Pay Attention, Class: Bonhams Could Sell South African Artist Gerard Sekoto’s “Three School Girls” for $230,000

Sekoto school girls

What you see: Three School Girls, an oil on board painted by South African artist Gerard Sekoto sometime between 1940 and 1947. Bonhams estimates it at £120,000 to £180,000 ($160,000 to $230,000).


Who was Gerard Sekoto? Born in 1913 in what was then the South African province of Eastern Transvaal, he began showing artistic talent as a teenager. Art schools aimed at black students didn’t exist in South Africa in the early 20th century, so he trained as a teacher instead and studied art as best he could. He lived in several different areas in South Africa before leaving for Paris in 1947 for what’s been described as a “self-imposed exile”. Sekoto spent a year in Senegal in 1966, but he never made his home on the African continent again. In his final years, he started to gain recognition for his work. He died in Paris in 1993, at the age of 79.


The expert: Eliza Sawyer, a specialist in modern and contemporary African art at Bonhams.


How prolific was Sekoto? It largely depends on which period you’re talking about. The period of Three School Girls was not so prolific. It was before he left South Africa for Paris. Those works are rarer, and hard to come by. He didn’t have easy access to materials, and he was still finding his voice. He was much more prolific after he left for Paris in 1947.


How often do pre-1947 Sekoto works come to market? There have been a handful in the last few years. When they come up, they tend to fetch high sums. His most valuable period is between when he left Sophiatown [a township near Johannesburg] and when he left for Paris. It was a very short period of his life–seven years. Maybe one Sekoto work a year comes up from that time. What’s rare for this sale we have in September is a particular collector bought two works from a Sekoto show in 1947 [and consigned them both]. To have two works from that period in the same sale is quite extraordinary, but they’re from the same collection.


How do we know this Sekoto painting dates to between 1940 and 1947? The most obvious point would be the subject matter–three little girls on an almost-mud street in a township. Parisian pictures tend to be of jazz bars and the Seine. The other thing that’s distinctive is the color palette. Up to 1947, Sekoto gravitated toward a very earthy palette of reds, browns, and yellows that reflected the colors of the ground in South African townships, and reflected the kinds of clothes people wore and the dyes that were available. Also, in 1940, he met Judith Gluckman, an artist who introduced him to oil painting. The fact that this is painted in oils and not household poster paint suggests it was executed after 1940.


The surface of the paint looks rugged and thick. Is that typical for Sekoto? What I’d say is unusual about the surface of the work is how unspoiled it is. Gerard Sekoto did use impasto [he painted in thick layers] and he mixed sand and grit in to create texture. Gritty, thick texture is more characteristic of his early style. But most of his works from this period don’t survive well. They have craquelure [the paint is covered with a network of cracks], and the surface attracted dirt. To see a work in this good a condition, with no paint loss and minor dirt, is incredibly unusual. Later, he worked in watercolors and gouache, and his brush strokes were more fluid and loose.


How did Sekoto work doing that seven-year period in the 1940s, when he painted Three School Girls? He would carry notepaper in his pockets. The people he saw were not accustomed to people making their portraits, so he would pull out a piece of scrap paper, sketch quickly, and come to his studio with his pockets full of ideas.


This painting is relatively small, measuring 15 15/16 inches by 19 7/8 inches. Is that because he was working from small sketches done on scrap paper? Earlier pieces tend to be smaller than works created in Paris. It’s partly related to the Post-It note size of his sketches and partly from an awareness of using up all his material. In this period, we see him work the same piece of canvas over and over, particularly as he tried to learn  his craft.


Three School Girls is fresh to market, having gone from the late 1940s selling exhibition to the consigner to Bonhams. Is that unusual for a Sekoto? Yes, it is quite unusual. I’d say Sekoto works have hugely appreciated in value over the last 10 years, partly due to his status as a pioneer of South African modernism.


Did Bonhams play a role in raising Sekoto’s profile? In 2008, we were the first international auction house to hold a stand-alone sale of South African art, and Gerard Sekoto was one of the artists we featured. We put up a work from his District 6 period, which is a few years before the period when he made Three School Girls, for an estimate of £200,000 to £300,000, and it made in excess of £600,000. It was an eye-opening moment for us and for the art market as well–it showed that Sekoto is an artist to take very seriously.


