That’s Some Fine Hat, Benny: Freeman’s Has a Splendid 19th Century Fire Company Hat That Could Sell For $12,000

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What you see: A painted and decorated leather and felt parade hat for the Franklin Fire Company, a volunteer fire-fighting company which was active in Germantown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It dates to between 1840 and 1860, stands six and a half inches tall, and measures a bit over 13 inches in diameter. Freeman’s estimates it at $8,000 to $12,000.

What was the Franklin Fire Company? It was one of several volunteer fire-fighting companies in pre-Civil War America. “It was kind of a club, but you didn’t just get together as a fraternity–you did something. You saved property, you saved lives. You were heroes,” says Lynda Cain, vice president and department head for American furniture, folk and decorative arts at Freeman’s. “Fires were an everyday terror in 18th and 19th century America. Heating, cooking, and lighting were all hazardous. Volunteer fire-fighters had a hugely important role to play. The company was a great melting pot. You could have laborers, lawyers, and doctors. You were selected by ballot, and not everybody got in.”

Why did someone in the Franklin Fire Company need a parade hat? “This was for special occasions, such as celebrations and competitive events. The hats emphasized their group, their fraternity,” Cain says. “It shows your affiliation. It advertised your fire department, and your membership in it.”

Who in the Franklin Fire Company would have worn this hat? Everyone would have worn matching red parade hats with Franklin’s face on the front. “These guys would have proudly gathered and marched in their groups,” she says, noting that the initials ‘W.G.’ are lettered on the crown of the hat in black and gilded paint. “They had capes, too, but fewer of those survive.”

Who painted the portrait of Benjamin Franklin on the front? We don’t know, but it wasn’t the same artisan who made the hat. “It’s beautifully done,” Cain says, adding that it’s the first hat of its type with a Benjamin Franklin image to come to auction. “This particular hat has Franklin, but others had Washington, or Lafayette, or eagles, or classical figures, or scantily clad ladies in the 19th century sense.”

How rare are fire company parade hats? “I’ve been here 15 years and I’ve had five,” she says. “I love this hat. It’s been cleaned, but it’s in very fine shape. And Philadelphia and Franklin are a perfect pair.”

How to bid: The Franklin Fire Company parade hat is lot 148 in the American Furniture, Folk & Decorative Arts sale at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on April 26, 2017.

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

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NEW RECORD! Untitled (Negro Mother) Realizes $100,000–an Auction Record for Sargent Johnson–at Swann Galleries

M35509-1 009

Update: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother) sold for $100,000–a record for the artist at auction.

 

What you see: Sargent Johnson’s Untitled (Negro Mother), a copper repoussé mask created circa 1935-36. It measures about 12 inches long and is estimated at $80,000 to $120,000.

 

Who is Sargent Johnson? He was a 20th century African-American artist who spent most of his career in San Francisco, and worked in a wide range of artistic media. He earned a national profile with his compelling, sensitive images of African-American subjects. “He worked to convey a more positive view of African-American femininity and womanhood in a time when the images were racist stereotypes,” says Nigel Freeman, director of the African-American fine art department at Swann Galleries. Johnson died in 1967.

 

What makes Untitled (Negro Mother) so intriguing? It’s one of perhaps ten copper repoussé masks that Johnson made, and most of those are in museum collections. Untitled (Negro Mother) is only the second Johnson mask to come to auction. Swann Galleries sold the first, a 1933 work simply called Mask, for $67,200 against an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000 in 2010. The consigner owned it for 50-odd years, having bought it as an unattributed mask and learning later who created it: “Somebody just sold it as a mask, and the owner discovered the signature on the back and discovered who Sargent Johnson was,” says Freeman.

 

What else makes Untitled (Negro Mother) a powerful work of art? “It has the character, stature, and dignity that all Johnson’s figures have,” says Freeman. “It’s beautifully proportioned, and you get a sense of the artist being very careful to have everything perfectly balanced. At the same time, you have a strong human presence. That’s what makes his work stand out.”

 

How to bid: Untitled (Negro Mother) is lot 13 in Swann Galleries’s African-American Fine Art auction on April 6, 2017.

