RECORD! A Patrick Nagel Painting Sells for $200,000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOLD! A Henri Cartier-Bresson Photograph Shot in Italy Fetched $30,000–Double Its High Estimate–at Phillips

Scanno, L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy, a photograph that Henri Cartier-Bresson shot in 1951. This gelatin silver print was made later, however.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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

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SOLD! A Kota-Ndassa Reliquary Figure Sold For $975,000 at Sotheby’s

A Kota-Ndassa reliquary figure from what is now the Republic of the Congo. It probably dates to the late 19th century, and the artist is unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Florine Stettheimer Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and His Alter Ego Rrose Sélavy Could Sell For a Million or More

Portrait of Marcel Duchamp and Rrose Sélavy, a 1923 painting by Florine Stettheimer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

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Original Poster Artwork For Sylvia Scarlett, Starring Katharine Hepburn, Could Command $6,000 at Bonhams

Original gouache and pencil artwork by Anselmo Ballester for a mid-1930s Italian movie poster for Sylvia Scarlett, a 1935 film starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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SOLD! A Tadanori Yokoo Poster Fetched $4,250

Word Image, a poster designed by Tadanori Yokoo for a 1968 show at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).

Antiques Roadshow returns to PBS with a pair of new episodes on Monday, October 30, 2017 at 8 pm (check your tv listings for your local station) in advance of the debut of Season 22 on January 8, 2018. To celebrate, I’m reposting stories from The Hot Bid that feature people who’ve appeared on the show as appraisers. Today I’m featuring Nicholas Lowry of Swann Auction Galleries–a fan favorite and a personal favorite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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RECORD! An Elizabeth Catlett Painting Sells for $149,000

War Worker, a 1943 tempera-on-board by Elizabeth Catlett.

Update: Elizabeth Catlett’s War Worker sold for $149,000–a new auction record for a painting by the artist.

What you see: War Worker, a 1943 tempera-on-board by Elizabeth Catlett. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $60,000 to $90,000.

Who was Elizabeth Catlett? She was a 20th century African-American artist. She was best known for her sculptures, but she made prints and the occasional painting as well. She devoted herself to creating images that reflected the African-American experience. During the 1960s, she created a series of posters that depicted Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Harriet Tubman. She also created sculptures of Sojourner Truth and Louis Armstrong. She was active until she died in 2012 at the age of 96.

What makes War Worker so notable? “It’s very scarce. It’s only the second painting of hers to come to auction,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department, adding that it dates to a period in the 1940s when the artist lived in New York. Swann offered the first Catlett painting at auction in December 2015. Titled Friends, it sold for $81,250 against an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000.

Why have so few of these Elizabeth Catlett paintings come to auction? Are they in institutions? “The works are just very scarce. They’ve been in people’s collections for a generation or more,” he says, adding that Friends did go to an institutional buyer. “Catlett passed not too long ago. There’s a growing sense of her significance that’s bringing the paintings to market. If you look at Friends, it’s definitely related to War Worker. Both are images of African-American workers.”

War Worker is smaller than 12 inches by 10 inches. Most of the known 1940s Elizabeth Catlett paintings are on the small side, and rendered in tempera. Do we know why? “She didn’t have a studio in the traditional sense. She had to work during the day at her teaching job,” he says, explaining his theory that Catlett may have made War Worker in her apartment, sitting down, perhaps with the paper in her lap. She might have chosen tempera for this reason, too–it doesn’t smell or give off fumes, as oil paints do. “It’s conducive to working in a non-studio environment,” he says. “The small size reinforces the intimacy of these works.”

Does Elizabeth Catlett approach the painting in a sculptural way? Does it hint at her future as a sculptor? “It’s a fascinating glimpse into her work as a modern artist,” he says. “She shows an interest in depicting average working men and women as a social realist. She’s also interested in abstracting the sculptural qualities of his face, flattening the forms. There’s a sculptural quality you see that comes forward in her work, which is interesting in view of her development as an artist.”

War Worker is estimated at $60,000 to $90,000. Do you think it has a chance to top Friends and set a new record for an Elizabeth Catlett painting at auction? “I think this will do very well, and could sell for more,” he says.

What else makes War Worker special? “It’s a really powerful image. These small paintings pack a punch,” Freeman says. “The accumulation of small strokes gives it an intensity. I think it’s going to resonate with the people who see it. We are excited to have it.”

How to bid: War Worker is lot 20 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 5.

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SOLD! M.C. Escher’s Day and Night Fetched $40,000

M. C. Escher's Day and Night, a 1935 print.

Update: The M. C. Escher print of Day and Night sold for $40,000.

What you see: M. C. Escher’s Day and Night, a 1935 print. Swann Galleries estimates it at $20,000 to $30,000.

Who was M.C. Escher? Maurits Cornelis Escher was a Dutch graphic artist and printmaker who gained fame for his complex, precise, mind-boggling, and delightful images. He captured the imaginations of sages such as Martin Gardner and Douglas Hofstader, author of the classic Gödel, Escher, Bach. In 1922, he took trips to Italy and Spain that forever shaped his visions. In particular, he fell under the spell of the tessellations that decorate Alhambra, the fourteenth-century Moorish palace in Granada, Spain. Surprisingly, Escher took no formal mathematical training. He died in 1972 at the age of 73.

Escher made Day and Night in 1935, at the end of an 11-year period when he produced many of his most iconic images. How does Day and Night build on what came before? “When Escher was traveling in Italy, he did tour-de-force topographical works of landscapes. This is more abstracted. It’s not a straightforward view,” says Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings. “In terms of his printmaking techniques and procedures, it’s classical. He’s academically trained. The linear aspects of his woodcuts are very clear.”