What’s the world auction record for a Sekoto? It’s held by Bonhams for a work sold for £602,400 ($784,694) in 2011, depicting a yellow house he saw in District 6. He didn’t live in this particular house, but he’d walk past it on a day-to-day basis between 1942 and 1945. It’s very similar in style and period to Three School Girls, which probably dates to 1945 to 1947. It was also painted in gritty impasto, and is around the same size as Three School Girls.


Does Three School Girls have the potential to set a new auction record for the artist? When I saw the work, my first thought was it really is something special, potentially a record painting. We haven’t seen one of comparable quality and style since 2011 [the year that Bonhams sold Yellow Houses, District Six]. The market has changed and demand has changed, but if any painting has a shot at breaking the record for a Sekoto, it could be this one.


What about Portrait of a Man (Lentswana)the other Sekoto painting that the consigner sent to this auction? It’s from the same period and is around the same size. The reason we put a slightly higher estimate on Three School Girls is it’s a more universal image. The other is a wonderfully intimate human portrait, but some collectors are not comfortable having particular likenesses hanging in their home. It’s like having a picture of another person’s grandfather. That’s the thought behind this particular estimate.


What is Three School Girls like in person? The first thing that strikes you is the size. In this day and age, particularly if you collect contemporary art, you’re used to monumental canvases. This painting is different. It’s intimate in scale, and it draws you in. The colors are warm and earthy. They’re not colors that are considered colorful or sexy for an urban apartment. But it transports you to a totally different time, a totally different country. You can feel the heat rising up from the dusty road the girls are walking on.


Why will this painting stick in your memory? Having been a schoolgirl myself, it’s quite a nostalgic image. I’m a white British woman living in London, and looking at it brings back memories. I remember being dressed in my schoolgirl uniform, walking to school with my friends. The artist somehow manages to forge a connection I find quite touching.


How to bid: Three School Girls is lot 25 in The South African Sale, which takes place at Bonhams London on September 12, 2018.


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A namesake foundation celebrates Gerard Sekoto’s lifetime of work.


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


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RECORD! Rago Sold a Dale Chihuly Chandelier in 2015 for $200,000


What you see: A white, clear, and amber chandelier, measuring ten feet tall, five feet wide, and four feet, eight inches deep, made by Dale Chihuly in 2004. Rago Auctions sold it in June 2015 for $200,000 against an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000.


The expert: Suzanne Perrault, partner and co-director of Rago’s 20th and 21st century design department.


How did this chandelier come to be? Was it a commission? Is it unique? It is a commission, and it is unique. The chandeliers usually are. These weigh hundreds of pounds, and they’re not technically chandeliers–they’re glass sculptures. Each is unique, but Chihuly has made quite a few of them.


Where was it displayed originally? It was for a residence in New York City. I came to have it because a gentleman who bought the house with the piece in it had a three-year-old son who was terrified of it. He contacted us about selling it.


How did you sell this huge, fragile chandelier? Did you bring it to the sale room? We didn’t put it up in the auction house. It’s pretty much the only thing we’ve sold by a photo only. It was available to be seen in situ in New York. We had a banner of it made to scale to hang in the gallery.


Was it tricky to sell it largely on the basis of a photo? Yes and no. There are so many items people buy without seeing in person. A lot of people seem to be comfortable with that. I always encourage people to see things in person, but of the four who saw the chandelier in person, none bought.


Just how fragile is this chandelier? The glass in these is considerably thicker than other Chihuly glass. It’s definitely sturdier.


The colors of this chandelier are white, clear, and amber. How did that affect its value? It’s actually white, clear, and gold. It has done considerably better than multicolor ones that have sold subsequently. It’s pretty fancy. It may look a little plainer in the photo than in reality.


Have other Chihuly chandeliers gone to auction? How did they do? Chandeliers are the pieces by Dale Chihuly that bring the most. The closest price was $158,500 at Heritage in Texas in May 2013. Another at Wright didn’t sell.


What condition was this one in? It’s hard to tell, and it’s kind of irrelevant. When the chandelier is designed, it’s always an organic process. There’s no finite number of elements going in. The person putting it up for the original purchaser asks them if they have enough elements, or if they want it fuller.  If the client insists, elements can be replaced by the Chihuly studio.


How many elements does it have? About 700 pieces, and it took about a week to install [in the home of the winning bidder].


What was your role in the auction? I was calling the auction. There was tremendous interest in the lot.


