RECORD! Christie’s Sells Diego Rivera’s The Rivals for $9.7 Million–A Record for Rivera and ANY Latin American Artwork

Rivera

What you see: The Rivals, a 1931 painting by Diego Rivera. Christie’s sold it in May 2018 for $9.7 million, a record for the artist and for any Latin American artwork.

 

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

 

First off, how rarely do Diego Rivera canvases of any kind come up for sale, let alone fresh-to-market works from the Rockefeller family? We get them from time to time. We actually just had a smaller canvas in the regular Latin American art sale. They are rare, but every now and then we do get some.

 

Have any other Diego Rivera canvases painted for members of the Rockefeller family come to auction? No, not directly from the Rockefeller family. The collection of David Rockefeller’s mother was bequeathed to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and became part of their collection. MoMA deaccessed one in the 1960s, but it had been in the collection for decades. Technically the answer is no, no Diego Riveras for Rockefellers at auction.

 

Why is it called The Rivals? Do we see the rivals in the lower left corner? It’s actually the narrative of a festival in Oaxaca, Las Velas. Here, the confrontation goes on in the foreground. The third male [the man in the black hat] looks like he’s going to intervene, but we don’t know if they’re about to have a fight. That’s why it’s called The Rivals–the male characters.

 

The lot notes describes The Rivals as the ‘most important Rivera offered at auction in decades.’ What makes it so? A picture on this scale has not been seen for 20 years. The last great Diego Rivera was at auction in the 1990s, a much larger painting than ours, but similar subject matter. It was from the collection of IBM, and it sold at Sotheby’s.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $5 million to $7 million? We had some notion of  work that had transacted privately recently. $5 million to $7 million became the low estimate of what we had in mind. We thought it would be [would sell] closer to $10 million, which it did. Not that we expected that–it was a wonderful surprise. The estimate needed to be fair but with room to grow and create competition. Sometimes bidders are guarded. Everything came together in the last two days. Six to eight people were interested in the painting and pursued it to the end.

 

Can you talk a bit about the importance of its having been commissioned from Rivera in 1931 by a member of the Rockefeller family? That is important. People like to know where things have been. Only the Rockefeller family owned it. That’s one aspect. The other aspect is that 1931 is a prime year for the artist. He was much-celebrated in Mexico and globally. It made his relationship with America very fruitful and complicated. It [The Rivals] precedes the painting of the Detroit murals. In 1931, MoMA did a Rivera retrospective, and this painting was part of it. All those factors make it very special.

 

What is The Rivals like in person? Beautiful. The colors are vibrant and fresh. All we did was have a conservator superficially clean it. Some of the characters are very abstracted, especially the women in the background–just the idea of a face. It really draws you in, almost like you’re watching a movie. It’s very cinematic in that way.

 

What was your role in the auction? I had a phone [he represented a bidder on the phone], but I didn’t have the winning bid. It was a multi-departmental sale for Christie’s. It had pre-war material, American art, and Latin American art. It was very dynamic for that reason alone. It was one of my favorite sales. Not only was it important, but it felt so energetic and dynamic, and there were some surprises. Everything that sold that night, five or six parties were interested. People love to see that. It’s exciting.

 

Were you there when the previous world auction record for Latin American art was set in 2016? Yes, I was in the room. I didn’t have the winning bid that evening.

 

A work by Frida Kahlo was the previous Latin American art record-holder. Could you talk about the significance of Kahlo, Rivera’s wife, handing the honor off to him? The Frida Kahlo sold in 2016 for $8 million. The market for Diego Rivera had not really moved in the high end. We really wanted it to be at the level of Frida Kahlo. We sold it [The Rivals] and surpassed it. Now Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo hold the top prices in Latin American art. I think it’s well-deserved.

 

How long do you think the records–for Rivera at auction, and for any work of Latin American art–will stand? It’s really unpredictable. Obviously, every season you hope, but the reality is you don’t really know. I’d like to see other Latin American artists get Mexican prices [Rivera and Kahlo were both Mexican].

 

The Rivals is pretty hard to beat, though. What could challenge it? Would it have to wait until this artwork comes back to auction? No, no. It would have to be something from a private collection. A few Frida Kahlos remain in private hands in Mexico. There are no plans for them to be sold, but maybe someday they could be. A few Wifredo Lams in Europe could do it. But it’s unpredictable, that’s the thing.

 

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

 

Garza spoke to The Hot Bid earlier in 2018 about a Fernando Botero Circus painting.

 

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RECORD! Eldred’s Sold a Charming Cape Cod Scene by Harold Dunbar for a Jaw-dropping $78,000

© Robert C. Eldred Co., Inc.

