SOLD! Giovanni Boldini’s Charming Portrait of John Singer Sargent Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Giovanni Boldini's oil on panel portrait of John Singer Sargent shows the man in full, facing the viewer but not locking eyes with us. He has hitched his thumbs into the band of his waistcoat. He has threaded his cane behind his back, resting the ends on his elbows. While the image of Sargent is finished, the portrait and especially its background have a sketchy feel, with dozens of visible brush strokes.

Update: Giovanni Boldini’s oil on panel portrait of John Singer Sargent sold for £371,250, or about $494,000.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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Fans of Neil Gaiman and Comic Books, Rejoice. Hake’s Has an Original Page From The Sandman That Could Fetch $10,000

Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. It was penciled by Mike Dringenberg and inked by Malcolm Jones III. At the top we see a splash page featuring Rose Walker and Dream. Fun Land appears in some of the lower panels. The page depicts Dream planting dreams in the characters' heads, and we see the dream he planted in Fun Land's head. The page is rendered in black and white.

What you see: Original artwork for page 33 of the Volume 2, Number 14 issue of The Sandman, which was released in March 1990. Penciled by Mike Dringenberg and inked by Malcolm Jones III, Hake’s Americana & Collectibles estimates it at $5,000 to $10,000.

The expert: Alex Winter, President of Hake’s Americana & Collectibles.

How often do original pieces of art from the Sandman series of comic books come to auction? The Sandman is its own universe at this point. The basis of The Sandman is the 75 [issues] plus one special that ran between 1989 and 1996. [There are also two later series.] Upwards of 2,000 original pieces of art could come from that series. We don’t know how many have come on the market, but we’ve had two. It’s safe to say it’s a fraction of what was created for the comic book.

I see three images with the lot. Is that what the winning bidder gets, or are some of the images there solely for context? You just get the first piece [the piece on the left of the three shown with the lot]. The next image is a detail of the panel, and the next is the cover of the comic book it was published in.

The lot notes says there are seven panels in the original art, but I only see five. Where are the two that I missed? The middle panel of the bottom three panels, the Fun Land panels, has three different narrative scenes in it. [It looks like one panel, but it counts as three.]

The lot notes say the artwork contains a “splash panel.” What is a splash panel, and why might the artist have used one here? In the beginning stages, it meant a full page of art. As it evolved [it came to mean] a bigger than normal panel. A true splash is one full page, one scene, almost like a cover.

The illustration at the top, of Dream holding Rose Walker, is the splash panel? Yes.

Why might Dringenberg have used a splash panel here? That’s a question for the artist, but what’s interesting about The Sandman is the different artists he [Neil Gaiman] used, and their styles are all incorporated with the comic book. He worked closely with the artists and co-created with the artists. The Sandman series let them do different things no one had seen in comic books before. It was a groundbreaking series. Gaiman picked artists with very different styles for different story lines. There were no rules. Every artist was very distinct, and not every artist did a complete story line. The Doll’s House story line [depicted in this panel] ran from issues nine to 16.

The art comprises two boards that together measure 11 inches by 17 inches. Is that typical for art created for comic books? No, it’s never been a typical practice. Usually there’s one sheet and that’s that. It’s not like it’s never been done by anybody before, but it’s not the norm, no.

Why might Dringenberg have done that here? I guess it’s his artistic process. Maybe it was easier for him to do this and put it on the page. I would think the effect [of the splash page] is the reason why it was done the way it was done.

And Dringenberg did the watercolor effect we see behind Dream and Rose Walker? It’s all him. It’s not penciled in by anybody else. This is a guy who did many different things, unlike a comic book artist. Usually, comic book artists who paint just paint, and those who draw just draw. He mixed media together, which is why his art is well liked. It’s different and quite striking. What makes the page so nice is that top panel.

Could you explain why most comic books have a pencil artist and an ink artist? Many times an artist does pencil and another does ink. Sometimes one does it all. You look for a team that works together and makes a page look cohesive. Here, Dringenberger did the penciling and Malcolm Jones III came in over the top of the penciling [with ink] and made it more detailed.

What is happening on this particular page? What is happening in the story? The Sandman is a very tough series to describe. It’s very deep, very literate. It won awards that no comic book had won before. It’s on another level in many different ways. There might have been stand-alone issues, but most were multi-story arc issues, with three to four [storylines] in an issue. Some comic books can be summed up as “Batman beats Superman.” With The Sandman, you can’t say that.

The page shows three characters from The Sandman–Dream, Rose Walker, and Fun Land. Which one do collectors most want to see? Dream is the lead character of the series. His official name is Morpheus, but he’s also called Dream and The Sandman. Every time you have the Sandman, it’s desirable. The top splash panel makes it unique. As a collector, it’s what you look for.

Dream is depicted planting dreams in the other characters’ heads. Does that make the original artwork more interesting to collectors than panels or pages that show Dream doing other things? It’s something he was known to do, yes. It’s more interesting. As a Sandman fan, it’s an element that I like.

Did Neil Gaiman have veto power over the artwork that was created for The Sandman comic book? I don’t know his work process, but I think he would have been right there with the artist every step of the way. I think he picked artists who he knew would work well. It was a collaborative process.

Is there any indication that Gaiman asked for changes or edits to the artwork that we see in this panel? No, there’s no indication of it here.

Do collectors of original comic book art for The Sandman have a preference for a specific era within the series, or do they go after everything and anything because so little has come to auction? It’s a combination of it being so rare, and I don’t think you’ll find Sandman fans who don’t like the entire run. It had a definite story line. It didn’t go on and on. It was very much Neil Gaiman’s creation. People who love Neil Gaiman love everything he did. Some fans of Sandman go for one page from every artist associated with the series. Then it comes down to the fact that relatively few pages have come to market.

Where are the rest of the hundreds of pieces of art used to create the original 75-plus-one-special series of The Sandman? Are they with the artists who made them, or with DC Comics, which published the series, or with Neil Gaiman…? That’s a question probably everybody is asking, because there are so few pages that have come up. One of the other artists on the series, Jill Thompson, she had some Sandman art herself and sold it. It’s a combination of Neil Gaiman probably kept some art and the artists certainly kept some art. DC, I don’t know. It’s one of the great questions–where is it, who has it.

The owners have generally been closed-mouthed? Typically, if the artist has the art, it’s not a big secret. I don’t know if it’s a well-kept secret or if the question has never really been asked of the right people. There could be plenty in the hands of private collectors that we don’t know about, either.

How did this panel come to you? This and another killer piece, the Rob Liefeld Deadpool, came from the same person. He passed away, and the family liquidated. The story from the family is he bought it at a comic book convention in the early 90s. I don’t know if he bought it from a dealer or the artist. It’s been off the market since it was created. That makes it more desirable. It is, as they say, fresh to market.

The lot notes describe the panel as “clean.” What does “clean” mean here, when we’re talking about a functional piece of art that wasn’t created to be collected? It’s a term that lets you know it was well cared for. The art has no notable defects or blemishes.

What’s the current auction record for an original piece of comic book art for The Sandman? It’s a hard thing to track down because some auction houses don’t track results. Heritage Auctions sold the paperback cover art to Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes for $26,290 in 2017, but it’s technically not from the original run. The next result Heritage had happens to be from page 30 of Number 14, the same issue we have. It sold for $13,145 in 2014. That was five years ago, and the market has changed dramatically. I’d love to say we’ll exceed what they got. The fact that it’s already at $6,000 bodes well, but it’s hard to predict where it will end up. [The Heritage example] didn’t have a splash, but it had Dream in every panel, and it’s very distinct.

Yes, let’s talk about how the lot is doing. We’re conducting this interview on February 26, 2019. The online bids are just above $6,000, with 15 days to go until the auction closes. Is that meaningful? To have a piece jump off to where it is already does bode well. I personally like to see an item take off early. Usually, it translates to more action in the later days, but not always. A lot of art guys are used to bidding feverishly in the final hours.

What is this piece like in person? You definitely get the impact of it. The splash takes it to a different dimension.

How does this panel from The Sandman compare to the other two sold at Hake’s? The other two we had were very nice. The Jill Thompson brought $7,000 in 2014, and the Sam Kieth featured a character, John Constantine, who existed [In the DC Comics world] previous to The Sandman. There was no Sandman character, but it still brought $3,500 in 2015.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The splash art at the top makes it different from the run of the series. This one you look at and boom, you focus on the top panel. Even if you’re a fringe comic book person, if you see it hanging somewhere, you think, “Oh, that’s Sandman.” There was stunning art through the whole run. As much as The Sandman was about the writing, the artwork is spectacular. With comic books, sometimes the art is great but the story is just ok, or the art is just ok but the story is great. With this, all 75 issues plus the special are great. It never jumped the shark. I’m a lifelong comic book geek. If someone came in and asked me, “What should I read?” I’d hand them The Sandman.

How to bid: The original comic book art from The Sandman is item 1112 in Hake’s Americana & Collectibles Auction #226, which ends on March 14, 2019.

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

Hake’s Americana & Collectibles is on Twitter and Instagram. Neil Gaiman is on Twitter and Instagram as well.

Image is courtesy of Hake’s.

Alex Winter spoke to The Hot Bid previously about a record-setting 1978 Obi-Wan Kenobi action figure and a 1939 copy of Batman’s comic book debut, which ultimately sold for almost $570,000.

Learn more about The Sandman comic book on the DC Vertigo site.

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

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

Giovanni Boldini's oil on panel portrait of John Singer Sargent shows the man in full, facing the viewer but not locking eyes with us. He has hitched his thumbs into the band of his waistcoat. He has threaded his cane behind his back, resting the ends on his elbows. While the image of Sargent is finished, the portrait and especially its background have a sketchy feel, with dozens of visible brush strokes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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A Paul Manship Bronze Could Command $250,000

Indian Hunter, a 1914 bronze by Paul Manship, depicts a Native American down on one knee, pulling back the string of his bow. His face is serious and focused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sotheby’s is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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SOLD! Kenneth Nolan’s Songs: Yesterdays Fetched (Scroll Down to See) Also! Happy Birthday to The Hot Bid

Kenneth Noland's Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas, features a large chevron at the top of the canvas, pointing down. It's colored in bands of silver, black, red, and yellow. All four are textured. The pink backdrop is smooth.

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

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

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

The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.

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

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

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

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), February 17, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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

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

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

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

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

Did Noland name the painting? He would have.

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

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), February 17, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), February 17, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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

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

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

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

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

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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

SOLD! A Frank Tenney Johnson Nocturne Fetched (Scroll Down to See)

A portrait of Alphonzo Bell painted in 1928 by Frank Tenney Johnson. It features the man in Western-style clothing (hat, chaps, boots) atop a cream-colored horse. Cattle are in the background, some drinking from a stream. The landscape is majestic, with rolling hills and suggestions of plants.

Update: The Frank Tenney Johnson portrait of Alphonzo Bell sold for $348,500.

What you see: A portrait of Alphonzo Bell painted in 1928 by Frank Tenney Johnson. Bonhams estimates it at $250,000 to $350,000.

The expert: Kathy Wong, specialist in fine arts at Bonhams.

How prolific was Frank Tenney Johnson? He was quite prolific. Over 500 works have been offered at auction alone, and there’s a large number of works in private collections and institutional collections. He was quite in demand from the 1920s onward. There was in particular in Los Angeles a commission for a drop curtain for a theater. The popularity of that worked to launch him in this area.

How often did he accept portrait commissions such as this one? As he grew in popularity, especially with Hollywood, he did accept portrait commissions through Stendahl Galleries [the Los Angeles gallery that represented him]. This portrait was negotiated through Stendahl. At least three other equestrian portraits have been identified. Sometimes they’re foremen as well. They’re not just wealthy ranchers.

Do we know anything about how Johnson would have made this painting? Would he have had Bell pose with his horse in this landscape and painted him plein air? There are no notes beyond what was written in the Stendahl Galleries ledger. What we know about Johnson’s working technique–there is some scaffolding involved. Certain compositions he favored might repeat in parts. The grouping of cattle is reminiscent of Frank Tenney Johnsons we’ve sold in the past. I strongly suspect because Johnson was an accomplished horseman himself, he had Bell mount his palomino horse and did a photo, but we don’t know for certain. There are no documents of how the commission was carried out.

How often did Frank Tenney Johnson use photography in his work? We don’t know. But he was a very prolific photographer and it was part of his working process as well.

Is it reasonable to assume he used photos to create this commission? I think so, given that there were photos used for other works.

Do we know if Alphonzo Bell had any input into the appearance of the portrait? We simply don’t know. It was commissioned, per the ledger, on his [Bell’s] Bel Bar Ranch in Colorado. How much artistic license was taken is unknown. There’s nothing in the landscape that would identify it as Bel Bar Ranch. It’s most likely supposed to depict Colorado.

Is this scene typical of Johnson’s work? It’s fairly typical compositionally and in its coloration. A lone rider against a backdrop like this is pretty recognizable as his work. It’s intended to be a dusky landscape. We believe it to actually be one of his moonlight paintings.

Wait, this is a night scene? But there’s a blue sky with white clouds… As far as we are aware, it’s meant to be an evening scene. It’s more like twilight. There’s a very theatrical aspect to his nocturnes. The whites are highlighted. Much in the way that Maxfield Parrish scenes are not what you observe at nighttime, this is a romantic, dramatic depiction of evening.

This measures 32 inches by 40 inches. Is that a typical painting size for him? It’s toward the larger [end of the spectrum]. He did work in a full range of sizes. This is a common desirable size for him.

Could you talk a bit about the equestrian aspect of the painting? I understand that was a strength for Johnson. I think Bell would have been familiar enough with Frank Tenney Johnson’s nocturnes that a cream-colored horse would be a very visually striking feature in the landscape.

Bell chose his horse for visual effect? I think so. Per his biography, he was an aesthete. He was visually sensitive. It’s very possible he saw another [nocturne] example Frank Tenney Johnson did of a rider on a white horse and asked for something similar. There’s a lovely luminosity to white or cream-colored horses in his compositions. I’m sure Bell must have been aware of that.

Do we know how many nocturnes Johnson did? They’re not very rare. His nocturnes became his most commercially sought-after type of landscape. What makes this particular work desirable and interesting is it speaks to ranch culture. There was an interesting moment in Los Angeles in the 1920s when it transformed from an agricultural economy to a film-based economy. It comes at a time when the ranch way of life in LA gave way to oil and gas coming in, and film industry studios coming in. Bell, like Frank Tenney Johnson, had artistic sensitivity. He could straddle the agrarian and ranch world and the mythic depiction of that in Hollywood. This Western way of life was opening up to a larger audience.

What is this work like in person? It’s really stunning. There’s a lot of active brushwork, probably more than you can see online. The saturation of colors is what I wish everyone could see in person. There’s a luminosity that the catalog doesn’t do justice. It’s a work you can stand before and this quietude comes over you. Bell looks to be deep in thought. His absorption is quite captivating here.

It’s kind of meditative. It is. All the nocturnes have that quality. Many works in the Brinkman Collection [from which this painting comes] show action. This is one of the few that shows a quiet, introspective moment.

We know who the sitter is. Does that matter? Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors, even though he isn’t a celebrity or a famous historical figure? I do think so. Buyers want to know the story behind the work. His biography is quite fascinating. The way he found oil on his family ranch is quite dramatic. I think potentially some bidders may identify with the sitter or find his life story interesting.

What’s the auction record for a Frank Tenney Johnson? It was over 10 years ago. It was a similar size, depicting two horses in the evening, called Silent Night. It sold in 2007 for $1.1 million with a $300,000 to $500,000 estimate. The market was quite robust at the time, but it has changed since. We think this work is priced accordingly for the current market.

What makes this painting memorable? Even if you don’t know anything about Frank Tenney Johnson, it’s visually compelling. We’re all familiar with the myth of the Marlboro Man, which was based on a real ranch hand. Whether you’re a fan of Western art or not, there’s something heroic about the figure, communicated by a composition that explains its enduring appeal.

How to bid: The Frank Tenney Johnson portrait of Alphonzo Bell is lot 47 in the sale of the L.D. “Brink” Brinkman Collection of Western American art, taking place February 8, 2019 at Bonhams Los Angeles.

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.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram. Kathy Wong is on Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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

Will a 1985 Chevron Painting by Kenneth Noland Point to a $150,000 Result at LAMA?

Kenneth Noland's Songs: Yesterdays, a large 1985 acrylic on canvas, features a large chevron at the top of the canvas, pointing down. It's colored in bands of silver, black, red, and yellow. All four are textured. The pink backdrop is smooth.

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

The expert: Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA.

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

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

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

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), February 17, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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

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

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

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

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

Did Noland name the painting? He would have.