 

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

 

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SOLD! Albert Paley’s Alluring Coffee Table Commands $8,125 at Freeman’s

Albert Paley “Coffee Table

Update: The Albert Paley coffee table sold for $8,125.

What you see: A coffee table created in 1991 by American sculptor Albert Paley. It is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Who is Albert Paley? He is one of the world’s foremost metal sculptors. He might be best known for the Portal Gates that he created for the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He’s made about 50 coffee tables to date.

What makes this coffee table a powerful example of Paley’s work? “What people find appealing about Paley is he takes metal and makes it feel like flowing drapery,” says Tim Andreadis, department head for 20th century design at Freeman’s. “He bends and manipulates it like fabric, or pulled taffy. It’s inviting, and yet sort of curious. A lot goes into controlling the metal and getting it to look the way he wants.”

What else makes the Paley coffee table stand out? “If you took the glass top off it, you’d think it was a really beautiful sculpture, and you wouldn’t question it,” says Andreadis. “That’s what’s so great about Paley–the combination of art, craft, technique, and design, all melded together to create pieces that are unique. It could look amazing in a Silicon Valley tech executive’s home, with edgy contemporary pieces, or something a bit more traditional.”

Who is Jeffrey Kaplan? Did he commission the table directly from Paley? Kaplan, a retired lawyer, placed the coffee table in the living room of his Washington, D.C. apartment. He bought it from a gallery in the city and kept the receipts. (The winning bidder will receive copies of the paperwork.)

How to bid: The Albert Paley coffee table is lot 450 in 1,000 Years of Collecting: The Jeffrey M. Kaplan Collection on April 6, 2017 at Freeman’s auction house in Philadelphia.

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

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SOLD! Gerald Scarfe Drawing of the Teacher from Pink Floyd’s The Wall Sells for More Than $28,000

Lot 40, Gerald Scarfe, ' The Teacher'

UPDATE: The Gerald Scarfe drawing of the Teacher sold for £22,500, or just over $28,000, more than double its high estimate.

What you see: The Teacher, a signed, undated pen, ink, and watercolor drawing by Gerald Scarfe. Sotheby’s estimates it at £7,000 to £9,000, or about $8,700 to $11,200.

Who is Gerald Scarfe? He’s a British illustrator and political cartoonist, but he’s probably best known for his work with the band Pink Floyd on The Wall, a rock opera that became an album, a film, and a stage show. “You can’t think of Pink Floyd without thinking of Gerald Scarfe, and you can’t think of Gerald Scarfe without thinking of Pink Floyd,” says Philip Errington, director of Sotheby’s books and manuscripts department.

Who is the Teacher? The Teacher is a villain from The Wall who bullies and terrorizes Pink, the lead character, during his school days. He embodies the figure who the children’s choir scold in Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2, when they sing, “Hey, teacher! Leave them kids alone!” In Scarfe’s hands, the Teacher becomes a stalking, slouching, pitiless fish-faced creature who wields a cane. “Every movement is crackling with energy,” Errington says of the Scarfe drawing. “It’s immediate and raw.”

When did Scarfe make this drawing, and why? Errington says Scarfe drew it sometime within the last four years for a Roger Waters tour. It’s the original artwork for a keepsake print that was given to Waters’s team. Errington notes that the combination of elements–the famous wall backdrop, the words “Pink Floyd The Wall” above the Teacher’s head, and Scarfe’s signature at the lower right–makes this piece extra-desirable: “The combination of all three is quite spectacular. Other Teacher images in the sale do not have the lettering and the wall.”

What else makes this drawing special? It comes directly from Scarfe to Sotheby’s, and it’s generously sized, at 31.2 inches by 23.3 inches. “There’s a delight to handling the originals,” Errington says. “Reproductions in books never do them justice.  And they’re big! That makes them arresting in their own right.”

How to bid: The Teacher is lot 40 in the Scarfe at Sotheby’s auction, scheduled for April 5, 2017 in London.