How does Escher achieve the exceptionally fine and subtle gradations that we see in Day and Night? “You have to imagine very, very fine cutting of the wood block by hand,” Weyman says. “He was a technical virtuoso.”

Did he work alone? “Yes,” he says. “He often signed and inscribed his prints with the word ‘eigendruk,’ which means ‘printed by myself.’ He’s saying he’s the printer. He oversaw everything at a time when it was not uncommon for an artist to work with a printer, who would handle the technical aspects.”

We should also stress that Escher did all this without the aid of a computer, which would not have been available to him anyway, and he had to carve the image into the wood block backwards to create the print that we see. “Yes. Everything is printed in reverse,” Weyman says. “You can see not just his artistry but his technical virtuosity in the medium.”

This Day and Night has no edition number. Do we know how many were made? And how often does it appear at auction? Unfortunately, we don’t know how many Day and Night prints Escher made, though other prints of his are editioned. This is the only version that he produced. Weyman says it has appeared at auction 40 times in the last 30 years, but some of those might represent the same print being consigned again. The record for an Escher at auction belongs to a 1940 print of Metamorphosis II that sold at Sotheby’s London in October 2008 for more than $246,000. The record for a print of Day and Night was set at Christie’s London in March 2013 when one sold for almost $57,000.

What else makes Day and Night special? “It has all the aspects of a great Escher that you would want,” Weyman says. “The yin and yang qualities, the way the landscape morphs into an aerial view, and the patches of landscape morph into birds, the parallel landscapes [under] day and night, the technical virtuosity, the imagination at play in this image–it’s all Escher.”

How to bid: M.C. Escher’s Day and Night is lot 618 in Swann Galleries’ 19th & 20th Century Prints and Drawings sale on September 19.

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RECORD! A Frederic Remington Bronze Sells For $11.2 Million

A 1906 cast of Coming Through the Rye, a bronze by Frederic Remington. Christie's sold it in May 2017 for $11.2 million against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million. It set a world record for the artist at auction as well as a record for an American sculpture that predates World War II.

What you see: A 1906 cast of Coming Through the Rye, a bronze by Frederic Remington. Christie’s sold it in May 2017 for $11.2 million against an estimate of $7 million to $10 million. It set a world record for the artist at auction as well as a record for an American sculpture that predates World War II.

Who was Frederic Remington? He was an American artist who excelled at scenes of the West, in both painting and sculpture. The Evolution of the Cowpuncher, a piece he co-created for Harper’s Monthly in September 1893, kindled the romantic legend of the cowboy. Remington came to sculpting in 1895, well after he had earned a reputation as a master of two-dimensional art. He died of peritonitis in 1909, at the age of 48.

How many casts of Coming Through the Rye are there? “What makes it so desirable is it exists in limited quantities. There are 17 known examples,” says William Haydock, head of Christie’s American art department. “The real challenge with Remington is was it cast during his lifetime? If not, was it estate-authorized, or is it posthumous without estate approval?”

To which group does this cast belong? “Of the 17, nine were made in his lifetime. The one we handled was one of those nine,” he says, noting that it carries the number three.

When did Remington break the molds? “Famously with this example, Frederic Remington himself broke the mold on Coming Through the Rye because it was his most complex sculpture. He took a metal bar to it, and he thoroughly destroyed it,” Haydock says. “That day got the best of him, but he quickly designed another [mold].”

Why did he find Coming Through the Rye so frustrating? “The bulk of his bronzes are isolated to a single figure,” he says. “This, by far, is his most complex and challenging bronze, and many view it as his grand masterwork in the arena of sculpture.”

The Frederic Remington bronze seems to have a lot of delicate dangly bits that could break or snap off easily. “In these examples, because they were so prized and well-regarded, they were treated reasonably well,” Haydock says, noting that this one might have had a repair to one of the figures on the left.

How often does this Frederic Remington bronze go to market? “Very infrequently. Before this, it was 1998,” he says. “Of the 17, ten are in institutions, one is destined for an institution, and the one we just handled is likely to follow the same path. Numbers five and six are missing. [The May sale] represented more or less the last chance to buy a lifetime example from the artist. That was the perception in the marketplace, and I think it’s why you saw huge prices.”

How long do you think the Frederic Remington bronze auction record will stand? “Probably the only scenario is a truly phenomenal Remington painting coming on the market in the next 10 years. The only way it’s going to be eclipsed is with a painting,” he says.

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

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RECORD! A Ben Enwonwu Bronze Fetches $461,000

Anyanwu, a 1956 sculpture by Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, better known as Ben Enwonwu. It set an auction record for a bronze by the late Nigerian artist, selling for £353,000, or $461,066, at Bonhams London in February 2017.

What you see: Anyanwu, a 1956 sculpture by Benedict Chukwukadibia Enwonwu, better known as Ben Enwonwu. It set an auction record for a bronze by the late Nigerian artist, selling for £353,000, or $461,066, at Bonhams London in February 2017.

Who is Ben Enwonwu? He was a Nigerian artist, and arguably, THE Nigerian artist of the 20th century. He embraced traditional Western art media, most notably painting and sculpture. He sculpted a portrait bronze of Queen Elizabeth II in 1956 and was made a member of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) two years later. A crater on the planet Mercury is named for him. He died in 1994 at the age of 72.

Why is Anyanwu regarded as his masterpiece? “One of the reasons is it garnered the greatest publicity,” says Giles Peppiatt, head of African art at Bonhams. “In the 1960s, a version of it was gifted from the Nigerian state to the United Nations for its new headquarters. For Nigeria to choose this image by this artist confirms him as one of the most important artists to come out of 20th century Nigeria.”

