SOLD! Rockwell Kent’s Spellbinding 1930 Version of Moby Dick Commands $1,560 at Swann

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What you see: One of the 280 pen-and-ink illustrations that Rockwell Kent did for a three-volume 1930 limited edition release of Moby Dick. This particular copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Swann Auction Galleries estimates it at $2,000 to $3,000.

Who was Rockwell Kent? He was one of the best-known American artists of the first half of the 20th century. He was noted for his landscapes and seascapes before making his name as an illustrator. People mixed him up with Norman Rockwell so often that it became a running joke between the two men. Kent died in 1971 at the age of 88.

How did the limited edition printing of Moby Dick come about? Publisher R.R. Donnelley approached Kent in 1926 to do a version of Two Years Before the Mast, and he suggested doing the Melville novel instead. “Kent loved the sea, and the water. He was a master of painting light, and was able to capture that, even in his woodcuts,” says Christine von der Linn, specialist at Swann. “Moby Dick was originally slated to be a one-volume book, and it grew to three.”

Kent’s illustrated Moby Dick came out in 1930, during the Great Depression. How well did it sell? “It was so popular, the limited edition of 1,000 sold out,” she says. “It launched Kent’s name, and caused a revival of interest in Moby Dick. It was so popular that a one-volume trade edition was put out.”

This copy lacks its aluminum slipcase. Does that affect its value? Yes. It’d be worth one-third to one-half more if it came with the slipcase, von der Linn says, noting that the Kent limited edition was jokingly referred to as ‘Moby Dick in a can.’

That image of the whale diving deep into the ocean with the boat in its mouth looks cinematic. Was Kent influenced by the movies at all? “He was certainly aware of the current culture and would have seen movies, but he was not thinking in a cinematic way,” she says. “He loved black and white, and he tried to distill the most dramatic details out of a scene. He was always thinking about reaching the reader in the most visually direct way possible.”

But that drawing, tho. “That image is phenomenal. You can’t look at that and not get chills,” she says. “You understand everything about the novel. It’s incredible.”

What else makes Kent’s version of Moby Dick so spectacular? “It blows you away with the overall beauty of it,” she says. “As you flip through the pages, you feel it come to life through Kent’s illustrations. That’s the mark of a successful illustrated book–if you can make the words leap off the page and spring to life.”

How to bid: The limited edition Rockwell Kent-illustrated Moby Dick is lot 184 in Swann’s Art, Press & Illustrated Books sale on June 13, 2017.

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

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An Extra-Rare Original Woodstock Concert Poster Could Command $2,500 at Heritage Auctions

Woodstock Festival Poster Signed by Artist Arnold Skolnik (1969)_edited

What you see: An original 1969 Woodstock concert poster that shows just the artwork–no small text–and is signed by Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it. It’s in Very Good Plus condition and is estimated at $2,500.

How rare are original Woodstock concert posters in general, and how rare is it to find one that lacks the band names, the concert dates, and other small text? “Woodstock concert posters are rare, and this one is unusual,” says Giles Moon, consignment director of entertainment and music memorabilia at Heritage Auctions, adding, “I think that purist concert poster collectors want the version used to advertise the concert.”

The lot just before this one in the sale is a signed original Woodstock poster that has the small text. Its starting bid is $1,000, but the starting bid for this poster is $1,250. Why? “That’s intriguing. I’m not certain why that is,” he says, noting that this is the first artwork-only original Woodstock poster that he has handled. “This one might be more unusual, and that might be why there’s a higher starting bid on it.”

The poster is signed by Arnold Skolnik, the artist who designed it. Does that add to its value? “It adds several hundred dollars to the poster,” he says. “It doesn’t double the value, but it adds 20 to 30 percent. It’s difficult to say how many original Woodstock concert posters he signed. The majority of the originals have not been signed. In 2009, we sold one for $1,000, and I would expect the price to have jumped a bit since then.”