What stands out about the experience of selling it? When the underbidder asked me to go for a half-bid, and I said no.


What’s a half-bid? Bids go up by increments that are codified in the catalog. They go up by a certain amount until we hit a cap. Maybe we’d gotten to $150,000, and maybe he said give me a half-bid when it should have been $10,000. It could have been that. The people who bought the chandelier were very grateful, and it cemented our friendship after that. I hate half-bids. These are lovely items. No one really needs them. They’re luxuries. I don’t think half-bids are fair to other bidders who are willing to go to the full increment. There were many underbidders.


How many bidders were in the hunt? We started with ten, which is a lot for piece at that level. And you should know about the chandelier–it is quite large. There are not a lot of places that can afford [to set aside] that kind of space, and it’s expensive to put up. There’s one company Chihuly recommends and will stand behind [to install his works], and it’s done a ton of them. The company needs to be there many days. It’s a big job, and it’s costly. This is not like buying a sculpture that’s ready to put on a center table. It’s a lot more complicated.


How long do you think the record will stand? I have no idea. There’s quite a few of these Chihuly chandeliers. There’s a spectacular red chandelier in a home in Philadelphia that overlooks the city. It’s right there in the middle of the room, and it goes from the ceiling almost all the way to the floor. It looks like an upside-down Christmas tree. It’s magical. How much would that do? I don’t know. That’s the magic of auctions.


What is this chandelier like in person? It’s lovely. It’s so wonderful because of how they [the winning bidders] set it up. It’s in a four-story house which is industrial and modern, all glass and steel. You walk up the stairs, which curl around this piece. It’s a real show-stopper. It couldn’t look any better. It was meant to be there.


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


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SOLD! An Exceptionally Early Sydney Laurence Painting of Alaska’s Mount McKinley Fetched $75,000 at Bonhams


Update: The Laurence painting sold for $75,000.


What you see: Mount McKinley, 63 Degrees North Latitude, Alaska, Altitude 20.390 Feet, painted by Sydney Laurence in 1911 or 1912. Bonhams estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.


Who was Sydney Laurence? He was an American painter who built a career on depicting the landscapes of Alaska. He moved there around 1904, several years before Alaska became a U.S. territory (it gained statehood in 1959). He made a specialty of painting images of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain peak in North America. (It has since regained its original name of Denali, but it’s called Mount McKinley throughout this story because it’s the name Laurence used when giving titles to his works.) He died in 1940 at the age of 74.


The expert: Scot Levitt, specialist in California and Western paintings for Bonhams.


How prolific was Laurence? Fairly prolific. We do see quite a bit of his paintings.


And how often do you see a painting of his that dates to 1911 or 1912? That’s really the main story here. It appears to be quite rare in that regard. Len Braarud, a Sydney Laurence afficionado who died a few years ago–his research led him to believe this seems to be one of, if not the earliest, Laurence scene of Mount McKinley. Braarud’s theory is it’s not an accurate depiction of Mount McKinley. To get to that vantage point, Laurence would have had to trek to that spot. There were no roads, the weather could be nasty, and the mosquitos were really severe in the summer. You’re not going to plunk down a canvas and paint there. He probably took a drawing pad, which you can put in a backpack, and did field sketches of the scene, then went back to the studio and did the painting.


I admit I’m not a Mount McKinley aficionado. Is it obvious on sight to those who know the mountain well that Laurence’s vision in this painting is a bit off? People who know Mount McKinley will be quick to tell you that. It has similarities, but it’s not exactly the same. Certain lines of the face of it aren’t exactly how it looks today.


Could its lack of accuracy make it less interesting to collectors? It could, but some might find the historical oddity is part of its appeal. It’s hard to say.


Why did Laurence go to Alaska? I think the jury is still out on why he went. He left his wife and kids in England. We’re not entirely sure of the reasons behind it.


What were the perceptions of Alaska when Laurence moved there in 1904? How did he shape those perceptions? It was a very, very wild place. with grizzly bears and wild animals. It was very primitive, for lack of a better word. At the same time, it was exciting. It was undiscovered territory for those who want to be adventuresome. It was an untapped world.


The painting measures 36 5/8 by 54 5/8 inches. Is that a typical size for him? It’s much bigger. It’s one of his biggest canvases that we’ve handled. Once he got into the swing of his career, he never deviated off of standard size canvases from art supply stores. It’s definitely an unusual size.


