NEW RECORD! Untitled (Negro Mother) Realizes $100,000–an Auction Record for Sargent Johnson–at Swann Galleries

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Update: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother) sold for $100,000–a record for the artist at auction.

 

What you see: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask created circa 1935-36. It measures about 12 inches long and is estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who is Sargent Johnson? He was a 20th century African-American artist who spent most of his career in San Francisco, and worked in a wide range of artistic media. He earned a national profile with his compelling, sensitive images of African-American subjects. “He worked to convey a more positive view of African-American femininity and womanhood in a time when the images were racist stereotypes,” says Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American fine art department at Swann Galleries. Johnson died in 1967.

 

What makes Untitled (Negro Mother) so intriguing? It’s one of perhaps ten copper repoussé masks that Johnson made, and most of those are in museum collections. Untitled (Negro Mother) is only the second Johnson mask to come to auction. Swann Galleries sold the first, a 1933 work simply called Mask, for $67,200 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 in 2010. The consigner owned it for 50-odd years, having bought it as an unattributed mask and learning later who created it: “Somebody just sold it as a mask, and the owner discovered the signature on the back and discovered who Sargent Johnson was,” says Freeman.

 

What else makes Untitled (Negro Mother) a powerful work of art? “It has the character, stature, and dignity that all Johnson’s figures have,” says Freeman. “It’s beautifully proportioned, and you get a sense of the artist being very careful to have everything perfectly balanced. At the same time, you have a strong human presence. That’s what makes his work stand out.”

 

How to bid: Untitled (Negro Mother) is lot 13 in Swann Galleries’s African-American Fine Art auction on April 6, 2017.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Gerald Scarfe Drawing of the Teacher from Pink Floyd’s The Wall Sells for More Than $28,000

Lot 40, Gerald Scarfe, ' The Teacher'

UPDATE: The Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher sold for £22,500, or just over $28,000, more than double its high estimate.

What you see: The Teacher, a signed, undated pen, ink, and watercolor drawing by Gerald Scarfe. Sotheby’s estimates it at £7,000 to £9,000, or about $8,700 to $11,200.

Who is Gerald Scarfe? He’s a British illustrator and political cartoonist, but he’s probably best known for his work with the band Pink Floyd on The Wall, a rock opera that became an album, a film, and a stage show. “You can’t think of Pink Floyd without thinking of Gerald Scarfe, and you can’t think of Gerald Scarfe without thinking of Pink Floyd,” says Philip Errington, director of Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department.

Who is the Teacher? The Teacher is a villain from The Wall who bullies and terrorizes Pink, the lead character, during his school days. He embodies the figure who the children’s choir scold in Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, when they sing, “Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!” In Scarfe’s hands, the Teacher becomes a stalking, slouching, pitiless fish-faced creature who wields a cane. “Every movement is crackling with energy,” Errington says of the Scarfe drawing. “It’s immediate and raw.”

When did Scarfe make this drawing, and why? Errington says Scarfe drew it sometime within the last four years for a Roger Waters tour. It’s the original artwork for a keepsake print that was given to Waters’s team. Errington notes that the combination of elements–the famous wall backdrop, the words “Pink Floyd The Wall” above the Teacher’s head, and Scarfe’s signature at the lower right–makes this piece extra-desirable: “The combination of all three is quite spectacular. Other Teacher images in the sale do not have the lettering and the wall.”

What else makes this drawing special? It comes directly from Scarfe to Sotheby’s, and it’s generously sized, at 31.2 inches by 23.3 inches. “There’s a delight to handling the originals,” Errington says. “Reproductions in books never do them justice.  And they’re big! That makes them arresting in their own right.”

How to bid: The Teacher is lot 40 in the Scarfe at Sotheby’s auction, scheduled for April 5, 2017 in London.

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

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SOLD! Willi Ruge’s Mesmerizing 1931 Photograph of a Parachutist Floating Over Berlin Sells for $65,000–More Than Double Its High Estimate

 

Willi Ruge, Berlin Fallschirmspringer [The Berlin Parachutist]

Update: Phillips sold the 1931 Willi Ruge photo Berlin Parachute Jumper for $65,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: Berlin Fallschirmspringer, which translates as Berlin Parachute Jumper, from Willi Ruge’s 1931 series, I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump. Phillips estimates the gelatin silver print at $20,000 to $30,000.

Who was Willi Ruge? He was a press photographer in the early 20th century who worked with the German counterparts of magazines such as Life and Look. “He distinguished himself by putting himself in the center of the action,” says Christopher Mahoney, a consultant at Phillips’s photography department. “He was a photojournalist, but he was a bit of a daredevil, too.” Ruge (pronounced Roo-guh) was also a pilot and a certified parachutist. He died in 1961.