How many Anyanwu sculptures exist? “He produced quite a few variants, but he wasn’t a good record-keeper,” Peppiatt says. “If someone said they wanted one, then he had one cast.” He estimates there might be between half a dozen and a dozen castings at most of the largest version of Anyanwu, which is shown here and stands about seven and a half feet tall. “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear there are another three or four out there,” he says. “They were expensive at the time. I can’t believe there are 30 of them.”

How does Anyanwu show Enwonwu’s strengths? “In conception, it is a very intelligent and clever piece. It refers back to Nigerian mythology, and the figure wears a traditional Nigerian headpiece. It obviously struck a chord when it was produced,” he says. “The execution is brilliant. The photo doesn’t capture the crispness of the bronze. The detailing of its features are superb.”

Anyanwu sold for £353,000, or $458,612. Is that a record for a Ben Enwonwu bronze at auction, or a record for an Enwonwu sculpture at auction? “For a single piece, it’s a record. I think the record for a sculpture was set four years ago,” Peppiatt says, referencing a group of wooden Enwonwu sculptures sold for £361,250 ($469,300) at Bonhams in 2013. The final prices on the two lots are close enough to be affected by currency fluctuations.

You were the auctioneer for the sale that included Anyanwu. When did you know you had a record for a a Ben Enwonwu bronze? “As soon as I hammered it down, I knew,” he says. “As the price went up, I was willing it to get to a record. I don’t think we expected it to perform as well as it did. The auction world is full of pleasant surprises.”

How long do you think the record for a a Ben Enwonwu bronze will stand? “I think it will stand for a bit, and I’ll tell you why. You only get one debut, and this was it,” Peppiatt says. “If another [large] cast went to auction, it would probably fetch less. A bronze is almost like a print. It’s unusual for someone to want two of the same. That person won’t bid the next time it comes up. But the market changes, and new buyers come in, and you can never be sure.”

What else makes the Ben Enwonwu bronze special? “When you stand in front of it, you look it in the eye. It’s an amazing piece of sculpture. I was delighted it did well. It deserved every penny,” he says.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

Enwonwu paintings and sculptures will appear in Bonhams’s October 5, 2017 sale Africa Now in London.

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RECORD! A Florine Stettheimer Still Life Sells for $375,000

An undated floral still life by Florine Stettheimer. Skinner sold it in January 2016 for $375,000 against an estimate of $75,000 to $100,000, a record for the artist at auction.

What you see: An undated floral still life by Florine Stettheimer. Skinner sold it in January 2016 for $375,000 against an estimate of $75,000 to $100,000, a record for the artist at auction.

Who was Florine Stettheimer? She was a wealthy American woman who was, and is, regarded as an artist’s artist. Marcel Duchamp and Georgia O’Keeffe attended her salon. She might be the first woman artist in history to paint a nude self-portrait. She wasn’t keen on self-promotion; she had one small solo show at the Knoedler gallery in 1916, which flopped, and she never did another. While Stettheimer’s sisters ignored her wish to have her art destroyed after she died, they gave most of it to museums, leaving little for collectors to acquire. Two years after her death, the Museum of Modern art staged a Stettheimer retrospective. The Jewish Museum in New York is showing Florine Stettheimer: Painting Poetry, until September 24, 2017. She died in 1944 at the age of 72.

How did the Florine Stettheimer still life come to Skinner? “It came out of a house where it had been for decades,” says Robin S. R. Starr, director of American and European Works of Art at Skinner. “It was an estate situation. The family didn’t know much about it.”

How does this Florine Stettheimer still life show off her skills as an artist? “What could be a smarmy, cutesy sort of subject has a wonderful, modernist, fresh vibe all its own,” Starr says. “She has a great, unique personal style. She doesn’t look like anybody else. She’s her own style. The fact that she wanted her work destroyed after she died says she didn’t think much of it, though now we’re rediscovering her and finding out how fantastic it really is.”

How does this Florine Stettheimer still life compare to other Stettheimer paintings? “This is a wonderful work, but in comparison, it is relatively minor,” she says. “This is a record-breaker because none of those works [of hers] in museums have come up at auction.”

How did you decide on the estimate of $75,000 to $100,000? “It takes a lot of chutzpah to put an estimate on something that you know is going to sell for a world record,” she says, noting that the previous record for a Stettheimer was set in 1997 by a painting that commanded $145,000 against an identical estimate. “Artnet has six records [for Stettheimer], and only one [of the six artworks] has real figures in it,” she says, adding, “It was really more of a gut instinct. You’ve got to decide what’s a fair estimate based on what little track record there is and how wonderful you think the picture is. Ultimately, an estimate is a guess. It’s a well-educated guess, but a guess.”

Were you surprised that the Florine Stettheimer still life did so well? “Yes and no, which isn’t a fair answer,” Starr says, laughing. “Yes, I was thrilled. I didn’t think it would do that well. I thought there was a very good chance it would go over its estimate. I didn’t think it would go two or three times over.”

How much of a role did Stettheimer’s personal story play in driving the record auction price? Did it help? “That was absolutely a part of it,” she says. “The story is important–just watch Antiques Roadshow. But ultimately, it has to come down to an object that’s beautiful enough or inventive enough to sell the story. If she was a mediocre painter, it’s not going to matter. The story isn’t enough.”

What else makes this Florine Stettheimer still life special? “That palette is just–apparently, I’m going to keep using food terms–it’s so delicious. Instead of saccharine, we get that acidity, and that combination is just a gut punch. It’s one of those objects you see and you’re just stopped in your tracks. There’s nothing like it. It’s just its own thing.”