What you see: A Young Woman and a Captain on an Evening Stroll, Likely Chatham, Massachusetts, an undated but probably circa 1920s oil on board by Harold Dunbar. Eldred’s sold it in August 2017 for $78,000 against an estimate of $3,000 to $5,000–stomping the artist’s previous auction record several times over.

 

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

 

First, let’s talk about the artist who made this work, Harold Dunbar. What can you tell me about him? There are two distinct parts of his career. When he was younger he lived in Canton, Massachusetts. He was a gifted Impressionist painter, and if he stayed that course, he might be better regarded than he is today. In the 1910s, he moved to Chatham, Massachusetts, and he started to work for the tourist trade. He could paint local scenes of Chatham fairly quickly, and he sold them to tourists and locals for a tidy sum. Lore says he had quite the alcohol issue. We see a real variety of quality in his later era–some paintings where he didn’t give his all, and others that are much better.

 

Did this work have a name when it came to you? No, it did not have a name. We applied the name.

 

This has been described as Dunbar’s best work. What makes it so? Obviously it’s a very subjective thing to say. In my opinion it’s in the top five. It’s certainly the best we’ve ever handled. The thing that really grabs people is the woman. She’s looking right at you and she’s almost talking to you, like she’s trying to draw you into the painting. Her pose, the way her head is cocked, the way she’s looking toward the viewer, it’s really dramatic.

 

How do we know the landscape shows the Cape Cod town of Chatham? There’s a bit of debate about that now. Some feel it might be Truro instead. We can’t say it’s an exact point in Chatham. There’s a bit of a debate about exactly where it is on the Cape, but we’re fairly sure it’s Truro now.

 

Do we know if he used models for this, and if so, do we know who the models were? I don’t know. I suspect he did. He didn’t do an awful lot of figurative work.

 

What makes this painting stand out among Dunbar’s works? The prominent figures, the work is a fairly large size for him, and the quality is outstanding. He obviously puts a lot of time and effort into it. On the quality scale of his Cape Cod works, it’s a 10.

 

How many Dunbars have you handled? How have you seen his market change over time? We’ve handled probably 500 Dunbars. The market for him has been pretty steady. There’s always been pretty solid demand, particularly on the cape. They’re bright, cheerful, and fairly easy and popular sells.

 

How did the painting find its way to you? It came in to an art dealer in a shop in Denver, Colorado last summer. The dealer called us to refer the consigner, and shipped the painting out. It was not where you expect to find a Dunbar. My suspicion is someone who was probably here originally left the area. We didn’t see a public record of it being sold. None of the local dealers and collectors recalled seeing it on the market before.

 

Did that prompt a concern that it might be fake? Are fakes a problem with Dunbar’s work? That didn’t concern us at all. There actually have been a few fakes out there, but they’re pretty easy to spot. A lot of the “fakes” that we see are not intentionally faked, but people thinking, “If I put a signature on it, I can make a couple hundred bucks.”

 

What was it like to see it show up? It was exciting. We looked at it and said, “Wow, this is the best Dunbar we’ve ever seen.” It was a nice moment to unpack it. I put it on the cover of the catalog not thinking it would bring that kind of money, but because I thought it was a powerful image.

 

How did you arrive at the estimate of $3,000 to $5,000? Estimates are always a tricky thing. As an auctioneer, you want the estimate to be fair but conservative. In this case, the Dunbar auction record up to that point was $5,000. It was a very nice harbor painting that we sold about 10 years before. Only about five percent of his works had broken the $3,000 barrier. Conservative estimates are better, but a lot of people get caught up in the moment and bid what they want to bid. I thought if they got caught up, on a great day, the Dunbar might sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

 

When did you get a notion that the Dunbar might do better than $5,000? We had a preview two weeks before the sale, and it was very, very well-received. Dunbar collectors loved it. Even those who didn’t care about Dunbar loved it.

 

What was your role in the auction? I am one of the principal auctioneers, but I did not auction the Dunbar. I was a bystander.

 

What do you remember of the sale? I think it started around $5,000. There were two very active people in the room, and it quickly got around $15,000. After $15,000, there was one bidder on the phone and one in the room who bid it up to the final price. The person who bought it was in the room, and the underbidder was on the phone.

 

What was your reaction when you saw it glide past $15,000? I would have been pleased with $15,000. Once it got to $20,000, I was shocked. It was a surprise to everybody. Two people desperately had to have it, and it became a battle.