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

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), February 17, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA), February 17, 2019 Modern Art and Design Auction

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

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

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

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

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

Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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RECORD! Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Stunning 1788 Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan Commands Almost $7.2 Million at Sotheby’s

Vigee le brun's 1788 portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan depicts him at full length, outdoors, against a clouded blue sky. He's clad mostly in white, and he looks to the right. Long robes reach to his ankles, and a shorter robe, decorated with flowers, covers his upper arms and extends to his knees. He has a length of cloth braided around his waist, acting as a belt. The gold-decorated ends of the cloth drape over his front. He wears a gold and white turban. He rests his right hand on the hilt of a curved sword.

Update: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s 1788 Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape sold for almost $7.2 million–a record for the artist, and a record for any female artist of the pre-modern era (it sold in an Old Masters auction).

What you see: Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s estimates it at $4 million to $6 million.

The expert: Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s.

Let’s start by talking about how extraordinary Vigée Le Brun was, and how extraordinary she had to be to work as a portrait painter in 18th-century Europe. Technical competence is just the price of admission for a woman then, I take it. What other skills and talents did she have besides the obvious? She was really an absolutely remarkable woman and probably the most successful woman painter in the 17th and 18th centuries in terms of renown in her lifetime. She was unbelievable. She trained with her father originally, but he died when she was eleven years old. She certainly used the connections he set her up with to keep herself in that world. Her skill was absolutely amazing, and she was prolific. [A key skill was] her use of her connections and the way she was able to ingratiate herself in the royal court. She painted Queen Marie-Antoinette for ten years. Then the French Revolution happened. She fled France and traveled through Europe. She brought her daughter with her, not her husband–he stayed.

We should point out that a woman traveling Europe in the 18th century without her husband is a very different thing from a woman traveling Europe without her husband in the 21st century… Yes. She had a gentleman carriage driver and a governess for her daughter. For all her success in France, she left without anything. When she arrived in Rome, she painted an amazing self-portrait, showing herself painting Marie-Antoinette. She needed to make it for her business to survive. It’s in the Uffizi now. [The self-portrait] helped her meet people and make connections. In her memoirs, only two chapters are in France. Then she travels the world, painting people.

About those memoirs. Are they the source of most of what we know about the story of the Khan portrait? Are there contemporary accounts by third-party observers? There are some contemporary accounts. One is from the translator for King Louis’s court. I don’t think we have an amazingly detailed account [from the translator] and there’s no account from the other side. I wish we had one from Khan’s side. On their side, [Khan was one of three ambassadors from India, sent to France by Tipu Sultan to solicit help in pushing back against the British] we don’t have an accounting from them. They were beheaded [by Tipu Sultan after they returned to India, for falling short of the goals he set for their mission.] It’s too bad.

Vigée Le Brun is the master of “Make me look exactly like myself, only 20 percent more attractive.” Is she generally regarded as a reliable narrator? She was a pretty reliable narrator. Her memoir is pretty detailed, but it’s a fun read. She liked to tell stories of interesting characters [who sat for her]. She described who the people are–a lot of it is that. Her recounting is what’s used over and over in many books about the subject. From all sides, different people use her as a source, for sure.

Khan and his two colleagues, who Tipu Sultan sent to France, were faithful muslims. Islam maintains a taboo against depicting the image of Muhammad, the main human figure within the religion. Would the three men have had a baseline objection to having their images recorded? Certainly. Being captured pictorially was very foreign to them. Which is why Le Brun knew why she had to make the request of the king wanting something [wanting their portraits] for them to go for it. There was hesitation.

Yeah, about that. In her memoirs, Vigée Le Brun writes, “I saw these Indians at the opera and they appeared to me so remarkably picturesque that I thought I should like to paint them. But as they communicated to their interpreter that they would never allow themselves to be painted unless the request came from the King, I managed to secure that favour from His Majesty.” She makes it sound like getting the French king to do what she wanted was easy. I realize she was tight with the queen and the French court, but come on, it had to be tougher then she lets on, yes? It was definitely not as easy as that, but it reflects back on her resourcefulness. She knew she had to be strategic about it. I think she would say the queen [helped her] if it was the queen. She probably arranged it through her contacts at court. She knew them, and they knew her. She was part of the circle.

When I think of paintings by Vigée Le Brun, I think of portraits like lot 51, the 1804 pastel of Mrs. Spencer Perceval. The Khan portrait is unusual in the artist’s output, and I’d like to discuss what marks it out. I see that Khan is not looking at the viewer. How atypical is that for a Vigée Le Brun portrait? It’s not unique. It’s not common, but there are definitely other examples [of sitters not making eye contact]. In some of her Marie-Antoinette portraits, the queen is not looking directly at the viewer, especially the ones painted at full length. She said in her memoirs that Khan stood in this pose and she did not direct him. He stood, grabbed his sword, and looked off in that direction with fierce power. That was that. She was blown away, and she went with it.

I realize that full-length portraits often reflect the purse of the sitter–the wealthier you were, the larger your portrait could be–but obviously, she wouldn’t have charged Khan for this. Most of her full-length portraits are of Marie-Antoinette. To me, it shows how important this painting is in her entire oeuvre.

The lot notes comment on how Khan looks “imposing and formidable.” That’s not a typical trait we see in those who sit for Vigée Le Brun, Lot 51 is kind of like an image of a kitten with a bow, and the Khan image is like an image of a tiger. How does the artist communicate Khan’s ferocity? It’s the look on his face, but a lot of it is the pose. It’s amazing to me, the masculine power–“Let me hold a large sharp sword”–but the sword has beautiful detailed carving. It’s a work of art in itself. There’s a balance to the sense of power that comes from the sword, the pose, and the look.

Does she depict anyone else who looks as fierce as Khan? Not that I can think of. To me, there’s nothing like this one.

To get back to skills that she had to have beyond the ability to paint–she would have had to have kept Khan standing and engaged long enough to finish her work in an age before television, radio, video games, podcasts, the Internet, smart phones, and the like. Did she talk about how she managed him while she painted him? In her memoirs, she talks about how she loved the theater, and loved to sing. Marie-Antoinette and she would sing during sittings. Other than that, she didn’t talk about strategies to keep sitters engaged. But she must have some, because she did a lot of painting.

And would she have, say, finished Khan’s face on the spot and simply laid in details of his costume and sword and finished them later, back at her studio? I imagine a lot of what she did, she did there and then. The details of the costume were probably done then. Certainly she would have finished the background separately.

The notes say she painted Khan’s two colleagues as well, and the portrait of Osman Khan has since been lost. Do we know where the third painting is? She painted the other two ambassadors together, with the elder ambassador seated and the other standing behind him. That portrait is now lost. There’s a drawing of the 1789 Salon [a prestigious annual art exhibit then held in France] that shows it mapped out. That portrait is in it, and it’s the only record we had of it. [If you scroll down on this link, you can see the drawing of the 1789 Salon on the lower right. It’s figure four.] It was the final Salon under the king’s reign. Vigée Le Brun left France in October.

The drama continued after she finished the portrait. Khan hid it behind his bed and refused to give it to her. She persuaded his servant to steal it back, and that caused a worse problem. Evidently Khan was angry enough to kill the servant over the theft, and an interpreter had to intervene. He convinced him that punishing the underling with death was a breach of French custom, and that the man handed it over at the request of the king. Do we have a notion of why Khan would have refused to give the painting back to the artist? I imagine it had something to do with religion. In her memoirs, she says he hid it behind the bed and told her ‘the painting needed a soul.’ He might have been frightened by the image of himself. It was probably a very foreign concept to him. He might have been frightened by it and not wanted to give it back to her. The servant was probably a French servant, arranged for by the king. The painting was at the hotel where Khan stayed. The servant ended up going in to get the painting. We don’t have the exact details [of how he retrieved it]. The translator said he had to say no, no, you can’t just behead a servant for something like this. Everyone was OK in the end, and she got the painting, for which we are all grateful.

If I walk into a room full of Old Masters that includes a work by Vigée Le Brun, it calls me right over to it. Why was Vigée Le Brun so damn good at what she did? She was a brilliant painter and a brilliant portraitist, able to capture the subject with a sense of knowing them. I think her early training as a pastelist shows a sense of softness and light that comes from the pastel medium. Her social skills were advanced, and she used them to her advantage to get the sittings she got and to draw out her sitters. She studied them and knew who they were, and she focused on them.

In scanning the lot notes, it looks like the Khan portrait was last at auction in 1893. Is that right? I believe so.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this? It was not an easy one to price. It’s so atypical for her. We had to see how it was different than a portrait by Vigée Le Brun. The comparables we looked to were Joshua Reynolds’s circa 1776 Portrait of Omai, It’s a full-length portrait of a person in Polynesian dress. We sold it in November 2015 for $13 million to $14 million. [Scroll down on this link to see the portrait. It’s figure three on the lower right.] For us, the Khan portrait is more like pictures like that–a capable and impressive artist of the Western tradition, painting someone in exotic dress who has a sense of power and intrigue.

What is the painting like in person? It’s enormous. It’s so impressive and grand. It’s just huge. It’s unbelievably powerful. You step back when you see it. He is big, and he is grand and magnificent.

How to bid: Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape is lot 48 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale scheduled for January 30, 2019 at Sotheby’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.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

You can buy Vigée Le Brun’s memoirs from Powell’s or another independent bookseller.

Sotheby’s also published two pieces on its website about Vigée Le Brun and about a larger group of women artists whose works appear in the January 30 auction: The volatile Saga Behind Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of India’s Ambassador to France, and The Women Who Dared to Paint.

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

A Frank Tenney Johnson Nocturne Could Sell for $350,000

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What you see: A portrait of Alphonzo Bell painted in 1928 by Frank Tenney Johnson. Bonhams estimates it at $250,000 to $350,000.

The expert: Kathy Wong, specialist in fine arts at Bonhams.

How prolific was Johnson? He was quite prolific. Over 500 works have been offered at auction alone, and there’s a large number of works in private collections and institutional collections. He was quite in demand from the 1920s onward. There was in particular in Los Angeles a commission for a drop curtain for a theater. The popularity of that worked to launch him in this area.

How often did he accept portrait commissions such as this one? As he grew in popularity, especially with Hollywood, he did accept portrait commissions through Stendahl Galleries [the Los Angeles gallery that represented him]. This portrait was negotiated through Stendahl. At least three other equestrian portraits have been identified. Sometimes they’re foremen as well. They’re not just wealthy ranchers.

Do we know anything about how Johnson would have made this painting? Would he have had Bell pose with his horse in this landscape and painted him plein air? There are no notes beyond what was written in the Stendahl Galleries ledger. What we know about Johnson’s working technique–there is some scaffolding involved. Certain compositions he favored might repeat in parts. The grouping of cattle is reminiscent of Frank Tenney Johnsons we’ve sold in the past. I strongly suspect because Johnson was an accomplished horseman himself, he had Bell mount his palomino horse and did a photo, but we don’t know for certain. There are no documents of how the commission was carried out.

How often did Johnson use photography in his work? We don’t know. But he was a very prolific photographer and it was part of his working process as well.

Is it reasonable to assume he used photos to create this commission? I think so, given that there were photos used for other works.

Do we know if Bell had any input into the appearance of the portrait? We simply don’t know. It was commissioned, per the ledger, on his [Bell’s] Bel Bar Ranch in Colorado. How much artistic license was taken is unknown. There’s nothing in the landscape that would identify it as Bel Bar Ranch. It’s most likely supposed to depict Colorado.

Is this scene typical of Johnson’s work? It’s fairly typical compositionally and in its coloration. A lone rider against a backdrop like this is pretty recognizable as his work. It’s intended to be a dusky landscape. We believe it to actually be one of his moonlight paintings.

Wait, this is a night scene? But there’s a blue sky with white clouds… As far as we are aware, it’s meant to be an evening scene. It’s more like twilight. There’s a very theatrical aspect to his nocturnes. The whites are highlighted. Much in the way that Maxfield Parrish scenes are not what you observe at nighttime, this is a romantic, dramatic depiction of evening.

This measures 32 inches by 40 inches. Is that a typical painting size for him? It’s toward the larger [end of the spectrum]. He did work in a full range of sizes. This is a common desirable size for him.

Could you talk a bit about the equestrian aspect of the painting? I understand that was a strength for Johnson. I think Bell would have been familiar enough with Frank Tenney Johnson’s nocturnes that a cream-colored horse would be a very visually striking feature in the landscape.

Bell chose his horse for visual effect? I think so. Per his biography, he was an aesthete. He was visually sensitive. It’s very possible he saw another [nocturne] example Frank Tenney Johnson did of a rider on a white horse and asked for something similar. There’s a lovely luminosity to white or cream-colored horses in his compositions. I’m sure Bell must have been aware of that.

Do we know how many nocturnes Johnson did? They’re not very rare. His nocturnes became his most commercially sought-after type of landscape. What makes this particular work desirable and interesting is it speaks to ranch culture. There was an interesting moment in Los Angeles in the 1920s when it transformed from an agricultural economy to a film-based economy. It comes at a time when the ranch way of life in LA gave way to oil and gas coming in, and film industry studios coming in. Bell, like Frank Tenney Johnson, had artistic sensitivity. He could straddle the agrarian and ranch world and the mythic depiction of that in Hollywood. This Western way of life was opening up to a larger audience.

What is this work like in person? It’s really stunning. There’s a lot of active brushwork, probably more than you can see online. The saturation of colors is what I wish everyone could see in person. There’s a luminosity that the catalog doesn’t do justice. It’s a work you can stand before and this quietude comes over you. Bell looks to be deep in thought. His absorption is quite captivating here.

It’s kind of meditative. It is. All the nocturnes have that quality. Many works in the Brinkman Collection [from which this painting comes] show action. This is one of the few that shows a quiet, introspective moment.

We know who the sitter is. Does that matter? Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors, even though he isn’t a celebrity or a famous historical figure? I do think so. Buyers want to know the story behind the work. His biography is quite fascinating. The way he found oil on his family ranch is quite dramatic. I think potentially some bidders may identify with the sitter or find his life story interesting.

What’s the auction record for a Frank Tenney Johnson? It was over 10 years ago. It was a similar size, depicting two horses in the evening, called Silent Night. It sold in 2007 for $1.1 million with a $300,000 to $500,000 estimate. The market was quite robust at the time, but it has changed since. We think this work is priced accordingly for the current market.

What makes this painting memorable? Even if you don’t know anything about Frank Tenney Johnson, it’s visually compelling. We’re all familiar with the myth of the Marlboro Man, which was based on a real ranch hand. Whether you’re a fan of Western art or not, there’s something heroic about the figure, communicated by a composition that explains its enduring appeal.

How to bid: The Frank Tenney Johnson portrait of Alphonzo Bell is lot 47 in the sale of the L.D. “Brink” Brinkman Collection of Western American art, taking place February 8, 2019 at Bonhams Los Angeles.

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Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram. Kathy Wong is on Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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RECORD! Ammi Phillips’s Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog Sells for Almost $1.7 Million

American folk artist Ammi Phillips painted Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog circa 1830-1835. The girl has short brown hair that is parted down the middle. She looks directly at the viewer. Her right hand grips one of the three strings of a coral bead necklace. Her dress is a bright, emphatic red and has short, puffed sleeves. She is shown seated on a low green ottoman. A beagle is at her feet.

Update: Christie’s sold Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog for $1.69 million–a new world auction record for the 19th century American folk artist.

What you see: Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a portrait that American folk artist Ammi (pronounced Ah-mi) Phillips painted circa 1830-1835. Christie’s estimates it at $800,000 to $1.2 million.

The expert: John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas.

I’d like to start with some discussion of how Ammi Phillips was recognized and discovered. It seems like he could have disappeared, or far less would be known, if scholars had not done incredible work with identifying paintings by him. There’s a long version and a short version. The short version is like many painters who were not in the annals of art history, he was not known until people started piecing together his work in the 1960s. It was a grassroots effort. It was Mary Black who galvanized the research being done. Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter, 1788-1865 was a pioneering exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in 1968, and it traveled around. [Scholars] figured it out [what was his] because he depicted sitters holding newspapers and he signed some of his work. The family histories of the sitters also helped piece together the show. He was prolific. As the count began, they realized he did a few thousand portraits.

The lot notes call Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog a “quintessentially American work of art” and “strikingly modern”. What makes it so? Every country has its folk art, painted by people who didn’t go to the national academy. What makes it quintessentially American is he was painting Americans–successful sitters who were documenting their lives. The other aspect that makes it quintessentially American is [the notion that] time is money. The quicker he was able to render a portrait, the quicker he was on his way.

And what makes the portrait “strikingly modern”? Stacy Hollander [of the American Folk Art Museum] did a show in 2008, The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red that showed the urge to modernity, the idea of reduction to the pure form. Isn’t it interesting that it started in 1830? If you look at the dress [the sitter in Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog is wearing], it’s geometric forms with little lines, a broad expanse of red. It’s a knockout, a home run. There’s no question what the statement is–a girl in a red dress. It looks forward, but it distills the form to the essence of the form. That’s an idea that the Color Field artists Clyfford Still and Rothko [embraced]. Phillips did it from a more economic point of view, but he succeeded.

