RECORD: An Edward S. Curtis Portrait of Oglala Lakota Leader Red Cloud Sells for $32,500 at Swann

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What you see: Red Cloud, Oglala, a platinum print by Edward Curtis, who took the photograph in 1905. Offered at Swann Auction Galleries in April 2017, it sold for $32,500 against an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000. It set an auction record for this particular Red Cloud image by Curtis.

Who was Edward S. Curtis? He was an American photographer who spent much of his life recording the cultures and people of Native American tribal communities for a sprawling multi-year project. Dubbed The North American Indian and backed by financier J.P. Morgan, it was designed to comprise 20 volumes and 1,500 photographs. He ultimately produced 222 complete sets of a planned 500. Curtis died in 1952 at the age of 84.

Who was Red Cloud? He was one of the finest, most skilled leaders that the Oglala Lakota community ever had. He made war on American forces between 1866 and 1868, killing 81 in the largest battle of what came to be called Red Cloud’s War. After signing the Treaty of Fort Laramie in 1868, his people moved to a reservation. Red Cloud sat for more than 100 photographs during his life. He died in 1909 at the age of 86 or 87.

This is an amazing portrait. It looks like it could have been shot last week. “I think that’s where Edward Curtis’s sensibility comes into play,” says Daile Kaplan, director of the photographs and photo books department at Swann. “You feel the gravitas. It’s a poignant image of Red Cloud, taken later on life. These figures [Red Cloud and his Native American peers] were leaders, were warriors. The severity of the situation of Native American people was written on their faces.”

Did Curtis develop and finish this platinum print on his own, without assistants? “Exactly, and he’s a consummate technician,” she says. “Not only does he pre-visualize and compose in rather magisterial ways, because of his familiarity in the dark room, he was exceptional in crafting prints.”

The humanity of Red Cloud really comes through. “I think the size of the image and the august nature of the figure–you can’t walk away from it,” she says. “This was part of Curtis’s genius. It was his passion to engage with his subjects. That’s why they [his photographs] are so powerful today.”

Did treating his subjects as human beings make Curtis’s photographs controversial in his time? “They were very controversial,” Kaplan says. “There was not a lot of empathy for native people. There was a tremendous fear of anyone who is other, not unlike today.”

How often does this Red Cloud image comes up at auction? “This is the first one that’s been at auction not only at Swann, but in a while,” she says. “Its rarity, its condition, and the context of its provenance all figured prominently in why it performed so well.”

Were you surprised by how well it did? “Yes, we were very pleasantly surprised. Clearly, this image is one for which there was a tremendous response, and a tremendous response across the board from dealers, collectors, and curators. In the sale, we offered a platinum print of Geronimo, estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, and at a similar size. It sold for $22,000. This image surpassed the image of Geronimo. It illustrates that a figure like Red Cloud is on a par with other names of Native American leadership.”

Why did the Red Cloud image perform so strongly? “I think that with a platinum print of this size, the notion is that they are rarer than many people anticipate, and that this material is not going to become available again,” she says. “It’s odd that the platinum Geronimo didn’t perform at the same level, but the image of Red Cloud is clearly rarer.”

What else makes this Red Cloud image so powerful? “When an artist has an opportunity to stand before someone who is august, you have to step into their power,” she says. “The  image of Red Cloud almost commemorates the meeting of two great minds, and two great visions.”

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Image is courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries.


SOLD! Goya’s Lavishly-Bound Presentation Copy of Los Caprichos Gets $607,500 at Christie’s


Update: The presentation copy of the first edition of Goya’s Los Caprichos sold for $607,500.

What you see: A presentation copy of the first edition of Francisco Goya’s Los Caprichos, from 1799. Specifically, you see plate 43–what might be its most famous image–The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Christie’s estimates the set of prints at $500,000 to $700,000.

Who is Francisco Goya? He’s the most important and influential Spanish artist of the 18th and 19th centuries. He captured the high and the low in his paintings and prints, from portraits of kings to the sufferings of the mentally ill. He died in 1828, at the age of 82.

What is Los Caprichos? It is a group of 80 aquatints and etchings that explore what Goya deemed follies, or foolish notions then bedeviling Spanish society. When he published the set in 1799, it flopped, with only 30 copies selling over the course of four years. “Things that are visionary often do badly when they are first published,” says Sven Becker, head of books and manuscripts at Christie’s. “It was far ahead of its time.”

Why is this copy worth $500,000 to $700,000? “This is the only known presentation copy in private hands,” says Becker. “It could actually deliver a surprising result, far beyond its estimate. There’s no reason it couldn’t hit $1 million.”

The set of prints is bound in red goatskin. What does that fact tell us? “Red goatskin was the finest material available to Goya,” Becker says. “He went to a lot of expense. It was for a person who was important to him. You would expect Goya to select the very best prints before putting them into a very expensive binding.”

So, who was the lucky recipient? “It’s inscribed to ‘Mr. X’, but the name of the actual recipient has been deleted,” Becker says. “He or she was clearly really important to Goya. It wouldn’t have been just anyone.”