There’s another Laurence painting of Mount McKinley in the auction that’s estimated at $6,000 to $8,000. Is that because it’s smaller and undated, but made later? Exactly, exactly. It’s a more typical work from the middle of his career. He did Mount McKinley paintings over and over because he found there was a market for them. He churned out more of the same.


What’s the auction record for a Laurence? Does it belong to a larger-size Mount McKinley painting? The auction record is $235,200, for a large Mount McKinley painting. The top three [most expensive Laurences] are all large Mount McKinley paintings.


Does that mean this one, which is also a large Mount McKinley painting, could break the artist’s record at auction? I can’t say it will take off. But it’s a little different, and a little early. I just don’t know.


But it shows Sydney Laurence becoming Sydney Laurence… Some may not care. Some may find it a great storyline. It’s hard to say. Considering he did a million Mount McKinley scenes, that [its early date and the oddities in its depiction] makes it stand out from the others. Whether anyone will see it that way outside of a museum, it’s hard to say. I’d love to follow up with you after the auction to see if we were right.


Why will this work stick in your memory? Its size and its quality. It’s a really strong, crisp, bright painting that has a really strong presence on the wall.


How to bid: The early Sydney Laurence Mount McKinley painting is lot 109 in the California and Western Paintings and Sculpture sale at Bonhams Los Angeles on August 7, 2018.


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Bonhams is on Twitter and Instagram.


Scot Levitt previously spoke to The Hot Bid about a Gilbert Munger painting of a famous landmark in Yosemite National Park.


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


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RECORD! In 2012, Swann Galleries Sold an A.M. Cassandre Poster for $162,500–A Record for Any Travel Poster


What you see: L.M.S./Best Way, a 1928 poster by Adolphe Mouron (A.M.) Cassandre. Swann Galleries sold it in November 2012 for $162,500, an auction record for any travel poster.


The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.


Cassandre did so many great travel poster designs. Why is this one so sought-after? The easiest way to sum it up is it’s the only poster of his that had a limited edition run. The fewer there are, the more collectors want it.


Cassandre did designs along these lines for two different train company clients, both of whom rejected them. Why did they say no? The story is a little bit murky. In 1927, he did a painting for a French railway that was similar. It was not accepted, and there’s no record as to why. The British railway line [L.M.S] didn’t want it either, so Cassandre printed it in a small run.


That’s quite a move for a poster artist, to print the thing himself. Why did he do it? Because the poster is great. I think he was very, very proud of it.


Why might the train companies have hesitated to go ahead with this design? We’re looking at it with 20/20 historical hindsight, but what we love about it now is it’s a unique view of a train. The train companies might have asked, ‘Dude, where is the train going?’ It could have been too abstract for them.


Why does the poster take this unusual square-ish shape? This is the standard size British poster format for the hoardings [billboards] at a British train station. Had the British railway accepted the poster design, they had to be able to use it in their system. The French version, which I’ve only seen as a photo in a book, is quite close to this. You look at them and you could base a game on picking out how they’re different from each other. It’s not at all obvious.


Cassandre printed 50 of these posters. Do we know how many survive? No one has done a census of them, but I’d have to imagine there’s probably ten to 25. Some are in institutions, which will never sell them. There can’t be more than 25 in private hands.


How many have you seen or handled? We’ve only handled one. I have seen three others. A different organization has offered it for sale four times. Twice, it was the same piece.


How did you arrive at the estimate of $70,000 to $100,000? It came from the fact that in 1990, it sold at auction for $60,500, and in 1997, one sold for $57,500. In the decade and a half since the 1997 sale, there had been more poster auctions. His name was more known, his stock was rising, and his talent was known more.


Cassandre numbered these posters like you would a limited edition print. Was that an unusual practice for 1928? Posters are never numbered. It’s more than unusual, it’s singular. For his Normandie ship, no one knows how many were done, but it was probably in the thousands. This one, because it was privately printed, signed, and numbered, it was more like a Picasso lithograph.


You were the auctioneer that night. What do you remember about selling the poster? Without looking anything up, I remember it was not bought by someone who I thought would buy it. We know who the big collectors are, and the big dealers who feed the big collectors. We know whose toes to tickle, and it went to someone else. It was such a rarity that people outside the expected circle were participating. It was bought over the Internet and remains our largest purchase online to date.


