SOLD! That Curious 1865 Memorial Lincoln Lithograph Fetched $4,000 at Swann

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Update: The hand-colored circa 1865 memorial Lincoln lithograph sold for $4,000.

 

What you see: In Memory of Abraham Lincoln, the Reward of the Just, a hand-colored lithograph by D.T. Wiest, printed circa 1865. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

 

The expert: Rick Stattler, director of printed and manuscript Americana for Swann Auction Galleries.

 

Do we know how many of these Lincoln prints were made, and how many survive? There’s likely no way to know how many were produced. I imagine at least a couple of hundred were made. I’ve tracked down three in institutions and two at auction.

 

The print’s date is given as circa 1865, but is it fair to assume it would have been done very soon after Lincoln’s assassination in April of that year? Absolutely. It’s fairly laborious work to make a lithograph like this. It wasn’t made the day after, but it was made in response to the assassination, I’m pretty confident. The engraver, Wiest, is largely unknown. He didn’t have a long career as a lithographer. He was only active in 1865.

 

The Lincoln print is closely modeled after an 1801 image by John James Barralet known as The Apotheosis of Washington [scroll down to see the image]. How would Wiest have made his Lincoln-centric version? Would he have looked at the Barralet print and copied most of it onto a new lithographic stone? Right. The copy, I would say, is semi-pirated, but it’s got enough changes in style and composition. I don’t know what the copyright laws were then.

 

How well-known was the Barralet image in 1865? It was an image that might have been familiar to some people, but by 1865, I don’t expect it was probably terribly well-known.

 

So the Barralet image of Washington was not part of popular culture in 1865? Yes, and probably the creative process here was not all that sophisticated. The printer wanted something dramatic, something that would catch the eye and stir the emotions, and he wanted to get it in the hands of the public as quickly as possible. The printer probably showed the Barralet to Wiest and said, “Do something like this, but with Lincoln.” When Washington died, there would have been a small audience for the Barralet print, and it would have been a luxury item. The audience would have been sophisticated, and would have picked up on its classical analogies. By 1865, print-making was a much more mass-market endeavor. The audience didn’t care much about symbolism.

 

Is the Lincoln print as colorful as most lithographs of its era, or is it more colorful? For its period, it’s certainly one of the more eye-catching ones. The color is quite nice and rich. It definitely tilts toward the colorful end of the spectrum.

 

So it’s the sort of thing that a print shop would put in its shop window to draw in customers? That’s a likely way to advertise it, sure.

 

Wiest changed the face of Washington to the face of Lincoln, and he changed the inscription on the tomb, but he didn’t change several details that he could have changed and probably should have changed… The goal, when the print was produced, was to get it into the hands of the public quickly. I don’t know if we can say that some of those details should have been changed. It may not have been profitable for them to spend a week on changing them. If it was produced as fine art, then or now, they might have reconsidered the symbolism. The mourning Indian was a symbol of America in 1800, but clearly, for someone mourning Lincoln’s loss, it should have been changed to a freed slave. They probably should have taken the extra two days to do that, particularly if their main sales were in Philadelphia, an abolitionist city. But they didn’t.

 

Would the average American print-buyer in 1865 have cared that the American flag-decorated shield on the left has 15 stars in in its canton and not the 35 it should have had by then? Not necessarily. If you’re looking to buy a print for 50 cents–and I don’t know if that was its 1865 price, but that seems reasonable–you might not count the stars. Also, we grew up with a flag with 50 stars. We think of it as a fixed thing. In the 1800s, the stars changed with each new state.

 

So these Washington-centric details that Wiest copied over–the badges on the tomb that represent the Society of Cincinnati and the Freemasons, the out-of-date canton, the mourning Native American where a freed slave would be more appropriate–would an 1865 audience have seen them as errors? Errors on whose part? Wiest was given an assignment and he fulfilled it faithfully, with Lincoln’s face [in place of Washington’s]. They’re not exactly errors, but they’re things that could have been improved on if more thought had been given to it. But it gives us more to chew on. We can ponder the evolution.

