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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Slotin Folk Art Auction Could Sell a Spellbinding Circa 1960s Work on Paper by Minnie Evans for $8,000

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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SOLD! Eldred’s Sold the 1911 Schooner Portrait by Antonio Jacobsen for (Scroll Down to See)

Eldred's Goldfield Jacobsen

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

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WOW! Swann Sold Emma Amos’s “Let Me Off Uptown” for a Record (Scroll Down To See)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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Eldred’s Has a 1911 Schooner Portrait by Antonio Jacobsen That Could Command $10,000

Eldred's Goldfield Jacobsen .png

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Eldred’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLD! Hake’s Sold the Page of Original Art from The Sandman Sold For… (Click to See)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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All That Jazz: Swann Auction Galleries Could Sell Emma Amos’s Exuberant “Let Me Off Uptown” for $60,000

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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