Why do his portraits of children perform so well at auction? Phillips is at his best with children because there were no rules [for painting them]. A lot of Phillips works are dour. Some of his sitters are ministers and older people with bibles in their laps. With children, he captures the spirit of young America. That’s where he hits the home run, and that’s why there’s a huge price difference with the artist. Depicting a child evokes much more.

The lot notes also refers to ‘record-breaking sales in the 1980s.’ Could you elaborate? Phillips did a group of four children in red dresses, three girls and a boy, with their hands almost in the same positions. One was discovered in an appraisal day at the Corcoran Gallery in 1984. I was here [at Christie’s then]. We looked at it. The family didn’t know what it was. It was over their fireplace. By that time, the [groundbreaking 1968] Ammi Phillips show had happened, and we knew what it was. We put it in [a 1985 Christie’s auction] with an estimate of $60,000 to $90,000 and it sold for $682,000. It went to Dan Terra of the Terra Foundation. It made the front page of the New York Times. The other known portrait [of a girl sitter from the foursome, aside from this one], Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog, was bought by Ralph Esmerian for the American Folk Art Museum. [After the 1985 sale], the owner [of this portrait] called us and said, ‘We think we have one.’ That’s how we discovered it 33 years ago. We’ve been quietly hoping it would come out one day.

That must have been delightful and startling, to have a folk art portrait sell for so much in 1985. You could acquire a major Impressionist picture [for $682,000] at that time. I put the Phillips in a jewelry vault that night. We were not prepared to have it sell for that price.

What makes this portrait so strong? It captures the essence of what folk art collectors want and what they look for. It’s hard to define it in words, but it has a universality to it. It’s just riveting, and kind of mesmerizing. You say, ‘God, he gets it.’

Do we know why the girls in the Ammi Phillips red dress portraits are wearing coral necklaces? Did coral have some sort of symbolic meaning in America in the 1830s? Coral necklaces were very popular in the 1820s and 1830s. In this portrait, she holds a bead of coral as if she’s a little nervous. She seems to say, ‘Hurry up and finish this picture, why am I here?’ As for iconography, there’s nothing we’re aware of. Coral was fashionable at the time for teething rings. The three girls [in the group of red dress portraits] each have a coral necklace. The one at Terra has two strands, this one has three strands, and the one at the American Folk Art Museum has four.

What is she holding in her left hand? It could be parsley. The girl in the Terra portrait is holding a strawberry. They [the items the child sitters hold] all have coded iconography that you could linger over. But it could be something Phillips gave her to hold while he painted her.

And what’s with the dog at the left? Is that her dog? The beagle is in all four of these portraits. Maybe it’s Ammi Phillips’s dog. Maybe it’s for the comfort of the child.

Yeah, about that. One of the skills Ammi Phillips had to develop as an itinerant portrait painter was to convince small children to sit still long enough for him to do his work in an age before screens. Might the dog have played the role that a screen would now–helped entertain the kid and keep her sitting in one place? It’s an idea, and it’s the same stylized beagle [in the four portraits], with the spoon-shaped lozenge on the forehead. I have a beagle. I know beagles very well. He captured the essence of a beagle, and its wry smile. If you have a beagle, you’d recognize it too.

I take it we don’t know who the young sitter is, even though scholars have tried to identify her? Yes. She’s adorable, that’s all I would say.

Is it possible that the three girls in the group of four red dress portraits are sisters or cousins? Initially we thought, ‘Are they sisters?’ But there are little differences, actually very subtle differences. The idea that they’re related is not ruled out at all. There are many unanswered questions.

The portraits in the group of four show kids in a virtually identical red dress. Is there a chance that Ammi Phillips traveled with the dress, as part of a small wardrobe, and offered it to the parents to use for the sitting? That’s an interesting idea, but the thing that emerges from Phillips is a spontaneity. It’s the quickly-rendered moment that folk art collectors love so much. A portrait was for a wealthy client that he poured his heart into would be worth a fraction of those that he did more quickly and got down to the essence.

What’s the world auction record for an Ammi Phillips? Portrait of a Young Girl and her Cat, which we sold in 2007 for $1.2 million. It’s a great picture, but it’s not in the narrow group of four. It’s one of 11 he did of children in red dresses. The girl [in the portrait sold in 2007] has a different stance.

What are the odds that Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog will meet or beat that sum? To be really candid, that’s the one question I can’t answer. I’m as intrigued as anybody to see what will happen in January.

What is it like in person? It has what my colleagues in fine art call “wall power.” It just jumps off the wall. It makes everything around it pale.

Why will it stick in your memory? For me, personally, I was here when we sold the first one, and it changed a lot of things in my life. It makes me reflect on the last 33 years in the art world, and how exciting it’s been. Not every day does an Ammi Phillips girl in a red dress cross my computer screen. And it expresses a sort of humanity that the experiment of America allowed. I dare you to tell me where such a portrait has emerged in any other country. That’s why I do what I do. It’s unique to portraiture in this country.

How to bid: Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog is lot 1205 in the Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver and Prints auction taking place at Christie’s New York on January 17 and 18, 2019.

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Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan Could Command $6 Million

Vigee le Brun's 1788 portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan depicts him at full length, outdoors, against a clouded blue sky. He's clad mostly in white, and he looks to the right. Long robes reach to his ankles, and a shorter robe, decorated with flowers, covers his upper arms and extends to his knees. He has a length of cloth braided around his waist, acting as a belt. The gold-decorated ends of the cloth drape over his front. He wears a gold and white turban. He rests his right hand on the hilt of a curved sword.

What you see: Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape, a life-size oil on canvas painted in 1788 by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun. Sotheby’s estimates it at $4 million to $6 million.

The expert: Calvine Harvey, specialist and vice president in the Old Masters department at Sotheby’s.

Let’s start by talking about how extraordinary Vigée Le Brun was, and how extraordinary she had to be to work as a portrait painter in 18th-century Europe. Technical competence is just the price of admission for a woman then, I take it. What other skills and talents did she have besides the obvious? She was really an absolutely remarkable woman and probably the most successful woman painter in the 17th and 18th centuries in terms of renown in her lifetime. She was unbelievable. She trained with her father originally, but he died when she was eleven years old. She certainly used the connections he set her up with to keep herself in that world. Her skill was absolutely amazing, and she was prolific. [A key skill was] her use of her connections and the way she was able to ingratiate herself in the royal court. She painted Queen Marie-Antoinette for ten years. Then the French Revolution happened. She fled France and traveled through Europe. She brought her daughter with her, not her husband–he stayed.

We should point out that a woman traveling Europe in the 18th century without her husband is a very different thing from a woman traveling Europe without her husband in the 21st century… Yes. She had a gentleman carriage driver and a governess for her daughter. For all her success in France, she left without anything. When she arrived in Rome, she painted an amazing self-portrait, showing herself painting Marie-Antoinette. She needed to make it for her business to survive. It’s in the Uffizi now. [The self-portrait] helped her meet people and make connections. In her memoirs, only two chapters are in France. Then she travels the world, painting people.

About those memoirs. Are they the source of most of what we know about the story of the Khan portrait? Are there contemporary accounts by third-party observers? There are some contemporary accounts. One is from the translator for King Louis’s court. I don’t think we have an amazingly detailed account [from the translator] and there’s no account from the other side. I wish we had one from Khan’s side. On their side, [Khan was one of three ambassadors from India, sent to France by Tipu Sultan to solicit help in pushing back against the British] we don’t have an accounting from them. They were beheaded [by Tipu Sultan after they returned to India, for falling short of the goals he set for their mission.] It’s too bad.

Vigée Le Brun is the master of “Make me look exactly like myself, only 20 percent more attractive.” Is she generally regarded as a reliable narrator? She was a pretty reliable narrator. Her memoir is pretty detailed, but it’s a fun read. She liked to tell stories of interesting characters [who sat for her]. She described who the people are–a lot of it is that. Her recounting is what’s used over and over in many books about the subject. From all sides, different people use her as a source, for sure.

Khan and his two colleagues, who Tipu Sultan sent to France, were faithful muslims. Islam maintains a taboo against depicting the image of Muhammad, the main human figure within the religion. Would the three men have had a baseline objection to having their images recorded? Certainly. Being captured pictorially was very foreign to them. Which is why Le Brun knew why she had to make the request of the king wanting something [wanting their portraits] for them to go for it. There was hesitation.

Yeah, about that. In her memoirs, Vigée Le Brun writes, “I saw these Indians at the opera and they appeared to me so remarkably picturesque that I thought I should like to paint them. But as they communicated to their interpreter that they would never allow themselves to be painted unless the request came from the King, I managed to secure that favour from His Majesty.” She makes it sound like getting the French king to do what she wanted was easy. I realize she was tight with the queen and the French court, but come on, it had to be tougher then she lets on, yes? It was definitely not as easy as that, but it reflects back on her resourcefulness. She knew she had to be strategic about it. I think she would say the queen [helped her] if it was the queen. She probably arranged it through her contacts at court. She knew them, and they knew her. She was part of the circle.

When I think of paintings by Vigée Le Brun, I think of portraits like lot 51, the 1804 pastel of Mrs. Spencer Perceval. The Khan portrait is unusual in the artist’s output, and I’d like to discuss what marks it out. I see that Khan is not looking at the viewer. How atypical is that for a Vigée Le Brun portrait? It’s not unique. It’s not common, but there are definitely other examples [of sitters not making eye contact]. In some of her Marie-Antoinette portraits, the queen is not looking directly at the viewer, especially the ones painted at full length. She said in her memoirs that Khan stood in this pose and she did not direct him. He stood, grabbed his sword, and looked off in that direction with fierce power. That was that. She was blown away, and she went with it.

I realize that full-length portraits often reflect the purse of the sitter–the wealthier you were, the larger your portrait could be–but obviously, she wouldn’t have charged Khan for this. Most of her full-length portraits are of Marie-Antoinette. To me, it shows how important this painting is in her entire oeuvre.

The lot notes comment on how Khan looks “imposing and formidable.” That’s not a typical trait we see in those who sit for Vigée Le Brun, Lot 51 is kind of like an image of a kitten with a bow, and the Khan image is like an image of a tiger. How does the artist communicate Khan’s ferocity? It’s the look on his face, but a lot of it is the pose. It’s amazing to me, the masculine power–“Let me hold a large sharp sword”–but the sword has beautiful detailed carving. It’s a work of art in itself. There’s a balance to the sense of power that comes from the sword, the pose, and the look.

Does she depict anyone else who looks as fierce as Khan? Not that I can think of. To me, there’s nothing like this one.

To get back to skills that she had to have beyond the ability to paint–she would have had to have kept Khan standing and engaged long enough to finish her work in an age before television, radio, video games, podcasts, the Internet, smart phones, and the like. Did she talk about how she managed him while she painted him? In her memoirs, she talks about how she loved the theater, and loved to sing. Marie-Antoinette and she would sing during sittings. Other than that, she didn’t talk about strategies to keep sitters engaged. But she must have some, because she did a lot of painting.

And would she have, say, finished Khan’s face on the spot and simply laid in details of his costume and sword and finished them later, back at her studio? I imagine a lot of what she did, she did there and then. The details of the costume were probably done then. Certainly she would have finished the background separately.

The notes say she painted Khan’s two colleagues as well, and the portrait of Osman Khan has since been lost. Do we know where the third painting is? She painted the other two ambassadors together, with the elder ambassador seated and the other standing behind him. That portrait is now lost. There’s a drawing of the 1789 Salon [a prestigious annual art exhibit then held in France] that shows it mapped out. That portrait is in it, and it’s the only record we had of it. [If you scroll down on this link, you can see the drawing of the 1789 Salon on the lower right. It’s figure four.] It was the final Salon under the king’s reign. Vigée Le Brun left France in October.

The drama continued after she finished the portrait. Khan hid it behind his bed and refused to give it to her. She persuaded his servant to steal it back, and that caused a worse problem. Evidently Khan was angry enough to kill the servant over the theft, and an interpreter had to intervene. He convinced him that punishing the underling with death was a breach of French custom, and that the man handed it over at the request of the king. Do we have a notion of why Khan would have refused to give the painting back to the artist? I imagine it had something to do with religion. In her memoirs, she says he hid it behind the bed and told her ‘the painting needed a soul.’ He might have been frightened by the image of himself. It was probably a very foreign concept to him. He might have been frightened by it and not wanted to give it back to her. The servant was probably a French servant, arranged for by the king. The painting was at the hotel where Khan stayed. The servant ended up going in to get the painting. We don’t have the exact details [of how he retrieved it]. The translator said he had to say no, no, you can’t just behead a servant for something like this. Everyone was OK in the end, and she got the painting, for which we are all grateful.

If I walk into a room full of Old Masters that includes a work by Vigée Le Brun, it calls me right over to it. Why was Vigée Le Brun so damn good at what she did? She was a brilliant painter and a brilliant portraitist, able to capture the subject with a sense of knowing them. I think her early training as a pastelist shows a sense of softness and light that comes from the pastel medium. Her social skills were advanced, and she used them to her advantage to get the sittings she got and to draw out her sitters. She studied them and knew who they were, and she focused on them.

In scanning the lot notes, it looks like the Khan portrait was last at auction in 1893. Is that right? I believe so.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this? It was not an easy one to price. It’s so atypical for her. We had to see how it was different than a portrait by Vigée Le Brun. The comparables we looked to were Joshua Reynolds’s circa 1776 Portrait of Omai, It’s a full-length portrait of a person in Polynesian dress. We sold it in November 2015 for $13 million to $14 million. [Scroll down on this link to see the portrait. It’s figure three on the lower right.] For us, the Khan portrait is more like pictures like that–a capable and impressive artist of the Western tradition, painting someone in exotic dress who has a sense of power and intrigue.

What is the painting like in person? It’s enormous. It’s so impressive and grand. It’s just huge. It’s unbelievably powerful. You step back when you see it. He is big, and he is grand and magnificent.

How to bid: Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, Full-Length, Holding His Sword in a Landscape is lot 48 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale scheduled for January 30, 2019 at Sotheby’s New York.

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You can buy Vigée Le Brun’s memoirs from Powell’s or another independent bookseller.

Sotheby’s also published two pieces on its website about Vigée Le Brun and about a larger group of women artists whose works appear in the January 30 auction: The volatile Saga Behind Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of India’s Ambassador to France, and The Women Who Dared to Paint.

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Ammi Phillips’s Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog Could Command $1.2 Million or More

American folk artist Ammi Phillips painted Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog circa 1830-1835. The girl has short brown hair that is parted down the middle. She looks directly at the viewer. Her right hand grips one of the three strings of a coral bead necklace. Her dress is a bright, emphatic red and has short, puffed sleeves. She is shown seated on a low green ottoman. A beagle is at her feet.

What you see: Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog, a portrait that American folk artist Ammi (pronounced Ah-mi) Phillips painted circa 1830-1835. Christie’s estimates it at $800,000 to $1.2 million.

The expert: John Hays, deputy chairman, Christie’s Americas.

I’d like to start with some discussion of how Ammi Phillips was recognized and discovered. It seems like he could have disappeared, or far less would be known, if scholars had not done incredible work with identifying paintings by him. There’s a long version and a short version. The short version is like many painters who were not in the annals of art history, he was not known until people started piecing together his work in the 1960s. It was a grassroots effort. It was Mary Black who galvanized the research being done. Ammi Phillips: Portrait Painter, 1788-1865 was a pioneering exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in 1968, and it traveled around. [Scholars] figured it out [what was his] because he depicted sitters holding newspapers and he signed some of his work. The family histories of the sitters also helped piece together the show. He was prolific. As the count began, they realized he did a few thousand portraits.

The lot notes call Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog a “quintessentially American work of art” and “strikingly modern”. What makes it so? Every country has its folk art, painted by people who didn’t go to the national academy. What makes it quintessentially American is he was painting Americans–successful sitters who were documenting their lives. The other aspect that makes it quintessentially American is [the notion that] time is money. The quicker he was able to render a portrait, the quicker he was on his way.

And what makes the portrait “strikingly modern”? Stacy Hollander [of the American Folk Art Museum] did a show in 2008, The Seduction of Light: Ammi Phillips | Mark Rothko Compositions in Pink, Green, and Red that showed the urge to modernity, the idea of reduction to the pure form. Isn’t it interesting that it started in 1830? If you look at the dress [the sitter in Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog is wearing], it’s geometric forms with little lines, a broad expanse of red. It’s a knockout, a home run. There’s no question what the statement is–a girl in a red dress. It looks forward, but it distills the form to the essence of the form. That’s an idea that the Color Field artists Clyfford Still and Rothko [embraced]. Phillips did it from a more economic point of view, but he succeeded.