But the lot notes for this copy of Los Caprichos says ‘…there is little doubt that she was María Josefa Pimental (1752-1834), Countess and Duchess of Benavente, wife of Pedro Téllez-Girón, 9th Duke of Osuna.’ Why the hesitation? “I’d love to say categorically that it’s her,” he says. “I was not able to find enough evidence. If I’d been certain, I would have put it in the headline.”

How did María Josefa Pimental know Goya? “At the time, she was known to have been one of his main patrons. He actually produced a portrait of her not long before the printing of this book,” he says. “It’s mounted on the back of one of the blank leaves. It could have been mounted by her. It’s an unusual thing to do. It feels like it had to be her.”

What else makes this copy of Los Caprichos special? “This book was personally handled by the person who made it. He put pen to paper [to inscribe it],” Becker says. “It allows us to build a bridge between the present and Goya’s time, which is so rare.”

How to bid: The Los Caprichos is lot 432 in Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana and the Eric C. Caren Collection, a sale taking place at Christie’s New York on June 15.

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Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

SOLD: Julien’s Sells the Original Prop Bottle from I Dream of Jeannie for $34,375


Update: The I Dream of Jeannie prop bottle sold for $34,375.

What you see: The original prop bottle from the NBC sitcom I Dream of Jeannie (1965-1970). It’s hand-painted and stands 14 inches tall. Julien’s estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

How do we know this is the original prop bottle from I Dream of JeannieIt comes directly to Julien’s from the estate of Gene Nelson, who directed six episodes of the show’s first season, including the pilot, titled The Lady in the Bottle. At some point, Nelson obtained a letter of authenticity from Barbara Eden, who played the title character, Jeannie. Nelson died in 1996. Eden will turn 86 in August.

Did Nelson create the I Dream of Jeannie bottle? Nelson has the strongest claim on its origin story. He was hunting for something that didn’t look like Aladdin’s lamp, spotted a Jim Beam decanter in a liquor store window, snapped it up, and handed it over to the folks in the prop department, who peeled the labels off the glass and decorated it with paint. “There’s something unique in the fact that he saw this,” says Darren Julien, founder and CEO of Julien’s Auctions. “He was scouting around, found the bottle, and had the vision to paint it. He was a good visionary.”

Was it used on the set? Almost certainly, but coming up with a precise photo match is tough, given that the prop bottles were painted to look identical. But according to Julien, the animators would have referenced photos of this bottle when creating the opening credit sequence, and it’s safe to say it was shown in the early episodes that Nelson directed. He left I Dream of Jeannie after repeated clashes with Larry Hagman, who played astronaut Tony Nelson on the show.

How rare is the bottle? “It’s very rare. We have not handled one before. Not many survive, and nobody back then would have saved anything like that,” says Julien, adding, “It’s the Holy Grail of the series to have. It’s what the show is about. Provenance is king, and it has such a solid history. It’s an iconic piece that’s going to sell for a lot more than our estimate.”

So, does it come with Barbara Eden? No, but it does include the letter of authentication that she wrote for Nelson. The bottle’s interior is also unfurnished and long since emptied of its whiskey. And neither Julien’s nor The Hot Bid is responsible for the I Dream of Jeannie theme song getting stuck in your head.

Damn you! #SorryNotSorry

How to bid: The I Dream of Jeannie original bottle is lot 486 in the Property from the Estate of Patrick Swayze and Hollywood Legends 2017 auction on April 28 at Julien’s.

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

Image is courtesy of Julien’s Auctions.

Da DA dadadadada Da DA dadadadada Da DA dadadadadada. BadadaDA!

LAST CALL: Gilbert Munger’s Breathtaking El Capitan Canvas Could Win $60,000 at Bonhams


What you see: El Capitan in a Gathering Storm, by Gilbert Munger, painted in 1876. Bonhams estimates it at $40,000 to $60,000.

Who was Gilbert Munger? He was an American 19th century artist who taught himself to paint. While he wasn’t the first to immortalize El Capitan and other landscape landmarks of what is now Yosemite National Park, he was among the wave of artists who followed in the wake of photographer Carleton Watkins and his stereoscopic camera. In 1869, Munger served as a guest artist on a survey expedition, capturing the West’s natural splendor without giving short shrift to accuracy. Munger continued to travel the West periodically until 1875, and he helped increase Yosemite’s legend by showing his breathtaking Western images in Europe. Munger died in 1903.

What makes El Capitan in a Gathering Storm special? Munger canvases don’t come to auction all that often–archives note just 45 sales of his works between 1988 and now. The auction record for a Munger belongs to another El Capitan scene painted in the same year. In 2006, Bonhams sold A Small Encampment, El Capitan, in Yosemite Valley for $172,500.

What else makes the Munger oil on canvas stand out? “The quality is that outstanding,” says Scot Levitt, vice president of Bonhams and director of fine arts. “It catches your attention when you see it. It’s rare. And it’s exciting to see something that’s not your average scene.”

How to bid: El Capitan in a Gathering Storm is lot 6 in Bonhams’s California and Western Paintings and Sculpture auction on April 11 in Los Angeles.

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Image is courtesy of Bonhams.