 

Why do you think they fought so hard for it? I think the painting just spoke to them. This is just my analysis of it–I haven’t spoken to either of them. This is a wonderful Cape Cod painting. Everyone was taken in by the female figure. It’s a pleasing painting, a relaxing painting. You can picture yourself walking on a Cape Cod evening and passing her. It was one of those moments. And there’s mystery around the painting, too. The man is much older. Is it her father? Her husband? People had fun figuring out what the story was. At one point, I thought it might be a commissioned work or an illustration for a story, but there’s no proof. That’s complete conjecture on my part.

 

How long do you think this record will stand? Could any other Dunbar painting challenge it? I know of nothing out there that would be available for sale at any point that could challenge it. I know of some Dunbars in private hands, but they wouldn’t achieve close to this level. In my opinion, it will stand for a long time, potentially our lifetimes. It was lightning in a bottle.

 

Well, this painting pretty much appeared out of nowhere. Maybe lightning will strike twice? It certainly can. I’m not a gambler, and I wouldn’t bet on it, but part of the fun of what we do is we never know. Last summer, we sold a scrimshaw tooth that shattered the record, and it was bought at a gun show. There’s always that next wonderful thing out there. That’s part of what keeps us going.

 

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

 

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WHOA! Sotheby’s Sold Canova’s Rediscovered Bust of Peace for More Than $7 Million

Canova, The Bust of Peace (side)

Update: Whoa! Canova’s Bust of Peace sold for £5.3 million, or slightly more than $7 million.

 

What you see: A Bust of Peace, sculpted in 1814 by Antonio Canova. Sotheby’s anticipates bidding in excess of £1 million, or $1.3 million.

 

Who was Antonio Canova? Born in 1757 in Possagno, Italy, Canova is the greatest of the Neoclassical sculptors and one of the greatest sculptors ever. You might not recall his name, but you’ve almost certainly seen his work–Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, The Three Graces, and Venus Victrix, to name three. (If you’ve been to the Louvre and managed to miss Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss, go back, you did it wrong.) He died in 1822, at the age of 64.

 

The expert: Christopher Mason, director of the European sculpture and works of art department at Sotheby’s.

 

How rarely does anything by Canova come to auction, let alone one of his Ideal Heads? Very rarely. In the last 30 years at auction, I can think of only a handful of examples. Last year there was a bust of Murat in Paris. It sold for €4.3 million ($5 million). We had an Ideal Head in the early to mid-1990s. It sold for £750,000 and is now in the Ashmolean. Before that, there was one in the 1980s that went to the Getty. They’re very rare, as you can see from those examples.

 

The Bust of Peace belongs to a series Canova did that was dubbed the Ideal Heads. Why is that important? He produced very few Ideal Heads. He made them as gifts for patrons and friends, and that gave him a degree of freedom in the execution of his ideas. They’re different versions of what Canova considered to be beauty. Really what distinguishes the Ideal Heads is not facial characteristics, but the hair. This one is unique, and has uniquely beautiful hair. And it’s the only bust [of his] we’re aware of that has a tiara like that.

 

What did Baron Cawdor, the sculpture’s first owner, do for Canova that earned him the Bust of Peace? He was Canova’s first British patron and a substantial landowner over here. What comes across in his letters is he’s a nice man. He and Canova got on together, and they were personal friends. Baron Cawdor was an important patron who commissioned iconic works, including the Cupid and Psyche in the Louvre. It was sort of appropriated by Murat [Joachim Murat, a French military leader and brother-in-law of Napoleon]. At the time, Britain was at war with France, and Murat could say, ‘I’ll have that.’ We know by 1814, the first fall of Napoleon, many treasures of Rome were taken by French forces and were in the Louvre. Canova was very much a patriotic Italian, and he wanted to get them back. Baron Cawdor was among the British dignitaries who supported the effort to get them back. The bust may have been given to him for that reason. But through thick and thin, Baron Cawdor was a patron who stuck by Canova.

 

Where does the Bust of Peace rank among the Ideal Heads? How well-regarded is it? There aren’t many Ideal Heads. It is a rediscovery. This is literally the first time since 1817 that it’s been published as a Canova. It’s very much fresh off the block. In terms of beauty, in my opinion, it’s one of the more beautiful. It has this glorious tiara which none of the others have. Not only is it an early Ideal Head, it has a backstory that symbolizes the end of the Napoleonic era and symbolizes peace. It combines remarkable history and a remarkably beautiful work by the greatest Neoclassical sculptor.