Why do his portraits of children perform so well at auction? Phillips is at his best with children because there were no rules [for painting them]. A lot of Phillips works are dour. Some of his sitters are ministers and older people with bibles in their laps. With children, he captures the spirit of young America. That’s where he hits the home run, and that’s why there’s a huge price difference with the artist. Depicting a child evokes much more.

The lot notes also refers to ‘record-breaking sales in the 1980s.’ Could you elaborate? Phillips did a group of four children in red dresses, three girls and a boy, with their hands almost in the same positions. One was discovered in an appraisal day at the Corcoran Gallery in 1984. I was here [at Christie’s then]. We looked at it. The family didn’t know what it was. It was over their fireplace. By that time, the [groundbreaking 1968] Ammi Phillips show had happened, and we knew what it was. We put it in [a 1985 Christie’s auction] with an estimate of $60,000 to $90,000 and it sold for $682,000. It went to Dan Terra of the Terra Foundation. It made the front page of the New York Times. The other known portrait [of a girl sitter from the foursome, aside from this one], Girl in Red Dress with Cat and Dog, was bought by Ralph Esmerian for the American Folk Art Museum. [After the 1985 sale], the owner [of this portrait] called us and said, ‘We think we have one.’ That’s how we discovered it 33 years ago. We’ve been quietly hoping it would come out one day.

That must have been delightful and startling, to have a folk art portrait sell for so much in 1985. You could acquire a major Impressionist picture [for $682,000] at that time. I put the Phillips in a jewelry vault that night. We were not prepared to have it sell for that price.

What makes this portrait so strong? It captures the essence of what folk art collectors want and what they look for. It’s hard to define it in words, but it has a universality to it. It’s just riveting, and kind of mesmerizing. You say, ‘God, he gets it.’

Do we know why the girls in the Ammi Phillips red dress portraits are wearing coral necklaces? Did coral have some sort of symbolic meaning in America in the 1830s? Coral necklaces were very popular in the 1820s and 1830s. In this portrait, she holds a bead of coral as if she’s a little nervous. She seems to say, ‘Hurry up and finish this picture, why am I here?’ As for iconography, there’s nothing we’re aware of. Coral was fashionable at the time for teething rings. The three girls [in the group of red dress portraits] each have a coral necklace. The one at Terra has two strands, this one has three strands, and the one at the American Folk Art Museum has four.

What is she holding in her left hand? It could be parsley. The girl in the Terra portrait is holding a strawberry. They [the items the child sitters hold] all have coded iconography that you could linger over. But it could be something Phillips gave her to hold while he painted her.

And what’s with the dog at the left? Is that her dog? The beagle is in all four of these portraits. Maybe it’s Ammi Phillips’s dog. Maybe it’s for the comfort of the child.

Yeah, about that. One of the skills Ammi Phillips had to develop as an itinerant portrait painter was to convince small children to sit still long enough for him to do his work in an age before screens. Might the dog have played the role that a screen would now–helped entertain the kid and keep her sitting in one place? It’s an idea, and it’s the same stylized beagle [in the four portraits], with the spoon-shaped lozenge on the forehead. I have a beagle. I know beagles very well. He captured the essence of a beagle, and its wry smile. If you have a beagle, you’d recognize it too.

I take it we don’t know who the young sitter is, even though scholars have tried to identify her? Yes. She’s adorable, that’s all I would say.

Is it possible that the three girls in the group of four red dress portraits are sisters or cousins? Initially we thought, ‘Are they sisters?’ But there are little differences, actually very subtle differences. The idea that they’re related is not ruled out at all. There are many unanswered questions.

The portraits in the group of four show kids in a virtually identical red dress. Is there a chance that Ammi Phillips traveled with the dress, as part of a small wardrobe, and offered it to the parents to use for the sitting? That’s an interesting idea, but the thing that emerges from Phillips is a spontaneity. It’s the quickly-rendered moment that folk art collectors love so much. A portrait was for a wealthy client that he poured his heart into would be worth a fraction of those that he did more quickly and got down to the essence.

What’s the world auction record for an Ammi Phillips? Portrait of a Young Girl and her Cat, which we sold in 2007 for $1.2 million. It’s a great picture, but it’s not in the narrow group of four. It’s one of 11 he did of children in red dresses. The girl [in the portrait sold in 2007] has a different stance.

What are the odds that Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog will meet or beat that sum? To be really candid, that’s the one question I can’t answer. I’m as intrigued as anybody to see what will happen in January.

What is it like in person? It has what my colleagues in fine art call “wall power.” It just jumps off the wall. It makes everything around it pale.

Why will it stick in your memory? For me, personally, I was here when we sold the first one, and it changed a lot of things in my life. It makes me reflect on the last 33 years in the art world, and how exciting it’s been. Not every day does an Ammi Phillips girl in a red dress cross my computer screen. And it expresses a sort of humanity that the experiment of America allowed. I dare you to tell me where such a portrait has emerged in any other country. That’s why I do what I do. It’s unique to portraiture in this country.

How to bid: Girl in a Red Dress with a Dog is lot 1205 in the Important American Furniture, Folk Art, Silver and Prints auction taking place at Christie’s New York on January 17 and 18, 2019.

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Contemporary Artist Pae White’s Widow of a King Could Command $25,000 at Heritage Auctions

Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White

What you see: Widow of a King, a 2006 work by artist Pae White. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $15,000 to $25,000.

The expert: Brent Lewis, director of design at Heritage Auctions.

Is this piece unique, or part of a limited edition? From what we understand, three versions were made, and each of those is unique.

How do the other two differ? From a few images I’ve seen, they’re very similar, but slightly different in the design of the faux carving.

Do we know why Pae White named this piece Widow of a King? I don’t know the story on that. I think she uses an evocative title to suggest a background for it that could not be immediately obvious. This is very atypical of her oeuvre. Pae White is an artist in the true sense of the word. She is not a designer. She typically does not make functional objects.

Do we know why Pae White made Widow of a King predominantly white? The material she used, Corian, is produced in various colors, but its primary color is white. She’s been quoted as saying she wanted to source blue Corian, but it wasn’t available, so she used white. She worked up the conceptual side of the piece in white, and she has said, “I wanted the “look” of something that might have been carved in the Black Forest but by an albino alien and I think we came pretty darn close.” If you look at it from a distance, it looks like it may be a traditional four-poster bed that’s carved and may be painted white. As you approach, you see the way it’s carved is different. The carving itself is off and almost degraded. You can tell there’s something else going on with the piece once you begin to examine it.

Why is one of the headboard posts taller than the other? It’s part of what I described of her intentionality. It [the work] is an object that has an inherent unbalance. She talked about wanting to subvert the viewers’ relationship with everyday objects.

Do the symbols on the footboard have any particular meaning? Not to my knowledge.

Do we know why Pae White used Corian? And how involved was she in its creation–did she do the physical work of producing the bed, or did she delegate it? I didn’t see anything [that explained why she used Corian]. She’s a mixed-media artist who doesn’t typically work in this manner. I’m not aware of other works in Corian. Everything was done under her watchful eye. It was made with the assistance of sophisticated machinery.

Widow of a King is an actual bed, but what size is it? And did the consigner use it as a bed? I think it’s a king-size. And yeah, the owner did use it as a bed.

Widow of a King has signs of use. Will that matter? No. I think that any of that can be conserved quite easily.

Is Widow of a King among the earlier pieces by Pae White to reach the secondary market? Not a great deal of her work has come to auction. I count 25 auction records on Artnet, with the record being $20,000 in 2013, sold at Christie’s, and titled Skygazing #6: Blue Nebula. It’s a large cotton and polyester work.

Is that record work anything like Widow of a King? No. Nothing like this by Pae White has sold at auction.

What is Widow of a King like in person? It’s incredible. It’s extraordinary, it’s complex, it’s multi-layered, and it has extraordinary physical presence.

We’re seeing the work as an incomplete bed frame, with no mattresses or sheets. Does the artist have any recommendations for finishing it? I don’t think there are any, but it was created to be a functional bed. Its impact would be complete when it’s installed in a domestic setting.

Are there details that don’t show up well in the photo? The fine carving on the posts. I think there is an intangible quality to the carving on the headboard and the footboard.

How does the carving hold your attention? It’s beguiling. It’s beautiful, but in an unexpected way. As I explained earlier, when you first come upon it, it’s traditional. As you approach it, you look for the carving techniques you’re accustomed to. When you get up close, the carving may be sharper and more asymmetrical where you would expect a more balanced pattern. It throws you off balance, but allows you to enjoy the object itself.

Widow of a King is a work of contemporary art, but you decided to put it in a design sale. Was that a tough call? There was debate, but in the end we felt it was pretty clear-cut where this piece should be positioned. Pae White is an artist who doesn’t make design objects and is not known for making functional objects. Because of the functionality, it may have a stronger market in design than in contemporary art, where you normally see her work. From time to time, contemporary artists make works that have a functional aspect, like this bed. Sometimes they’re successful from a design standpoint, and sometimes they’re less successful. I think this is very successful. The quality of the material used and its production is very high, but the intentionality that’s prevalent in it clearly comes from the place of the artist. It’s what makes this piece stand apart. It’s an accomplished piece of furniture, but you can look at it as a work of art.

How to bid: Pae White’s Widow of a King is lot 79038 in the Design Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on October 21, 2018.

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SOLD! Gerard Sekoto’s Three School Girls Fetches More Than $400,000 At Bonhams–Almost Double Its Low Estimate

Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947.

Update: Gerard Sekoto’s Three School Girls sold for £308,750 ($401,207)–almost double its low estimate.

What you see: Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947. Bonhams estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000 ($160,000 to $230,000).

Who was Gerard Sekoto? Born in 1913 in what was then the South African province of Eastern Transvaal, he began showing artistic talent as a teenager. Art schools aimed at black students didn’t exist in South Africa in the early 20th century, so he trained as a teacher instead and studied art as best he could. He lived in several different areas in South Africa before leaving for Paris in 1947 for what’s been described as a “self-imposed exile”. Sekoto spent a year in Senegal in 1966, but he never made his home on the African continent again. In his final years, he started to gain recognition for his work. He died in Paris in 1993, at the age of 79.

The expert: Eliza Sawyer, a specialist in modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams.

How prolific was Gerard Sekoto? It largely depends on which period you’re talking about. The period of Three School Girls was not so prolific. It was before he left South Africa for Paris. Those works are rarer, and hard to come by. He didn’t have easy access to materials, and he was still finding his voice. He was much more prolific after he left for Paris in 1947.

How often do pre-1947 Sekoto works come to market? There have been a handful in the last few years. When they come up, they tend to fetch high sums. His most valuable period is between when he left Sophiatown [a township near Johannesburg] and when he left for Paris. It was a very short period of his life–seven years. Maybe one Sekoto work a year comes up from that time. What’s rare for this sale we have in September is a particular collector bought two works from a Sekoto show in 1947 [and consigned them both]. To have two works from that period in the same sale is quite extraordinary, but they’re from the same collection.

How do we know this Gerard Sekoto painting dates to between 1940 and 1947? The most obvious point would be the subject matter–three little girls on an almost-mud street in a township. Parisian pictures tend to be of jazz bars and the Seine. The other thing that’s distinctive is the color palette. Up to 1947, Sekoto gravitated toward a very earthy palette of reds, browns, and yellows that reflected the colors of the ground in South African townships, and reflected the kinds of clothes people wore and the dyes that were available. Also, in 1940, he met Judith Gluckman, an artist who introduced him to oil painting. The fact that this is painted in oils and not household poster paint suggests it was executed after 1940.

The surface of the paint looks rugged and thick. Is that typical for Sekoto? What I’d say is unusual about the surface of the work is how unspoiled it is. Gerard Sekoto did use impasto [he painted in thick layers] and he mixed sand and grit in to create texture. Gritty, thick texture is more characteristic of his early style. But most of his works from this period don’t survive well. They have craquelure [the paint is covered with a network of cracks], and the surface attracted dirt. To see a work in this good a condition, with no paint loss and minor dirt, is incredibly unusual. Later, he worked in watercolors and gouache, and his brush strokes were more fluid and loose.

How did Gerard Sekoto work doing that seven-year period in the 1940s, when he painted Three School Girls? He would carry notepaper in his pockets. The people he saw were not accustomed to people making their portraits, so he would pull out a piece of scrap paper, sketch quickly, and come to his studio with his pockets full of ideas.

This Gerard Sekoto painting is relatively small, measuring 15 15/16 inches by 19 7/8 inches. Is that because he was working from small sketches done on scrap paper? Earlier pieces tend to be smaller than works created in Paris. It’s partly related to the Post-It note size of his sketches and partly from an awareness of using up all his material. In this period, we see him work the same piece of canvas over and over, particularly as he tried to learn  his craft.

Three School Girls is fresh to market, having gone from the late 1940s selling exhibition to the consigner to Bonhams. Is that unusual for a Sekoto? Yes, it is quite unusual. I’d say Sekoto works have hugely appreciated in value over the last 10 years, partly due to his status as a pioneer of South African modernism.

Did Bonhams play a role in raising Gerard Sekoto’s profile? In 2008, we were the first international auction house to hold a stand-alone sale of South African art, and Gerard Sekoto was one of the artists we featured. We put up a work from his District 6 period, which is a few years before the period when he made Three School Girls, for an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000, and it made in excess of £600,000. It was an eye-opening moment for us and for the art market as well–it showed that Sekoto is an artist to take very seriously.

What’s the world auction record for a Sekoto? It’s held by Bonhams for a work sold for £602,400 ($784,694) in 2011, depicting a yellow house he saw in District 6. He didn’t live in this particular house, but he’d walk past it on a day-to-day basis between 1942 and 1945. It’s very similar in style and period to Three School Girls, which probably dates to 1945 to 1947. It was also painted in gritty impasto, and is around the same size as Three School Girls.

Does Three School Girls have the potential to set a new auction record for the artist? When I saw the work, my first thought was it really is something special, potentially a record painting. We haven’t seen one of comparable quality and style since 2011 [the year that Bonhams sold Yellow Houses, District Six]. The market has changed and demand has changed, but if any painting has a shot at breaking the record for a Sekoto, it could be this one.

What about Portrait of a Man (Lentswana)the other Sekoto painting that the consigner sent to this auction? It’s from the same period and is around the same size. The reason we put a slightly higher estimate on Three School Girls is it’s a more universal image. The other is a wonderfully intimate human portrait, but some collectors are not comfortable having particular likenesses hanging in their home. It’s like having a picture of another person’s grandfather. That’s the thought behind this particular estimate.

What is Three School Girls like in person? The first thing that strikes you is the size. In this day and age, particularly if you collect contemporary art, you’re used to monumental canvases. This painting is different. It’s intimate in scale, and it draws you in. The colors are warm and earthy. They’re not colors that are considered colorful or sexy for an urban apartment. But it transports you to a totally different time, a totally different country. You can feel the heat rising up from the dusty road the girls are walking on.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Having been a schoolgirl myself, it’s quite a nostalgic image. I’m a white British woman living in London, and looking at it brings back memories. I remember being dressed in my schoolgirl uniform, walking to school with my friends. The artist somehow manages to forge a connection I find quite touching.

How to bid: Three School Girls is lot 25 in The South African Sale, which takes place at Bonhams London on September 12, 2018.

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.

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A namesake foundation celebrates Gerard Sekoto’s lifetime of work.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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South African Artist Gerard Sekoto’s Painting Three School Girls Could Sell for $230,000

Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947.

What you see: Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947. Bonhams estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000 ($160,000 to $230,000).

Who was Gerard Sekoto? Born in 1913 in what was then the South African province of Eastern Transvaal, he began showing artistic talent as a teenager. Art schools aimed at black students didn’t exist in South Africa in the early 20th century, so he trained as a teacher instead and studied art as best he could. He lived in several different areas in South Africa before leaving for Paris in 1947 for what’s been described as a “self-imposed exile”. Sekoto spent a year in Senegal in 1966, but he never made his home on the African continent again. In his final years, he started to gain recognition for his work. He died in Paris in 1993, at the age of 79.

The expert: Eliza Sawyer, a specialist in modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams.

How prolific was Gerard Sekoto? It largely depends on which period you’re talking about. The period of Three School Girls was not so prolific. It was before he left South Africa for Paris. Those works are rarer, and hard to come by. He didn’t have easy access to materials, and he was still finding his voice. He was much more prolific after he left for Paris in 1947.

