You Snooze, You Lose: Christie’s Has A Ming Dynasty Six-poster Huanghuali Bed That Could Sell for $1.5 Million

huanghuali six poster canopy bed

What you see: A very rare Huanghuali six-poster canopy bed, dating from the 17th to the 18th century. Christie’s estimates it at $1 million to $1.5 million.


What is Huanghuali? “It’s one of the most desirable hardwoods for Chinese furniture, and one of the most luxurious of all woods,” says Christie’s specialist Michelle Cheng. “It’s very durable, impermeable to insects. It’s extremely hard wood. You’ve got to have extremely sharp tools [to carve it]. It naturally has a beautiful luster. It’s very attractive in terms of grain and presentation.”


How do we know this is a bed? “Because of the form. Chinese furniture comes in specific forms and does not deviate from them,” she says. “We know this is a bed because of its size, the canopy, the railings, and the platform.”


Did the Chinese use beds with posts in the same way as Europeans did–using curtains to turn them into small rooms? “Beds were part of a lady’s dowry. When she married, it was brought to her home as part of her domestic space. It was draped with fabric for privacy,” she says. “The lady would entertain female friends in her private chamber, sitting on the bed. She would sleep alone, unless she was visited by her husband, drawing the curtains to create a private space for herself.”


Why does the bed have six posts rather than four? “It’s related to architecture,” she says. “You have a ‘doorway’ with six posts.”


I realize we can’t go back in time to watch the bed being built, but can you give me a notion of how much work would have gone into the creation of this bed? “It’s a lot of work to make one of these beds,” she says. “Everything comes apart. There are over 24 pieces in the bed, and at least 15 in the canopy. That’s a significant number of pieces to have to carve and to visualize, engineering-wise, how to fit together. The pieces lock in place using a mortise and tenon technology. They have to be pretty exact or the canopy can’t hold itself up.”


The word “Jiazichuang” appears in the headline of the Christie’s lot description. What does Jiazichuang mean? And how can we tell that the bed dates to some time between the 17th and 18th centuries?Jiazichuang is a Chinese word for canopy bed,” she says. “The bed dates to the Ming Dynasty, and we can tell from the quality of the carving to the quality of the wood that was used. As Huanghuali dwindled, the quality of the wood became not-as-great. Its impressive size and proportions make for an impressive bed. The carvers were able to waste a lot of wood–they would have carved a lot of material way to create the openwork.”


Do the carved decorations on the bed–the chilong medallions, ruyi struts, and the lingzhi scrolls–have any particular meanings? “They have a lot to do with fertility, longevity, and good luck,” she says. “Chilong, or baby dragons, are interpreted as a wish for sons. The lingzhi and ruyi are symbols of longevity for yourself, your family, and your children. Ruyi, in itself, means ‘as you wish.’ The Chinese would present a ruyi scepter to someone They all tie into this desire for procreation.”


Who was this bed for? “The woman who owned the bed was from a prosperous family,” she says. “They were important in the community and had wealth and power. It’s a very large bed in terms of its width and height.”


How large? Is it possible to compare it to a modern bed? “It’s probably like a king size bed, but it’s hard to draw a straight line. This is one of the larger pieces we’ve had,” she says. “There are people who own and sleep on beds like these. It’s something you can do. It’s just a matter of finding the correct size mattress.”


This bed is described as being “very rare.” What makes it so rare? “Its impressive size, and the elaborateness of the carving on its rails,” she says. “This bed, in itself, is quite impressive for its use of materials and for the decorations you see. It’s showing off different techniques as well.”


Why will this bed stick in your memory? “Everything is well put-together and thought out,” she says. “I love the bottom rail of the canopy, with the interlocking medals. None of the medals are fudged to make them fit the proportions. The quality of the craftsmanship is at the highest level.”


How to bid: The Huanghuali six-poster Chinese bed is lot 952 in Christie’s Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art auction planned for March 22 and 23, 2018 in New York City.


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


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SOLD! The Inscribed 1957 Presentation Copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road Fetched $7,500 at Heritage Auctions

Jack Kerouac. On the Road. New York The Viking Press, 1957 credit Herita...