 

The lot notes say that Canova’s Ideal Heads “caused a stir when they arrived in Britain.” Can you explain in more detail how they were received? I don’t think you can get better than the fact that Lord Byron wrote a poem about one of the heads. Lord Byron, the great poet of the age, wrote a poem about the great sculptor of the age. At the time, the Ideal Heads were totally different from anything that came before. They would have stood like icebergs among the galleries of paintings. This gleaming white marble of an objectively regal-looking woman must have been wholly refreshing in that environment.

 

Canova also did a Statue of Peace, which he started before making this bust and delivered after finishing the bust. How do the statue and the bust relate to each other beyond their shared theme? The statue is in Kiev and is difficult to access for that reason, but the images we have of the statue compare very well. It appears to be nearly identical. There is a small natural flaw in the bust, on the upper lip. Canova wrote to Baron Cawdor apologizing for it. It’s hugely important to us because [the flaw] is a characteristic we know it had when it left Canova’s studio. It’s very slight, but it’s there. We haven’t color-corrected it out [of the catalog images]. We’re very proud of it. It is historical, isn’t it?

 

Other Ideal Heads that Canova made for British patrons and friends have dedicatory inscriptions, but this one does not. Why? Baron Cawdor went to Rome and received it into ownership at that time. The lack of a price in the archives and the fact that the others were all gifts strongly suggest that the Bust of Peace was a gift. The other four Ideal Heads arrived later, in 1817. He sent them from Rome to patrons in the U.K. [without handing them over in person]. In my opinion, Canova saw the need to inscribe them, and it was probably more natural to him to carve in stone than write in ink.

 

Do we know who Canova’s model would have been for this bust and the statue? We don’t know whether he used a live model. The conventional thinking on this is the heads are formed solely in his imagination. That might explain why they [the bust and the statue] share the same facial characteristics.

 

What features does this Bust of Peace have that 19th century viewers would have recognized on sight, but which might be obscure to 21st century viewers? First, she’s crowned, and the only other Canovas that are crowned are the Statue of Peace and a portrait he did of Napoleon’s wife, Marie Louise. Clearly for the artist, the coronet represented harmony and peace. It was seen as the distinguishing characteristic of peace at the time. And it’s different from the others in that she assumes a serene and godlike expression, which shows the power of peace.

 

What condition is the bust in? It’s in very good condition. There is some minor wear, but the bust broadly retains its original surface and is particularly beautiful on the cheeks and neck–particularly smooth and perfect.

 

You said earlier that the bust is something of a rediscovery? It was considered to have been lost. When the Canova catalog raisonné was published in the 1970s, it was considered unknown. It was on view in 1817 at the Royal Academy in London. After that, it went into the Cawdor private collection until 1962, when they sold the contents of a house. It [the Bust of Peace] sold as an anonymous bust. It was at auction in 2012, again as an anonymous bust. Then it was acquired by the present owner, who, gradually, through a lot of work, figured out it was one of the Ideal Heads.

 

That is a heck of a discovery. I think the owner began to have an inkling of what it was and wrote to the great Canova expert, Hugh Honour, who is now deceased. He wrote back, ‘Congratulations on rediscovering one of the Ideal Heads, the Bust of Peace.’ The attribution was confirmed by the director of the Canova Museum in Possagno, Italy.

 

What is the Bust of Peace like in person? Personally, I find it very affecting. The bust is perfect in its conception. Peace is objectively serene, with a wonderful Neoclassical crown. The bust is designed so it can be viewed from any angle–as you move around it, the figure is changing. The tresses falling from the back of the head are arranged in a way that is not symmetrical. Canova’s great skill is producing harmonious compositions that are seemingly symmetrical, but not. It explains how he was able to breathe life into the composition. As you walk around it, it really does seem like Peace could spring into life. It’s one of the most beautiful marbles we’ve ever sold.

 

How to bid: The Bust of Peace is lot 25 in the Treasures auction at Sotheby’s London on July 4, 2018.

 

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

 

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SOLD! A Rocky and Bullwinkle Scene Cel, Signed by Bill Scott to June Foray, Fetched $960 at Heritage

Rocky_Bullwinkle_Bill_Scott_Signed_Scene_Cel_Jay_Ward_1970s_80s_Heritage_Auctions

Update: The Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed from the voice of Bullwinkle to the voice of Rocky, sold for $960.

 

What you see: A Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel, signed and inscribed by Bill Scott, the voice of Bullwinkle J. Moose, to June Foray, the voice of Rocket J. “Rocky” Squirrel. Heritage Auctions estimates it at $1,500 to $3,500.

