You’ll Never Be As Cool As This Tattooed Man, Or P.T. Barnum. Want Proof? This 1876 Sideshow Poster Sold for $8,610 at Potter & Potter

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Update: The 1876 P.T. Barnum sideshow poster advertising  ‘Captain Costentenus, The Greek Albanian, Tattooed from Head to Foot,’ sold for $8,610.

What you see: An 1876 poster advertising the P. T. Barnum attraction, ‘Captain Costentenus, The Greek Albanian, Tattooed from Head to Foot.’ Potter & Potter estimates it at $4,000 to $5,000.

We live in a world where the barista who takes your coffee order has an amazing sleeve. Just how weird was a tattooed man in the late 19th century? “Well, he was exhibited in a sideshow with Siamese twins, the bearded lady, and midgets. This was not an everyday occurrence,” says Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. “I’m not an expert on tattoo history, but I’d say he’s one of the most famous [tattooed men].”

Would women have been allowed to see Captain Costentenus? Would he have appeared under a sideshow tent, or at Barnum’s dime museum, or both? And would he have just sat there and given his spiel, or did he do tricks as well? Yes, both, and his drawing power as a fully tattooed man was strong enough that he’d have only had to sit there, as exposed as decency would allow, and tell his story. “He would have had a little speech that he would give, a short lecture, real or imaginary, on his background, to stir up the imaginations of the people who were viewing him,” he says. “I think he retired wealthy.”

The poster says his appearance was changed “…in Chinese tartary as punishment for engaging in rebellion against the king.” That’s crap, right? Not true? “We’ll say he took liberties with the truth,” Fajuri says, adding, “I could see tattoos being used as punishment, certainly if they’re on the face. There might be a grain of truth in there, in the same way that the first person Barnum exhibited was old, but not 175 years old.”

Did Captain Costentenus set the template for what tattooed people in sideshows should look like? “No. They generally did not have their faces done,” he says. “Even today, that’s pretty extreme.”

But if his face is tattooed, why does Captain Costentenus also have a full, bushy beard? “I don’t know!” he says, laughing. “Maybe it’s a cultural thing. He’s Albanian.”

Did P.T. Barnum invent or popularize tattooed people as sideshow attractions? “Barnum had a lot of people working for him, and a lot of people copied him,” Fajuri says. “He set the standard for all these kinds of showmen.”

Just how rare is this Captain Costentenus poster? “Two months ago, Swann sold one. I don’t think it had an imprint [that says ‘P.T. Barnum’] at the top. It got $6,750 on an estimate of $800 to $1,200, Until I saw the one at Swann, I thought this might be the only one. It may be the only one with the Barnum imprint,” he says, adding, “It was custom made for this performer. Stock posters were a thing, but this a portrait of this person, custom made for them.”

Does the P.T. Barnum name add to the poster’s value? “Sure. It’s like the name ‘sterling’ on silver. He’s the guy who’s the godfather of all of this. Let’s hope it adds a premium,” he says. “No one has ever sold one [a Captain Costentenus poster] with the Barnum name on it. I don’t think it’s going to hurt it.”

And it was already bound to do well regardless, because there’s an eager contingent that collects vintage images of tattooed people… “Yes. You assess correctly. Those people are very actively interested in the subject,” he says. “Let’s hope that makes it a cross-collectible.”

What else makes this poster memorable? “We’ve sold a lot of weird things over the years, and we’ve never had anything like it,” Fajuri says. “In a business where we sell odd and unusual things, this is in the top twenty, top twenty-five things we’ve offered.”

How to bid: The Captain Costentenus poster is lot 346 in the Circus-Sideshow-Wild West auction at Potter & Potter on November 18.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

SOLD! An 18th Century Watercolor of Parrots with Beautiful Plumage* by British Natural History Illustrator Sarah Stone Sold For More Than $18,000 at Dreweatts

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Update: Sarah Stone’s Four Parrots on a Branch sold for £14,000, or about $18,400.

What you see: Four Parrots on a Branch, a watercolor painted by Sarah Stone in 1789 or 1790. Dreweatt’s estimates it at £1,000 to £1,500 ($1,300 to $2,000).

Who was Sarah Stone? She was an English natural history painter and illustrator who was active in the 18th century. Taught by her father, who made his living painting fans, she came to the attention of Sir Ashton Lever, a wealthy Englishman who liked collecting natural history specimens and who displayed his collection to the public. Lever hired Stone before she was out of her teens. She ultimately created around 1,000 artworks based on his collection, and about 900 survive. Many of Stone’s illustrations represent the first depictions of various species, making them significant to science and history. The Royal Academy of Arts invited her to exhibit on three different occasions. After marrying John Langdale Smith in 1789, her output slowed, and she seems to have stopped after 1806, when Lever’s collection was sold. She died in 1844 at the age of 82.

How rare were female natural history artists in the 18th century? Was Stone pretty much it? “There were good, talented amateur artists, but it was very rare to be a professional artist,” says James Harvey, a salesperson at Mallett Antiques, which consigned the watercolor. “She was rare but not unique.”