How often do pre-1947 Gerard Sekoto works come to market? There have been a handful in the last few years. When they come up, they tend to fetch high sums. His most valuable period is between when he left Sophiatown [a township near Johannesburg] and when he left for Paris. It was a very short period of his life–seven years. Maybe one Sekoto work a year comes up from that time. What’s rare for this sale we have in September is a particular collector bought two works from a Sekoto show in 1947 [and consigned them both]. To have two works from that period in the same sale is quite extraordinary, but they’re from the same collection.

How do we know this Gerard Sekoto painting dates to between 1940 and 1947? The most obvious point would be the subject matter–three little girls on an almost-mud street in a township. Parisian pictures tend to be of jazz bars and the Seine. The other thing that’s distinctive is the color palette. Up to 1947, Sekoto gravitated toward a very earthy palette of reds, browns, and yellows that reflected the colors of the ground in South African townships, and reflected the kinds of clothes people wore and the dyes that were available. Also, in 1940, he met Judith Gluckman, an artist who introduced him to oil painting. The fact that this is painted in oils and not household poster paint suggests it was executed after 1940.

The surface of the paint looks rugged and thick. Is that typical for Sekoto? What I’d say is unusual about the surface of the work is how unspoiled it is. Gerard Sekoto did use impasto [he painted in thick layers] and he mixed sand and grit in to create texture. Gritty, thick texture is more characteristic of his early style. But most of his works from this period don’t survive well. They have craquelure [the paint is covered with a network of cracks], and the surface attracted dirt. To see a work in this good a condition, with no paint loss and minor dirt, is incredibly unusual. Later, he worked in watercolors and gouache, and his brush strokes were more fluid and loose.

How did Gerard Sekoto work doing that seven-year period in the 1940s, when he painted Three School Girls? He would carry notepaper in his pockets. The people he saw were not accustomed to people making their portraits, so he would pull out a piece of scrap paper, sketch quickly, and come to his studio with his pockets full of ideas.

This painting is relatively small, measuring 15 15/16 inches by 19 7/8 inches. Is that because he was working from small sketches done on scrap paper? Earlier pieces tend to be smaller than works created in Paris. It’s partly related to the Post-It note size of his sketches and partly from an awareness of using up all his material. In this period, we see him work the same piece of canvas over and over, particularly as he tried to learn  his craft.

Three School Girls is fresh to market, having gone from the late 1940s selling exhibition to the consigner to Bonhams. Is that unusual for a Sekoto? Yes, it is quite unusual. I’d say Sekoto works have hugely appreciated in value over the last 10 years, partly due to his status as a pioneer of South African modernism.

Did Bonhams play a role in raising Gerard Sekoto’s profile? In 2008, we were the first international auction house to hold a stand-alone sale of South African art, and Gerard Sekoto was one of the artists we featured. We put up a work from his District 6 period, which is a few years before the period when he made Three School Girls, for an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000, and it made in excess of £600,000. It was an eye-opening moment for us and for the art market as well–it showed that Sekoto is an artist to take very seriously.

What’s the world auction record for a Sekoto? It’s held by Bonhams for a work sold for £602,400 ($784,694) in 2011, depicting a yellow house he saw in District 6. He didn’t live in this particular house, but he’d walk past it on a day-to-day basis between 1942 and 1945. It’s very similar in style and period to Three School Girls, which probably dates to 1945 to 1947. It was also painted in gritty impasto, and is around the same size as Three School Girls.

Does Three School Girls have the potential to set a new auction record for the artist? When I saw the work, my first thought was it really is something special, potentially a record painting. We haven’t seen one of comparable quality and style since 2011 [the year that Bonhams sold Yellow Houses, District Six]. The market has changed and demand has changed, but if any painting has a shot at breaking the record for a Sekoto, it could be this one.

What about Portrait of a Man (Lentswana)the other Sekoto painting that the consigner sent to this auction? It’s from the same period and is around the same size. The reason we put a slightly higher estimate on Three School Girls is it’s a more universal image. The other is a wonderfully intimate human portrait, but some collectors are not comfortable having particular likenesses hanging in their home. It’s like having a picture of another person’s grandfather. That’s the thought behind this particular estimate.

What is Three School Girls like in person? The first thing that strikes you is the size. In this day and age, particularly if you collect contemporary art, you’re used to monumental canvases. This painting is different. It’s intimate in scale, and it draws you in. The colors are warm and earthy. They’re not colors that are considered colorful or sexy for an urban apartment. But it transports you to a totally different time, a totally different country. You can feel the heat rising up from the dusty road the girls are walking on.

Why will this painting stick in your memory? Having been a schoolgirl myself, it’s quite a nostalgic image. I’m a white British woman living in London, and looking at it brings back memories. I remember being dressed in my schoolgirl uniform, walking to school with my friends. The artist somehow manages to forge a connection I find quite touching.

How to bid: Three School Girls is lot 25 in The South African Sale, which takes place at Bonhams London on September 12, 2018.

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.

Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.

A namesake foundation celebrates Gerard Sekoto’s lifetime of work.

Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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RECORD! Diego Rivera’s The Rivals Sells for $9.7 Million–A Record for Rivera and ANY Latin American Artwork

The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie's sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

What you see: The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie’s sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

First off, how rarely do Diego Rivera canvases of any kind come up for sale, let alone fresh-to-market works from the Rockefeller family? We get them from time to time. We actually just had a smaller canvas in the regular Latin American art sale. They are rare, but every now and then we do get some.

Have any other Diego Rivera canvases painted for members of the Rockefeller family come to auction? No, not directly from the Rockefeller family. The collection of David Rockefeller’s mother was bequeathed to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and became part of their collection. MoMA deaccessed one in the 1960s, but it had been in the collection for decades. Technically the answer is no, no Diego Riveras for Rockefellers at auction.

Why is it called The Rivals? Do we see the rivals in the lower left corner? It’s actually the narrative of a festival in Oaxaca, Las Velas. Here, the confrontation goes on in the foreground. The third male [the man in the black hat] looks like he’s going to intervene, but we don’t know if they’re about to have a fight. That’s why it’s called The Rivals–the male characters.

The lot notes describes The Rivals as the ‘most important Rivera offered at auction in decades.’ What makes it so? A picture on this scale has not been seen for 20 years. The last great Diego Rivera was at auction in the 1990s, a much larger painting than ours, but similar subject matter. It was from the collection of IBM, and it sold at Sotheby’s.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $5 million to $7 million? We had some notion of  work that had transacted privately recently. $5 million to $7 million became the low estimate of what we had in mind. We thought it would be [would sell] closer to $10 million, which it did. Not that we expected that–it was a wonderful surprise. The estimate needed to be fair but with room to grow and create competition. Sometimes bidders are guarded. Everything came together in the last two days. Six to eight people were interested in the painting and pursued it to the end.

Can you talk a bit about the importance of its having been commissioned from Diego Rivera in 1931 by a member of the Rockefeller family? That is important. People like to know where things have been. Only the Rockefeller family owned it. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is that 1931 is a prime year for the artist. He was much-celebrated in Mexico and globally. It made his relationship with America very fruitful and complicated. It [The Rivals] precedes the painting of the Detroit murals. In 1931, MoMA did a Rivera retrospective, and this painting was part of it. All those factors make it very special.

What is The Rivals like in person? Beautiful. The colors are vibrant and fresh. All we did was have a conservator superficially clean it. Some of the characters are very abstracted, especially the women in the background–just the idea of a face. It really draws you in, almost like you’re watching a movie. It’s very cinematic in that way.

What was your role in the auction? I had a phone [he represented a bidder on the phone], but I didn’t have the winning bid. It was a multi-departmental sale for Christie’s. It had pre-war material, American art, and Latin American art. It was very dynamic for that reason alone. It was one of my favorite sales. Not only was it important, but it felt so energetic and dynamic, and there were some surprises. Everything that sold that night, five or six parties were interested. People love to see that. It’s exciting.

Were you there when the previous world auction record for Latin American art was set in 2016? Yes, I was in the room. I didn’t have the winning bid that evening.

A work by Frida Kahlo was the previous Latin American art record-holder. Could you talk about the significance of Kahlo, Rivera’s wife, handing the honor off to him? The Frida Kahlo sold in 2016 for $8 million. The market for Diego Rivera had not really moved in the high end. We really wanted it to be at the level of Frida Kahlo. We sold it [The Rivals] and surpassed it. Now Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo hold the top prices in Latin American art. I think it’s well-deserved.

How long do you think the records–for Diego Rivera at auction, and for any work of Latin American art–will stand? It’s really unpredictable. Obviously, every season you hope, but the reality is you don’t really know. I’d like to see other Latin American artists get Mexican prices [Rivera and Kahlo were both Mexican].

The Rivals is pretty hard to beat, though. What could challenge it? Would it have to wait until this artwork comes back to auction? No, no. It would have to be something from a private collection. A few Frida Kahlos remain in private hands in Mexico. There are no plans for them to be sold, but maybe someday they could be. A few Wifredo Lams in Europe could do it. But it’s unpredictable, that’s the thing.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Garza spoke to The Hot Bid earlier in 2018 about a Fernando Botero Circus painting.

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RECORD! A Harold Dunbar Cape Cod Scene Sold for $78,000

A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred's sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000--stomping the artist's previous auction record several times over.

What you see: A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred’s sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000–stomping the artist’s previous auction record several times over.

The expert: Joshua Eldred, president of Eldred’s and head of its fine arts department.

First, let’s talk about the artist who made this work, Harold Dunbar. What can you tell me about him? There are two distinct parts of his career. When he was younger he lived in Canton, Massachusetts. He was a gifted Impressionist painter, and if he stayed that course, he might be better regarded than he is today. In the 1910s, he moved to Chatham, Massachusetts, and he started to work for the tourist trade. He could paint local scenes of Chatham fairly quickly, and he sold them to tourists and locals for a tidy sum. Lore says he had quite the alcohol issue. We see a real variety of quality in his later era–some paintings where he didn’t give his all, and others that are much better.

Did this work have a name when it came to you? No, it did not have a name. We applied the name.

This has been described as Harold Dunbar’s best work. What makes it so? Obviously it’s a very subjective thing to say. In my opinion it’s in the top five. It’s certainly the best we’ve ever handled. The thing that really grabs people is the woman. She’s looking right at you and she’s almost talking to you, like she’s trying to draw you into the painting. Her pose, the way her head is cocked, the way she’s looking toward the viewer, it’s really dramatic.

How do we know the landscape shows the Cape Cod town of Chatham? There’s a bit of debate about that now. Some feel it might be Truro instead. We can’t say it’s an exact point in Chatham. There’s a bit of a debate about exactly where it is on the Cape, but we’re fairly sure it’s Truro now.

Do we know if Harold Dunbar used models for this, and if so, do we know who the models were? I don’t know. I suspect he did. He didn’t do an awful lot of figurative work.

What makes this painting stand out among Harold Dunbar’s works? The prominent figures, the work is a fairly large size for him, and the quality is outstanding. He obviously puts a lot of time and effort into it. On the quality scale of his Cape Cod works, it’s a 10.

How many Dunbars have you handled? How have you seen his market change over time? We’ve handled probably 500 Dunbars. The market for him has been pretty steady. There’s always been pretty solid demand, particularly on the cape. They’re bright, cheerful, and fairly easy and popular sells.

How did the Harold Dunbar painting find its way to you? It came in to an art dealer in a shop in Denver, Colorado last summer. The dealer called us to refer the consigner, and shipped the painting out. It was not where you expect to find a Dunbar. My suspicion is someone who was probably here originally left the area. We didn’t see a public record of it being sold. None of the local dealers and collectors recalled seeing it on the market before.

Did that prompt a concern that it might be fake? Are fakes a problem with Dunbar’s work? That didn’t concern us at all. There actually have been a few fakes out there, but they’re pretty easy to spot. A lot of the “fakes” that we see are not intentionally faked, but people thinking, “If I put a signature on it, I can make a couple hundred bucks.”

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

What was it like to see the Harold Dunbar painting show up? It was exciting. We looked at it and said, “Wow, this is the best Dunbar we’ve ever seen.” It was a nice moment to unpack it. I put it on the cover of the catalog not thinking it would bring that kind of money, but because I thought it was a powerful image.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $3,000 to $5,000 for the Harold Dunbar painting? Estimates are always a tricky thing. As an auctioneer, you want the estimate to be fair but conservative. In this case, the Dunbar auction record up to that point was $5,000. It was a very nice harbor painting that we sold about 10 years before. Only about five percent of his works had broken the $3,000 barrier. Conservative estimates are better, but a lot of people get caught up in the moment and bid what they want to bid. I thought if they got caught up, on a great day, the Dunbar might sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

When did you get a notion that the Harold Dunbar painting might do better than $5,000? We had a preview two weeks before the sale, and it was very, very well-received. Dunbar collectors loved it. Even those who didn’t care about Dunbar loved it.

What was your role in the auction? I am one of the principal auctioneers, but I did not auction the Dunbar. I was a bystander.

What do you remember of the sale? I think it started around $5,000. There were two very active people in the room, and it quickly got around $15,000. After $15,000, there was one bidder on the phone and one in the room who bid it up to the final price. The person who bought it was in the room, and the underbidder was on the phone.

What was your reaction when you saw the Harold Dunbar painting glide past $15,000? I would have been pleased with $15,000. Once it got to $20,000, I was shocked. It was a surprise to everybody. Two people desperately had to have it, and it became a battle.

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

Why do you think they fought so hard for it? I think the painting just spoke to them. This is just my analysis of it–I haven’t spoken to either of them. This is a wonderful Cape Cod painting. Everyone was taken in by the female figure. It’s a pleasing painting, a relaxing painting. You can picture yourself walking on a Cape Cod evening and passing her. It was one of those moments. And there’s mystery around the painting, too. The man is much older. Is it her father? Her husband? People had fun figuring out what the story was. At one point, I thought it might be a commissioned work or an illustration for a story, but there’s no proof. That’s complete conjecture on my part.

How long do you think this record will stand? Could any other Harold Dunbar painting challenge it? I know of nothing out there that would be available for sale at any point that could challenge it. I know of some Dunbars in private hands, but they wouldn’t achieve close to this level. In my opinion, it will stand for a long time, potentially our lifetimes. It was lightning in a bottle.

Well, this painting pretty much appeared out of nowhere. Maybe lightning will strike twice? It certainly can. I’m not a gambler, and I wouldn’t bet on it, but part of the fun of what we do is we never know. Last summer, we sold a scrimshaw tooth that shattered the record, and it was bought at a gun show. There’s always that next wonderful thing out there. That’s part of what keeps us going.

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Image is courtesy of Eldred’s.

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WHOA! Canova’s Rediscovered Bust of Peace Sold for More Than $7 Million

A Bust of Peace, sculpted in 1814 by Antonio Canova.

Update: Whoa! Canova’s Bust of Peace sold for £5.3 million, or slightly more than $7 million.

What you see: A Bust of Peace, sculpted in 1814 by Antonio Canova. Sotheby’s anticipates bidding in excess of £1 million, or $1.3 million.

Who was Antonio Canova? Born in 1757 in Possagno, Italy, Canova is the greatest of the Neoclassical sculptors and one of the greatest sculptors ever. You might not recall his name, but you’ve almost certainly seen his work–Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, The Three Graces, and Venus Victrix, to name three. (If you’ve been to the Louvre and managed to miss Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, go back, you did it wrong.) He died in 1822, at the age of 64.

The expert: Christopher Mason, director of the European sculpture and works of art department at Sotheby’s.

How rarely does anything by Canova come to auction, let alone one of his Ideal Heads? Very rarely. In the last 30 years at auction, I can think of only a handful of examples. Last year there was a bust of Murat in Paris. It sold for €4.3 million ($5 million). We had an Ideal Head in the early to mid-1990s. It sold for £750,000 and is now in the Ashmolean. Before that, there was one in the 1980s that went to the Getty. They’re very rare, as you can see from those examples.

The Bust of Peace belongs to a series Canova did that was dubbed the Ideal Heads. Why is that important? He produced very few Ideal Heads. He made them as gifts for patrons and friends, and that gave him a degree of freedom in the execution of his ideas. They’re different versions of what Canova considered to be beauty. Really what distinguishes the Ideal Heads is not facial characteristics, but the hair. This one is unique, and has uniquely beautiful hair. And it’s the only bust [of his] we’re aware of that has a tiara like that.

What did Baron Cawdor, the sculpture’s first owner, do for Canova that earned him the Bust of Peace? He was Canova’s first British patron and a substantial landowner over here. What comes across in his letters is he’s a nice man. He and Canova got on together, and they were personal friends. Baron Cawdor was an important patron who commissioned iconic works, including the Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre. It was sort of appropriated by Murat [Joachim Murat, a French military leader and brother-in-law of Napoleon]. At the time, Britain was at war with France, and Murat could say, ‘I’ll have that.’ We know by 1814, the first fall of Napoleon, many treasures of Rome were taken by French forces and were in the Louvre. Canova was very much a patriotic Italian, and he wanted to get them back. Baron Cawdor was among the British dignitaries who supported the effort to get them back. The bust may have been given to him for that reason. But through thick and thin, Baron Cawdor was a patron who stuck by Canova.