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Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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RECORD! A Wharton Esherick Sculpture Commands $123,750

cocobolo wood. Estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, it sold for $123,750 in November 2014 at Freeman's. The sculpture now belongs to the Modernism Museum Mount Dora in Mount Dora, Fla.

What you see: Wharton Esherick’s 1933 sculpture “essie”/”rebecca”, fashioned from cocobolo wood. Estimated at $60,000 to $80,000, it sold for $123,750 in November 2014 at Freeman’s. The sculpture now belongs to the Modernism Museum Mount Dora in Mount Dora, Fla.

Who is Wharton Esherick? He’s an American artist who is best known for his sculptural furnishings, which foreshadowed the American studio furniture movement. Esherick started out as a painter but shifted his focus when people reacted to his hand-carved frames more than his canvases. He died in 1970 at the age of 82.

How rare are Wharton Esherick sculptures? “They’re incredibly rare,” says Tim Andreadis, department head of 20th century design at Freeman’s. “All of Esherick’s things are rare in comparison to the generation of craftsmen who came after him. Esherick produced maybe a few thousand pieces and maybe a hundred sculptures, if that.”

Is the Wharton Esherick sculpture “essie”/”rebecca” based on a human model? It was his daughter, Mary, who played a character named Essie in a production at a local theater that the Eshericks supported. “He often used family members and friends as models, and turned the sketches and maquettes into fully realized sculptures,” Andreadis says. “This was later named Rebecca after the Biblical figure of Rebecca at the well. In the 1960s, it finally found a buyer, and it had been with that family ever since.”

What makes “essie”/”rebecca” stand out among Esherick’s works? “This would have been a little more unusual. He would have carved it in one solid piece. It makes it much more challenging,” he says. “It was a celebrated piece, one of those works that were really personal to the artist. And it’s beautiful from any angle. It’s definitely made to be viewed in the round.”

Why did the Wharton Esherick sculpture do so well? “The stars were perfectly aligned,” Andreadis says. “It was a sculpture of grand scale. Esherick used cocobolo, a rare, exotic wood. Its patina has never been touched. There aren’t many Esherick pieces in private hands. And it’s really personal subject matter, using his daughter as a model for the work. It’s beautifully signed by Esherick. And you can never ask for anything better than to see period photos of the artist standing with the work. Buyers just responded to that. They recognized a rare opportunity that’s not going to come up again for some time.”

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A Female Court Jester Portrait Sold for $2.8 Million

A 16th century oil on oak panel portrait of Elisabet, court fool of Anne of Hungary, painted by Jan Sanders van Hemessen.

Update: The portrait of Elisabet the court jester sold for £2.1 million, or $2.8 million–well above its six-digit presale estimate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Original Song of the South Cel with Walt Disney’s Signature Gets Almost $9,000

An original production cel from Song of the South, a Disney film released in 1946. It pictures Br'er Rabbit, the lead character of the stories depicted in the film. Walt Disney signed it on its cream-colored mat.

Update: The production cel from Song of the South, signed by Walt Disney, sold for $8,962.50.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Heritage Auctions.

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SOLD! An Ernest Biéler Portrait Fetches $700,000

Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois (Three Young Girls of Granois), a 1920 work on paper by Swiss artist Ernest Biéler.

Update: Ernest Biéler’s Trois Jeunes Filles de Granois (Three Young Girls of Granois) sold for $699,000 (672,500 CHF).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to bid: The Ernest Biéler Portrait is lot 41 in the Swiss Art / Swiss Made auction at Sotheby’s Zurich on June 27.

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A David Jagger Self Portrait Fetched More Than $281,000

A self-portrait by David Jagger, painted in 1928.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick Commands $1,560

One of the 280 pen-and-ink illustrations that Rockwell Kent did for a three-volume 1930 limited edition release of Moby Dick. This particular copy lacks its aluminum slipcase.

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

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

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

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

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

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

M35763-7 002

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

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

How to bid: Rockwell Kent’s Moby Dick is lot 184 in Swann’s Art, Press & Illustrated Books sale on June 13, 2017.

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SOLD! A Brett Whiteley Painting Fetched $538,366

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

Update: The Brett Whiteley painting sold for AU $719,800, or $538,366, at Bonhams Sydney.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to bid: The Brett Whiteley painting is lot 37 in the Australian Art and Aboriginal Art auction at Bonhams Sydney on June 6.

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SOLD! A Diego Rivera Portrait Commands $2.4 Million

9682 - Rivera, 'Matilde Palou'

Update: The Diego Rivera portrait of Matilde Palou sold for $2.4 million.

What you see: Retrato de la Actriz Matilde Palou, a 1951 portrait by Diego Rivera. Sotheby’s estimates it at $2 million to $3 million.

Who is Diego Rivera? He was a great 20th century Mexican painter who married Frida Kahlo twice, and was her husband when she died in 1954. His murals grace the walls of the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Palacio de Bellas Arts in Mexico City. A 1933 mural commission for Rockefeller Center in New York was halted after he refused to remove a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. (The Mexico City mural is a version of the abandoned Manhattan mural.) Rivera died in 1957 at the age of 70.

Who is Matilde Palou? She was a Chilean actress who worked with the legendary Spanish director Luis Buñuel. She was about 40 when she posed for Rivera. She died in 1970 at the age of 64.

Why did Rivera paint this portrait? “The exact reason why he painted it, and why the actress was painted in an outrageously patriotic dress, is a mystery to us,” says Axel Stein, head of Sotheby’s Latin American art department, adding that Rivera painted portraits throughout his entire career, and in the last 10 years of his life, he painted several actresses.