How hard was it for Ruge to get this shot? After laughing heartily, Mahoney says, “Pretty darn hard. First, you have to have the guts to jump out of a plane with a parachute. Getting up the gumption to do that is a considerable feat in itself. And I can’t imagine it’s easy, hurtling toward the earth with a parachute over you, to concentrate on the complex act of taking a photo, but he did that. And it was all manual. He figured out the focus and the exposure on the fly, and he would have been winding by hand.”

Did Ruge manipulate the photograph in the dark room at all? “It was standard procedure for photographers to fix blemishes in the negative. There may have been a little bit of that.  But there’s no major kind of retouching,” Mahoney says. “This really is what he was seeing as he parachuted down.”

Why did Ruge take this photograph? It was part of a photo story for a German magazine. A friend in a nearby plane photographed Ruge as he jumped, and a second photographer on the ground captured the faces of witnesses who watched him land. The final product enjoyed the 1930s version of going viral–photo magazines in Britain and America ran it. “To me, it’s lost none of its impact,” Mahoney says. “It still induces a sense of vertigo. And it’s confounding–those shoes dangling over Berlin. It still packs a wallop, many decades later.”

What else makes this photograph special? It’s rare, as are all Ruge images (his archive was bombed in 1943), and it does not appear to have gone to auction before. And there’s not much else like it out there. “This is an image that couldn’t exist in other media,” Mahoney says. “It is photography doing what photography does best–documenting the moment so other people can see it. This is a very dramatic moment Willi Ruge has documented.”

How to bid: Berlin Fallschirmspringer is lot 6 in The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from  Joy of Giving Foundation, taking place April 3 and April 4, 2017 at Phillips New York.

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

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SOLD! Bonhams Sells the Portrait of the Godolphin Arabian, Ancestor of Man o’ War and Seabiscuit, for More Than $123,000

99 The Godolphin Arabian

What you see: A circa 1793-1794 oil on canvas painting of the Godolphin Arabian, estimated at £15,000 to £20,000, which equates to $18,000 to $24,000.

What was the Godolphin Arabian? The Godolphin Arabian was one of the three stallions who founded the bloodlines of the thoroughbred horse that we know today. The Godolphin Arabian was foaled in Yemen in 1724, subsequently came to England, and spent most of its life at Gog-Magog, the Earl of Godolphin’s English stud farm. Its descendants include the legendary racehorses Man o’ War and Seabiscuit.

Who painted the Godolphin Arabian? English artist Daniel Quigley, who faced some odd challenges in creating this canvas. He had to copy an original painting by David Morier, which has since been lost. Morier, in turn, never observed his subject live. He relied on the notes of a veterinarian.

What’s up with the horse’s neck? Its improbable thickness might derive from the veterinarian’s notes, which state, “There never was a horse (at least, that I have seen) so well entitled to get racers as the Godolphin Arabian; for, whoever has seen this horse must remember that his shoulders were deeper, and lay farther into his back, than those of any horse ever yet seen.”

Why does the painting have so much text? Quigley was known for producing text-heavy artworks. The horse portrait and the golden words are united on the canvas, and the words name the Godolphin Arabian’s sons and daughters.”All those horses were born in his lifetime,” says Charlie Thomas, director of the house sale and private collections department at Bonhams. “There are no grandchildren.”

What makes this painting exceptional? “It’s great to be reminded why the horse is so famous, and great to be reminded where the thoroughbred race horse comes from,” says Thomas. “Think of all the horses that have run at the Kentucky Derby, at Royal Ascot, at Dubai, at the Melbourne Cup–there’s a good chance that a lot of them descended from this horse.”

How to bid: The Godolphin Arabian is lot 99 in Bonhams’s sale of the Contents of Glyn Cywarch–The Property of Lord Harlech on March 29, 2017 at London, New Bond Street.

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

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SOLD! Erté’s Vibrant Harper’s Bazaar Cover Art Fetched $8,125 at Swann Galleries

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Update: The Erté gouache on board sold for $8,125 on March 21, 2017.

What you see: An original gouache on board, Sports d’Hiver, created by Erté for the February 1933 cover of Harper’s Bazaar.

Who was Erté? He was a Russian-born designer and artist who tried his hand at fashion, stage costumes, jewelry, set design, and commercial art, and succeeded at all. His luxurious images helped define the Art Deco style. Born Roman Petrovich Tyrtov in Russia, he went by the name “Erté” to spare the feelings of his family, who disapproved of his career.”Erté” is how his initials, RT, sound when pronounced in French. He had a long professional relationship with Harper’s Bazaar, delivering more than 200 pieces of cover art between 1915 and 1937.

How rare is original Erté magazine cover art? “They don’t come up with great frequency,” says Swann Galleries specialist Christine von der Linn. “We were lucky to get the cover, because we sold one in September,” she says, referring to a July 1922 Harper’s Bazaar cover by Erté, La Cage Improvisée, which Swann Galleries sold last September for $45,000 against an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000.