Do you remember when you knew you had a record? It’s too long ago to say, but it was clearly a groundbreaking moment both for the artist and for the poster market as a whole. $162,500 is real money. I don’t think I thought this at the time, but it really showed that posters had come of age. It showed how deep the market was.


What factors drove the poster to its record price? Rarity, but you can have something that’s rare and ugly. This is rare, and it’s extraordinary, and it’s by Cassandre. It’s a trifecta. Cassandre is still the gold standard for machine age Art Deco design, and this poster is incredibly attractive. It’s great.


How long do you think the record will stand? I don’t think anything else is out there that could challenge it. What you haven’t asked me is what its estimate would be if it came up today. Since 2012, everything has changed. That sale was after the crash in 2008. Now the economy is booming. If the poster came up again, I think the estimate would be $100,000 to $150,000, and I have to think it would sell for substantially more. I’m almost certain that it would set the record again, depending on its condition. The one we sold was not in great condition. It had a grade of B+/ B– not a proud condition grade. If it were in better shape, the estimate might be $120,000 to $180,000.


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Swann Galleries is on Instagram and Twitter, and Nicholas Lowry is on Instagram and Twitter as well.


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


Nicholas Lowry has appeared several times on The Hot Bid. Read past entries in which he  talks about a 1938 London Transport poster by Man Ray that ultimately sold for $149,000a trio of Mont Blanc posters from 1928, a mid-1930s German travel poster featuring the Hindenburg, a 1968 MoMA poster by Japanese artist Tadanori Yokoo, an I Want You 1917 World War I recruiting poster that introduced the modern concept of Uncle Sam, and an Alphonse Mucha poster featuring Sarah Bernhardt.



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RECORD! RR Auction Sells Astronaut Dave Scott’s Apollo 17 Space-flown Robbins Medal for $68,750


What you see: A space-flown Apollo 17 Robbins medal owned by Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15 and the seventh man to walk on the moon. RR Auction sold it in September 2016 for $68,750–a record for a Robbins medal.


The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.


How did Scott get this Robbins medal? All astronauts had the opportunity to buy them. Dave Scott bought one for every Apollo mission, starting with Apollo 7. They’re a neat crossover between coin collecting and space flight memorabilia. These were meant for the astronauts–the general public couldn’t buy them. They had the mission logo on the front and their names [the names of the three crew members] struck on the back. They were great commemoratives.


Unlike stamps or flags, which are flat and light, silver medals have heft and weight. How did the Robbins company convince NASA to make room for several dozen medals on its Apollo spacecraft? I’m not familiar with the history of the decision. I do know it was a tradition of NASA to allow certain artifacts to be flown in space. NASA flew Robbins medals into the 1990s. It was a long tradition with the government and the astronauts.


What makes a Robbins medal valuable? Aside from being flown in space, having a letter of authenticity from an astronaut makes them extremely valuable. When Buzz Aldrin writes a letter saying, “I took this Robbins medal to the moon,” that adds value. The chain of custody matters.


If a space-flown Robbins medal lacks a letter of authenticity from an astronaut, is it still valuable? Yes. Each coin has a number stamped on its edge. We know which numbers flew [in space] and which did not. If it flew, it has value. With Dave, when he was on Apollo 15, he requested his to be number 15. Not only did he take a coin, he took a specific number because it related to the mission. I can’t imagine one more valuable.


How did Dave Scott snag the number 15 Robbins medal from the Apollo 17 series? Because he asked for it. Dave is a collector, so he understood what was neat and what made sense. These guys are engineers, they’re numbers guys.


That’s what I mean. There were two other guys on Apollo 15. How did Dave Scott claim the number 15 Apollo 17 Robbins medal for himself? Did he arm-wrestle them for it? Wrong. He was the mission commander. He outranked them. (Laughs)


How often do Robbins medals come up at auction? They appear at auction consistently, but the supply is limited and the price is going up. They’re becoming more commodified.


I understand the Robbins company struck 14-karat gold Robbins medals. How do they fit in here? They’re rarer and more desirable. They struck three to seven for each mission. All have serial numbers on them, and they were only available to the flight crew. They were made specifically to give to their wives.


Have any of the gold ones come to auction? One from Apollo 13 sold recently. We had one with a diamond in it from Apollo 11. They’re not giant coins–they’re smaller than a silver dollar, maybe a bit smaller. They’re beautiful.