 

And because the Washington print wasn’t part of pop culture in 1865, we can’t assume that Wiest was being clever by tying the legacy of Lincoln directly to Washington by deliberately borrowing the visuals of the 1801 Barralet print? Yeah, but if it did happen, it would have been an additional selling point. Some might say, ‘Hey, it’s that old Washington print. That’s how we mourn our heroes.’ In Henry Holzer’s [the consigner’s] scholarship, this is the moment when Lincoln joined the pantheon. For 80 years, it was Washington, the founder of the country. Now we start to see Lincoln as his peer or equal. It’s hard to imagine that happening today. I can’t imagine such a print featuring Obama or Trump in place of Lincoln.

 

Do these details that look like errors make the print appealing to modern collectors? The first point of appeal to modern buyers is the same point that appealed to buyers in 1865. It’s patriotic, it’s colorful, Lincoln is in the center, and it’s an eye-catching print. From there, it’s a historical curiosity, designed for Washington but with Lincoln’s head awkwardly glued in where Washington’s head had been. It not only looks great on the wall, it’s something to chew on and discuss with friends. And it’s a tribute to Lincoln, who people still admire.

 

How to bid: The lithograph is lot 141 in Printed & Manuscript Americana Featuring the Holzer Collection of Lincolniana, taking place September 27, 2018 at Swann Auction Galleries.

 

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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Rick Sattler spoke to The Hot Bid before about a lot of early 20th century copies of Gleanings in Bee Culture which included the issue that contained the first published account of the Wright brothers’ first successful flight. The lot sold for $5,000, double its high estimate.

 

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

 

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

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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.

 

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 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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RECORD! Heritage Auctions Sold an Original 1983 Panel From Gary Larson’s The Far Side for $31,070–an Auction Record for the Comic Strip! Also, Quack!

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Update: The original 1983 art for The Far Side sold for $31,070–a world auction record for original artwork from the comic strip. Hooray! And Quack!

 

What you see: An original panel of comic strip art from 1983 for The Far Side, signed by cartoonist Gary Larson and dated 10-31. Heritage Auctions could sell it for more than $11,000.

 

Who is Gary Larson, and what was The Far Side? Larson created The Far Side, a daily single-panel comic strip that ran from 1980 to 1995. Nothing on the funny pages has been like it before or since. The Far Side reveled in the surreal, the wacky, and the downright weird to the point where it makes little sense to try to explain its humor. You just have to see it for yourself. (Scroll down for relevant links.) Scientists, in particular, loved The Far Side. Larson has had a beetle, a louse, and a butterfly named in his honor. He will turn 68 in August.

 

The expert: Weldon Adams, comic book art cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions.

 

How rarely does original art for The Far Side come to auction? Fairly rarely. In the past ten years, we’ve had 20 pieces of art.

 

How does that compare to, say, how often original Peanuts art appears at auction? We have about two of Charles Schulz’s Sunday strips in every signature auction we do, and we do them four times a year. For the dailys, three or four in an auction is not uncommon.

 

How does original art from The Far Side find its way to the market? Who has it? Where is it? I think Larson did sell a few occasionally, and he gave some out as gifts. But I have to assume he has the bulk of it.

 

How did this original panel from The Far Side come to Heritage? We’ve sold this particular strip before, in 2013, for $11,352.50. We expect it to go for what it sold for in 2013, if not more.

 

This strip dates to 1983, which is relatively early in the run of The Far Side. Does that matter? To a degree, yes. In general, the older the strip is, the more prized it is. But because Gary Larsons are so rare to come across in the first place, I don’t think it plays a role here.

 

Did Gary Larson do Sunday versions of The Far Side? Are those worth more than the dailys? In the later years, there are Sunday strips, but they’re more or less larger versions of the dailys. Sometimes there are two larger panel single-panel gags. I think they were printed on a larger scale. In other comic strips, the Sundays are physically larger, with more panels. In the case of The Far Side, the Sundays are functionally the same as the dailys, so I don’t know if there’s a difference.

 

How does the strip’s Far-Side-ness, for lack of a better word, influence its value? This scene between the man and the duck is a pretty straightforward joke by the standards of The Far Side. It’s not like Larson’s infamous “Cow tools” panel, which is held up as an example of how inscrutable the strip could be. It’s a good example of The Far Side‘s off-center sense of humor. The Far-Side-ness draws the fans in because it’s so off-center. You don’t have to look very hard to see that Larson was inspired by Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons and their very dark laughs. Only later do you think about the implications and go, ‘Oh.’ Gary Larson did slapstick humor with a dark edge. This is just lighthearted and goofy. He was a master of that as well. And ducks are funny.