The Diego Rivera portrait measures 80 1/2 inches by 48 1/4 inches. How unusual was it for Rivera to paint a portrait of this size? “Large portraits are rare in Rivera. I’ve seen less than 15 portraits this large in his catalogue raisonné,” he says, adding that something of this nature comes up about once every 10 years.

What is the meaning of the symbols on Palou’s dress in this Diego Rivera portrait? “We’re not able to identify them all, but they’re about Mexico, and Mexico City,” he says, picking out a prominent image on the second tier of the skirt of the dress that shows an eagle standing on a cactus and holding a serpent in its mouth. The motif alludes to an Aztec tale about the founding of the city of Tenochtitlan, and it appears on the Mexican flag. Her dress also reflects the style of the region of Chapa de Corzo, which is near the Guatemalan border.

What else makes this Diego Rivera portrait special? “Diego Rivera is about the power of the image. When you see this in person, there is power,” he says. “I brought her [this portrait] to a highlights exhibition in Los Angeles a month ago. People who came into the exhibit who didn’t know Rivera asked, ‘Who is this?’ You cannot go by and pretend you haven’t seen it. It leaves you in a state of wonder.”

How to bid: The Diego Rivera portrait is lot 8 in the Latin America: Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s New York on May 25.

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SOLD! A Jonathan Borofsky Work Fetches $9,375 at LAMA

Man with a Briefcase (C), a woodcut with collage on handmade paper by Jonathan Borofsky. It's the fourth of a 1991 limited edition of 12, and it measures 92 inches by 39 inches.

Update: The Jonathan Borofsky work sold for $9,375.

What you see: Man with a Briefcase (C), a woodcut with collage on handmade paper by Jonathan Borofsky. It’s the fourth of a 1991 limited edition of 12, and it measures 92 inches by 39 inches. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

Who is Jonathan Borofsky? He is an American artist who works in many media, but he might be best known for his monumental sculptures, which have been displayed outdoors in cities around the world. Man with Briefcase is a motif that appears often in his work, and has appeared since at least 1980, in sizes ranging from 11 inches to 32 feet. Borofsky will turn 75 in December.

What makes the Man with a Briefcase image so strong? “It’s an object in a square, a simple cutout of a man with a briefcase in silhouette, with no details,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “In this case, with this image, there’s no horizon. It’s kind of floating in space in an almost surrealistic fashion. It’s almost impossible to tell if the figure is facing away from you or facing toward you. It’s almost a mirror. You kind of see what you want to see. Is it a man going to work? A man who lost his job? There are so many ways to look at it and bring your own imagination to bear.”

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) May 21, 2017 Auction

Borofsky explores the Man with a Briefcase image in different mediums, at wildly different sizes, over several years. Is that a drawback for collectors? “Just the opposite, from a market perspective,” Loughrey says. “The market reacts positively to artists who continue and hold these themes and give interesting variations on those themes. You can see it in Picasso, you can see it in Warhol, you can see it in Lichtenstein. It shows that Borofsky is one of the great contemporary artists. I’ve never seen this particular piece before, but it’s obvious it’s Borofsky. It couldn’t be anyone else. It’s that instant recognition that’s rewarding and comforting and helps you understand an artist’s work.”

How to bid: The Jonathan Borofsky work is lot 39 in the May 21 Modern Art & Design Auction at LAMA.

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SOLD! A Ruud van Empel Work Sells for More Than $88,000

Ruud van Empel's Boy & Girl, the first of a limited edition of seven prints, created in 2008.

Update: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl sold for £68,750, or $88,688.

What you see: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl, the first of a limited edition of seven prints, created in 2008. Phillips estimates it at £50,000 to £70,000 (about $64,000 to $90,000).

Who is Ruud van Empel? He’s a Dutch visual artist who pushes the boundaries of photography. Boy & Girl belongs to his World series, which, along with the Moon and Venus series, brought him international recognition. He will turn 59 in November.

No, really, what is this? “It is completely fictional,” says Genevieve Janvrin, co-head of photographs for Phillips Europe. “The children don’t exist. The forest doesn’t exist. It’s all in his head. For every one child you see, he’ll photograph five. He takes photos of leaves, Dutch foliage, and will move the leaves around. It literally takes him months to create each work, The Photoshop tool is his paintbrush. It’s almost like a puzzle, putting pieces together in a different way that confuses you and seduces you at the same time.”

Boy & Girl is a dye destruction print that has been face-mounted on Plexiglas. How do these techniques affect the artwork? “It’s a very shiny print–incredibly shiny,” says Janvrin. “In addition to that, it’s face-mounted on Plexiglas, a very highly reflective polished glass. It really shines at you. It’s not matte at all–full gloss. And it [looks] squeaky clean. The boy is in white shorts in a muddy forest, but no one is mucky. This is not reality. It’s all incredibly perfect and beautiful.”

This Ruud van Empel work is also fairly large, at 95 inches by 67 1/2 inches. How does that enhance its impact? “When you stand in front of this one, you really feel like you’re there. The foliage is all-encompassing,” she says. “There’s a huge amount of depth in the work. His attention to detail is incredible.”

How often does Boy & Girl come up at auction? This is only the second to appear. Another from the edition sold in 2015 at another auction house for £80,500, or around $126,000.

What else makes this Ruud van Empel work compelling? “For me, personally, there’s a lot more going on than in some of the others [from the series],” she says. “The children are not looking at the viewer, not engaging you. It creates much more of a narrative. They’re moving–where are they going? And they’re very small. That foliage usually comes up to your ankles. You get the sense that the children have almost been shrunk. He usually puts [his child models] in very gendered clothes, but the clothes on these two are very pared down. It’s either an aftermath, or an Edenesque beginning–a powerful discovery of who they are and what they are doing.”

