One Night in Venice: Maxfield Parrish’s 1903 Illustration for an Edith Wharton Story Could Command $1.5 Million at Christie’s

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What you see: Maxfield Parrish’s A Venetian Night’s Entertainment, a 1903 oil on paper laid down on panel. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.

 

The expert: Tylee Abbott, Vice President and specialist in American art at Christie’s.

 

What characteristics mark this work as a Maxfield Parrish? What details tell you that only he could have painted it? Certainly one of the things that defines a Maxfield Parrish is luminosity. It tends to glow, regardless of subject matter. It has to do with his technique. He applied an Old Master technique where he built a white ground and added layers and layers of washes and colors, and he used intricate varnishes to achieve the luminous surface. And he’s very well-known for doing fantastical, wonderful scenes. It’s as much his subject matter as his technique.

 

How does his use of lanterns mark this work as distinctly his? Did he depict them often? They actually occur in a couple of different paintings. An interest of his was in luminous paintings that glowed. Obviously, lanterns lend themselves to achieving that aesthetic. Lanterns also allow for really soft points of light.

 

This is what I describe as a “Jenga painting”: the composition is loaded with so many elements that it should fall apart, but because it’s put together well, it holds together well. How does Parrish’s deftness with a crowded composition speak to his mastery? It is chaos, but it’s ordered chaos. It’s overflowing with figures and elements, and it was carefully designed by Maxfield Parrish. It conveys the revelry of Venice, and the party. All the figures in there are complementing each other. The gestures of their hands are expressive, and they’re all looking in different directions–across each other, at each other. It’s a bit overwhelming, but it is balanced. It starts with the architectural space at the top, and it’s balanced by the figures at the bottom. The center is illuminated by lanterns. The dark [areas] on the top and the bottom allow a more cohesive balance in the composition.

 

Might he have done anything differently than he normally would to work out this unusually complex composition? His technique could be very labor-intensive. He relied heavily on models for his paintings. Oftentimes, he would choose friends. He would not have had twelve people sitting in his studio. He would explore them and simulate positions.

 

He made this work after joining the Cornish community in Cornish, New Hampshire, which orbited around Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Is there any chance that Parrish recruited his neighbors to pose for this? And do we know who might have modeled for him for this piece? He may well have had folks prominent in the community sit for him. The communal nature of the Cornish community lends itself to painting a theatrical party scene. But we haven’t identified any of the models, unfortunately.

 

Parrish was commissioned to paint this to illustrate an Edith Wharton story. Could we talk about what scene he’s showing here? I take it the main character is the man in profile in Colonial-looking clothes at the left? In the story, a young man wanders the streets of Venice as a tourist, out of place. Count Rialto [at right] befriends him–‘Have a drink, I’ll show you what Venice nightlife is all about.’ Parrish has taken an austere young Massachusetts gentleman with a tricorn hat and upright posture and thrown him into a very Italian, expressive scene of frivolity.

 

To use a slightly dismissive phrase that Parrish coined, his most famous works feature a “girl on a rock.” This is not a girl on a rock. Does that matter? The top auction price for his most famous painting, and one of the most famous paintings in art history, is Daybreak, which shows two Neoclassical figures in a fantastical landscape. That was made in the 1920s. This was made in 1903, and this is a purposeful illustration, executing a narrative. These painted illustrations, in today’s market for American illustration, which is very strong, can be every bit as popular as the girl-on-the-rock subject matter.

 

What is the auction record for a Maxfield Parrish? $7.6 million, for Daybreak, sold at Christie’s in May 2006. The next-highest result is for The Lantern Bearers, sold at Christie’s in the same auction for $4.2 million.

 

How often does an original Maxfield Parrish come to auction? Almost every season there’s a Parrish or a couple of Parrishes on the market. What type of Parrish varies widely. How often is something as significant as this available? Once a year, or every other year.

 

*Architect Stanford White designed the frame. How does it enhance the painting? The frame is something that sets this painting apart from all other Parrishes. It’s a very special thing. There’s one other Parrish in a Stanford White frame known, and it’s in a private collection.

 

*So this is the first time one of the two has come to auction? I believe so. I think the prominence of Stanford White as a secondary artist contributes to its value. The frame furthers the architectural design where the scene takes place. The vegetative scrolls on the frame add to the fluidity of the gestures and compliments the overall motion of the painting.

 

What is the work like in person? The photo is fairly good in terms of a likeness, but with Maxfield Parrish, the luminous nature of the painting is important. It glows a lot more in person than in reproduction.