Were Woodstock posters collected at the time of the concert, or only later on? “It’s nearly always the case that they’re collected later on. That’s why the posters are so rare,” Moon says. “No one imagined they’d become collectible or valuable. They were just discarded. People who saved them were keeping them for aesthetic reasons.”

What makes this poster so successful? “It’s a simple, strong image that gets across the concept of what the festival was,” he says. “And it was a departure from the psychedelia as well. Lots of posters were trippy, intricate and complicated. This is simplistic.”

How to bid: The artwork-only original Woodstock concert poster is lot #89705 in Heritage Auctions’s Entertainment & Music Memorabilia Signature Auction on June 17 and 18 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

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

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SOLD! Wright Sold That Amazing Macchie Vase for $8,450

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Update: The macchie vase sold for $8,450.

What you see: A macchie (mah-key-aye) vase created circa 1890 by the Italian company Francesco Ferro e Figlio. Wright estimates it at $4,000 to $6,000.

What is Francesco Ferro e Figlio? It was a company founded in 1880 by Francesco Ferro and his son, Ferdinando. It ceased doing business under this name after Francesco died in 1901.

Wait, this vase was made in 1890? The late 19th century? Seriously? “So many 19th century pieces really do look modern,” says Sara Blumberg, a consultant for Wright. “This has no handles and no great ornamentation except for the glass itself. They really were making a step forward out of the baroque.”

How difficult would this have been to make in 1890? “Regardless of the technique, there are great losses. There’s a level of difficulty when dealing with different types of glass in the same vessel. You can think of it as studio glass in that regard,” she says. “A lot of the aspects are dependent on the day, the blower, the conditions, and luck as well.”

The vase stands 12 inches tall. Did its size pose a challenge to the glassblower? “Generally speaking, the larger a vessel becomes, the more difficult it is to make,” Blumberg says. “Twelve inches may not seem incredibly large, but for the 19th century, it is.”

Is it unique? “It’s unique in the sense that every vase is hand-blown. But in 25 years, I’ve never handled one,” she says. “It’s really very rare.”

What does “macchie” mean? It means “spot,” or “spotted.” It’s a literal description of the vase’s appearance.

What else makes this vase special? “It’s rather startling to look at. It’s a simple vessel, but there’s all this activity on the surface. It’s like looking at an abstract painting,” she says. “It’s quite early, but it has a modernity to it. There’s an artistic presence here that’s very intentional, and beautiful to see. That’s what makes the piece so exciting and rare. You don’t come across it very often.”

How to bid: The macchie vase is lot 223 in The Design Collection of Dimitri Levas, taking place June 8, 2017 at Wright.

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

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SOLD! The Brett Whiteley Painting Fetched $538,366 at Bonhams Sydney

Lot 37_Whiteley

Update: Brett Whiteley’s Hummingbird and Frangipani sold for AU $719,800, or $538,366, at Bonhams Sydney.

What you see: Hummingbird and Frangipani, a 1986 oil on board by Australian artist Brett Whiteley. It comes directly from its original owner to Bonhams, which estimates it at $280,000 to $350,000 in Australian dollars, or $210,000 to $260,000 in U.S. dollars.

Who is Brett Whiteley? He was one of the leading Australian artists of the 20th century. He traveled the world, living in England and the U.S. as well as Australia. In 1978 he achieved the feat of winning the Archibald Prize, the Sulman Prize, and the Wynne Prize, the only time all three prestigious Australian art awards have gone to the same person. Overall, he won each award twice. He made several attempts to quit alcohol and drugs, but ultimately died of an opiate overdose in 1992, at the age of 53.

How often did Whiteley portray hummingbirds and frangipani? “He was fascinated with birds, and painted them from the 1970s onward,” says Alex Clark, an Australian art specialist at Bonhams. “You can often find frangipani hidden in the backgrounds of his paintings. You can find them all over Sydney, and being a Sydney boy, he had a close connection to them. This is a very beautiful painting that combines two of his favorite subject matters.”