Where does Canova’s Bust of Peace rank among the Ideal Heads? How well-regarded is it? There aren’t many Ideal Heads. It is a rediscovery. This is literally the first time since 1817 that it’s been published as a Canova. It’s very much fresh off the block. In terms of beauty, in my opinion, it’s one of the more beautiful. It has this glorious tiara which none of the others have. Not only is it an early Ideal Head, it has a backstory that symbolizes the end of the Napoleonic era and symbolizes peace. It combines remarkable history and a remarkably beautiful work by the greatest Neoclassical sculptor.

The lot notes say that Canova’s Ideal Heads “caused a stir when they arrived in Britain.” Can you explain in more detail how they were received? I don’t think you can get better than the fact that Lord Byron wrote a poem about one of the heads. Lord Byron, the great poet of the age, wrote a poem about the great sculptor of the age. At the time, the Ideal Heads were totally different from anything that came before. They would have stood like icebergs among the galleries of paintings. This gleaming white marble of an objectively regal-looking woman must have been wholly refreshing in that environment.

Canova also did a Statue of Peace, which he started before making this bust and delivered after finishing the bust. How do the statue and the bust relate to each other beyond their shared theme? The statue is in Kiev and is difficult to access for that reason, but the images we have of the statue compare very well. It appears to be nearly identical. There is a small natural flaw in the bust, on the upper lip. Canova wrote to Baron Cawdor apologizing for it. It’s hugely important to us because [the flaw] is a characteristic we know it had when it left Canova’s studio. It’s very slight, but it’s there. We haven’t color-corrected it out [of the catalog images]. We’re very proud of it. It is historical, isn’t it?

Other Ideal Heads that Canova made for British patrons and friends have dedicatory inscriptions, but this one does not. Why? Baron Cawdor went to Rome and received it into ownership at that time. The lack of a price in the archives and the fact that the others were all gifts strongly suggest that the Bust of Peace was a gift. The other four Ideal Heads arrived later, in 1817. He sent them from Rome to patrons in the U.K. [without handing them over in person]. In my opinion, Canova saw the need to inscribe them, and it was probably more natural to him to carve in stone than write in ink.

Do we know who the model would have been for Canova’s Bust of Peace and the statue? We don’t know whether he used a live model. The conventional thinking on this is the heads are formed solely in his imagination. That might explain why they [the bust and the statue] share the same facial characteristics.

What features does Canova’s Bust of Peace have that 19th century viewers would have recognized on sight, but which might be obscure to 21st century viewers? First, she’s crowned, and the only other Canovas that are crowned are the Statue of Peace and a portrait he did of Napoleon’s wife, Marie Louise. Clearly for the artist, the coronet represented harmony and peace. It was seen as the distinguishing characteristic of peace at the time. And it’s different from the others in that she assumes a serene and godlike expression, which shows the power of peace.

What condition is Canova’s Bust of Peace in? It’s in very good condition. There is some minor wear, but the bust broadly retains its original surface and is particularly beautiful on the cheeks and neck–particularly smooth and perfect.

You said earlier that the bust is something of a rediscovery? It was considered to have been lost. When the Canova catalog raisonné was published in the 1970s, it was considered unknown. It was on view in 1817 at the Royal Academy in London. After that, it went into the Cawdor private collection until 1962, when they sold the contents of a house. It [the Bust of Peace] sold as an anonymous bust. It was at auction in 2012, again as an anonymous bust. Then it was acquired by the present owner, who, gradually, through a lot of work, figured out it was one of the Ideal Heads.

That is a heck of a discovery. I think the owner began to have an inkling of what it was and wrote to the great Canova expert, Hugh Honour, who is now deceased. He wrote back, ‘Congratulations on rediscovering one of the Ideal Heads, the Bust of Peace.’ The attribution was confirmed by the director of the Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy.

What is Canova’s Bust of Peace like in person? Personally, I find it very affecting. The bust is perfect in its conception. Peace is objectively serene, with a wonderful Neoclassical crown. The bust is designed so it can be viewed from any angle–as you move around it, the figure is changing. The tresses falling from the back of the head are arranged in a way that is not symmetrical. Canova’s great skill is producing harmonious compositions that are seemingly symmetrical, but not. It explains how he was able to breathe life into the composition. As you walk around it, it really does seem like Peace could spring into life. It’s one of the most beautiful marbles we’ve ever sold.

How to bid: The Bust of Peace is lot 25 in the Treasures auction at Sotheby’s London on July 4, 2018.

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SOLD! A Rocky and Bullwinkle Scene Cel, Signed by Bill Scott to June Foray, Fetched $960 at Heritage

A Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed and inscribed by Bill Scott, the voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose, to June Foray, the voice of Rocket J. "Rocky" Squirrel.

Update: The Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed from the voice of Bullwinkle to the voice of Rocky, sold for $960.

What you see: A Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed and inscribed by Bill Scott, the voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose, to June Foray, the voice of Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $3,500.

Who were Rocky and Bullwinkle? If these names are new to you, you have a treat in store. Introduced by Jay Ward, the two starred in one of the most exquisitely hilarious animated shows ever to grace a television screen. Rocky is a charming and peppy flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle is a charming but slow-witted moose. Together they dodge Boris and Natasha, Russian spies who try to catch and “keel” them. Other popular segments on the show feature the Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right and his nemesis, Snidely Whiplash; the time-traveling Sherman and Mr. Peabody; and Fractured Fairy Tales, which are exactly what you think they are. The show originally aired from 1959 to 1964.

The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.

What’s a scene cel? It’s a limited edition animation cel, not used in production.

How did this Rocky and Bullwinkle cel come to be? It post-dates The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It never went on camera. Foray started ASIFA, a union for animators. They had cel sales in parking lots and malls to raise money for the union. This is one of the cels made for an ASIFA fundraiser, and it was June Foray’s personal cel. It’s inscribed by Bill Scott to her. That changes everything–it’s as close to Rocky and Bullwinkle as you’re going to get.

This Rocky and Bullwinkle cel was made after The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show stopped production. Would it still have value if it didn’t have a Bill Scott signature and inscription and a June Foray provenance? Any Jay Ward art is valuable because there’s so little out there. It’s maybe $500 without the signature. This is worth $1,500 to $3,500, in that range. There are very few with signatures, maybe a handful. Bill Scott is not a signature you see a lot out there.

Does the Rocky and Bullwinkle cel belong to the first offering of items from June Foray’s estate at auction? Yes. I knew June very well. She was one of the most giving and intelligent and smart women I’ve met in my life. She was the one who led the charge to get animation [included] in the Academy Awards. She was a tireless crusader for animation in general, and she was the single most important woman in animation. She was the voice of Rocky over fifty years. She was Natasha. She was Ursula in George of the Jungle. She was Granny in the Tweety Bird cartoons. She was Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Chuck Jones once said, “June Foray is not the male Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”

Why does The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show endure? Why do we still love it? It takes three things to make a great cartoon: animation style, acting, and writing. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show might have been one of the best-acted and best-written cartoon shows. When you can make a child laugh and an adult laugh at the same time, for different reasons, that’s phenomenal.

How to bid: The Bill Scott-signed, June Foray-owned Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel is Lot 96003 in the Animation Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on June 16 and 17, 2018.

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.

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Jim Lentz has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about a vintage Kem Weber-designed Walt Disney Studios animation desk that sold for $13,145 and a Walt Disney-signed original animation cel from Song of the South that fetched just under $9,000.

ASIFA-Hollywood’s website devotes a section to June Foray, who died in 2017 at the age of 99.

Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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SOLD! Arthur Rackham’s Image of Danaë and the Infant Perseus Commanded $22,100 at Swann

Danaë and the Infant Perseus, an original illustration in watercolor, ink, and wash on board by Arthur Rackham for the 1922 Hodder & Stoughton edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys.

Update: Arthur Rackham’s 1922 original illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseus sold for $22,100.

What you see: Danaë and the Infant Perseus, an original illustration in watercolor, ink, and wash on board by Arthur Rackham for the 1922 Hodder & Stoughton edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was Arthur Rackham? He was regarded as a leader in the Golden Age of British book illustration, which spanned 1890 to the onset of World War I. He enlivened editions of Alice in Wonderland, Rip van WinkleGulliver’s Travels, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and more. He died in 1939 at the age of 71.

Who were Danaë and Perseus? In Greek mythology, Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. When an oracle told the king that his grandson would kill him someday, he locked his childless only daughter in a tower to thwart the prophecy. Zeus upended the plan by sneaking in to Danaë’s cell in the form of a shower of gold (yes, you read that right) and getting her pregnant with little Perseus. The king loaded his daughter and tiny grandson into a wooden box and tossed it into the sea, hoping that nature would take care of them. It did, but not the way he wanted; the box came ashore on the island of Seriphos. Danaë eventually caught the eye of that island’s king, Polydectes. Perseus, now closer to being grown up, agreed to kill Medusa and bring back her head to get Polydectes to leave his poor mom alone. The oracle proved correct when Acrisius went to Larissa to watch a sports exhibition. Perseus was there to play, and did not know that his grandfather was in the audience. He accidentally took the old man out when a discus throw went awry and clocked him.

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

How was Arthur Rackham chosen for this 1922 project? He was known to work on Greek and Norse mythology and had done his own book in 1913, Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures, which had a lot of mythology. He was chosen by the publisher [for the 1922 release] because it was well known that he could execute illustrations of Greek and Norse myths, and that was what the Nathaniel Hawthorne book was about.

How many illustrations did Arthur Rackham do for the Nathaniel Hawthorne book, and how many for the Danaë and Perseus story? Sixteen color plates in all, and two for the story. This illustration was just used last year as the cover for a 2015 reissue of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book. Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures has a different picture [of this scene in the story] that’s more Rackhamesque in a way. In this image, he concentrates more on the waves, and them being swept out. It’s more threatening. In the 1913 version, you don’t see Perseus’s face. He’s nestled into her breast. They’re in the same simple wooden box, and there’s clouds and wind, but there’s no forboding stormy sky. And the other one doesn’t have as much color as this one.

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I saw a reference to Arthur Rackham having been influenced by Meiji woodblock prints. I couldn’t find more information than that before we spoke, but it made me feel less crazy when the waves in this illustration made me think of Hokusai’s The Great Wave. You don’t think of Rackham being influenced by Asian artists, but he was. He was the master of illustration in the time of three- and four-color printing. When he created an image for a book, the detail would often get lost in the four-color printing process. He’d often go back and re-ink pieces, and define the line very precisely. This image is Rackham, but it’s heavier and thicker than you’re used to seeing. If you cover Danaë and Perseus and just look at the left-hand side of the illustration, you’d think you’re looking at a Japanese woodcut.

Was Arthur Rackham prolific? He was one of the masters of the Golden Age of British illustration. He did a lot of magazine illustrations and job work before launching into his own deluxe editions. He dominated the Edwardian deluxe gift book market. His 1905 Rip Van Winkle cemented his reputation as a master illustrator.

How often do original Rackhams appear at auction? They come up with some frequency, and the prices are all over the place. The range in price depends on how well-known they are, and the amount of detail. A Wind in the Willows illustration sold last year in London for £52,500 ($70,700). It had all the hallmarks of a Rackham illustration, and it had the main characters in it as well. We sold one of his illustrations for A Christmas Carol–it was extremely popular and hotly contested at auction. It was Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley, and it sold for $32,500. The more iconic the image, the higher the price.

How did Danaë and the Infant Perseus come to you? This is from a private collection. It was purchased from a gallery in London several decades ago.

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What qualities does this Arthur Rackham image of Danaë and the Infant Perseus have that makes it desirable to collectors? You have a scene taking place in nature, where the subjects are vulnerable to nature. Danaë and Perseus have this sort of sweet, pre-Raphaelite look to their faces–innocent features, very expressive, and the light touches of color enhance their expressions. And the treatment of the fabric is very Rackham-esque. You can see the figures beneath the clothing and you can tell the elements have affected them. He also shows the simple craftsmanship of the box and the wood grain and at the same time, shows how sturdy but delicate the vessel is. It’s also in how he puts the two figures in the foreground and on the right. Your eye goes to their faces, but you see the ferocity of the storm. It’s about them, but it’s about fear, and about the episode they’re about to face.

I’m surprised the estimate is as low as $10,000 to $15,000. It’s a strong piece, but the Rackham market is a little soft right now. While we love Rackham and he’s one of the greats of illustration and he’s still considered a favorite, he’s not among the greats for new, young collectors.

Why will this Arthur Rackham illustration stick in your memory? It’s a haunting image. It’s beautiful and haunting at the same time. It’s from one of my favorite works by Rackham. I love his treatment of Norse and Greek myths. I feel very few illustrators have been able to grasp the excitement and the drama of those myths like Rackham did.

How to bid: Danaë and the Infant Perseus is lot 38 in the Illustration Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 5, 2018.

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.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

Christine von der Linn has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

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

SOLD! Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 Commands $4.8 Million at Phillips

Bloodline: Big Family No. 9, a 1996 canvas by Zhang Xiaogang.

Update: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 sold for HDK $38,350,000, or $4.8 million.

What you see: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9, a 1996 canvas by Zhang Xiaogang. Phillips estimates it at more than HDK 30 million, or around $3.8 million.

Who is Zhang Xiaogang? He is a contemporary Chinese artist who is best known for his Bloodlines paintings. His parents were government officials, and at one point during his childhood, they were forced to attend a re-education camp for three years. He graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, but it was a three-month stay in Germany in 1992 that transformed his approach to art. He embarked on the Bloodlines series soon after. Zhang turns 60 this year.

The expert: Wenjia Zhang, Phillips’s regional director in Shanghai.

The lot notes for Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 as an “extremely rare rendition.” What makes it an extremely rare rendition? Because this painting is directly based on a family photo of his parents and his older brother, the first child in the family, celebrating his 100-day birthday. It’s directly based on a family picture, but it’s more of a fantasy picture.

How many of the works in the Bloodlines series are based on photos of Zhang’s own family? I think this is one of very few. It may be the only one directly based on a picture of his family. In China, the previous generation all has this kind of family photo. It’s a generational thing, not just his family. I remember my parents’ wedding photo was very similar. And we didn’t have color photos. We only had black and white.

Do we know when that photo of Zhang’s parents and eldest brother was taken? I can’t say the exact year, but I think it was 1955, 1956, or 1957. [Zhang was born in 1958 and was the third of four children, all boys.]

Zhang Xiaogang painted Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 in 1996, which is about in the middle of the timespan given for the Bloodlines series. Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors? I personally don’t really think of the year as the most important year. I think it’s the work itself, and I think it’s the most important of his Bloodlines: Big Family series. This work is very romantic, reflecting a romantic part of his character. On the other hand, for the technical part, the brushstrokes and the drops of water on the face [the pink splotches on the right of each face] are very delicate. It makes me feel it’s very special.

When you say that the painting reflects a romantic part of his character, what do you mean? It’s because of the smoothness of the colors, the way that he painted, and the light on the painting. I can’t say more. It’s just a feeling.

Can you talk a bit about the imagery he’s using here that would have meaning to Chinese viewers? The immediate meaning to us Chinese people is our memories and our family. We all have this kind of photo for special occasions–birthdays, weddings. For him, the image of every figure in the Bloodlines series is a variation on his mother.

Why did Zhang Xiaogang use the phrase ‘Big Family’ in the title when the family shown consists of only three people? I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It’s about the whole generation [in China] as a big family. For his generation, and less for mine, everyone was part of a big family. We share everything, we work together like a big family. Also, he was not part of the generation where they could have only one child per family. It does not have that meaning. He was not from the only child generation.

Where does Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 rank among the paintings in the Bloodlines series? I think he started this series in 1994, after traveling to Germany. He was inspired by Gerhard Richter a lot. I think he came back to China and saw pictures in a library and from that time, he started painting the series. In 1996, his technique becomes more mature. He found the way to paint–this concept of the photo and trying to technically express his thinking of his memory. It’s very delicate. The colors are so beautiful and reflections of the lighting is extremely beautiful. Those things make this painting very different and very important. Also, in 1994 and 1995, his paintings are being chosen for the Venice Biennale [and other important shows]. For him it was a turning point.

Bloodlines: Big Family No. 9 explores ideas that Chinese people will recognize right away, but you don’t really need to know anything about Mao or the Cultural Revolution or 20th century Chinese life to fall under its spell. Why do you think it’s so powerful? Good question. What I can say is to share my experience of going to his studio. We’re not exactly the same generation. He was born in 1958, and I was born in 1974. I have no direct experience with the Cultural Revolution. I’m almost 20 years younger than him. When I first entered his studio, I was attracted to the color and the atmosphere of the painting. If it’s a good work, it can attract you. If it’s strong, you can feel it. For me, the work speaks for itself.