Update: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road sold for $7,500.


What you see: A 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road. Heritage Auctions anticipates selling it for as much as $8,000.


Who was Jack Kerouac? Born Jean-Louis Kérouac in 1922 in Lowell, Massachusetts, he became a star of the mid-20th century Beat Generation of poets and authors. On the Road, a fictionalized tale of the cross-country travels of himself and his friends, published in 1957, is widely regarded as his greatest, most influential work. Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of 47.


Do we know how big the press run was for the first edition of On the Road? “I can’t find any reliable information about this, just that Viking published an unknown number of hard-cover copies in dust jackets on September 5, 1957,” says James Gannon, director of rare books for Heritage Auctions. “It sold well enough that it required a second printing on September 20 and a third not long after that.” [This copy is from the second printing.]


Did Viking Press have any notion of what they had with On the Road? Was it like Ulysses, where there was some anticipation and awareness that the book might be great? “Some sections of On the Road were published in literary magazines, and were well received so that the publisher announced that the complete first edition book was ‘a publishing event of no small interest.’,” he says. “This was Kerouac’s second novel, but the literary approach was completely fresh and new.”


Do we know how many inscribed presentation copies of On the Road are out there, and how often they come to auction? “Kerouac is known not to have inscribed a lot of copies of this title,” he says. “I only note about eight or 10 copies through the auction rooms in the last 20 years or so, of course getting premium prices.”


The woman to whom this book is inscribed, Mimi, and her daughter, Francesca, are not characters in On the Road, but Lucien Carr, husband to Francesca and son-in-law to Mimi, is in the book [the character based on him is named Damion]. How does that affect this copy’s value? Are inscribed presentation copies of On the Road worth more if they are inscribed to people who appear in the book as fictionalized characters?  “I think this twice-removed relationship limits the importance and desirability of the inscribed copy,” he says. “It is still a great book, but would be a vastly different thing if it was inscribed to Lucien Carr himself.”


What is the auction record for a first edition copy of On the Road? Does it belong to an inscribed presentation copy? If so, to whom did Kerouac sign it?  “Aside from the original scroll of On the Road, the highest price I saw for an inscribed first was to his paramour, Joyce Johnson, and included a drawing,” he says. “Joyce Johnson also inscribed the book. It sold for $185,000 in 2002. The lot also included an autograph letter from Kerouac, and an inscribed copy of Johnson’s book about her relationship with Kerouac.”


What is the estimate on this copy of On the Road, and could you talk about why bidding will open at $4,000?  “The estimate is $8,000, and we open bidding at half of the estimate,” he says. “We hope the estimate is conservative and the book will sell for more than $8,000.”


Could you talk about the condition of the book and its dust jacket? Does it have the wear that you’d expect of a book that’s about 60 years old? Or is it in better shape?  “The book is fairly nice, without major restoration which would really detract from the value,” he says. “A book like this, with a black dust jacket that shows flaws easily and is popular enough to be read over and over by various readers, typically shows much more wear. This is in better shape than what we see typically, but really nice copies in jacket are out there and get a premium price.”


Do collectors of first-edition Kerouac books, and early copies of On the Road, differ from book collectors in general? “Not in my experience, though sometimes a buyer of On the Road will be specifically a beat literature collector,” he says. “Usually this is included in collections of high-spot literature collectors, who want great books by a variety of modern writers.”


Why will this copy of the book stick in your memory? “The Carr association, though a little removed, being inscribed to his mother-in-law, still adds a layer of interest that might encourage a bidder to go some extra increments, or a retail buyer to pay a little more,” Gannon says. “The ‘pride of ownership’ aspect is enhanced if you can share an interesting story when showing the book to friends and colleagues.”


How to bid: The 1957 presentation copy of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road is lot #45062 in Heritage AuctionsRare Books Signature Auction on March 7, 2018.


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


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SOLD! This Trio of 1928 Mont Blanc Posters Fetched $13,750 at Swann

M36831-126_3 001

Update: The 1928 trio of Mont Blanc posters sold for $13,750.