Why are flown Apollo 17 medallions considered the most sought-after and difficult to obtain? Is it because of their limited numbers, or is it more than that? Only 80 Apollo 17 Robbins medals were flown. You can’t have a complete set of flown medals without Apollo 17. It was the last mission, and it’s rare. They come up once every couple of years, and we’re actively seeking them out. People are not willing to sell them.


This example has a third-party grade of MS67. Did the high grade drive the medal’s record price? It was in great condition, but I don’t know if the grade made a difference to the person who bought it. He needed it for his collection.


Dave Scott is still alive. Could you talk about what prompted him to consign back in September 2016? Why did he sell then? Most of the astronauts donated lots of material to universities, and a lot gave things to their children and grandchildren. There’s stuff left over that their families don’t want, and they want to get it into the hands of people who would want them. Dave Scott cares a lot. He’s got things that went to the moon, he’s in his eighties, and he’s a collector. He will write a whole dissertation about what it [a given piece he owned during his NASA career] meant. These things will be lost unless they’re documented and put in the hands of people. On a side note, Alan Shepard lived in Derry, New Hampshire. His family had a garage sale. Someone bought a bureau for $50, and in it was a letter he wrote to his parents, talking about being considered for the Mercury 7 selection program. We sold it for $106,000. These astronauts–if things are not documented and curated, they’ll be put on the curb, like [those countless mothers who infamously threw out their kids’] baseball cards. It happens! (Laughs)


What was the previous record for a flown Robbins medal? Was it an Apollo 11? We sold an Apollo 11 for $56,000. It was an interesting one, owned by a nephew of Neil Armstrong, but it wasn’t the previous record. In May 2013, we sold Gene Cernan’s Apollo 17 Robbins medal for $61,000. The Apollo 17, because it’s rarest, sold for more.


The September 2016 auction took place entirely online. When did you know you had a record? We realized it that night, and we put a press release out right away. We’re very proud every time we set a record.


How long do you think the record will stand? I don’t know, but records are made to be broken. With the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coming up, we may see a lot of excitement in the space collectibles market. The attention is going to be intense. I wouldn’t be surprised if we break the record in a year or two.


What else could challenge it? Maybe Neil Armstrong’s 14-karat gold Robbins medal?   I don’t know if that’s ever going to come to market. If it did, it would have a pretty high estimate. It would be incredibly valuable, and it would break the record.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of RR Auction.


Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.


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Francois Girardon’s Bronze of French King Louis XIV on Horseback Could Command $13.2 Million at Christie’s


What you see: A bronze group of Louis XIV on horseback, created between 1690 and 1699 by François Girardon. Christie’s estimates it at £7 million to £10 million ($9.1 million to $13.1 million).


Who was François Girardon? He was a French sculptor who rose to fame by glorifying the image of King Louis XIV, who was also known as The Sun King. Girardon created a monumental equestrian statue of the king in 1699, which was installed in Paris and destroyed during the French Revolution. Girardon died in Paris in 1715, when he would have been 86 or 87.


The expert: Donald Johnston, international head of sculpture for Christie’s.


Ok, forgive me if this is a stupid question, but why is this bronze described as a “group”? What makes it a group? It’s a convention. I think the horse makes it count as a group. If it was Louis XIV standing, it would be a figure. Because it’s Louis XIV and a horse, it’s called a group.


And would the horse and the Louis XIV figure have been cast separately, or… They were cast together, but that’s really quite unusual. A bronze of this size and complexity is normally cast in different parts. This is technically very accomplished. The baton [in the king’s right hand], the two forearms, the horse’s reins, and the plinth [the slab the horse is attached to] were all cast separately. The figure of the king and all his drapery, and his armor, his legs, the horse, and the horse’s legs–those were all cast together.


Girardon would have supervised the casting of this sculpture, but do we know what genius technician would have actually done the work? Some sculptors did do their own casting, but that’s relatively rare. We know the name of the caster or founder for the monument [the oversized original, now lost, on which this reduced sculpture is based], and they’re known to have done one of the other reductions. We don’t know who did this one, but it’s probably the same person. The armatures [an internal structure that supports the sculpture, kind of like a skeleton] for the sculptures in the Louvre and in Windsor Castle have been X-rayed, and they look virtually identical to the armature of the one we have.