What’s the auction record for a work by Zhang Xiaogang? Might this work set a new record? I think the record is Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2014 for HKD $94.2 million, or $12.1 million. Whether it will set a new record, we can’t say. Of course if it can make a record that would be so exciting for us, but we can’t say now. It really depends on the market and on the collectors.

What is the Zhang Xiaogang painting like in person? It’s very quiet. I think you can be immediately attracted by the painting when you enter a room.

How to bid: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 is lot 12 in Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection, taking place May 27, 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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A Fernando Botero Circus Painting Could Sell for $2.5 Million

Circus People, a 2007 painting by Fernando Botero.

What you see: Circus People, a 2007 painting by Fernando Botero. Christie’s estimates it at $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

Who is Fernando Botero? Born in Medellin, Colombia, Botero is a sculptor and painter. He might be better known for the former, as several of his bronzes have been installed outdoors in major cities. Botero invariably depicts people and animals with greater size and heft than you might expect–an artistic choice that has become his visual signature. During his long career, he has tackled sober, dark subjects such as the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the death of drug dealer Pablo Escobar, as well as more innocuous images of couples dancing and riffs on Old Masters. Botero is 86.

The expert: Virgilio Garza, head of Latin American art for Christie’s.

Fernando Botero has created about 120 circus-themed paintings. Where does Circus People rank among those images? This is one of the most complete in the sense that it has a circus. It reminds me of his very sought-after family groupings. It could be seen as a multi-character painting by Botero. The narrative is about performers in a circus who are not performing, but at the same time, they are performing. The sword swallower is swallowing a sword. The clown is playing with a baton. The snake charmer has a snake. Botero is saying they’re always performing whether they’re on stage or not.

Is Fernando Botero still painting and drawing circus scenes, or has he stopped? The whole Botero series started around 2006, from his visit to a small seaside village in Mexico where there was a very simple traveling circus. He started a series. Many 20th century artists have created works about the circus–Picasso, Calder. I think the Botero circus series is ongoing.

Is this Fernando Botero circus painting based on real people who Botero saw, or does it show people who he invented after he was inspired by what he saw? Botero works with types. I think he never really depicts a specific person. They’re more sort of types in terms of the circus. They’re typed by profession–the sword swallower, the clown. Looking at his work in general, it’s consistent with the idea that he’s interested in types.

How does Fernando Botero’s circus series match up to other series of his? Are collectors particularly interested in his circus scenes? There’s demand for them, yes. Botero in general is sought-after. He’s a very popular artist globally and I think the circus is universally understood as a cultural activity. With his bullfighting series, some collectors look for his bullfighting pictures. Some are not attracted to bullfighting. It’s not for everybody. But the circus is universally understood. It’s very ingrained in the culture of Latin America, the U.S., Europe. It’s a family entertainment that people feel nostalgic about.

This Fernando Botero circus painting is 63 1/2 inches by 75 1/8 inches. Is that unusually large for him? Or is this a typical painting size? No. We don’t see large paintings like this all the time, but he as an artist benefits from a larger scale, and his sculptures do, too.

Is Circus People unusually large for a work from Fernando Botero’s circus series? The ones that have come up for auction have been much smaller. This work is very, very emblematic of the series. I think it is super-charming. I love the colors and the scale.

Did Fernando Botero use brighter colors than he normally would when painting circus images? It’s pretty consistent with other works from his mature style. It’s not unusual in that sense.

Circus People is fresh to market–it’s making its auction debut. How important is that, considering that the works in Fernando Botero’s circus series are relatively recent, and will likely be fresh to market? It’s always desirable to have things that have never been at auction. It’s desirable if it’s old or if it’s new. In terms of auction sales, we like fresh-to-market works because there are new things to say. We try to present Botero and his circus works in an essay accompanying the painting. As an auction house, we try to explain where it sits within his broader production, and how special it is. About this particular sale–we have fantastic material by Botero from the late 1950s to the new millennium. We have a Mona Lisa from 1959 that’s wonderful. We have sculptures from the 1980s to more recent works. We have an Aurora painting from the 1990s that’s very beautiful. He’s very well-represented.

But isn’t that true of all of Christie’s Latin American art auctions? You’d think, but demand for his sculpture keeps rising and they’re very hard to get. We’re fortunate to have a nice group but you’re going to see them get scarce. He’s not fabricating new sculptures anymore as far as we know. What is out there is out there.

Are collectors more interested in his sculptures than his paintings? Not really. I wouldn’t say they’re more desirable. There’s a healthy market for both. I would say Botero is better known for his sculpture because many are outdoors, and the public is attuned to them.

Let’s talk about the size of Botero subjects. We see a circus here, but there is no fat lady, and none of the people are, technically speaking, fat. Botero has always been interested in the idea of volume, from early on. It started with the mandolin. He painted a round musical instrument, and by making the [sound] hole smaller, the scale grew. He started experimenting with variations of scale. Eventually the figures started to become bigger in terms of occupying more space. Botero created a universe very much his own. When he started to translate them to three dimensions with sculpture, by making them rounder and bigger, he created a universe where characters exist and assert themselves by their physicality.

What factors shaped the $1.5 million to $2.5 million estimate for Circus People? We think this is consistent with important paintings in the past in terms of scale, quality, and what it represents. Most of his important paintings are paintings of groupings. A family of bullfighters did very well many years ago. I think the picture has the potential to sell among the top ten paintings by the artist.

Why will this Fernando Botero circus painting stick in your memory? It’s a beautiful painting. It’s vibrant, and at a very nice scale. It’s joyful, full of energy. It’s a great painting.

How to bid: Circus People is lot 44 in Christie’s Latin American Art auction on May 23 and 24, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Also see this May 2018 Christie’s piece on 10 things to know about Fernando Botero.

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RECORD! Original Art From Gary Larson’s The Far Side Sold for $31,070

An original panel of comic strip art from 1983 for The Far Side, signed by cartoonist Gary Larson and dated 10-31.

Update: The original 1983 art for The Far Side sold for $31,070–a world auction record for original artwork from the comic strip. Hooray! And Quack!

What you see: An original panel of comic strip art from 1983 for The Far Side, signed by cartoonist Gary Larson and dated 10-31. Heritage Auctions could sell it for more than $11,000.

Who is Gary Larson, and what was The Far Side? Larson created The Far Side, a daily single-panel comic strip that ran from 1980 to 1995. Nothing on the funny pages has been like it before or since. The Far Side reveled in the surreal, the wacky, and the downright weird to the point where it makes little sense to try to explain its humor. You just have to see it for yourself. (Scroll down for relevant links.) Scientists, in particular, loved The Far Side. Larson has had a beetle, a louse, and a butterfly named in his honor. He will turn 68 in August.

The expert: Weldon Adams, comic book art cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions.

How rarely does original art from The Far Side come to auction? Fairly rarely. In the past ten years, we’ve had 20 pieces of art.

How does that compare to, say, how often original Peanuts art appears at auction? We have about two of Charles Schulz’s Sunday strips in every signature auction we do, and we do them four times a year. For the dailys, three or four in an auction is not uncommon.

How does original art from The Far Side find its way to the market? Who has it? Where is it? I think Larson did sell a few occasionally, and he gave some out as gifts. But I have to assume he has the bulk of it.

How did this Gary Larson original Far Side art come to Heritage? We’ve sold this particular strip before, in 2013, for $11,352.50. We expect it to go for what it sold for in 2013, if not more.

This strip dates to 1983, which is relatively early in the run of The Far Side. Does that matter? To a degree, yes. In general, the older the strip is, the more prized it is. But because Gary Larsons are so rare to come across in the first place, I don’t think it plays a role here.

Did Gary Larson do Sunday versions of The Far Side? Are those pieces of Gary Larson original Far Side art worth more than the dailys? In the later years, there are Sunday strips, but they’re more or less larger versions of the dailys. Sometimes there are two larger panel single-panel gags. I think they were printed on a larger scale. In other comic strips, the Sundays are physically larger, with more panels. In the case of The Far Side, the Sundays are functionally the same as the dailys, so I don’t know if there’s a difference.

How does the strip’s Far-Side-ness, for lack of a better word, influence its value? This scene between the man and the duck is a pretty straightforward joke by the standards of The Far Side. It’s not like Larson’s infamous “Cow tools” panel, which is held up as an example of how inscrutable the strip could be. It’s a good example of The Far Side‘s off-center sense of humor. The Far-Side-ness draws the fans in because it’s so off-center. You don’t have to look very hard to see that Larson was inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons and their very dark laughs. Only later do you think about the implications and go, ‘Oh.’ Gary Larson did slapstick humor with a dark edge. This is just lighthearted and goofy. He was a master of that as well. And ducks are funny.

Yeah, about that. Larson’s animals are beloved. His cows are probably the most beloved, but he had great strips that feature ducks, such as the one captioned ‘Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.’ How does the presence of the duck affect the value of this original piece of art from The Far Side? Ducks are inherently funny. They’re essentially nature’s stand-up comedians, and they’re one of Larson’s go-to animals. His cow strips are very popular in part because cows are such a familiar animal in the Western world. Ducks are much the same. It’s a familiar animal, and it’s quick and easy to put a duck in a silly situation. The duck adds to the Far-Side-ness. We’re situated to laugh at a duck, from Donald Duck to Daffy Duck to Howard the Duck. Ducks are masters of comedy.

Do animals, in general, tend to add to the value of original art from The Far Side? I’d say probably so. Larson did plenty of strips with people in goofy situations, but where he really shines is anthropomorphism–aspects of making animals human. That’s what brings out the Far-Side-ness, in my opinion. Everyone loves the animals. It’s ideal to have both humans and animals [in a strip]. It sums up the silliness of both sides of the equation.

The Gary Larson original Far Side art is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? Most comic strip art is in excellent condition. It’s looser than comic book grading. We don’t have a ten-point system for the art. This is artwork that was created on an art table. It was not created with the idea of keeping it in pristine condition. “Excellent” is the top. It means the paper is good quality. It’s not wrinkled or creased. There are no smudges and no lines that don’t belong.

What’s the auction record for a piece of original art from The Far Side? I don’t know the overall record, but I do know our record is for a piece of original comic strip art from 1981, which we sold in 2017 for $28,680. It shows a group of rabbits holding up a stagecoach at gunpoint, so it has the goofiness of humans and animals interacting in funny ways.

As of April 26, 2018, the Gary Larson original Far Side art has been bid up to $3,000, and the auction is two weeks away from closing. Does that mean anything? Early bids are always a good sign. It shows that people out there are interested. When you have more bidders, it’s better in general. But it only takes two. The end is where the real frenzy lies.

Why will this piece of Gary Larson original Far Side art stick in your memory? The Far Side has a habit of sticking in your memory even if you don’t think it does. This one, when I saw it, it reminded me of another strip from The Far Side where scientists are studying the language of dolphins and they’re oblivious to the fact that the dolphins are speaking Spanish. I remembered that because I saw the panel with the duck speaking Spanish.

How to bid: The original 1983 comic strip art for The Far Side is lot #91031 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on May 10 – 12, 2018.

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.

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

Never seen The Far Side? You have a treat ahead of you. Purchase the collected strips, clear your calendar, and enjoy one of the best binge-reads life has to offer.

If you’re curious about the “Cow Tools” strip from The Far Side, see this Reddit thread that debates its weirdness and quotes Larson explaining what he was going for. It includes an image of the panel. The “Cow Tools” cartoon was so enduringly bizarre that it earned an entry on TV Tropes, too.

Weldon Adams previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an original Sunday Peanuts strip from 1958 with a Christmas theme. It ultimately sold for $113,525–a tie for the auction record for original Sunday Peanuts art.

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

SOLD! Sam Doyle, a Self-Taught African-American Artist, Drums Up $17,000 with Penn Drummer Boy at Slotin Folk Art

Penn Drummer Boy, rendered in house paint on discarded tin roofing material around 1983 by Sam Doyle.

Update: Penn Drummer Boy sold for $17,000.

What you see: Penn Drummer Boy, rendered in house paint on discarded tin roofing material around 1983 by Sam Doyle. Slotin Folk Art estimates it at $15,000 to $20,000.

Who was Sam Doyle? He was an African-American self-taught artist who painted images of people and events in the Gullah community of Saint Helena Island in South Carolina. He made his art with what he could scavenge. Born in 1906, he began painting in 1944 and displayed his works outside his home. Eventually, it evolved into the Saint Helena Out Door Art Gallery. Doyle gained fame after he was included in a groundbreaking 1982 show, Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. He died in 1985, at the age of 79.

The expert: Steve Slotin of Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

How prolific was Sam Doyle? Do we know? There probably is a finite number of works because he was producing for quite a few years and decorating his environment with images. When he got discovered, collectors bought them and he replaced them. There’s at least a thousand works, or it’s in the thousands.

Penn Drummer Boy is undated. Can we narrow down when he might have painted it? The family who owned it bought it directly from his environment. This is 1983 or just right after the Corcoran exhibit. The painting could have been in the yard for a year or two, or he could have just made it.

How often did he paint on metal? The majority of his works are painted on old, used roofing tin. Discarded roofing and discarded house paint was almost free material.

Is Penn Drummer Boy from his Penn series? This image was repeated. That wasn’t uncommon. It’s an image he’d already done, and when it was bought, he made another, and another, and another. When you’re extremely poor and white people come to your community and say, ‘I want one of those,’ you’re going to make one of those. If you wanted a Penn Drummer Boy, he’d make you a Penn Drummer Boy. His paintings reported what went on in his community. He painted people he knew. No one else was documenting what was going on in his community except for him. He would record people of importance, such as the first black butcher. You get a lot of history in his paintings, but you don’t necessarily realize it.

How many Penn Drummer Boy paintings are there? No one knows, but we’ve seen three or four in the last 25 years we’ve been doing this, and we’ve handled two or three.

How similar are they? Pretty much everything is similar to the one before it.  If it’s a midwife holding a baby, it’s the same midwife holding a baby. There’s not a lot of variation.

Sam Doyle attended the Penn school when he was young, and later he became a father. Is there any chance that Penn Drummer Boy is a self-portrait, or maybe a portrait of one of his kids? I would not know that. I’ve studied this guy and what he looks like, and it’s probably not the same person. It could be a very young version of him, but I wouldn’t even go there. There’s no indication. It didn’t occur to me that it would ever be a self-portrait. He may have done one or two self-portraits [in his career].

Was Penn Drummer Boy ever displayed at the outdoor gallery? Everything was displayed in his yard until someone bought it. If you found him and walked onto his property, you could buy it. Nothing was there just for looksies. That was his gallery.

Did Sam Doyle call it a gallery? Who knows what he called it. Everything was nailed to the outside of the walls. It was really an all-outdoor environment. Paintings were leaning against each other. It was not what me and you would say is a gallery.

How rare is it for a Sam Doyle to come to auction? We’ve been really lucky. We get one or two pieces in every sale, which happens every six months. We’ve certainly sold more than anybody else. We have a really good track record of getting the highest prices for our sellers and for the buyers, making sure what we have is correct. We do a really good job of vetting.

Are fakes a problem with Sam Doyle works? There were a few times people tried to pass things off as Sam Doyles, but they’re really quick and easy to spot. We won’t accept those pieces. Anytime money is involved, somebody will try to capitalize and make a quick buck.

So faking a Sam Doyle piece is harder than it looks? Right. A trained artist who mimics folk, self-taught, and outsider art still has training in art. After 25 years of doing this we’re pretty aware of what to look for.

Penn Drummer Boy is fresh to market–it went from Doyle to the consigner to Slotin. Is that rare? For Sam Doyle and for most of the works in the auction, that’s not rare at all. During the period of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, collectors were visiting artists and buying directly from them. The original buyers have started getting older and need to figure out what to do with their art. If the children don’t want it, they sell it. We get a lot of stuff that’s never been sold or offered before.

As of April 6, 2018, about three weeks before the auction, Penn Drummer Boy has been bid up to $3,700. Does that mean anything? What you see online is basically lookie-loos. Most of the action on the piece will be in-house, online, or on the phone. The second that piece hits the auction block, and it’s on the block for 40 seconds to a minute, lots of hands in the auction will bid it up. $3,700 is nothing. It will hit the highest price in-house. That’s where it will go to $15,000, $20,000, $30,000.

What condition is it in? Self-taught artists, especially Sam Doyle, work with found material. This has rust, and holes for nails–that’s expected. You want to see that in a piece. You know it’s real. The colors are strong. It didn’t sit in the environment that long. It’s a pristine piece.