What you see: Vers le Mont – Blanc, a group of three posters dating from 1928 and designed by Georges Dorival. Swann Auction Galleries is offering them as a single lot, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Who was Georges Dorival? Justin Marie Georges Dorival was born in Paris in 1879 and died in Louveciennes in 1968 and… that’s about all we know about him. “He was a very prolific artist who wasn’t remembered by history,” says Nicholas Lowry, director of Swann Galleries. “The poster world is littered with artists who don’t amount to much outside their world.”

Were the Vers le Mont – Blanc posters his crowning achievement? “This is his most famous image,” he says. “If you type Dorival’s name into the search engine on the Swann web site, you’ll see his others are beautiful, but not remarkable in any way. These three are remarkable. What’s special and unique about this is it’s done as a tryptic.”

Do we know why Dorival did Vers le Mont – Blanc as a tryptic? “I just think it was an inspired idea,” he says. “The three separate posters can work individually, or as a tryptic.”

Do I see the mountain depicted in daylight, dusk, and night? “Yes. It’s like a time-lapse, graphic photo,” he says. “One clearly has stars in the sky. Day, dusk, night. Everything below the black V of the mountain is identical. The top third changes.”

How often were these posters displayed together, as a tryptic? “There’s no record of that. I’ve never seen any actual photo documentation of these three up,” he says. “I assume if they could put all three up together, they would, just because it makes a powerful statement.”

Do they tend to come to auction as a tryptic as well? Generally, yes. Six sets have appeared at auction as a single lot since 2008; this will be the seventh. Sometimes, however, they appear in the same sale as three individual lots. Swann set the auction record for a set of three in November 2010 that sold as one lot for $18,000 against an estimate of $10,000 to $15,000.

What makes the poster image so strong? “There’s a conceptual reason and an actual reason,” he says. “The actual reason is the way he lays out the art. It’s almost as if someone is unzipping the scene. Your eye is quite literally drawn to the center of the poster. It’s simple and it’s genius. And the concept of the same poster at different times of day–it’s astonishingly simple and had never been done before. In a way, it’s like watching the sun set over the mountains. Each of these is like a color still.”

These posters come from the estate of Gail Chisholm, a Manhattan poster dealer who died in 2017. Was she a friend? “I’ve known her since 1996. She had a gallery seven blocks away from Swann,” he says. “She was an early adopter in the world of posters, and she had a very European attitude. I knew I had to visit her between noon and three, when she’d be having her three-hour lunch. She became a friend and colleague. It’s a small community. We all know each other. … She was very creative. She knew how to market posters. I think I picked that up from her, too. She lived her life according to her own rules. She unabashedly did what she wanted.”

About 130 posters are in the Chisholm sale, and the proceeds will benefit Planned Parenthood of New York. What’s the total presale estimate? Between $166,000 and $241,000, so as much as a quarter-million dollars could go to Chisholm’s favorite charity thanks to this auction.

What else makes this trio of Dorival posters stand out? “In the world of posters, which are, by definition, a visual medium, these stand out for their unique cinematic quality,” he says. “They’re strong individually and stronger as a tryptic. These are really outliers, so different from the rest of his work.”

How to bid: Dorival’s Vers le Mont – Blanc is lot 29 in the Vintage Posters sale that Swann Auction Galleries will hold on March 1.

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

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SOLD! This Vibrantly Colored William McKinley Campaign Poster from 1900 Fetched $11,875 at Heritage Auctions


Update: The McKinley campaign poster from circa 1900 sold for $11,875.

What you see: A circa 1900 28-inch-by-42-inch near-mint condition campaign poster for President William McKinley, who was running for a second term. Heritage Auctions believes that the poster could sell for $10,000 to $15,000.

Who was William McKinley? He was the 25th president of the United States. He was a Republican and a Civil War veteran who defended the gold standard and led the country through the Spanish-American War, in which America gained Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines (this last eventually became independent). He also annexed Hawaii. His vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, went on to become president in his own right. An assassin shot McKinley in September 1901 and he succumbed to his wounds about a week later. He was 58.