What types of parrots are pictured in the watercolor? At the top is an Australian King parrot; below it is a Black-headed Caique, an Indonesian red-cheeked parrot, and an African grey parrot. Lever’s collection of taxidermied specimens included all four birds. Presumably, Stone looked at them when she created this watercolor.

And this charming little gathering of these four parrots could never happen in the wild, yes? “It was a concept in the sense that the artist enjoyed painting subjects from nature, and she used artistic license to make the painting appealing,” he says. “It’s more about observation, about looking at the forms and the colors and making things look aesthetically pleasing.”

Just how talented did Stone have to be to look at a group of dead, stuffed birds and turn them into this watercolor? “The birds are very, very vivid, very lively. That’s the difference between a good animal painter and a poor one. These birds are very realistic, but they’ve got character,” he says, adding, “It’s a standout. It’s decorative, but has tremendous presence to it. That’s what makes it so appealing.”

Normally Stone limited her focus to one subject per artwork. Do we know why she bent her rules here? “Sadly not. It’d be interesting to know why,” he says. While we have no background on the work and why Stone might have made it, Harvey and his colleagues speculate that it might have been meant for presentation: “It has that feel. It’s very well-observed. It might have been an exhibition piece, a presentation piece, perhaps even a piece for teaching purposes.”

Stone’s works have sold for six-figure sums at auction. How did you arrive at the estimate for Four Parrots on a Branch? “It’s a difficult one in that the market for watercolors is not as strong as it used to be,” he says. “If we get one or two collectors in Australia interested, it could do more.”

What else makes this watercolor special? “It has all the elements you want–good artist, good condition, nice picture,” he says. “The subject matter is very charming, and from an academic angle, she’s a lady artist who worked in relative obscurity. If there’s any justice in the world, it should do well and create a good price.”

How to bid: Four Parrots on a Branch is lot 167 in Mallett: Taking Stock, an auction scheduled for November 8 at Dreweatts in Berkshire, England.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Mallett Antiques.

 

*If I can work in a slightly obscure Monty Python reference, why yes, I AM going to do it.

 

 

 

SOLD! A Mid-1930s Travel Poster Featuring The Hindenburg DID Float Away With $6,000 at Swann

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Update: The Jupp Wiertz circa 1935 travel poster featuring the Hindenberg sold for $6,000.

What you see: A Pleasant Trip to Germany, a travel poster created circa 1935 by Jupp Wiertz. Swann estimates its at $4,000 to $6,000.

Who was Jupp Wiertz? He was a German graphic designer, and unfortunately, we don’t know much more about him. He was based in Berlin, and he created several travel and fashion-themed posters. He died in 1939, when he would have been 57 or 58.

So we have three different forms of transportation (a zeppelin, an airplane, and an ocean liner) and three different destinations (Germany, New York City, and Rio) loaded into one poster. Why? “This is propaganda–Germany controlling the skies and the seas, flaunting its technology and bragging about its place in the modern world,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “It’s a very effective ad, in that sense.”

How do we know that the zeppelin pictured on the poster is the Hindenburg? “You can tell by the position of the cockpit,” he says. “On the Graf Zeppelin, it’s all the way forward. On the Hindenburg, its three-quarters of the way down [the body of the airship].”

Do vintage travel posters that feature zeppelins bring a premium? “Zeppelins bring a premium. Swastikas bring whatever is the opposite of a premium,” Lowry says, adding that the most popular zeppelin travel poster was also done by Wiertz. It shows the Hindenburg readying to hitch itself to the docking mast atop the Empire State Building, which is ablaze with golden sunlight. Swann has sold the poster for as much as $15,600.

What else makes this circa 1935 travel poster special? “It’s the peak of Art Deco. Though the ship is unrecognizable, the Art Deco style is very recognizable,” he says. “Plus the ghostly outline  of the cityscapes–it’s really a masterful job. It’s fun to have something from the golden age of travel and fun to have something from the very short timespan when zeppelins were operating. They were as captivating to the world’s imagination as the Titanic was in its time.”

How to bid: A Pleasant Trip to Germany is lot 151 in the Rare & Important Travel Posters sale at Swann Auction Galleries on October 26, 2017.

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

SOLD! This Striking Silver 19th Century Russian Rooster-Form Presentation Cup Fetched $33,800 at Freeman’s

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Update: The Russian silver and champlevé-enamel cockerel-form covered presentation cup sold for $33,800.

What you see: A Russian silver and champlevé-enamel cockerel-form (aka rooster-form) covered presentation cup, made in St. Petersburg in the late 19th century. Freeman’s estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.

This cup is believed to be a wedding gift. Why would a rooster be an appropriate motif for a couple who are getting married? “The rooster symbolizes a new day, and it symbolizes good news. That’s why it’s an appropriate wedding gift,” says Nicholas B.A. Nicholson, who leads the English and Continental furniture and decorative arts department for Freeman’s, which covers silver. He adds, “It’s a tradition of the family [who owned it] that it was a wedding gift. We stop short of saying it was a wedding gift because we don’t have a letter saying that, but we have no reason to disagree.”