How to bid: The Ruud van Empel work is lot 84 in Phillips’s May 18 Photographs auction in London.

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A Martial Raysse Work Given to the Manger of the Hotel Chelsea Commands $50,000

UNTITLED (EYES), a 1963 mixed media collage by the French artist Martial Raysse. He inscribed it, "To Stanley Bard Avec l'amitié de Martial Raysse (To Stanley Bard, with the friendship of Martial Raysse)."

Update: The Martial Raysse work sold for $50,000–ten times its low estimate.

What you see: UNTITLED (EYES), a 1963 mixed media collage by the French artist Martial Raysse. He inscribed it, “To Stanley Bard Avec l’amitié de Martial Raysse (To Stanley Bard, with the friendship of Martial Raysse).” Freeman’s estimates it at $5,000 to $8,000.

Who is Martial Raysse? In the 1960s Raysse cofounded the Nouveau Réalisme art movement with Yves Klein and Arman, two fellow residents of the Hotel Chelsea in Manhattan. His compatriots banished him from the group after he abandoned making art from consumer objects to paint on canvas instead. It’s unclear when he moved out of the Hotel Chelsea. Raysse set the auction record for the most expensive painting by a living French artist when his Last Year in Capri (Exotic Title) garnered $6.58 million at Christie’s London in 2011. He turned 81 in February.

Who is Stanley Bard? He managed the Hotel Chelsea for more than 40 years, enhancing and cementing its reputation as an artists’ sanctuary. He died in February at the age of 82. Freeman’s is selling almost 100 works from his personal collection–art that graced his own apartment rather than the walls of the hotel he ran.

What led Martial Raysse to give Stanley Bard this work? We’re not sure what the circumstances were, but the two would have met at the Chelsea. “We didn’t know what it was at first,” says Alasdair Nichol, vice chairman at Freeman’s. “Nobody seemed to know. The writing was hard to make out. I loved it as an image even by an anonymous artist. When it turned out to be a Martial Raysse, it made it a more interesting proposition.”

What makes the Martial Raysse work so strong? “The bright red color, and the eyes,” Nichol says. “I love it. The moment you see it, it stays with you. It’s a pretty indelible image. It feels very much of its time as well, with the 1960s model eyelashes. The neon color reinforces it. It’s electric.”

How to bid: The Martial Raysse work is lot 32 in the Stanley Bard Collection: Life at the Chelsea sale at Freeman’s on May 16.

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An Onyx Noguchi Sculpture Could Exceed $500,000

Magatama, a 1946 sculpture carved from onyx by Isamu Noguchi.

What you see: Magatama, a 1946 sculpture carved from onyx by Isamu Noguchi. Wright estimates it at $300,000 to $500,000.

Who is Isamu Noguchi? Born in Los Angeles to an American mother and a Japanese father, he grew up in both countries and became a leading sculptor of the 20th century. He also created memorable furniture designs for the Herman Miller company. He created what is now the Noguchi Museum in 1985 in Queens. He died in Manhattan in 1988 at the age of 84.

What does Magatama mean? It’s a word that describes curved beads that appear in jewelry and ceremonial objects from pre-historic Japan.

How often did Noguchi sculpt in onyx? “Pretty darn infrequently. The sculpture itself is unique,” says Richard Wright, founder and president of the eponymous auction house, noting that he made at least one other sculpture in the semi-precious material. Its whereabouts are unknown.

What makes the onyx Noguchi sculpture so powerful? “The best Noguchi sculptures, to my thinking, are directly carved in stone. He did work in other materials, but stone is best,” he says. “To me, the striations are almost like a counterpoint. It’s linear, while the form is round and smooth. It’s sensuously curved. He must have enjoyed the opposition of the strong, linear lines over the curved form. And the spiral itself is an ancient symbol of the universal and the infinite.”

How does the onyx Noguchi sculpture’s celebrity provenance–the artist gave it to director John Huston, and it was later owned by actor Tab Hunter–affect its presale estimate? “It’s been 20 years since a Noguchi stone sculpture from the 1940s has come to market,” he says. “It’s never been to auction. It’s clearly a work that’s exceptional and has a nice backstory. It adds collector interest that hopefully translates to additional value.”

Magatama measures just over three inches high, just over five inches wide, and five inches in diameter. How does it feel to hold it in your hand? “It feels pretty good,” Wright says. “I’m sure through its life it was often picked up. The scale of it, the weight of it, the smooth feeling of it makes you want to hold it. It’s impressive. And it does have a really strong presence in person. It radiates an aura.”

How to bid: The onyx Noguchi sculpture is lot 5 in the Masterworks auction at Wright on May 25.

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Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait Sells for $1.3 Million

Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.

Update: Heritage sold Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait for $1.3 million–a record for a Rockwell study at auction.

What you see: Study for Triple Self Portrait, a 1960 oil on photographic paper laid on panel by Norman Rockwell. The final version graced the cover of the February 13, 1960 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Heritage Auctions estimates the study at $150,000 to $250,000.

Who was Norman Rockwell? He was the best-known and most-loved American illustrator of the 20th century. He created 321 covers for The Saturday Evening Post as well as many works for Look magazine, calendar companies, and the Boy Scouts of America. He died in 1978 at the age of 84.