Do we know how this campaign poster came to be? And did the campaign know they had a winner on their hands with this image? No, and probably not. “The two times he ran for president, McKinley stayed home in Canton, Ohio, and delegations came to visit him,” says Don Ackerman, consignment director for historical Americana and political material at Heritage Auctions. “Millionaire Mark Hanna financed the entire campaign. Most campaign materials were purchased and used by local Republican clubs and organizations. They didn’t have to be authorized by the national Republican clubs. Posters like this may have been custom-ordered, or may have been produced for Republican clubs.”

What details in this circa 1900 poster might be lost on 21st century viewers? “The word ‘Civilization’ is an unusual usage. It ties in with the expansionism of 1898 and the war with Spain. Republicans supported imperialism and justified that by saying they were bringing civilization to backward peoples,” he says, laughing. “Part of that is you see factories belching smoke. That was considered a higher level of civilization over people who fished and farmed. The large gold coin says ‘Sound Money’ on it, and refers to the gold standard. It was a big issue in 1896 and 1900. McKinley’s opponent, William Jennings Bryan, advocated greater use of silver. Republicans said that would devalue the currency and cause inflation, and if we stuck to the gold standard, it would maintain its value.”

What other details stand out? “The glowing sunrise in the background. Sort of like ‘Morning in America.’ Everything is bright,” he says. “And you have shipping on the left hand side and factories on the right–business is booming, we’re selling overseas, factories are at capacity. McKinley is shown with the flag, in an appeal to patriotism and showing America as a dominant world power. He’s supported by a group of men from all aspects of society. The man in the blue suit is a sailor. One on the left is a soldier, there to appeal to people who served in the armed forces and the Civil War–McKinley served in the Civil War. The man with the silk top hat is a banker or an industrialist. The guy in the center might be a waiter–they usually don’t wear hats. The man in the pale green shirt is a workman. McKinley is appealing to all segments of the voting population.”

I can’t help but notice that everyone shown in the poster is a white man. Is that deliberate? “Except for Wyoming and Colorado, women couldn’t vote [in 1900],” he says. “This [poster] is not necessarily a snub of minority voters. There were ‘Colored Republican Clubs’. The Democrats were associated with the south, and with slaveholders. Blacks were loyal Republican voters from the time of Ulysses S. Grant to FDR or later. I think the Republican Party figured that black voters who were permitted to vote were going to vote for them anyway.”

Where were these posters displayed in 1900? “They were in local Republican headquarters or in store windows,” he said. “The owners weren’t afraid to offend their customers. If they liked the Republican candidate, they’d put the Republican poster in the window.”

Maybe ten of these posters exist. How might this one have managed to survive? “If somebody liked it and thought it was nice, they would fold it and put it away,” he says, noting that this example has folding creases in it. “That’s how they got saved. If it’s properly stored and the paper is good, the colors will still be bright. This has a minor chip, but nothing that affects the image.”

The colors on this poster really pop, particularly the red and blue of the flag, and the yellow of the coin. How close are they to the colors that the poster would have had when it was fresh off the stone lithographic press? “Pretty close. They’re not faded or anything,” he says. “The ink they used doesn’t fade naturally. As long as it’s not exposed to sunlight, the colors are going to be as vibrant as in 1900.”

How often does this poster appear at auction? “We’ve sold three of them in the past, for prices ranging from $10,000 to $17,000,” he says. “The one that sold for $17,925 probably is the record for this poster, but I can’t say definitively.”

Why will this poster stick in your memory? “It’s a masterpiece of graphic political Americana, and probably the best McKinley poster, for sure,” Ackerman says. “It’s head and shoulders above most of the stuff we see from the period. This really grabs you. Political posters of this quality were only issued between 1900 and 1904, and of the different designs known, this is the most appealing. It’s got all the great elements you want to see on a poster. It tells a story, it refers to policies that were prominent then, and it reflects the exuberance that people felt for the political process. It was a new century, a new age, and people really felt good about themselves.”