 

Why will this painting stick in your memory? The frame is really unique. Rarely are frames made by Stanford White, and rarely are frames so complementary to the work. The amount of people in the painting and the lanterns are definitely memorable. They lend a lot to the glowing nature of the composition.

 

How to bid: A Venetian Night’s Entertainment is lot 40 in the American Art sale at Christie’s, scheduled for November 20, 2018.

 

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Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

 

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

 

*Since taking the interview and posting the piece, Christie’s learned that the frame is not original, and thus not by Stanford White.

 

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Play Ball! Huggins & Scott Could Sell a 1903 World Series Program for $250,000

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What you see: The front and back cover of a 12-page 1903 World Series program, printed for and sold during the championship games held in Pittsburgh. Huggins and Scott estimates it at $150,000 to $250,000.

 

The expert: Bill Huggins of Huggins and Scott.

 

Why do so few of these inaugural World Series programs survive? They were actually sold only at Pittsburgh games. Boston won the series, five games to three. [It was a best of nine.] I think only four of those games were played in Pittsburgh. Twenty to 30 copies of the Boston version of the program have surfaced over the years. Only three have surfaced for the Pittsburgh games. One is in Cooperstown, and one is in a private collection. This one here was purchased by the consigner in the 1970s and has been in a safe deposit box ever since.

 

Why should there be fewer surviving Pittsburgh programs than Boston programs? Was the Pittsburgh park smaller, or the program less interesting than the Boston one? Being that it was the first World Series, I’m not sure they were expecting a huge turnout. They didn’t know if if would even catch on.

 

To stay on that point about the Pittsburgh program maybe being less interesting–the cover does not show any players… It’s mostly ads. As you open it up, there are lots and lots of ads, 90 percent advertising.

 

Maybe that explains why so few of these programs survive? People didn’t buy the Pittsburgh program because it was so full of ads? Possibly. In and among a page of ads is a picture of [Pittsburgh Pirate] Honus Wagner, who was the star of the series. [The images of the players] are only silhouettes, two by two inch black and white head shots, in a bunch of ads. They had the player’s last name underneath. The players are in business suits with ties. They’re not even in uniform.

 

What condition is the program in? I see pieces of tape on the cover… It must have been coming apart a little, because it has three pieces of tape on it. I don’t know if that was done in 1903, but it was done a very, very long time ago. And it’s got some wear on the corners, and things like that. When I get an old publication, I pick it up and smell it. It smells like old paper. That’s a telltale sign it’s not a reproduction. The pages are very. very thin compared to today’s programs. But there are no pages missing, no tears, no rips, no excessive writing.

 

Have you personally seen the other two known copies? I have not, but I can only imagine, barring the tape, I couldn’t find one nicer than this.

 

Do we know who the program’s first owner was–the person who made the notations on the cover and the scorecard inside? And do we know any of its subsequent owners, aside from the consigner? We don’t. However, the style of the scoring is very much of the period. Today, scorecards are much more elaborate.

 

And those handmade notations–that’s how we know it’s a World Series program from Game 7, yes? Yes. The World Series is the only time the American League met the National League in 1903. They didn’t play each other during the year.

 

The printers used three colors on this program: blue, red, and black. Does that mean the people who commissioned the program splashed out on it? Actually, this is a bit more primitive. Some scorecards produced in the late 1800s were more elaborate. They might have four or five or more colors on some of them.

 

The words “World Series” don’t appear anywhere on the front or back cover of this program. Do they appear anywhere inside it? No. Actually, it looks very similar to programs that the Pittsburgh ball club put out for regular games, if not identical. The defining part is the center page scorecard. I’d imagine the center page is a thing that could be a separate insert on its own, changed on a day to day basis. [FWIW, the cover of the counterpart Boston program doesn’t say “World Series”, but it does say “World’s Championship Games.” To learn more about how the contest got its modern name, follow this link and scroll down to the section called The Origin of the Name ‘the World Series’,]

 

What else marks this as ephemera from 1903? Are there ads in the program that would never appear in a World Series program today? There are whiskey ads, and one for cigars, three for five cents. Another says ‘Drink Crystal Water and live for 200 years.’

 

The Federal Trade Commission would not be cool with an ad like that today. No. There’s an ad for OK beer. Another cigar ad–almost everybody smoked. There’s literally page after page of advertising.

 

Why will this piece stick in your memory? Knowing what it is and knowing the significance of it, it’s very cool. In our industry, rookie cards are very, very hot. This is sort of the rookie card of World Series programs. The rarity of it is key, the firstness of it is key, and only three have surfaced. But there could be some in attics, basements, or drawers that haven’t come out.