 

Who were Rocky and Bullwinkle? If these names are new to you, you have a treat in store. Introduced by Jay Ward, the two starred in one of the most exquisitely hilarious animated shows ever to grace a television screen. Rocky is a charming and peppy flying squirrel, and Bullwinkle is a charming but slow-witted moose. Together they dodge Boris and Natasha, Russian spies who try to catch and “keel” them. Other popular segments on the show feature the Canadian Mountie Dudley Do-Right and his nemesis, Snidely Whiplash; the time-traveling Sherman and Mr. Peabody; and Fractured Fairy Tales, which are exactly what you think they are. The show originally aired from 1959 to 1964.

 

The expert: Jim Lentz, director of animation art for Heritage Auctions.

 

What’s a scene cel? It’s a limited edition animation cel, not used in production.

 

How did this cel come to be? It post-dates The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. It never went on camera. Foray started ASIFA, a union for animators. They had cel sales in parking lots and malls to raise money for the union. This is one of the cels made for an ASIFA fundraiser, and it was June Foray’s personal cel. It’s inscribed by Bill Scott to her. That changes everything–it’s as close to Rocky and Bullwinkle as you’re going to get.

 

This cel was made after The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show stopped production. Would it still have value if it didn’t have a Bill Scott signature and inscription and a June Foray provenance? Any Jay Ward art is valuable because there’s so little out there. It’s maybe $500 without the signature. This is worth $1,500 to $3,500, in that range. There are very few with signatures, maybe a handful. Bill Scott is not a signature you see a lot out there.

 

Does the cel belong to the first offering of items from June Foray’s estate at auction? Yes. I knew June very well. She was one of the most giving and intelligent and smart women I’ve met in my life. She was the one who led the charge to get animation [included] in the Academy Awards. She was a tireless crusader for animation in general, and she was the single most important woman in animation. She was the voice of Rocky over fifty years. She was Natasha. She was Ursula in George of the Jungle. She was Granny in the Tweety Bird cartoons. She was Cindy Lou Who in How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Chuck Jones once said, “June Foray is not the male Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”

 

Why does The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show endure? Why do we still love it? It takes three things to make a great cartoon: animation style, acting, and writing. The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show might have been one of the best-acted and best-written cartoon shows. When you can make a child laugh and an adult laugh at the same time, for different reasons, that’s phenomenal.

 

How to bid: The Bill Scott-signed, June Foray-owned Rocky and Bullwinkle scene cel is Lot 96003 in the Animation Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on June 16 and 17, 2018.

 

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

 

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Jim Lentz has appeared on The Hot Bid twice before, talking about a vintage Kem Weber-designed Walt Disney Studios animation desk that sold for $13,145 and a Walt Disney-signed original animation cel from Song of the South that fetched just under $9,000.

 

ASIFA-Hollywood’s website devotes a section to June Foray, who died in 2017 at the age of 99.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Arthur Rackham’s Stunning Image of Danaë and the Infant Perseus Commanded $22,100 at Swann

M37487-1 002

Update: Arthur Rackham’s 1922 original illustration of Danaë and the Infant Perseus sold for $22,100.

 

What you see: Danaë and the Infant Perseus, an original illustration in watercolor, ink, and wash on board by Arthur Rackham for the 1922 Hodder & Stoughton edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book for Girls and Boys. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Arthur Rackham? He was regarded as a leader in the Golden Age of British book illustration, which spanned 1890 to the onset of World War I. He enlivened editions of Alice in Wonderland, Rip van WinkleGulliver’s Travels, a Midsummer Night’s Dream and more. He died in 1939 at the age of 71.

 

Who were Danaë and Perseus? In Greek mythology, Danaë was the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. When an oracle told the king that his grandson would kill him someday, he locked his childless only daughter in a tower to thwart the prophecy. Zeus upended the plan by sneaking in to Danaë’s cell in the form of a shower of gold (yes, you read that right) and getting her pregnant with little Perseus. The king loaded his daughter and tiny grandson into a wooden box and tossed it into the sea, hoping that nature would take care of them. It did, but not the way he wanted; the box came ashore on the island of Seriphos. Danaë eventually caught the eye of that island’s king, Polydectes. Perseus, now closer to being grown up, agreed to kill Medusa and bring back her head to get Polydectes to leave his poor mom alone. The oracle proved correct when Acrisius went to Larissa to watch a sports exhibition. Perseus was there to play, and did not know that his grandfather was in the audience. He accidentally took the old man out when a discus throw went awry and clocked him.

 

The expert: Christine von der Linn, specialist in art books and original illustration at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

How was Rackham chosen for this 1922 project? He was known to work on Greek and Norse mythology and had done his own book in 1913, Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures, which had a lot of mythology. He was chosen by the publisher [for the 1922 release] because it was well known that he could execute illustrations of Greek and Norse myths, and that was what the Nathaniel Hawthorne book was about.