How to bid: The circa 1900 William McKinley campaign poster is lot #43382 in The David and Janice Frent Collection of Political & Presidential Americana, Part 2, taking place at Heritage Auctions on February 24, 2018.

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

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TIE! Heritage Auctions Sold an Original Sunday Christmas-Themed Peanuts Strip from 1958 for $113,525, Tying the World Auction Record

Charles_Schulz_Peanuts_Sunday_Comic_Original_Art_(United Feature Syndica...

Update: Well, this doesn’t happen often. Heritage sold the original Sunday Peanuts comic strip from 1958 for $113,525–tying the record it set in 2007 for original Sunday Peanuts comic art.

What you see: An original Sunday Peanuts comic strip, drawn by Charles Schulz and dated 12-21-58. Heritage Auctions believes it could sell for $100,000 or more.

Who was Charles Schulz? The Minnesota-born Schulz is one of the most influential cartoonists ever. His comic strip, Peanuts, ran from October 2, 1950 until February 13, 2000 and featured the enduring characters of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, his pet beagle. At its peak, Peanuts appeared in more than 2,500 newspapers and reached more than 350 million readers in 75 countries. The 1965 animated television special A Charlie Brown Christmas became a hit that remains must-see holiday viewing today. Schulz died in 2000, one day before his final Peanuts strip was published. He was 77.

How rare are original Sunday Peanuts comic strips? “There are only so many Sundays between 1950 and when the strip ended,” says Weldon Adams, a comic book cataloging specialist at Heritage Auctions. “Every time we get one, it’s cooler than the last one we saw.”

How does original Peanuts comic strip art manage to get to the market? Didn’t Schulz keep all his originals at his studio? “Charles Schulz was one of the most gracious and kind souls you could encounter. He was beloved by fans,” he says. “When a fan would write a really nice letter, he would autograph the art and send it to them. A lot were personalized to friends and fans, and he just gave them away.” This particular Sunday strip is not inscribed, however, and not every original strip left his studio as gifts. “Some of these were just sold,” Adams says.

Snoopy isn’t in this Peanuts strip. Does that affect its value? “Not necessarily,” he says. “There are so many recurring favorite themes in Peanuts–Lucy at the psychiatrists’s booth, baseball strips with Charlie Brown at the pitcher’s mound, Snoopy as a World War I flying ace, Charlie Brown with the kite-eating tree, Lucy with the football–running gags that are funny every time you see them. There are so many scenes, and fans go out to look for particular ones.”

This Sunday Peanuts strip has a Christmas theme, but it appeared in 1958, well before the famous Christmas special. How unusual is that? “It’s extremely rare to have a Christmas-themed strip to market before the special in 1965. There are only 15 years predating the special, so there are limited opportunities in the first place,” he says. “It pushes it above and beyond. It’s specifically about a Christmas recital at school, which is an element of the special. Ironically, it has a different outcome from what happens in the TV special. Here, Linus can’t remember his line. In the special, he gives a wonderful, beautiful speech. This is the flip side of that.”

The strip has eight panels, and it shows nine Peanuts characters in each panel. How rare is that? “Very rare. It’s going to be a major driving factor [in its final price],” he says. “This is a huge collection of all the regular cast members at that point. There are only a few who are not there. And it’s unique to have so many characters in every single panel. I haven’t seen another one like it.”

And Schulz would have drawn all eight panels by hand, with no assistance? “This is old school. He drew it all,” he says. He also notes that Sunday strips were printed in color in 1958, but someone in production at United Features Syndicate, which distributed the Peanuts strip, would have handled that task.

As of February 3, bidding on this original Peanuts comic strip art had reached $26,000, and the auction is still weeks away. Are you surprised it’s risen so high, so fast?The record for an original Sunday Peanuts strip was $113,525. It had a baseball theme, it was from 1955, and it sold in 2007 at Heritage,” he says. “It was similar in that there were several characters in it, but not nearly as many as this one. Given that this has so many characters, and a Christmas theme before the Christmas special, I have a sneaking suspicion it might top the record. This is unique and it has a lot of good things going for it. It will be interesting to see the bidding at the end. I expect it will be fierce and fast.”