 

Yeah, about that. Larson’s animals are beloved. His cows are probably the most beloved, but he had great strips that feature ducks, such as the one captioned ‘Anatidaephobia: The fear that somewhere, somehow, a duck is watching you.’ How does the presence of the duck affect the value of this original piece of art for The Far Side? Ducks are inherently funny. They’re essentially nature’s stand-up comedians, and they’re one of Larson’s go-to animals. His cow strips are very popular in part because cows are such a familiar animal in the Western world. Ducks are much the same. It’s a familiar animal, and it’s quick and easy to put a duck in a silly situation. The duck adds to the Far-Side-ness. We’re situated to laugh at a duck, from Donald Duck to Daffy Duck to Howard the Duck. Ducks are masters of comedy.

 

Do animals, in general, tend to add to the value of original art from The Far Side? I’d say probably so. Larson did plenty of strips with people in goofy situations, but where he really shines is anthropomorphism–aspects of making animals human. That’s what brings out the Far-Side-ness, in my opinion. Everyone loves the animals. It’s ideal to have both humans and animals [in a strip]. It sums up the silliness of both sides of the equation.

 

The art is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? Most comic strip art is in excellent condition. It’s looser than comic book grading. We don’t have a ten-point system for the art. This is artwork that was created on an art table. It was not created with the idea of keeping it in pristine condition. “Excellent” is the top. It means the paper is good quality. It’s not wrinkled or creased. There are no smudges and no lines that don’t belong.

 

What’s the auction record for a piece of original art from The Far Side? I don’t know the overall record, but I do know our record is for a piece of original comic strip art from 1981, which we sold in 2017 for $28,680. It shows a group of rabbits holding up a stagecoach at gunpoint, so it has the goofiness of humans and animals interacting in funny ways.

 

As of April 26, the lot has been bid up to $3,000, and the auction is two weeks away from closing. Does that mean anything? Early bids are always a good sign. It shows that people out there are interested. When you have more bidders, it’s better in general. But it only takes two. The end is where the real frenzy lies.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? The Far Side has a habit of sticking in your memory even if you don’t think it does. This one, when I saw it, it reminded me of another strip from The Far Side where scientists are studying the language of dolphins and they’re oblivious to the fact that the dolphins are speaking Spanish. I remembered that because I saw the panel with the duck speaking Spanish.

 

How to bid: The original 1983 comic strip art for The Far Side is lot #91031 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction at Heritage Auctions on May 10 – 12, 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.

 

Heritage Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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

 

Never seen The Far Side? You have a treat ahead of you. Purchase the collected strips, clear your calendar, and enjoy one of the best binge-reads life has to offer.

 

If you’re curious about the “Cow Tools” strip from The Far Side, see this Reddit thread that debates its weirdness and quotes Larson explaining what he was going for. It includes an image of the panel. The “Cow Tools” cartoon was so enduringly bizarre that it earned an entry on TV Tropes, too.

 

Weldon Adams previously spoke to The Hot Bid about an original Sunday Peanuts strip from 1958 with a Christmas theme. It ultimately sold for $113,525–a tie for the auction record for original Sunday Peanuts art.

 

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SOLD! Man Ray’s 1938 London Transport Poster Fetched the Way Out Price of $149,000 at Swann

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Update: The Man Ray 1938 London Underground poster did indeed sell for a way out price–$149,000.

 

What you see: A 1938 London Transport poster designed by Man Ray. Swann Galleries estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who was Man Ray? Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1890 as Emmanuel Radnitsky,  Man Ray was vital to the Dada and Surrealist movements of the early 20th century. He was wildly creative in several media, especially photography and film-making. His art appeared in the first Surrealist exhibition in Paris in 1925, alongside that of Pablo Picasso, Jean Arp, and Max Ernst. Man Ray befriended Marcel Duchamp and worked with him often. He died in Paris in 1976 at the age of 86.

 

The expert: Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries.

 

How was Man Ray chosen for this London Transport poster commission? Hard to say exactly. Man Ray was living in Paris at the time. One school of thought is he went through London on his way back to the United States because of the war, but he may have designed the poster earlier than that, in 1936. He was chosen because Frank Pick, the head of London Transport advertising, was a real visionary. He employed a lot of fabulous artists and he pushed the envelope. He worked with László Moholy-Nagy, and probably through those connections, Pick became acquainted with Man Ray.