Why is it estimated at $8,000 to $12,000? “What I love about it is it reflects the quintessential Erté characteristics,” von der Linn says. “There’s a beautiful woman in a vibrant outfit. There’s a sense of movement. The distant mountains in the background give you a sense of where she is. And there’s this perfect detail of hundreds of painstakingly detailed dots, representing snow, kicking up behind her. That makes the piece. That was something he was known for.”

Wait, do you mean that Erté personally painted all those little white dots by hand? Yes. “When he worked, he was in a different world,” says von der Linn, recalling a passage in which Erté discussed his routine of putting classical music on in the background and disappearing into a work-trance. “His dedication to the piece blossomed in creating that detail,” she says.

How to bid: The original Erté art for the February 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover is lot 85  in Swann Galleries’s March 21 Illustration Art sale.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. The Erté image is courtesy of Swann Galleries.

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SOLD! Skinner Double Folk Portrait of Young Sisters Sells for Almost $10,000

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Update: This winsome folk double portrait sold at Skinner for $9,840 on March 4, 2017, well above its $4,000 to $6,000 estimate.

What you see: A double portrait of sisters Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Brackett of Newton, Mass., painted between the 1830s and the 1840s.

Who painted it? We don’t know. It’s unsigned. Nor do we know which girl is Mary Elizabeth and which girl is Caroline, or what happened to the girls later in life, or whether the flowers pictured in the sketch book they hold have any special symbolism. We do know that the artist lived with the Brackett family for a year at their Waverly Avenue home in Newton and paid the rent with his brush. Before moving on, he depicted all nine Brackett children and rendered a full-length portrait of their parents, Charles and Lucy.

What sets this folk portrait apart from other folk portraits? “I’ve seen a lot of folk portraits over the last 13 years. The good ones pop right out, for whatever reason–a modern look, an interesting composition, or interesting elements incorporated in the overall painting,” says Chris Barber, deputy director of American furniture and decorative arts at Skinner. “I liked it since the first time I saw a picture of it. It sticks out because it’s an interestingly composed double portrait, and the girls wear bright colors under a bright sky.” The portrait is also notable for showing the two outdoors and holding a sketch book rather than a pet or a toy. Girls were encouraged to draw, but drawing was seen as an indoor activity.

Why is the folk portrait estimated at $4,000 to $6,000? It is fresh to market, having remained in the sitters’ family until they consigned it to Skinner. Its subject matter–a pair of pretty little girls, dressed in identical pink gowns–increases its value. “There were many more old men who could afford to have their portraits painted than families who could afford to have all their children painted,” says Barber. “It could be just a rarity issue.”

How to bid: The double portrait of the Brackett sisters is lot 332 in Skinner’s March 4, 2017 auction of American furniture and decorative arts.

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

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LAST CALL: At Bonhams: In 1934, Ludwig Bemelmans Dreamed of Vienna, and Maybe Madeline

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What you see: A detail from a series of nine mural panels that Ludwig Bemelmans drew on the downstairs walls of Hapsburg House, a private lunch club in Manhattan, in 1934.

Who is Ludwig Bemelmans? He was an Austrian-Hungarian immigrant who toiled in Manhattan’s hotel-restaurant world until he discovered a knack for writing and illustrating children’s books. He debuted Madeline, his greatest creation, in 1939.

Why did Bemelmans draw these mural panels? Hapsburg House’s owners tapped Bemelmans to design menu covers and decorate the walls with murals. The upstairs murals were lost, much to the artist’s dismay, when a new owner bought the property in the 1950s and painted over them. The downstairs murals, which featured whimsical black-and-white gouache scenes of the Vienna of Bemelmans’s boyhood, were salvaged when the venue closed in the 1970s. “I kind of see it as pieces of the man, pieces of the artist,” says Darren Sutherland, specialist for books, maps, manuscripts, and historical photographs at Bonhams.

Wait, is that Madeline? Maybe. “There’s echoes of Madeline everywhere,” says Sutherland, noting that scenes of schoolgirls shepherded by nuns appear on three of the nine panels. This mural might show Bemelmans playing with ideas that would animate the stories, five years before the first appeared. One vignette shows gape-mouthed girls clinging to a nun as a caged lion roars, but there’s no Madeline figure in the group to say ‘poo poo’ to it. “It’s the first public expression that I know of,” says Sutherland.

Why are the panels estimated at $40,000 to $60,000? Bemelmans went on to create other murals. Panels rescued from the children’s room on Aristotle Onassis’s yacht, Christina, fetched more than $550,000 at Sotheby’s in 1999, but they may have been in better shape. Some of the color variations in the 1934 group could be patination, but others are due to overpainting, which suggests that Bemelmans may have tweaked the work over time.

How to bid: The Bemelmans panels are lot 119 in Bonhams’s Fine Books and Manuscripts auction, scheduled for March 9, 2017 in New York. You can see all nine by clicking the lot number.

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

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