How often did he paint birds? “He’s renowned for his birds,” he says. “In general, the bird is a sign of peace and freedom. Whiteley led a bit of a tumultuous life. When he painted birds, he was in a happier place. It gave him a lot of joy.”

How does Hummingbird and Frangipani showcase Whiteley’s strengths? “He has an amazing ability to give movement to paintings,” Clark says. “In this, you see it in the beautiful sweeping line of the hummingbird’s wing.”

What else makes Hummingbird and Frangipani a strong Whiteley work? “It’s an extremely elegant work, and it has great wall power,” he says. “It’s exciting to handle a work of this nature, especially since no one has seen it for 30 years. And his bird paintings are very sought-after.”

How to bid: Whiteley’s Hummingbird and Frangipani is lot 37 in the Australian Art and Aboriginal Art auction at Bonhams Sydney on June 6.

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

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SOLD! Sotheby’s Spectacular Diego Rivera Portrait Commands $2.4 Million

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Update: The Diego Rivera portrait of Matilde Palou sold for $2.4 million.

What you see: Retrato de la Actriz Matilde Palou, a 1951 portrait by Diego Rivera. Sotheby’s estimates it at $2 million to $3 million.

Who is Diego Rivera? He was a great 20th century Mexican painter who married Frida Kahlo twice, and was her husband when she died in 1954. His murals grace the walls of the Detroit Institute of the Arts and the Palacio de Bellas Arts in Mexico City. A 1933 mural commission for Rockefeller Center in New York was halted after he refused to remove a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. (The Mexico City mural is a version of the abandoned Manhattan mural.) Rivera died in 1957 at the age of 70.

Who is Matilde Palou? She was a Chilean actress who worked with the legendary Spanish director Luis Buñuel. She was about 40 when she posed for Rivera. She died in 1970 at the age of 64.

Why did Rivera paint this portrait? “The exact reason why he painted it, and why the actress was painted in an outrageously patriotic dress, is a mystery to us,” says Axel Stein, head of Sotheby’s Latin American art department, adding that Rivera painted portraits throughout his entire career, and in the last 10 years of his life, he painted several actresses.

This oil-on-canvas measures 80 1/2 inches by 48 1/4 inches. How unusual was it for Rivera to paint a portrait of this size? “Large portraits are rare in Rivera. I’ve seen less than 15 portraits this large in his catalogue raisonné,” he says, adding that something of this nature comes up about once every 10 years.

What is the meaning of the symbols on Palou’s dress? “We’re not able to identify them all, but they’re about Mexico, and Mexico City,” he says, picking out a prominent image on the second tier of the skirt of the dress that shows an eagle standing on a cactus and holding a serpent in its mouth. The motif alludes to an Aztec tale about the founding of the city of Tenochtitlan, and it appears on the Mexican flag. Her dress also reflects the style of the region of Chapa de Corzo, which is near the Guatemalan border.

What else makes this work special? “Diego Rivera is about the power of the image. When you see this in person, there is power,” he says. “I brought her [this portrait] to a highlights exhibition in Los Angeles a month ago. People who came into the exhibit who didn’t know Rivera asked, ‘Who is this?’ You cannot go by and pretend you haven’t seen it. It leaves you in a state of wonder.”

How to bid: The Rivera portrait is lot 8 in the Latin America: Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s New York on May 25.

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

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SOLD! A Mesmerizing Work by Jonathan Borofsky Fetches $9,375 at LAMA

Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA)

Update: The Borofsky sold for $9,375.

What you see: Man with a Briefcase (C), a woodcut with collage on handmade paper by Jonathan Borofsky. It’s the fourth of a 1991 limited edition of 12, and it measures 92 inches by 39 inches. Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.