 

How to bid: The 1903 World Series program from Pittsburgh is lot 2 in Huggins and Scott‘s November Auction, which runs from November 2 to November 15, 2018.

 

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Huggins and Scott.

 

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Sold! Robert Edward Auctions Sold the 1869 Red Stockings Sheet Music for $1,320

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Update: The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings sheet music sold for $1,320.

 

What you see: An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name. Robert Edward Auctions estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

 

The expert: Tom D’Alonzo, vintage memorabilia specialist at Robert Edward Auctions.

 

How was sheet music of this sort used in the mid-19th century? Also, is this sheet music for the piano, for voice, or both? It might be a little hard, but try to imagine living in a time with no radio, no records, no televisions. If you wanted to hear music, you had to go to a concert or play an instrument. A lot of homes had a piano, so sheet music like this was sold to be played for entertainment. This sheet music is for exactly that – a piano – with no lyrics included.

 

How many songs are in it? Would we recognize any of the songs today, or are all of them unknown to modern audiences? Only one song appears in this sheet music, and I would think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t be recognized today if the tune came on the radio.

 

How was music of this sort important to baseball and baseball fandom? Did clubs that were similar to the Royal Rooters in Boston exist in 1869? Would they have used sheet music such as this? I don’t know how important it was to the fan base, but other prominent teams and players had songs dedicated to them – it was considered a great honor. I’d imagine that some of these songs were popular in their day, but it’s hard to say for sure – we have no way of seeing how many pieces of sheet music were sold. The Red Stockings had a strong local following, of course, but nothing to the extent of the Royal Rooters.

 

Why are the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings ‘one of the most celebrated teams in baseball history’, according to the lot notes? What is the demand like for that club’s material today, and how does it remain strong? This team is generally considered to be the first professional team. That, coupled with the fact that they won all their games in 1869 against some of the best teams in the country, has made them pretty famous today. That contributes to a strong demand for items related to the team, but there aren’t a ton of items to go around. We’ve seen some, including CDVs [cartes de visite] and sheet music like this, and they’re always in demand.

 

Are the Cincinnati Red Stockings an antecedent to the Cincinnati Reds? Does the club have any connection to the Boston Red Sox? You’d think they would, but they don’t. Four players from the 1869 Cincinnati team joined up with the Boston Red Stockings in 1871 as part of the National Association, which was baseball’s first professional league, after the Cincinnati club disbanded. That Boston team is actually today’s Atlanta Braves – stick with me here – and the Boston Red Sox didn’t come along until 1901. The Cincinnati Reds that we know today weren’t a thing until 1882.

 

Is this cover design unusually elaborate? What can we infer from the fact that the publisher thought they could pay to show all nine players in this level of detail on the cover and make a profit? This cover was obviously designed to catch the eye, and that’s true of most early baseball sheet music. They’re phenomenal display pieces and very attractive. The players on the 1869 team were all well known, so it’s likely the manufacturer saw them as great selling points and included them all.

 

How does this copy compare to the other four that you’ve handled? Without being able to hold them side by side, I’d estimate that this example is middle of the pack – not the best, but not the worst. It’s really a solid example.

 

How did it manage to survive so well? Much of the early sheet music was bound together in an album, and that’s true of this example. Having it preserved tightly and free of exposure to the elements contributed to its survival.

 

The lot notes mention the sheet music’s ‘extremely fragile nature’–what makes it fragile? Was it printed on lower-quality paper? And does it require any sort of special handling, such as gloves? It’s printed on thin paper – not low quality by any means, but thin and susceptible to tearing or damage. Gloves aren’t needed to handle it, but common cautions should be taken to ensure it lives another 100+ years.

 

How did this item come to you? How many owners has it had? Have you sold it before? This piece has a typical story – it was collected by a sheet music collector who enjoyed it for many years before deciding it was time to sell his collection. I don’t know where he acquired it or how many owners it had, but it’s the first time we’ve ever offered it.

 

What is the world auction record for this particular piece of sheet music? The highest price we’re aware of at public auction is $4,025 in 1999.

 

Why will this item stick in your memory? It’s just a classic piece from the early days of baseball. When we think sheet music, it’s hard not to have the 1869 Red Stockings sheet music come to mind.

 

How to bid: The 1869 Red Stockings sheet music is lot 2054 in the REA Fall Auction, which opened online on October 8, 2018 and closes on October 28, 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.

 

Robert Edward Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions.