 

This looks like it’s one poster of a set of two. The second has the same image and asymmetric border structure. It’s meant to be a pair. This one says “Keeps London Going.” The other says “London Transport.

 

Does the other poster survive? It survives, but to the best of my knowledge, none have ever come up for public auction.

 

Apparently the design of the poster recalls Man Ray’s rayographs? A rayograph was Man Ray’s personal spin on the photogram. Objects are placed on paper, light is turned on, and shapes are left on the paper. The poster is more nuanced than a rayograph, which would not have had shades of gray.

 

And people enjoy debating what the poster might mean? A lot have surmised what it could mean, but to my mind, it’s pretty straightforward. My interpretation is, basically, he’s comparing the London Transport system to the solar system. The image at the top is the London Transport logo, which is called a roundel. On the bottom is Saturn. The way the planets move around the solar system is the way that London Transport moves you around London.

 

The lot notes call this poster ‘rare.’ I was under the impression it was unique? Unique means one of a kind. Salvator Mundi is unique. It’s an original work of art. Posters are never unique. Between 1,000 and 2,000 [copies of the Man Ray poster] were printed.

 

How often has the Man Ray London Transport poster been offered at auction? There are four auction records since 1994. One sold at Sotheby’s, and the other three sold at Christie’s. I think we have the one that Christie’s sold in 1994 for $39,800. The high-water mark was in June 2007 at Christie’s, when one sold for $100,906.

 

How much of that $100,906 auction record for a London Transport poster was driven by the fact that Man Ray designed the poster? I think it’s almost entirely [driven by Man Ray]. No other London Transport poster has commanded that kind of money. The qualities of a poster that make it valuable are image, artist, condition, and rarity, not necessarily in that order. László Moholy-Nagy is a super-famous artist. We have a poster he designed as lot 75 in this sale–

 

…I got the impression that Moholy-Nagy’s London Transport posters weren’t all that spectacular. The consensus [on lot 75, which is for Imperial Airways] is it’s a rare poster, but not that great an image. Here [with the Man Ray] you have a famous artist and an extraordinary image. He put all his technique and his creativity into the design. It’s rare, and its condition is fine.

 

If you lined up the ten best London Transport posters and asked me to pick the one that holds the world auction record, I doubt I’d pick the Man Ray because it’s black and white, and I think of great posters as being colorful… That’s a slight misconception on your part. You’re right, great posters have great color, but great posters are supposed to catch your eye, and there’s no methodology on how to do that. This catches your eye. The imagery makes you think about what’s going on. It’s a good advertisement because it makes you think. And it might have stood out [in its time] because it was black and white.

 

Why will this poster stick in your memory? Because for many years, it was the most expensive travel poster ever sold. That travel poster record was beaten by us in 2012 when we sold an A.M. Cassandre poster for British Rail for $162,500. In the poster world, you deal in $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 posters. It’s wonderful, out of this world, that it [the Man Ray London Transport poster] would sell for $100,000. From that point of view, it sticks in my mind as exceptional.

 

How to bid: The Keeps London Going poster is lot 76 in the Graphic Design sale at Swann Galleries on May 3, 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.

 

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 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.

 

In case you missed it above, the London Transport Museum has the other poster from the pair in its online collection, and it includes a link to a period photo of the posters on display outside St. Paul’s station in London.

 

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

SOLD! A Happy Christmas Scene of London by Britain’s Answer to Rube Goldberg Fetched More Than $10,000 at Bonhams

WILLIAM HEATH ROBINSON (BRITISH, 1872-1944) The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street signed 'W. HEATHROBINSON' (lower right) pen and ink and watercolour 43 x 30cm (16 1516 x 11 1316in).

Update: William Heath Robinson’s The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street sold for £7,500, or $10,668.

 

What you see: The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street, an undated work on paper by William Heath Robinson. Bonhams estimates it at £3,000 to £5,000, or $4,200 to $6,900.

 

Who was William Heath Robinson? He was the British counterpart to the American illustrator Rube Goldberg, gaining fame for drawing ridiculous, absurdly overcomplicated machines that might involve pulleys, steam engines, candles, and maybe all three and more. In the UK, the phrase “Heath Robinson contraption” served the pop-culture shorthand role that the phrase “Rube Goldberg device” still serves here. His wacky, klunky machines inspired the code-breakers at Bletchley Park to name one of their automatic analysis machines in his honor. He also illustrated editions of classic books such as The Arabian Knights, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, and several Shakespeare plays. Robinson died in 1944 at the age of 72.