The lot notes say the Girardon re-emerged in 1993. Can you tell me more about how that happened? It was bought by the present owner in an auction in Toronto on the basis of a photo. We don’t know how it got to Toronto. The person who bought it believed it was 19th century, and it was cataloged as 19th century. Only when he saw it in the flesh did he realize it was period.


Have any of the other three reduced versions that Girardon made of the now-lost monumental original gone to auction? In modern times, not that we know of. Eighteenth century auction records describe bronzes that seem to be this model. The other three were already in the collections they’re still in by the early 19th century. They haven’t gone anywhere in 200 years.


And how rarely does anything by Girardon go to auction? It’s extremely rare for something actually thought to be by him [to come to market]. Casts [bronzes made after Girardon died] have appeared at auction. That’s what the owner thought he bought at auction in 1993–he thought he was getting a 19th century cast.


At one point, Girardon owned two of the reduced-size sculptures. Is it possible to know if those two were the same size? Contemporary records [from Girardon’s time] discuss four casts done in his lifetime. Four exist today, and all are the same size.


And this statue is definitely the one shown in the engraving? Yes, yes. You can see the baton quite clearly. The other three casts have the right hand in a completely different position, and there’s no baton.


The lot notes say this statue weighs 232 kilograms, or 511 pounds. Why is it so heavy? It is big. It is big for a “small” bronze. It has most of its core material still in it, and its iron armature is still inside. And it’s on a heavy marble base. When I took it to Hong Kong, it took nine men to move it carefully and properly. You’ve got to move it with a winch and slide it from the winch to a pedestal.


Ok, so you can’t put this thing on a mantle or a dining room table. Where can it go in a house? Do you need to put it on the floor? No. Most houses would be structurally strong enough to support it. You do have to make sure you have a reinforced pedestal. It would look great in a grand house with a huge entrance hall.


How did you arrive at the estimate? The world of sculpture is not like the world of paintings, where there are very obvious comparisons. I have to look at what the top-end bronzes and pieces of sculpture have made. There are very few things in this price range in my field, which goes to 1830. There have been bigger sales by Giacometti and Degas, but those belong to a different field. We sold an Adriaen de Vries bronze for $28 million in 2014. The next-highest prices are another de Vries sold in 1989 by Sotheby’s for $6.2 million, hammer [without premium and related fees]. In 2003, we sold a bronze roundel for just over £7 million plus premium. I looked at prices for top things and what they achieved. And there’s a certain amount of instinct. I’ve been at Christie’s for 27 years. You get a feel for what people are going to pay for things.


What’s the auction record for a Girardon? I couldn’t think of anything that was really close. There is a record bronze group that sold in 1987 in Paris for 13,600,000 French francs, or $2.4 million then. If that’s correct, it would have to be the record. If this sculpture sells, it will definitely beat the record. It’s going to have to sell for £7 million plus.


What is this statue like in person? There’s a real sense of grandeur about it. It’s impressive in its scale–one meter four high [almost four feet high]. You think it’s a big bronze, but until you stand in front of it. you don’t feel the presence of it. And it has incredible quality. The detail, the finish–it’s an incredible work.


How to bid: The Girardon bronze is lot 130 in The Exceptional Sale 2018, taking place at Christie’s London on July 5.


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


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RECORD! An Eileen Gray Transat Armchair Commanded $1.59 Million at Christie’s


Update: The Eileen Gray Transat armchair sold for $1.59 million, a new auction record for a Transat chair at auction.


What you see: A Transat armchair by Eileen Gray, dating to 1927 to 1930. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.


Who was Eileen Gray? She was an Irish-born designer who initially gained fame for her mastery of lacquer. She attended the Slade School in London and trained in Paris for with Japanese lacquer master Seizo Sugawara, who was in town to prep pieces destined for the country’s Exposition Universale display. She opened the Jean Désert boutique on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré in 1922, which lasted for eight years. In the mid-1920s, she began work on a villa in southern France that she dubbed E-1027, a name that alluded to herself and her partner, Jean Badovici. (The ‘E’ stood for Eileen; the ’10’ represented Jean; the ‘2’ meant Badovici, and the ‘7’ translated to Gray.) The villa still exists and is undergoing restoration. Overlooked in her time, she began to gain real recognition in the late 1960s. Gray died in 1976 at the age of 98.


The expert: Beth Vilinsky, senior specialist in design at Christie’s.