Who is Jonathan Borofsky? He is an American artist who works in many media, but he might be best known for his monumental sculptures, which have been displayed outdoors in cities around the world. Man with Briefcase is a motif that appears often in his work, and has appeared since at least 1980, in sizes ranging from 11 inches to 32 feet. Borofsky will turn 75 in December.

What makes the Man with a Briefcase image so strong? “It’s an object in a square, a simple cutout of a man with a briefcase in silhouette, with no details,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA. “In this case, with this image, there’s no horizon. It’s kind of floating in space in an almost surrealistic fashion. It’s almost impossible to tell if the figure is facing away from you or facing toward you. It’s almost a mirror. You kind of see what you want to see. Is it a man going to work? A man who lost his job? There are so many ways to look at it and bring your own imagination to bear.”

Borofsky explores the Man with a Briefcase image in different mediums, at wildly different sizes, over several years. Is that a drawback for collectors? “Just the opposite, from a market perspective,” Loughrey says. “The market reacts positively to artists who continue and hold these themes and give interesting variations on those themes. You can see it in Picasso, you can see it in Warhol, you can see it in Lichtenstein. It shows that Borofsky is one of the great contemporary artists. I’ve never seen this particular piece before, but it’s obvious it’s Borofsky. It couldn’t be anyone else. It’s that instant recognition that’s rewarding and comforting and helps you understand an artist’s work.”

How to bid: The Borofsky is lot 39 in the May 21 Modern Art & Design Auction at LAMA.

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

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SOLD! Phillips London Sells Ruud van Empel’s Ethereal Boy & Girl for More Than $88,000

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Update: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl sold for £68,750, or $88,688.

What you see: Ruud van Empel’s Boy & Girl, the first of a limited edition of seven prints, created in 2008. Phillips estimates it at £50,000 to £70,000 (about $64,000 to $90,000).

Who is Ruud van Empel? He’s a Dutch visual artist who pushes the boundaries of photography. Boy & Girl belongs to his World series, which, along with the Moon and Venus series, brought him international recognition. He will turn 59 in November.

No, really, what is this? “It is completely fictional,” says Genevieve Janvrin, co-head of photographs for Phillips Europe. “The children don’t exist. The forest doesn’t exist. It’s all in his head. For every one child you see, he’ll photograph five. He takes photos of leaves, Dutch foliage, and will move the leaves around. It literally takes him months to create each work, The Photoshop tool is his paintbrush. It’s almost like a puzzle, putting pieces together in a different way that confuses you and seduces you at the same time.”

Boy & Girl is a dye destruction print that has been face-mounted on Plexiglas. How do these techniques affect the artwork? “It’s a very shiny print–incredibly shiny,” says Janvrin. “In addition to that, it’s face-mounted on Plexiglas, a very highly reflective polished glass. It really shines at you. It’s not matte at all–full gloss. And it [looks] squeaky clean. The boy is in white shorts in a muddy forest, but no one is mucky. This is not reality. It’s all incredibly perfect and beautiful.”

It’s also fairly large, at 95 inches by 67 1/2 inches. How does that enhance its impact? “When you stand in front of this one, you really feel like you’re there. The foliage is all-encompassing,” she says. “There’s a huge amount of depth in the work. His attention to detail is incredible.”

How often does Boy & Girl come up at auction? This is only the second to appear. Another from the edition sold in 2015 at another auction house for £80,500, or around $126,000.

What else makes Boy & Girl compelling? “For me, personally, there’s a lot more going on than in some of the others [from the series],” she says. “The children are not looking at the viewer, not engaging you. It creates much more of a narrative. They’re moving–where are they going? And they’re very small. That foliage usually comes up to your ankles. You get the sense that the children have almost been shrunk. He usually puts [his child models] in very gendered clothes, but the clothes on these two are very pared down. It’s either an aftermath, or an Edenesque beginning–a powerful discovery of who they are and what they are doing.”

How to bid: Boy & Girl is lot 84 in Phillips’s May 18 Photographs auction in London.

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Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Phillips/Phillips.com

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