 

How did this illustration come to be? Did Robinson create it for a book? “I think it was published in Nash’s Magazine, a London magazine that merged with The Pall Mall Magazine in 1914,” says Jenny Hardie, a specialist in the modern British and Irish art department at Bonhams. “I don’t think it was a cover. I think it was within the magazine. It’s been hard to track down an original copy and find a date. Circa 1910 to 1920 has been my thought.”

 

Please don’t take this the wrong way–I love the U.K. so much that I honeymooned in London in the month of January–but this illustration has more happy British people in it that I’ve ever seen in one place. Is that typical of Robinson’s work? “He had a good-natured approach to his subjects,” she says. “It was typical of his work to see a jolly outlook from all his characters. That’s why it’s such an endearing piece. The British are not seen as outwardly jolly, or dancing in the streets. His work is very, very humorous and good-natured.”

 

Do you think the scene and the setting–London at Christmas on Regent Street, which still pretty much looks like this a century later–will expand the bidding audience for the artwork? “Images of London have a large popular appeal. Adding double-decker buses and a Bobby on the beat in a central London location… I would anticipate it would appeal to collectors of his work inside and outside the U.K.,” she says. “It’s an iconic location, and a quite specific location. It might appeal to people who are not as interested in his contraptions. And it’s such a fun image.”

 

You point out that The Spirit of Christmas on Regent Street does not have a Heath Robinson contraption in it. Will that make it less interesting to collectors? “In a way, I don’t think it really matters,” she says. “The ones with contraptions in them do well, but this subject is so specific, people will be interested in it for what it is. It’s specific to its time and place. Though it has no contraptions, it’s a really lively piece.”

 

How often do original William Heath Robinson works come to auction? “They come fairly regularly, but it’s unusual for a collection to come to auction all at once,” she says, explaining that the Bonhams sale contains seven other pieces by Robinson (they appear as lots 22 through 29).

 

How unusual is it to have an original William Heath Robinson that’s fresh to market? “Quite a few have been offered at auction before, but what’s unusual about this one is it was acquired from the estate of the artist in 1978,” she says, noting that six in the  group of eight in the sale went from the estate to the consigner and ultimately to Bonhams.

 

Was London at Christmas an unusual subject for Robinson? “In July 1989 at Christie’s South Kensington, The Spirit of Christmas on the Riviera sold for £20,000, the second-highest result for him at auction,” she says. “It could have been part of a series on Christmas in different places around the world, but I was not able to find anything more comparable to that work.”

 

What’s the record for a Robinson at auction? “£23,000, set at Bonhams in 1989 by a piece called Aerial Life,” she says.

 

What the heck happened in 1989 that made Robinson so desirable to bidders? Hardie laughs. “I’m not sure why the prices he achieved then were so high,” she says, noting that the third-place entry on the most-expensive list sold in 1990. “He had a moment with those three works.”

 

In 2016, a museum dedicated to William Heath Robinson opened in England. Does that affect the value of his originals at all? “It’s great that there’s a museum devoted just to him. Perhaps more people will want to collect his work. But we don’t see more consignments coming in as a result,” she says.

 

Why will this Robinson work on paper stick in your memory? “It’s so detailed. The more you look at it, the more you find other things in it that are really fun, whether it’s the neighbors toasting each other from their windows, or the Christmas crackers falling from the sky,” she says. “The man shimmying up the lamppost to get the apple is fun as well. In its style and subject matter, it’s a really fun work which will hopefully do very well.”

 

How to bid: The Spirit of Christmas in Regent Street is lot 29 in the Modern British and Irish Art sale at Bonhams London, Knightsbridge on March 27, 2018.

 

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

 

 

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A Powerful Set of Prints by Harlem Renaissance Artist Aaron Douglas Could Command $30,000 at Swann

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What you see: Defiance, one of four prints from the Emperor Jones series by Aaron Douglas. It’s from a small group of reprints done with the same wood blocks in 1972, almost 50 years after the originals. Swann Auction Galleries estimates the set at $20,000 to $30,000.