 

How many illustrations did Rackham do for the Hawthorne book, and how many for the Danaë and Perseus story? Sixteen color plates in all, and two for the story. This illustration was just used last year as the cover for a 2015 reissue of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s A Wonder Book. Arthur Rackham’s Book of Pictures has a different picture [of this scene in the story] that’s more Rackhamesque in a way. In this image, he concentrates more on the waves, and them being swept out. It’s more threatening. In the 1913 version, you don’t see Perseus’s face. He’s nestled into her breast. They’re in the same simple wooden box, and there’s clouds and wind, but there’s no forboding stormy sky. And the other one doesn’t have as much color as this one.

 

I saw a reference to Rackham having been influenced by Meiji woodblock prints. I couldn’t find more information than that before we spoke, but it made me feel less crazy when the waves in this illustration made me think of Hokusai’s The Great Wave. You don’t think of Rackham being influenced by Asian artists, but he was. He was the master of illustration in the time of three- and four-color printing. When he created an image for a book, the detail would often get lost in the four-color printing process. He’d often go back and re-ink pieces, and define the line very precisely. This image is Rackham, but it’s heavier and thicker than you’re used to seeing. If you cover Danaë and Perseus and just look at the left-hand side of the illustration, you’d think you’re looking at a Japanese woodcut.

 

Was Rackham prolific? He was one of the masters of the Golden Age of British illustration. He did a lot of magazine illustrations and job work before launching into his own deluxe editions. He dominated the Edwardian deluxe gift book market. His 1905 Rip Van Winkle cemented his reputation as a master illustrator.

 

How often do original Rackhams appear at auction? They come up with some frequency, and the prices are all over the place. The range in price depends on how well-known they are, and the amount of detail. A Wind in the Willows illustration sold last year in London for £52,500 ($70,700). It had all the hallmarks of a Rackham illustration, and it had the main characters in it as well. We sold one of his illustrations for A Christmas Carol–it was extremely popular and hotly contested at auction. It was Scrooge and the Ghost of Marley, and it sold for $32,500. The more iconic the image, the higher the price.

 

How did Danaë and the Infant Perseus come to you? This is from a private collection. It was purchased from a gallery in London several decades ago.

 

What qualities does this Rackham image have that makes it desirable to collectors? You have a scene taking place in nature, where the subjects are vulnerable to nature. Danaë and Perseus have this sort of sweet, pre-Raphaelite look to their faces–innocent features, very expressive, and the light touches of color enhance their expressions. And the treatment of the fabric is very Rackham-esque. You can see the figures beneath the clothing and you can tell the elements have affected them. He also shows the simple craftsmanship of the box and the wood grain and at the same time, shows how sturdy but delicate the vessel is. It’s also in how he puts the two figures in the foreground and on the right. Your eye goes to their faces, but you see the ferocity of the storm. It’s about them, but it’s about fear, and about the episode they’re about to face.

 

I’m surprised the estimate is as low as $10,000 to $15,000. It’s a strong piece, but the Rackham market is a little soft right now. While we love Rackham and he’s one of the greats of illustration and he’s still considered a favorite, he’s not among the greats for new, young collectors.

 

Why will this Rackham illustration stick in your memory? It’s a haunting image. It’s beautiful and haunting at the same time. It’s from one of my favorite works by Rackham. I love his treatment of Norse and Greek myths. I feel very few illustrators have been able to grasp the excitement and the drama of those myths like Rackham did.

 

How to bid: Danaë and the Infant Perseus is lot 38 in the Illustration Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on June 5, 2018.

 

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

 

Christine von der Linn has appeared twice before on The Hot Bid, speaking about a Rockwell Kent-illustrated edition of Moby Dick and original Erté artwork for a 1933 Harper’s Bazaar cover.

 

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SOLD! Zhang Xiaogang’s Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 Commands $4.8 Million at Phillips

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Update: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 sold for HDK $38,350,000, or $4.8 million.

 

What you see: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9, a 1996 canvas by Zhang Xiaogang. Phillips estimates it at more than HDK 30 million, or around $3.8 million.

 

Who is Zhang Xiaogang? He is a contemporary Chinese artist who is best known for his Bloodlines paintings. His parents were government officials, and at one point during his childhood, they were forced to attend a re-education camp for three years. He graduated from the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in 1982, but it was a three-month stay in Germany in 1992 that transformed his approach to art. He embarked on the Bloodlines series soon after. Zhang turns 60 this year.

 

The expert: Wenjia Zhang, Phillips’s regional director in Shanghai.