Why will Penn Drummer Boy stick in your memory? This is a really strong piece, in great condition. Those who bought it bought it right from the environment. I like everything it has going on. Everything you want to see in a Sam Doyle is there. It’s got the history. It’s got the colors. It’s easy on the eyes. It’s an all-around nice piece.

How to bid: Sam Doyle’s Penn Drummer Boy is lot 0132 in the Self Taught, Outsider & Folk Art sale on April 28 and 29, 2018 at Slotin Folk Art in Buford, Georgia.

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Image is courtesy of Slotin Folk Art Auction.

Steve Slotin previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a sculpture by Ab the Flag Man which ultimately sold for $1,200.

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SOLD! A Louis Tavelli Tryptic Sells at Rago for (Scroll Down to See)

2214

Update: The Louis Tavelli tryptic sold for $5,625–a new auction record for the artist.

What you see: Untitled (hunters and bulls), a 1991 tryptic by Louis Tavelli. Rago Auctions estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Louis Tavelli? He was an American musician and abstract expressionist whose art career spanned six decades. Born in Williamstown, Massachusetts, which is home to Williams College and the Clark museum of art, he mostly lived there and in Woodstock, New York throughout his life. Tavelli’s earlier works were influenced by music, but a 1983 trip to Spain with his chamber music group changed him forever. He took a side trip to Altamira, a cave decorated with paintings that are at least 15,000 years old, and after that, his artworks reflected the effect that the ancient, unnamed cave paintings had on him. Tavelli sometimes staged one-man gallery shows and participated in museum shows, but it’s unclear if he ever had steady gallery representation. He died in 2010, at the age of 96.

This Louis Tavelli tryptic is monumental–each of the three panels measures 59 1/2 by 36 inches. Did Tavelli normally work at that scale? “He did like to work big like this,” says Arlen Sam Brown, design specialist at Rago. “He created art his whole life, and it morphed into a graffiti-like style. His earlier works paid homage to music. But there was definitely a switch, a change, and he went a little more Basquiat-like.”

This Louis Tavelli tryptic belongs to his Indigenous Peoples Series of works, which he started after viewing prehistoric cave paintings in Altamira, Spain. Are all of the pieces from the series as large? And how many pieces are in the series? “He did do other pieces that were large, but they’re not all on that scale. He did works on paper as well,” she says, noting that there are at least 60 to 70 works in the series.

It seems like Louis Tavelli didn’t concern himself with promoting or selling his work. The earliest auction result for him is in 2011, a year after his death. Was he only discovered as an artist after he died? “He had local showings, and he did exhibit his work, but he remained regional. It was not shared publicly until he passed away,” she said, noting that his output is still being cataloged. “What’s exciting about this work is it came to market in a strong capacity. We’ve had the good fortune to roll his work out on a stronger scale, and we’ve had good results.”

Rago set the world auction record for Louis Tavelli in June 2017 with an untitled, undated mixed media collage on paper that sold for $4,063 against an estimate of $800 to $1,200. Was that work also part of his Indigenous Peoples Series? And what are the odds that Untitled (hunters and bulls) will set a new auction record for the artist? She says the mixed-media collage is from the same thematic series, and says there’s a “strong likelihood” that the tryptic will break the record.

Untitled (hunters and bulls) is estimated at $4,000 to $6,000. Did its large size have any influence on its estimate? “Its size informs the estimate, but it’s not what made the decision,” she says. “We had a discussion with [the consigner,] whose perception was, ‘It’s three times the size, so it should be three times the estimate.’ That’s not the case… We truly believe in being very grounded in our estimations. We believe in basing them on auction results. While Tavelli is being well-received, we maintain our integrity. He’s a relatively unknown artist. I’m not sure if you’d call him an emerging artist. You don’t need to be young to be emerging.”

Where do you think the market for Louis Tavelli works is going? “I think the notion that it’s still being shaped is very accurate,” she says. “It’s limitless because it’s fresh. I’ve been pleased and surprised by the reactions to each sale. Tavelli is getting more attention with each one, which is cool.”

Why will this Louis Tavelli work stick in your memory? “It stops you in your tracks, no question,” she says. “It’s a pretty intense piece. The people are almost stick figure-like. It’s almost like a cave drawing.”

How to bid: Untitled (hunters and bulls) is lot 2214 in Remix: Contemporary + Classic, a sale taking place at Rago Auctions on April 7, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

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SOLD! Aboriginal Artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Monumental 1991 Canvas Commands More Than $430,000 at Sotheby’s

Kame-Summer Awelye II, a monumental December 1991 canvas by Emily Kame Kngwarreye.

Update: Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s Kame-Summer Awelye II sold for £309,000, or about $430,400.

What you see: Kame-Summer Awelye II, a monumental December 1991 canvas by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Sotheby’s estimates it at £300,000 to £500,000, or $418,000 to $697,690.

Who was Emily Kame Kngwarreye? Born in 1910 in Utopia, an Aboriginal community in Australia’s northern territory, Kngwarreye [pronounced ‘no worry’] is one of the most significant and successful Aboriginal artists. She embraced painting late in life, when she was almost 80. Though her career was brief, it was exemplary. Her works started selling for six figures at Australian auctions at the turn of the century. She died in 1996 at the age of 85 or 86.

What does the name of the painting mean? “Summer ceremony,” says Tim Klingender, Aboriginal art specialist at Sotheby’s. “Awelye means ceremony. It means singing, dancing, and body painting as performed in traditional [Aboriginal] ceremonies, relating to the Dreaming of one’s totems and country.”

Kame-Summer Awelye II is one of a group of four monumental works by Emily Kame Kngwarreye. Another is in a museum. Do we know where the other two are, and if they have come to auction? And is this the first of the four to go to auction? “The other two are both in private collections, and were both exhibited in the artist’s two retrospectives,” he says. “This is the first of the four to appear at auction.”

The lot notes say Kame-Summer Awelye II was painted ‘during a time of intense ceremonial activity.’ Could you explain what these ceremonies were, and how Emily Kame Kngwarreye participated? “Indigenous desert people meet at various times of the year to perform ceremonies, relating to rain, animals, plants, ancestors and initiations,” he says. “At such ceremonies, ancient songs and dances are performed, bodies painted, and sand mosaics are created on the ground and danced upon.”

The lot notes say that Emily Kame Kngwarreye might have daubed paint on the torsos of those who participated in the ceremonies. Did the paint patterns she applied to their bodies look in any way like the patterns we see in this painting? “In some cases, yes. In others, they are paintings of her country, Alhalkere,” he says. [Alhalkere is an area in central Australia that’s about 142 miles north of Alice Springs.]

In what ways does Kame-Summer Awelye II reflect or represent the Northern Territory landscape? “These paintings are aerial views of ‘landscape’ from above–painterly views of landscape infused with the spiritual energy of the ancestors, or creation, or Dreamtime beings,” he says.

The lot notes also state that the painting ’emphasizes the intrinsic connection of the individual to the landscape as a form of personal expression.’ Could you say more about this?  “To artists such as Emily, their inherited country and their connection to it are everything,” he says. “Her paintings are a celebration of that connection.”

Emily Kame Kngwarreye was in her early eighties when she made this painting. Do we know if it was difficult at all for her to make a painting of this size? How did she approach its creation? “Amazingly, she could handle large scale works with ease,” he says. “Google Big Yam Dreaming in the NGV to see a work she painted on a massive scale in the second-to-last year of her life.”

Why did she, among all of the Aboriginal artists in the Utopia community, break out and gain fame? “Because of the uniqueness and quality and development of her style,” he says. “In such a short period, she produced a phenomenal body of work–some 3,000 paintings in seven years.”

How does Kngwarreye’s personal story as an artistic late bloomer play into the demand for her paintings and affect their value? “Not particularly,” he says. “It has always been her art that has drawn attention first and foremost.”

What’s the current auction record for a Kngwarreye painting? Does she still hold the record for any Aboriginal artwork at auction? “Her auction record is AUD$2,100,000 [a sum that’s roughly the same in American dollars], for Earth’s Creation 1, sold in November 2017 at Fine Art Bourse in Sydney, Australia. That’s the second highest price for an Indigenous work, and the highest for any Australian woman artist,” he says.

How did you arrive at the estimate for this work? “Considerably smaller examples from this particular period have sold for around AUD$500,000,” he says. “A work on this scale and quality is exceptionally rare.”

Why will Kame-Summer Awelye II stick in your memory? “This grand painting is joyous, beautiful, spectacular, rare, and grounded in the oldest continuous culture on earth,” he says. “Seen firsthand, the painting’s layers of fine overlaid multi-toned yellow pigments give the painting a depth reminiscent of a golden celestial starscape, like an earthly reflection of the heavens.”

How to bid: Kame-Summer Awelye II is lot 38 in Sotheby’s Aboriginal Art auction in London on March 14, 2018.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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An Alma Thomas Painting Sells for Almost $400,000

Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a 1969 oil on canvas by Alma Thomas.

Editor’s Note: Today is the first anniversary of The Hot Bid. To celebrate, I’m reposting the first entry–a piece on an Alma Thomas painting at LAMA that ultimately sold for a record sum.

Update: Thomas’s Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. sold for $387,500 at Los Angeles Modern Auctions on Sunday, March 5, 2017–well above its $125,000 to $175,000 estimate. It also represents a world record at auction for the artist.

What you see: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a 1969 oil on canvas by Alma Thomas.

Who was Alma Thomas? She was a member of the Washington Color School, a mid-20th century abstract art movement based in Washington, D.C. that also included Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland. Thomas was under-appreciated during her lifetime, but she was not unknown; in 1972, she became the first African-American woman to receive a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thomas died in 1978, at the age of 86. Her art gained fresh attention when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama displayed her works in the White House. Resurrection, a 1966 Thomas canvas that the Obamas chose for the White House family dining room, shares a mandala-like motif in common with Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C.

Why is the Alma Thomas painting so compelling? “It has an intimacy that you only get when you contemplate a solitary blossom,” says Peter Loughrey, director of modern design and fine art at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA). “There’s something Zen and eastern about it. The progression of color draws you in to the center of the work. It really lends itself to a one-on-one, personal interaction.”

How does the Alma Thomas painting call to mind Washington, D.C.? “It’s extremely abstracted, but it does reference the cherry blossoms that bloom every spring,” says Loughrey, who grew up in the nation’s capital. “It’s inescapable, that pinkish color in the background. It’s what you remember and walk away with.”

Why is the Alma Thomas painting estimated at $125,000 to $175,000? Thomas wasn’t as prolific as other Washington Color School artists, and today’s collectors are keen to own her works. Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. has never gone to auction before; the consigner’s father bought it directly from the artist in 1969. He was a medical student at the time, and he paid her in installments. The lot includes a handwritten letter from Thomas to the proud young owner, telling him,”I hope you will love the painting. So many of my friends wanted to buy it.”

How to bid: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. is lot 323 in the Modern Art & Design Auction that takes place on March 5, 2017 at LAMA in Van Nuys, Calif.

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Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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Ceruti’s Portrait on Glass Sold for $615,000

Portrait of a Young Countrywoman, Half Length, an oil on glass painted in the late 1720s or early 1730s by Giacomo Ceruti, who also went by the name Pitocchetto.

Update: Ceruti’s Portrait of a Young Countrywoman, Half Length fetched $615,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: Portrait of a Young Countrywoman, Half Length, an oil on glass painted in the late 1720s or early 1730s by Giacomo Ceruti, who also went by the name Pitocchetto. Sotheby’s estimates it at $200,000 to $300,000.

Who was Giacomo Ceruti, and why was he called Pitocchetto? He was a northern Italian artist who roamed across genres, painting portraits, still lifes, and everything in between. “Pitocchetto” (pronounced Pee-to-ket-to) translates as “the little beggar,” and refers to his talent for capturing images of the humble people of his day–beggars, chefs, farmers, and the like. He died in 1767 at the age of 68.

Ceruti painted this portrait on glass. Why? Wasn’t glass expensive in the early 18th century? “Glass was expensive, but for the artist, it wasn’t outside the realm of possibility,” says David Pollack, a specialist in Sotheby’s Master Paintings department. “Glass is rare compared to canvas or wood panels. You see it much less frequently, but it’s not unknown. The Romans painted on glass. As far as Ceruti goes, there are a few examples of him painting on glass, showing the same model, in the same dress.” (Scroll down and look to the right to see another Ceruti oil on glass.)

Why might Ceruti have attempted a painting on glass? “In this particular case, it’s unclear. We don’t have a record of it being commissioned, but we do have a period inventory,” he says. “There was a taste for works on glass, and works on glass by Ceruti in particular. They were popular in his own day.”

How is painting on glass different from painting on canvas or a wooden panel? “It’s a challenge for the artist,” he says. “Painting on glass has to be done in reverse. You put in the details first, and you really can’t make changes. You had to be a perfectionist or you’d have to start all over. But the payoff is really high. With glass, the colors remain extremely well-preserved as long as it’s not broken or damaged.”

How sturdy is the glass? Is it the same as window glass? “It’s as sturdy as today’s glass, and this glass is really clear,” he says. “When you need a wooden panel for painting, you need one without imperfections. It’s the same for glass. It needs to be smooth and clear. The standard is higher than for glass for drinking out of.”

The portrait on glass doesn’t have a background. Did Ceruti choose not to paint it, or is it unfinished by accident? He appears to have left the background blank on purpose. “Other versions [other Ceruti paintings on glass] are that way as well,” Pollack says. “I’m surmising here, but the focus of the painting is the woman. He’s all about figures. He’s a figurative painter, and he put the focus on the technique, the painting on glass.”

This isn’t like a flat painting on canvas. Is Sotheby’s handling it differently? “On the cover of the physical catalog, we show the painting as we will exhibit it–on a plinth, so you can see it in the round,” he says. “Otto Naumann displayed it with a piece of salmon pink cardboard behind the painting, but not on it. We’ve chosen to display it completely bare. You can walk around it. It’s incredibly modern and totally chic. I think people are really going to react to it.”

Ceruti did at least two portraits on glass, apparently of the same model. Why might he have done that? “It was a popular and commercially successful composition for him, and he returned to it,” he says. “Throughout art history, we see [other paintings that are] not the exact version, but sitting the same model. A patron might have written to Ceruti and said, ‘I want the same model and a similar type of work, but without the basket.’

The model seems to be wearing the same outfit in both paintings. Why would he have wanted her to don those clothes twice? “It’s a combination of it being the type of garb of the day for a woman in her position, and he probably thought the blue, red, and white was pleasing,” he says. “The white folds in such a way that allowed him to play with shadow and light. Same for the blue. If it was one color, he couldn’t show off as much, frankly. With a different-color combo, he’s able to.”

How did you put an estimate on this Ceruti? “We didn’t just compare it to works on glass. We compared it to works by Ceruti in general, and works by Milanese 17th century artists in general, and the market in general–works that are unfinished, quirky, off-beat, nontraditional,” he says. “The market reacts to a simple portrait that’s appealing to the modern eye, be it unfinished or quirky.”

Oh, like the unfinished Anton Raphael Mengs portrait that Otto Naumann showed at TEFAF New York in 2016, which Anderson Cooper bought? “That’s Otto,” he says. “The thing that Otto cares about is not that it’s unfinished or that it’s different. It has to have a story to it. These types of unfinished works give insight into an artist’s working method.”

The lot notes describe the colors of the Ceruti oil-on-glass as being “exceptionally fresh and vivid and, as is the case with this beautiful example, the subject is startlingly life-like.” Are there aspects of the painting that the camera doesn’t fully capture? “It is more vibrant in real life. The best way to look at it is to look at the front cover of the catalog,” he says. “The flesh tones, when you see them in person, are incredibly warm by virtue of being painted on glass. It’s similar to painting on copper. Because they are hard surfaces, the paint sits on top and it stays stable. It’s almost as if it was painted yesterday.”

Why will this painting on glass stand out in your mind? “In a world of Old Masters, the public and even professionals don’t get to see this often, or ever,” he says. “To see a portrait surrounded by transparent glass is such a modern presentation. Being able to view it in the round shifts it from a painting to an object. As you walk around it, it changes with the  light, and with different times of day. It’s really alive.”

How to bid: Portrait of a Young Countrywoman, Half Length is lot 16 in the Otto Naumann sale, which takes place January 31 at Sotheby’s New York.

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

Wallace Draws the King's Sword, an illustration that N.C. Wyeth painted for the 1921 book The Scottish Chiefs.

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 N.C. 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 William 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 N.C. Wyeth painting of William Wallace 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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Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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RECORD! A Faith Ringgold Story Quilt Commissioned by Oprah Winfrey for Dr. Maya Angelou Sold for $461,000 at Swann

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.

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 Faith Ringgold story quilt 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 for the Faith Ringgold story quilt? “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 Faith Ringgold story 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 for a Faith Ringgold story quilt 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.

Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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