How many studies did Rockwell make for Triple Self Portrait, and how many have come to auction? It’s unclear, but according to Ed Jaster, senior vice president at Heritage Auctions, Rockwell typically made between five and 10 studies or preliminary works for a Post cover. “To the best of my knowledge, this is the only study for Triple Self Portrait that exists in private hands,” Jaster says. The finished Triple Self Portrait cover art belongs to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

Where was Rockwell in his career in 1960? Jaster points to the language that appeared on that February 1960 Post cover, which dubbed Rockwell “America’s Best Loved Artist,” and adds, “In the eyes of museum curators and critics, not so much. Rockwell, in his lifetime, never got true recognition as a painter, and never as a fine art painter. He didn’t ascend to major museums until well after his death.”

How close is this Norman Rockwell Study for Triple Self Portrait to the final version? “It’s a nice, tight color study with a fair amount of work put into it,” says Jaster, noting that the differences between the two are few–the final places pipes in all three Rockwell mouths, adds sketches of Rockwell’s head to the left of the easel and changes the Picasso clipped to the right of the easel. Rockwell’s signature also appears on the lower right of the canvas-in-progress, but that’s about it. “This is close to the final composition, and it works as a painting.”

Who is Henry Strawn, the person to whom Rockwell inscribed the study? We don’t know, and we don’t know when he would have received it from Rockwell. We do know that the artist freely bestowed his originals on models, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. “He was a generous guy who didn’t take himself seriously,” says Jaster. “We see a lot of [Rockwells] come out from the families of sitters. One consigner [not Strawn–ed.] was a truck driver who traded him cider and cheese from Vermont.”

What makes Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait special? “Rockwell is almost certainly the most famous illustrator and maybe the greatest illustrator who ever lived,” says Jaster. “Triple Self Portrait is a top 10 painting. It’s a tight study, it doesn’t have a long auction history, and it’s fresh to market. That all makes it wonderful. I hope you can hear the smile in my voice.”

How to bid: Norman Rockwell’s Study for Triple Self Portrait is lot #68139 in Heritage Auctions’s American Art Signature Auction on May 3, 2017 in Dallas.

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A Sculpture by Ab the Flag Man Fetches $1,200

An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a "Medium Size American Flag."

Update: The sculpture by Ab the Flag Man sold for $1,200.

What you see: An undated piece by American folk artist Ab the Flag Man. It is described as a “Medium Size American Flag.” Slotin Folk Art Auction estimates it at $600 to $900, plus $75 for shipping.

Who is Ab the Flag Man? “He has a real name, but no one ever calls him by it,” says Steve Slotin, of Slotin Folk Art Auction, an auctioneer in Buford, Ga., that specializes in self-taught, outsider, and folk art. Ab the Flag Man was born with the name Roger Lee Ivens in Tennessee in 1964. He picked up the nickname “Abstract” during his school days, after asking his teacher about abstract art. It got shortened to “Ab” by co-workers on construction sites. He traces his interest in flags to the age of seven, when he witnessed the military funeral of his father. The sight of his casket covered with a flag never left him.

How long has Ab the Flag Man been an artist? He quit carpentry in 1995 to make art full-time, but it’s unclear precisely when he began–it could have been the late 1980s or early 1990s. He was discovered in a parking lot in Atlanta’s Virginia-Highland neighborhood, where he had set up alongside another folk artist to sell his works. “Specific dates in folk art are hard to come by. It’s not like he came out of art school and we tracked his progress,” says Slotin. “With Ab, people liked his stuff, and it was immediately popular.”

How prolific is he? “We’ve been doing auctions for 25 years, and since we began, we’ve had a few in each auction,” says Slotin. “There’s got to be a thousand pieces out there.”

Does Ab the Flag Man work alone, or does he have assistants? “That’s the thing with folk artists. There’s no team behind them, and no staff that prepares [materials],” Slotin says. “Typically, it’s all them.”

Wait, are there chair legs in there? “You see furniture legs in a lot of his stuff,” Slotin says. “Furniture legs, blocks, parts of house moldings, discards, it varies. It’s all scraps.”

What are the dimensions of this sculpture by Ab the Flag Man? It’s 35 inches long, 21 inches high, and four inches deep. “It really pops out at you,” Slotin says. “It has a lot of movement to it, like it’s waving at you. Most of his pieces have movement, like they’re waving in the wind.”

What else makes this sculpture by Ab the Flag Man special? “The great thing about almost all of our artists is they’re untrained and unschooled. They don’t have art school or European influences,” Slotin says. “A kid out of art school, who’s trained on what is and isn’t art, makes art that’s pretty homogenized. With Ab, his background is in construction, and his dad passed away–you see his experience in his work. And no one saw it [Ab’s style of flag-themed art] till he started doing it. That’s what I like. What he’s doing is original.”

How to bid: The sculpture by Ab the Flag Man is Lot 322 in Slotin Folk Art Auction’s Spring Masterpiece sale, taking place April 29 and 30, 2017 in Buford.

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Milk Drop Coronet, by Harold Edgerton, Commanded $4,250

Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1957 and printed via the dye transfer technique in the 1970s, when Edgerton signed it in pencil.

Update: Milk Drop Coronet sold for $4,250.

What you see: Milk Drop Coronet, a photograph taken by Harold Edgerton in 1957 and printed via the dye transfer technique in the 1970s, when Edgerton signed it in pencil. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Harold Edgerton? Harold “Doc” Edgerton was an electrical engineering professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He used his knowhow to create an electric flash that could fire extremely briefly–10 microseconds, or 1/100,000th of a second–allowing his camera to capture events that happen too fast for the eye to see. His mastery earned him the nickname “Papa Flash.” He died in 1990 at the age of 86.

Where was Harold Edgerton in his career in 1957? “He was still at MIT, but by 1957 he had achieved recognition for his inventions and his visionary approach to making images,” says Daile Kaplan, vice president and director of photographs and photobooks at Swann Galleries. “But the photography market didn’t happen until the first galleries opened their doors in the late 1960s and early 1970s.”