 

Who was Aaron Douglas? He was a Kansas-born African-American painter, graphic artist, and muralist who was at the center of the Harlem Renaissance, a flowering of African-American cultural talent that bloomed in the Harlem section of New York City in the 1920s. His illustrations for Alain Locke’s 1925 book, The New Negro: An Interpretation led to a series of commissions from figures who led the Harlem Renaissance. In 1944, Douglas founded the art department at Fisk University, a university in Nashville, Tennessee, and led it for 22 years. He died in 1979 at the age of 79.

 

Was Douglas known as a printmaker, or was this series based on the Eugene O’Neill play Emperor Jones a one-off? “He was not known as a printmaker, and they’re the only wood block prints I’m aware of off the top of my head,” says Nigel Freeman, director of Swann’s African-American fine art department. “It’s from his classic Harlem Renaissance period. It’s unclear when [the prints] were commissioned, but he was published in other magazines at the time. It’s not surprising that he was tapped to do an interpretation of Emperor Jones.”

 

Best as we can tell, a small but indeterminate number of Emperor Jones prints were made in 1926, and then three more sets of reprints–15, 15, and finally 20–were made in 1972, with Douglas assisted by printmaker Stephanie Pogue. Do we know why the printing was done that way? “The blocks were first carved in 1926. Pogue assisted Douglas at the end of his career. The blocks themselves did not change,” he says. “It’s not unusual for an artist who made prints in the 1920s not to do large numbered editions of prints. It’s not like a contemporary print that’s editioned and sold through a gallery. Later in Douglas’s life, people asked for his works, and he decided to reprint the wood blocks. Why there are three separate reprintings, I don’t know. Maybe they sold out and he did more.”

 

Are the 1926 prints and the 1972 prints consistent in quality? “If you have your choice, you always want earlier printings. But there are very few examples of Emperor Jones prints done in the 1920s,” he says, noting that the only early set of four that Freeman has seen appeared in a museum exhibition. “There’s not a significant difference in the way they look. They’re printed from the same blocks. There’s not really a significant quality difference. She helped him print a strong impression. They’re more or less the same.”

 

There might be as many as 100 sets of Emperor Jones prints out there, but the Swann lot notes describe them as scarce. What makes them scarce? Are most of them in museum collections? Were some sets lost? Are collectors just reluctant to let them go? “You just don’t see them coming to auction that often,” he says. “We’ve only had a set once before in my department , and we see a lot of work. They’re things you don’t see very often.”

 

What’s the auction record for a set of Emperor Jones prints, and what’s the auction record for anything by Aaron Douglas? The Emperor Jones record was set at Swann in October 2008 when a group sold for $22,800. Swann also handled an original 1926 gouache of an Emperor Jones image that sold for $90,000 against an estimate of $35,000 to $50,000 in February 2008. A smallish 1944 painting by Aaron Douglas, Building More Stately Mansions, holds the record for any Douglas work at auction. Swann sold it for $600,000 against an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000 in February 2008.

 

Why will these Emperor Jones prints stick in your memory? “It’s his classic Harlem Renaissance graphic style. This is the style everyone equates with Aaron Douglas. This is what people think of, what they associate with him the most,” he says. “This is a scarce opportunity to acquire an original work of art in that style. The reason Douglas had such success is he was a very talented graphic artist and designer who was able to synthesize the design ideas and the Art Deco style of the period and infuse it with a strong African-American voice. The black silhouette became about the black figure. He created a depiction of African-Americans that was modern and a celebration of African-American culture, which fit right into the idea of the Harlem Renaissance.”

 

How to bid: The group of Emperor Jones prints by Aaron Douglas is lot 7 in the African-American Fine Art sale at Swann Auction Galleries on April 5, 2018.

 

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

 

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SOLD! A 1930 Howard Cook Print of the Chrysler Building Commanded $10,625 at Swann Galleries

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Update: The Howard Cook print featuring the Chrysler Building sold for $10,625.

 

What you see: Chrysler Building, a print by Howard Cook. Swann estimates it at $10,000 to $15,000.

 

Who was Howard Cook? Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, Cook created watercolors and WPA murals but is best known for his prints. He earned Guggenheim Fellowships twice, in 1932 and 1934, and his works are in the collections of the British Museum, the Smithsonian Art Museum, Harvard University, the Whitney, and the Met, among others. Though he was enamored of the American southwest and ultimately settled there, he spent the late 1920s and early 1930s in New York City. He died in 1980 at the age of 78.