How often do furnishings by Eileen Gray appear at auction? Her output of production was very limited to begin with. It’s quite rare to see any of her work come up for sale. I think in the last four or five years not even ten pieces have appeared on the market. It’s always a special event when they do.


How often do her Transat chairs appear at auction? The last time an example appeared on the market was in 2014 at Phillips New York, which was made for the Maharaja of Indore. Its frame also had a lacquer finish, and it had an upholstered seat. It sold for over $1.5 million.


Gray originally designed the Transat chair for E-1027, her personal villa in France. She designed the villa completely, from the architecture to the furnishings and fittings. Does E-1027 represent the first time that a woman designed an entire house, Frank Lloyd Wright-style? It’s an interesting question. I think you’re right. She specifically did do the architectural design and designed the interiors as well. No other female designer-architect comes to mind at that early time in the 20th century [who did something along those lines]. She worked within her own framework, her own vision.


To what extent did Gray’s partner, Jean Badovici, assist with the design and creation of E-1027? They were partners professionally and personally, and a dynamic team. He encouraged her to pursue this venture. I think he just kept encouraging her and pushing her to realize her ideas as best as possible.


The consensus is that this particular Transat chair was made for sale in the late 1920s through Gray’s Paris boutique, Jean Désert, and not for E-1027. Do we have any notion of what happened to this chair between the late 1920s and the 1980s? We really don’t. We know it was rediscovered by dealer Barry Friedman in New York. We spoke with him, and he doesn’t remember when or how he discovered the chair, but he remembers owning it twice. He sold it privately, got it back again a few years later, and sold it to the Time Warner Collection in 1988. [The current consigner acquired it in 1993, after its deaccession from the collection.]


Does the fact that this Transat chair wasn’t made for use at E-1027 affect its value at all? It’d be quite extraordinary and so exciting if it was out of the villa owned by Eileen Gray and Jean Badovici. But it’s equally exciting because the chair is as rare as a hen’s tooth. We believe a dozen were made. That’s a tiny number. The Transat is such a celebrated and iconic design, it will stand on its own merits. To the best of our knowledge, only two were created with the calfskin slung seat, and this is one of the two. People are going to be incredibly enthusiastic and wowed by this piece–by its beauty, its integrity, and the fact that it’s in wonderful condition. It has everything you want in a work by Eileen Gray. This is an opportunity that comes around very, very infrequently.


What condition is it in? Really quite good. The lacquer is original, the calfskin is original. It’s just in very remarkable pristine condition.


Does the calfskin upholstery provide more evidence that this Transat chair was made for sale in the Paris boutique, and not for E-1027? Yes. The chairs for that villa could be moved from indoors to outdoors. I don’t believe there’s a calfskin example in the home. What’s really great about the calfskin, what makes it so special, is the use of contrasting materials. It’s got wonderful lines, and the lustrous black lacquer frame contrasts with the seat. Materials were very important to Eileen Gray. It’s really interesting to have this combination of lacquer with calfskin.


Did Gray design her works and hand them off to others to realize, or did she physically create any aspects of this chair? She had two small workshops in Paris, one for handwoven wall hangings and carpets, and one for furniture design, lamps, and mirrors. Her carpets were her most successful product. The furniture was more expensive. She had a very small staff working for her. She was known as a master lacquerist. She mastered the technique of Japanese lacquer, and studied under a Japanese master. She was unmatched among Westerners.


So she would have done the lacquer work on this Transat chair? Quite possibly, yes.


Have you sat in the chair? I haven’t, and I wouldn’t recommend it, because it’s a very delicate piece. The materials are quite delicate and fragile. At this point, it’s more of a sculptural piece than a chair used for seating. But it was made with the intention for use.


Why will this Transat chair stick in your memory? It is an incredible, powerful form. It’s very refined, very elegant. It’s beautiful, but when you think about how modernist it was for the time–it’s a departure from what others, including Eileen Gray, were doing then. It’s got beautiful materials, construction, and technique, the shimmer of lacquer contrasted with a beautiful calfskin seat–it’s magnificent. It’s an incredible, iconic work. To have it in front of you is absolutely breathtaking. It’s the perfect expression of the vision of Eileen Gray in terms of concept and execution.


How to bid: The Transat chair is lot 6 in the Design sale taking place at Christie’s New York on June 20, 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.


Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 


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