Is that why Milk Drop Coronet was shot in 1957 and printed in the 1970s? Yes. “Edgerton did not identify himself as an artist, which isn’t surprising,” Kaplan says, “At the start of the market for photography, dealers realized that a picture of this elegance could be a full-fledged artistic image. Edgerton was a very brilliant man. He acknowledged that his work had taken on a new audience, a new form.”

How does the dye transfer process improve the image? “It’s probably the most stable and vivid technique in relation to reproducing color,” she says, noting that dye transfer is no longer used. “It was the blue-chip technique. The reds [of Milk Drop Coronet] are vivid and saturated–they pop.”

Does Milk Drop Coronet belong to a limited edition? “Multiple prints were made during this period, but it was not a common practice to edition prints. The market was still articulating itself,” Kaplan says. Later, she stated that she had handled versions of the photograph in eight Swann Galleries auctions over the last 10 years: Three dye transfers, two chromogenic (color) prints, and three that were black and white.

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What makes Milk Drop Coronet special? “This is one of the top Edgerton images, and I have to say, one of the most popular images of the 20th century,” she says. Speaking of Edgerton’s 20th century stop-motion achievements, she adds, “It’s startling in its prescience. Time is accelerating, people are moving at faster and faster paces. He looked at it from an academic and a scientific perspective, but he was able to articulate in his images what people were beginning to feel.”

How to bid: Milk Drop Coronet is lot 214 in Swann Auction Galleries’s Images & Objects: Photographs & Photobooks auction on April 20.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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An Alex Katz Red Coat Print Sells for $32,500

Red Coat, a 1983 limited edition screenprint co-published by artist Alex Katz and Simca Print Artists. It is number 70 of 73, and there were 12 artist's proofs.

Update: The Alex Katz Red Coat print sold for $32,500.

What you see: Red Coat, a 1983 limited edition screenprint co-published by artist Alex Katz and Simca Print Artists. It is number 70 of 73, and there were 12 artist’s proofs. Phillips estimates it at $25,000 to $35,000.

Who is Alex Katz? He is an American figurative artist who launched his art career in the 1950s. He is known for his large portraits and bold colors. His wife, Ada, who he married in 1958, might be his favorite model. She has featured in more than 250 of his portraits, including the original 1982 Red Coat canvas, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Katz began making prints in 1965 and has produced more than 400 editions to date. He will turn 90 in July; Ada is about a year younger than him.

What makes Red Coat a strong image, and a strong print? “Not to be vulgar, but red is always a good seller,” says Cary Leibowitz, worldwide co-head of editions at Phillips. “The scale of this is always quite nice–almost five feet tall. The directness of how Ada looks at the viewer, the proportions–everything that could be right is right about it. It’s become an icon.”

How rare is this Alex Katz Red Coat print? Leibowitz says a print from the edition comes up about once a year on average. “It’s an icon, and traditionally, it sells well,” he says. The record auction price for a print from the 1983 edition is $50,000, set at Wright 20 in 2013. Phillips sold another Red Coat print last year for $47,500.

Does its size–58 inches by 29 inches–pose an obstacle to collectors? “Katz has prints in every scale. Some are larger than this,” Leibowitz says. “He approaches each print almost like a painting. The scale works well for this image.”

What else makes the Alex Katz Red Coat print special? “It has an unexplainable force that just works,” says Leibowitz. “It’s larger than life and it feels that way, in a good way.”

How to bid: The Alex Katz Red Coat print is lot 13 in Phillips New York’s Editions and Works on Paper Including Works from the Piero Crommelynck Collection auction on April 18.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips/Phillips.com

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Untitled (Negro Mother) by Sargent Johnson Sells for $100,000

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.

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.

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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 Auction Galleries’s African-American Fine Art auction on April 6, 2017.

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.

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

The Teacher, a signed, undated pen, ink, and watercolor drawing by Gerald Scarfe.

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 Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher 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 Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher is lot 40 in the Scarfe at Sotheby’s auction, scheduled for April 5, 2017 in London.

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Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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A Willi Ruge Photo of a Parachutist Over Berlin Sells for $65,000–More Than Double Its High Estimate

Berlin Fallschirmspringer, which translates as Berlin Parachute Jumper, from Willi Ruge's 1931 series, I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump.

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 Willi 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 Willi 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 Willi Ruge 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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Image is courtesy of Phillips/Phillips.com

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A Portrait of the Godolphin Arabian Sells for More Than $123,000

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 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 portrait of 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 portrait of the Godolphin Arabian 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 portrait of the Godolphin Arabian 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 portrait of 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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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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A Piece of Erté Original Cover Art for Harper’s Bazaar Fetched $8,125

An original gouache on board, Sports d'Hiver, created by Erté for the February 1933 cover of Harper's Bazaar.

Update: The Erté original cover art 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 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 the Erté original cover art 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 Erté original cover 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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The Erté image is courtesy of Swann Galleries.

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A Double Folk Portrait of Young Sisters Sells for Almost $10,000

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

Update: This winsome double folk 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 folk portrait of sisters Mary Elizabeth and Caroline Brackett of Newton, Mass., painted between the 1830s and the 1840s.

Who painted the double folk portrait? 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 double 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 double 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 folk 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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Image is courtesy of Skinner.

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A Ludwig Bemelmans Mural Includes Madeline, Future Star of Children’s Books

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.

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 Ludwig 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 in the Ludwig Bemelmans mural? 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 Ludwig Bemelmans mural 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 Ludwig Bemelmans mural 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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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.

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