The comic strip art, which is in ink over graphite on Bristol board, is described as being in “excellent condition.” What does that mean? “It indicates that the Bristol board is intact, with no major stains or marks, and no pieces missing,” he says. “There’s a little bit of corner wear, but nothing that would affect the image area. It does allow for a certain amount of toning–discoloration in the paper due to aging. ‘Excellent’ is the highest grade we grant on an artwork. You don’t run into one in pristine condition.”

Why will this Peanuts strip stick in your memory?Peanuts is an American icon,” Adams says. “Charles Schulz tapped into something with that strip, a childlike wonder that crosses all boundaries. Having so many characters in the strip is phenomenal. It’s a unique collection of highly beloved characters.”

How to bid: The original 1958 Sunday Peanuts strip is lot #92220 in the Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction on February 22 – 24, 2018, at Heritage Auctions.

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 Heritage Auctions.

You can see more original Peanuts comic strip art at the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, California. The Peanuts strip continues as reruns in newspapers and on the web, too.

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UPDATE: WORLD RECORD AT AUCTION FOR ALMA THOMAS: LAMA’s Fresh-to-Market Canvas by African-American Artist Alma Thomas Sells for Almost $400,000


Editor’s Note: Today is the first anniversary of The Hot Bid. To celebrate, I’m reposting the first entry–a piece on an Alma Thomas painting at LAMA that ultimately sold for a record sum.

Update: Thomas’s Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. sold for $387,500 at Los Angeles Modern Auctions on Sunday, March 5, 2017–well above its $125,000 to $175,000 estimate. It also represents a world record at auction for the artist.

What you see: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C., a 1969 oil on canvas by Alma Thomas.

Who was Alma Thomas? She was a member of the Washington Color School, a mid-20th century abstract art movement based in Washington, D.C. that also included Gene Davis and Kenneth Noland. Thomas was under-appreciated during her lifetime, but she was not unknown; in 1972, she became the first African-American woman to receive a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Thomas died in 1978, at the age of 86. Her art gained fresh attention when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama displayed her works in the White House. Resurrection, a 1966 Thomas canvas that the Obamas chose for the White House family dining room, shares a mandala-like motif in common with Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C.

Why is Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. so compelling? “It has an intimacy that you only get when you contemplate a solitary blossom,” says Peter Loughrey, director of modern design and fine art at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA). “There’s something Zen and eastern about it. The progression of color draws you in to the center of the work. It really lends itself to a one-on-one, personal interaction.”

How does the painting call to mind Washington, D.C.? “It’s extremely abstracted, but it does reference the cherry blossoms that bloom every spring,” says Loughrey, who grew up in the nation’s capital. “It’s inescapable, that pinkish color in the background. It’s what you remember and walk away with.”

Why is the painting estimated at $125,000 to $175,000? Thomas wasn’t as prolific as other Washington Color School artists, and today’s collectors are keen to own her works. Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. has never gone to auction before; the consigner’s father bought it directly from the artist in 1969. He was a medical student at the time, and he paid her in installments. The lot includes a handwritten letter from Thomas to the proud young owner, telling him,”I hope you will love the painting. So many of my friends wanted to buy it.”

How to bid: Spring Flowers in Washington, D.C. is lot 323 in the Modern Art & Design Auction that takes place on March 5, 2017 at LAMA in Van Nuys, Calif.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.

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Wendell Castle’s Spectacular Limited Edition Stainless Steel Abilene Rocking Chair Could Fetch $120,000 at LAMA


What you see: A limited edition stainless steel Abilene rocking chair, made in 2008 by Wendell Castle. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.


Who was Wendell Castle? The Kansas-born artist was a dean of the American studio furniture movement. He gleefully and deliberately erased the line between sculpture and furniture. He was an artist in residence at the Rochester Institute of Technology and kept a studio near Rochester, N.Y. His pieces are in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Smithsonian Institution; and the White House. Castle died in January 2018 of complications of leukemia. He was 85.