 

The lot notes for Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 as an “extremely rare rendition.” What makes it an extremely rare rendition? Because this painting is directly based on a family photo of his parents and his older brother, the first child in the family, celebrating his 100-day birthday. It’s directly based on a family picture, but it’s more of a fantasy picture.

 

How many of the works in the Bloodlines series are based on photos of Zhang’s own family? I think this is one of very few. It may be the only one directly based on a picture of his family. In China, the previous generation all has this kind of family photo. It’s a generational thing, not just his family. I remember my parents’ wedding photo was very similar. And we didn’t have color photos. We only had black and white.

 

Do we know when that photo of Zhang’s parents and eldest brother was taken? I can’t say the exact year, but I think it was 1955, 1956, or 1957. [Zhang was born in 1958 and was the third of four children, all boys.]

 

Zhang painted this in 1996, which is about in the middle of the timespan given for the Bloodlines series. Does that make the painting more interesting to collectors? I personally don’t really think of the year as the most important year. I think it’s the work itself, and I think it’s the most important of his Bloodlines: Big Family series. This work is very romantic, reflecting a romantic part of his character. On the other hand, for the technical part, the brushstrokes and the drops of water on the face [the pink splotches on the right of each face] are very delicate. It makes me feel it’s very special.

 

When you say that the painting reflects a romantic part of his character, what do you mean? It’s because of the smoothness of the colors, the way that he painted, and the light on the painting. I can’t say more. It’s just a feeling.

 

Can you talk a bit about the imagery he’s using here that would have meaning to Chinese viewers? The immediate meaning to us Chinese people is our memories and our family. We all have this kind of photo for special occasions–birthdays, weddings. For him, the image of every figure in the Bloodlines series is a variation on his mother.

 

Why did he use the phrase ‘Big Family’ in the title when the family shown consists of only three people? I don’t think it’s meant to be ironic. It’s about the whole generation [in China] as a big family. For his generation, and less for mine, everyone was part of a big family. We share everything, we work together like a big family. Also, he was not part of the generation where they could have only one child per family. It does not have that meaning. He was not from the only child generation.

 

Where does this painting rank among those in the Bloodlines series? I think he started this series in 1994, after traveling to Germany. He was inspired by Gerhard Richter a lot. I think he came back to China and saw pictures in a library and from that time, he started painting the series. In 1996, his technique becomes more mature. He found the way to paint–this concept of the photo and trying to technically express his thinking of his memory. It’s very delicate. The colors are so beautiful and reflections of the lighting is extremely beautiful. Those things make this painting very different and very important. Also, in 1994 and 1995, his paintings are being chosen for the Venice Biennale [and other important shows]. For him it was a turning point.

 

Bloodlines: Big Family No. 9 explores ideas that Chinese people will recognize right away, but you don’t really need to know anything about Mao or the Cultural Revolution or 20th century Chinese life to fall under its spell. Why do you think it’s so powerful? Good question. What I can say is to share my experience of going to his studio. We’re not exactly the same generation. He was born in 1958, and I was born in 1974. I have no direct experience with the Cultural Revolution. I’m almost 20 years younger than him. When I first entered his studio, I was attracted to the color and the atmosphere of the painting. If it’s a good work, it can attract you. If it’s strong, you can feel it. For me, the work speaks for itself.

 

What’s the auction record for a work by Zhang Xiaogang? Might this work set a new record? I think the record is Bloodline: Big Family No. 3, which sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in April 2014 for HKD $94.2 million, or $12.1 million. Whether it will set a new record, we can’t say. Of course if it can make a record that would be so exciting for us, but we can’t say now. It really depends on the market and on the collectors.

 

What is the painting like in person? It’s very quiet. I think you can be immediately attracted by the painting when you enter a room.

 

How to bid: Bloodline: Big Family No. 9 is lot 12 in Pioneers of Modernism: A Selection from the Scheeres Collection, taking place May 27, 2018 at Phillips Hong Kong.

 

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

 

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What a Circus! Christie’s Could Sell a Fernando Botero Circus Painting for $2.5 Million

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What you see: Circus People, a 2007 painting by Fernando Botero. Christie’s estimates it at $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

 

Who is Fernando Botero? Born in Medellin, Colombia, Botero is a sculptor and painter. He might be better known for the former, as several of his bronzes have been installed outdoors in major cities. Botero invariably depicts people and animals with greater size and heft than you might expect–an artistic choice that has become his visual signature. During his long career, he has tackled sober, dark subjects such as the abuses of Abu Ghraib and the death of drug dealer Pablo Escobar, as well as more innocuous images of couples dancing and riffs on Old Masters. Botero is 86.