Silversmith Alexander Nikolaevich Sokolov designed the cup, and the lot notes say it is “likely derived” from an illustration in a popular Russian book from the time, Antiquities of the Russian State. Was Sokolov trying to evoke the medieval-style illustration? “He’s making as realistic a cockerel as he can given the design of medieval Russian works,” he says.

What’s up with the rooster’s tail? It’s a good example of what Nicholson means when he talks about Sokolov balancing realism against the medieval sensibility of the book’s illustrations: “The tail devolves from natural feathers, to braided feathers in a strapwork pattern, to strapwork on the tail–an amazing deconstruction.”

Did Sokolov’s workshop do other rooster-shaped presentation cups? “He did others earlier, but they were not as fully evolved as this one,” Nicholson says. “We don’t know how many he made, but it was clearly a form he liked.”

It’s a presentation cup, so you’re not really supposed to drink from it. But if you wanted to, how would you do it? See the broad band around the top of the rooster’s body? The hinge is in there. The head and neck of the silver bird tilts backwards, and the comb rests on its tail.

This is fresh to market, directly from the descendants of the people who received it. How unusual is that? “Many things that have been sold were confiscated by the Russian government,” he says. “This was brought over by the family and preserved through the generations to be offered at auction for the first time.”

What else makes the Russian presentation cup special? “It’s such an extraordinary piece of silver,” he says. “We have lots of good silver in this sale, and they all have their own stories, but this piece… the story makes it exceptional. So many Russian objects are just stolen. It transferred from an old Russian family [that became] a Russian emigre family and [then became] an American family of Russian descent, who wants it to go to a collector who understands its value.”

How to bid: The silver rooster presentation cup is lot 9 in the Silver & Russian Works of Art auction at Freeman’s on October 17, 2017.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOLD! A Jewel-Like Landscape by Irish Artist John Luke Fetches More Than $251,000 at Sotheby’s London

Lot 333 Luke, Northern Rhythm

Update: John Luke’s Northern Rhythm commanded £187,500, or $251,000.

What you see: Northern Rhythm, a 1946 tempera on board by John Luke. It’s from his celebrated Armagh series, painted between 1943 and 1948 at a farm in Northern Ireland that he moved to after World War II bombings that devastated Belfast. Sotheby’s estimates the painting at £100,000 to £150,000 ($129,000 to $194,000).

Who is John Luke? He was a 20th century Irish artist. He wasn’t as prolific as others due to his meticulous approach. He passed up ready-made paint in convenient tubes to grind his own oil and tempera pigments, and he worked slowly, pointing his full concentration at one painting and one painting alone for up to a year at a time. The Armagh series is regarded as among his best group of works, if not the best. He also painted murals for Belfast’s City Hall and other Irish venues. He died in 1975 at the age of 69.

How rare is it for a work from Luke’s Armagh series to come to market, never mind go to auction for the first time, as Northern Rhythm is? “It certainly is an event,” says Charlie Minter, deputy director and specialist in British and Irish art, post 1850, at Sotheby’s. “The last one that sold from the group was in 1997–Landscape with Figures–and that’s among his top ten at auction. They are pretty special occasions.” Minter adds that of the eleven Armagh paintings, five are in private hands, five are in institutions, and the location of the last one is unknown.

Where does Northern Rhythm rank among Luke’s paintings? “It’s certainly regarded as one of his best, if not his best,” Minter says, noting that Luke wrote in a 1949 letter to a friend, “No painting has so much or so deeply expressed my own particular type or state of mind & spirit as Northern Rhythm.”

I’m surprised Luke sold it. “At first, he didn’t let it go,” he says. “He sold it in the sixties, probably because of financial reasons. He did keep it close to him. He was reluctant to part with it.”

Three of Luke’s top ten most-expensive works at auction come from the Armagh series: Landscape with Figures, Pax, and The Dancer and the Bubble. Do you think that Northern Rhythm will set a new auction record for the artist? “As much as I’d love to say it will, no,” Minter says. “The auction record [The Bridge, a 1936 tempera on board, sold in 1999 for £441,500, or $711,752] is so high, it’s really hard to beat. There’s a chance it will get to the second most-expensive level [held by Landscape with Figures, a 1948 tempera on board that sold in 1997 for £194,000, or $319,446]. It’s really a fantastic work. I’d be delighted if it got the second-highest price. The top is out of the stratosphere, unfortunately. A group of focused collectors [of Irish art] bid the high prices, and we won’t see the same participation at this auction.”

What makes Northern Rhythm special? “It has a jewel-like quality. It’s immediately striking, and people want to talk about it,” Minter says, explaining that his colleagues at Sotheby’s who catch sight of it invariably stop and want to know more. “Luke painted it in tempera, and you feel this intensity to it. Tempera adds to the drama of it. Northern Rhythm has exquisite detail, fine brushwork–it’s really amazing, an extraordinary vision.”

How to bid: Northern Rhythm is lot 333 in the Irish Art sale at Sotheby’s London on September 27.

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

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

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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.

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Julien’s is also on Twitter and Instagram.

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

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

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