Is the Abilene rocking chair a design that Castle originally made in the 1960s and revisited in 2008? “It’s purely 2008, but you can look at rocking chairs that he made in the 1960s, and you can see the through-line,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “Wendell Castle thought he was part furniture-maker and part artist. The soft curves of this are maternal and embracing, and at the same time, it’s masculine. The 1960s chairs have the same thing–big and bold, yet soft and curvaceous.”


What makes this a Wendell Castle design? What visual signatures mark the Abilene rocking chair as his work? “Wendell Castle emerged when designers and craftspeople were working in a reductionist aesthetic,” he says. “He reacted against the reductionist aesthetic, people who were paring down and reducing forms. He had the capacity to combine masculine and maternal shapes in part by broadening his materials. His work has a thickness that ran contrary to others of the era. Others thought, ‘How can I create with the least amount of material?’ Castle thought, ‘I want to make a leg thicker than normal if it’s closer to my artistic vision.’ This certainly has that. The rails of the rocker that swoop into the warmest are bigger and more massive than you would expect.”


How often did Castle work in stainless steel? Is this the only instance of him using it? “He worked in various materials,” he says. “He’s best known for working in wood, but he worked in metal. I don’t know if he did another stainless steel chair, but he did bronze stools.”


This is number four of the edition of eight. Where are the other seven Abilene chairs? The second from the series sold for $81,250 on an estimate of $50,000 to $80,000 at Christie’s New York in March 2014. Loughrey believes the edition sold out and the rest likely remain in private hands or institutions.


What’s the auction record for a work by Castle? The record-holder is a 1980 ‘Victory’ chair and desk sold at Christie’s New York in December 2015 for $221,000 against an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. The record for a single stand-alone work belongs to a 1963 rocking chair that sold for $204,000 against a $90,000 to $140,000 estimate at Rago in 2008. The next highest is a 2009 rocking chair that sold for about $180,000 against an estimate of about $134,000 to $201,000 at Tajan in Paris.


Do those results tell us anything about how this Wendell Castle rocking chair might perform at auction? “I would hope so!” he says. “The rocking chair is definitely a form he returns to. All three are completely different, but if you line them all up, you can see the Castle vocabulary flowing through them.”


What is it like to sit in? “It’s incredibly comfortable, and incredibly heavy,” he says, noting that it weighs about 400 pounds. “It takes two strong men to lift it. It’s a sculpture that sits in place. You can’t push it to another part of the room. When it’s set, it’s set.”


I imagine the Abilene rocking chair reflects Castle’s talent–he could make something so heavy look as light as a wisp of smoke and feel as comfortable as any other rocking chair. “Even as an artist, Castle understood the dynamics of the human form and how it interacts with the sculpture,” he says. “All his chairs are created to interact with the human form. It’s not something only to look at. It’s completely functional.”


Wendell Castle died in January 2018. How might that affect how this lot performs at auction on February 25, 2018? “It may affect it to some degree,” Loughrey says. “Typically, works are not dramatically affected when an artist dies. It may get a few more people’s attention. But it’s not easy to answer. It’s an old wives’ tale that if an artist dies, their prices immediately go up. If there’s a dramatic stock market selloff before the auction, that will affect it [the final price of the rocking chair] way more than him passing away.”


Why will this stainless steel Wendell Castle rocking chair stick in your memory? “To me, it’s exciting to see the arc of his career,’ he says. “Very early on, he created rocking chairs, and returned to the form and expanded on it and used his vocabulary in new and different ways. There’s distinct rocking chair progress over a 50-year period. This is instantly recognizable as a chair. At the same time, it’s functional as a piece of modern sculpture,” he says, adding, “And it will be memorable to me because I had a connection to him. I sat on panels with him, I interviewed him, and he was incredibly generous in helping me with cataloging things correctly. Now that he’s gone, it’s going to be a little emotional for me.”


How to bid: The Abilene rocking chair is lot 144 in LAMA‘s Modern Art & Design Auction on February 25, 2018.


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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.


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