 

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

Robert Edward Auctions Could Sell an 1869 Copy of Sheet Music Celebrating the Cincinnati Red Stockings for $3,000 or More

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What you see: An 1869 copy of The Red Stockings sheet music, lauding a Cincinnati team of that name. Robert Edward Auctions estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

 

The expert: Tom D’Alonzo, vintage memorabilia specialist at Robert Edward Auctions.

 

How was sheet music of this sort used in the mid-19th century? Also, is this sheet music for the piano, for voice, or both? It might be a little hard, but try to imagine living in a time with no radio, no records, no televisions. If you wanted to hear music, you had to go to a concert or play an instrument. A lot of homes had a piano, so sheet music like this was sold to be played for entertainment. This sheet music is for exactly that – a piano – with no lyrics included.

 

How many songs are in it? Would we recognize any of the songs today, or are all of them unknown to modern audiences? Only one song appears in this sheet music, and I would think it’s safe to say that it wouldn’t be recognized today if the tune came on the radio.

 

How was music of this sort important to baseball and baseball fandom? Did clubs that were similar to the Royal Rooters in Boston exist in 1869? Would they have used sheet music such as this? I don’t know how important it was to the fan base, but other prominent teams and players had songs dedicated to them – it was considered a great honor. I’d imagine that some of these songs were popular in their day, but it’s hard to say for sure – we have no way of seeing how many pieces of sheet music were sold. The Red Stockings had a strong local following, of course, but nothing to the extent of the Royal Rooters.

 

Why are the 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings ‘one of the most celebrated teams in baseball history’, according to the lot notes? What is the demand like for that club’s material today, and how does it remain strong? This team is generally considered to be the first professional team. That, coupled with the fact that they won all their games in 1869 against some of the best teams in the country, has made them pretty famous today. That contributes to a strong demand for items related to the team, but there aren’t a ton of items to go around. We’ve seen some, including CDVs [cartes de visite] and sheet music like this, and they’re always in demand.

 

Are the Cincinnati Red Stockings an antecedent to the Cincinnati Reds? Does the club have any connection to the Boston Red Sox? You’d think they would, but they don’t. Four players from the 1869 Cincinnati team joined up with the Boston Red Stockings in 1871 as part of the National Association, which was baseball’s first professional league, after the Cincinnati club disbanded. That Boston team is actually today’s Atlanta Braves – stick with me here – and the Boston Red Sox didn’t come along until 1901. The Cincinnati Reds that we know today weren’t a thing until 1882.

 

Is this cover design unusually elaborate? What can we infer from the fact that the publisher thought they could pay to show all nine players in this level of detail on the cover and make a profit? This cover was obviously designed to catch the eye, and that’s true of most early baseball sheet music. They’re phenomenal display pieces and very attractive. The players on the 1869 team were all well known, so it’s likely the manufacturer saw them as great selling points and included them all.

 

How does this copy compare to the other four that you’ve handled? Without being able to hold them side by side, I’d estimate that this example is middle of the pack – not the best, but not the worst. It’s really a solid example.

 

How did it manage to survive so well? Much of the early sheet music was bound together in an album, and that’s true of this example. Having it preserved tightly and free of exposure to the elements contributed to its survival.

 

The lot notes mention the sheet music’s ‘extremely fragile nature’–what makes it fragile? Was it printed on lower-quality paper? And does it require any sort of special handling, such as gloves? It’s printed on thin paper – not low quality by any means, but thin and susceptible to tearing or damage. Gloves aren’t needed to handle it, but common cautions should be taken to ensure it lives another 100+ years.

 

How did this item come to you? How many owners has it had? Have you sold it before? This piece has a typical story – it was collected by a sheet music collector who enjoyed it for many years before deciding it was time to sell his collection. I don’t know where he acquired it or how many owners it had, but it’s the first time we’ve ever offered it.

 

What is the world auction record for this particular piece of sheet music? The highest price we’re aware of at public auction is $4,025 in 1999.

 

Why will this item stick in your memory? It’s just a classic piece from the early days of baseball. When we think sheet music, it’s hard not to have the 1869 Red Stockings sheet music come to mind.

 

How to bid: The 1869 Red Stockings sheet music is lot 2054 in the REA Fall Auction, which opened online on October 8, 2018 and closes on October 28, 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.

 

Robert Edward Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions.

 

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! 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.

 

You can follow Swann Auction Galleries on Twitter and Instagram.

 

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.

 

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! 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!

042218_Far_Side_Gary_Larson_for_Hot_Bid

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.

 

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