 

How popular is Cook among collectors, and how prolific was he? “He’s very popular. When it comes to those who collect 20th century prints and American views, he’s one of the top artists. That’s been true since American prints began to flourish at auction 25 years ago,” says Todd Weyman, vice president at Swann and director of prints and drawings. “He made over 225 different prints in all media–woodcuts, lithographs, etching. He was prolific compared to Grant Wood, who made 20 lithographs, and Edward Hopper, who made maybe 50 different etchings.”

 

How sought-after are Cook’s New York images? “Very. They’re the top of his market,” he says. “His views are either panoramic views or singular buildings.”

 

How does Cook’s choice of subject matter–the Chrysler Building–affect the value of this print? “It’s great. It’s an iconic building. The print dates from the year of the completion of the building [1930]. It’s just what collectors want,” he says. “It’s from the Art Deco period, so it’s less static than the Empire State Building.”

 

Is Chrysler Building a stand-alone print, or is it part of a series? “Of the 225 images he printed in his career, he did 30 views of New York,” he says. “All were stand-alone. Cook was not a serial printmaker.”

 

What would he have based this print upon? Did Cook take a photograph of the Chrysler Building from this angle? Did he stand on the street and make sketches? “We don’t know of him as a photographer,” he says. “My thinking is he sketched it in person, and he knew it from photographs. But he was not known for working from photographs.”

 

Is this Cook’s only depiction of the Chrysler Building? Yes. “He did other skyscrapers in New York more generally,” he says. “We have another one in the sale, the lot before this one, of Wall Street, and there are skyscrapers in it, but it’s not the sort of grand, isolated building view [like the Chrysler Building].”

 

How involved was he in the creation of his prints? Did he pull them himself, or did he oversee the work of professional printmakers? “Cook was very much involved in making his prints, from start to finish,” he says, noting that the only time he relied on others was when he created lithographs. “He would come up with the idea for the print, he etched it, and he pulled it on his own press.”

 

The lot notes for the print say this was an ‘edition of 50 (from an intended edition of 75),’ and also that it is ‘numbered ’75’ in pencil.’ I’m not sure I understand what’s going on here. Could you explain? “When he worked on editions himself through his gallery, the Weyhe Gallery in New York, he would propose an edition number, and would print them in batches of maybe ten or 20 at a time and deliver them to be sold on his behalf,” he says. “Over a period of a couple of years, he was able to sell only so many. He never reached his printing goal of 75. We know this through the artist’s notes and gallery sales records.”

 

So what does the number ’75’ actually mean here? “That was what he hoped the edition would be,” he says. “These prints were not numbered in the traditional sense. He would intend for an overall edition at the start of the process and would deliver batches at a time to the gallery. It’s not like they were sequentially numbered. Chrysler Building was going to be an edition of 75 until he couldn’t sell more than 50 or so. We know it wasn’t 75.”

 

Sometimes, when there’s a large press run of an art print, the early ones look better and crisper than the later ones. Does the batch printing approach that Cook took with Chrysler Building affect the quality of the prints? Is their quality consistently high? “Each was printed more or less identically,” he says. “It’s not like number one is more or lesser than number twenty. Because they’re smaller editions, there’s such attention to detail and quality. He didn’t let anything of lesser quality out to the gallery.”

 

How often does this print come to auction? “It’s a scarce one. We’ve seen less than ten at auction in the last 30 years,” he says, noting that the number might not represent ten individual prints–the same print could have gone to auction twice or more in that time. He adds that the auction record for Chrysler Building was set at Swann in November 2015 when one sold for $17,500, and four of Cook’s top ten most-expensive lots at auction have been Chrysler Building prints; first place belongs to a 1930 panoramic New York City scene called Harbor Skyline.

 

Was Chrysler Building a tricky print to make? “If you look at the imaging, look at the lines, they’re very detailed, almost hairline in the shadows,” he says. “That requires great attention to detail, and it [the ink] would have been hand-applied to the block. To have the blacks as rich as they are in the shadow areas, with no breaks or wear, is stunning. It looks like photographic perfection when you see it.”

 

What makes this print stick in your memory? “You can see the craft in it,” he says. “It has such a precision to it, on such a small scale–it’s only 10 1/8 inches by 6 3/4 inches–but he’s able to show the grandeur of the city. You really get the sense of a soaring city in such a small format.”

 

How to bid: Howard Cook’s Chrysler Building is lot 195 in Swann‘s 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings auction on March 13, 2018.

 

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

 

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