 

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

 

Botero has created about 120 circus-themed paintings. Where does Circus People rank among those images? This is one of the most complete in the sense that it has a circus. It reminds me of his very sought-after family groupings. It could be seen as a multi-character painting by Botero. The narrative is about performers in a circus who are not performing, but at the same time, they are performing. The sword swallower is swallowing a sword. The clown is playing with a baton. The snake charmer has a snake. Botero is saying they’re always performing whether they’re on stage or not.

 

Is Botero still painting and drawing circus scenes, or has he stopped? The whole Botero series started around 2006, from his visit to a small seaside village in Mexico where there was a very simple traveling circus. He started a series. Many 20th century artists have created works about the circus–Picasso, Calder. I think the Botero circus series is ongoing.

 

Is the painting based on real people who Botero saw, or does it show people who he invented after he was inspired by what he saw? Botero works with types. I think he never really depicts a specific person. They’re more sort of types in terms of the circus. They’re typed by profession–the sword swallower, the clown. Looking at his work in general, it’s consistent with the idea that he’s interested in types.

 

How does Botero’s circus series match up to other series of his? Are collectors particularly interested in his circus scenes? There’s demand for them, yes. Botero in general is sought-after. He’s a very popular artist globally and I think the circus is universally understood as a cultural activity. With his bullfighting series, some collectors look for his bullfighting pictures. Some are not attracted to bullfighting. It’s not for everybody. But the circus is universally understood. It’s very ingrained in the culture of Latin America, the U.S., Europe. It’s a family entertainment that people feel nostalgic about.

 

This painting is 63 1/2 inches by 75 1/8 inches. Is that unusually large for Botero? Or is this a typical painting size for him? No. We don’t see large paintings like this all the time, but he as an artist benefits from a larger scale, and his sculptures do, too.

 

Is it unusually large for a work from the circus series? The ones that have come up for auction have been much smaller. This work is very, very emblematic of the series. I think it is super-charming. I love the colors and the scale.

 

Did Botero use brighter colors than he normally would when painting circus images? It’s pretty consistent with other works from his mature style. It’s not unusual in that sense.

 

The painting is fresh to market–it’s making its auction debut. How important is that, considering that the works in Botero’s circus series are relatively recent, and will likely be fresh to market? It’s always desirable to have things that have never been at auction. It’s desirable if it’s old or if it’s new. In terms of auction sales, we like fresh-to-market works because there are new things to say. We try to present Botero and his circus works in an essay accompanying the painting. As an auction house, we try to explain where it sits within his broader production, and how special it is. About this particular sale–we have fantastic material by Botero from the late 1950s to the new millennium. We have a Mona Lisa from 1959 that’s wonderful. We have sculptures from the 1980s to more recent works. We have an Aurora painting from the 1990s that’s very beautiful. He’s very well-represented.

 

But isn’t that true of all of Christie’s Latin American art auctions? You’d think, but demand for his sculpture keeps rising and they’re very hard to get. We’re fortunate to have a nice group but you’re going to see them get scarce. He’s not fabricating new sculptures anymore as far as we know. What is out there is out there.

 

Are collectors more interested in his sculptures than his paintings? Not really. I wouldn’t say they’re more desirable. There’s a healthy market for both. I would say Botero is better known for his sculpture because many are outdoors, and the public is attuned to them.

 

Let’s talk about the size of Botero subjects. We see a circus here, but there is no fat lady, and none of the people are, technically speaking, fat. Botero has always been interested in the idea of volume, from early on. It started with the mandolin. He painted a round musical instrument, and by making the [sound] hole smaller, the scale grew. He started experimenting with variations of scale. Eventually the figures started to become bigger in terms of occupying more space. Botero created a universe very much his own. When he started to translate them to three dimensions with sculpture, by making them rounder and bigger, he created a universe where characters exist and assert themselves by their physicality.

 

What factors shaped the $1.5 million to $2.5 million estimate for Circus People? We think this is consistent with important paintings in the past in terms of scale, quality, and what it represents. Most of his important paintings are paintings of groupings. A family of bullfighters did very well many years ago. I think the picture has the potential to sell among the top ten paintings by the artist.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? It’s a beautiful painting. It’s vibrant, and at a very nice scale. It’s joyful, full of energy. It’s a great painting.

 

How to bid: Circus People is lot 44 in Christie’s Latin American Art auction on May 23 and 24, 2018.

 

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

 

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

 

Also see this May 2018 Christie’s piece on 10 things to know about Fernando Botero.

 

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