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

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SOLD! Willi Ruge’s Mesmerizing 1931 Photograph of a Parachutist Floating Over Berlin Sells for $65,000–More Than Double Its High Estimate

 

Willi Ruge, Berlin Fallschirmspringer [The Berlin Parachutist]

Update: Phillips sold the 1931 Willi Ruge photo Berlin Parachute Jumper for $65,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: Berlin Fallschirmspringer, which translates as Berlin Parachute Jumper, from Willi Ruge’s 1931 series, I Photograph Myself During a Parachute Jump. Phillips estimates the gelatin silver print at $20,000 to $30,000.

Who was Willi Ruge? He was a press photographer in the early 20th century who worked with the German counterparts of magazines such as Life and Look. “He distinguished himself by putting himself in the center of the action,” says Christopher Mahoney, a consultant at Phillips’s photography department. “He was a photojournalist, but he was a bit of a daredevil, too.” Ruge (pronounced Roo-guh) was also a pilot and a certified parachutist. He died in 1961.

How hard was it for Ruge to get this shot? After laughing heartily, Mahoney says, “Pretty darn hard. First, you have to have the guts to jump out of a plane with a parachute. Getting up the gumption to do that is a considerable feat in itself. And I can’t imagine it’s easy, hurtling toward the earth with a parachute over you, to concentrate on the complex act of taking a photo, but he did that. And it was all manual. He figured out the focus and the exposure on the fly, and he would have been winding by hand.”

Did Ruge manipulate the photograph in the dark room at all? “It was standard procedure for photographers to fix blemishes in the negative. There may have been a little bit of that.  But there’s no major kind of retouching,” Mahoney says. “This really is what he was seeing as he parachuted down.”

Why did Ruge take this photograph? It was part of a photo story for a German magazine. A friend in a nearby plane photographed Ruge as he jumped, and a second photographer on the ground captured the faces of witnesses who watched him land. The final product enjoyed the 1930s version of going viral–photo magazines in Britain and America ran it. “To me, it’s lost none of its impact,” Mahoney says. “It still induces a sense of vertigo. And it’s confounding–those shoes dangling over Berlin. It still packs a wallop, many decades later.”

What else makes this photograph special? It’s rare, as are all Ruge images (his archive was bombed in 1943), and it does not appear to have gone to auction before. And there’s not much else like it out there. “This is an image that couldn’t exist in other media,” Mahoney says. “It is photography doing what photography does best–documenting the moment so other people can see it. This is a very dramatic moment Willi Ruge has documented.”

How to bid: Berlin Fallschirmspringer is lot 6 in The Odyssey of Collecting: Photographs from  Joy of Giving Foundation, taking place April 3 and April 4, 2017 at Phillips New York.

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

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SOLD! Bonhams Sells the Portrait of the Godolphin Arabian, Ancestor of Man o’ War and Seabiscuit, for More Than $123,000

99 The Godolphin Arabian

What you see: A circa 1793-1794 oil on canvas painting of the Godolphin Arabian, estimated at £15,000 to £20,000, which equates to $18,000 to $24,000.

What was the Godolphin Arabian? The Godolphin Arabian was one of the three stallions who founded the bloodlines of the thoroughbred horse that we know today. The Godolphin Arabian was foaled in Yemen in 1724, subsequently came to England, and spent most of its life at Gog-Magog, the Earl of Godolphin’s English stud farm. Its descendants include the legendary racehorses Man o’ War and Seabiscuit.

Who painted the Godolphin Arabian? English artist Daniel Quigley, who faced some odd challenges in creating this canvas. He had to copy an original painting by David Morier, which has since been lost. Morier, in turn, never observed his subject live. He relied on the notes of a veterinarian.

What’s up with the horse’s neck? Its improbable thickness might derive from the veterinarian’s notes, which state, “There never was a horse (at least, that I have seen) so well entitled to get racers as the Godolphin Arabian; for, whoever has seen this horse must remember that his shoulders were deeper, and lay farther into his back, than those of any horse ever yet seen.”

Why does the painting have so much text? Quigley was known for producing text-heavy artworks. The horse portrait and the golden words are united on the canvas, and the words name the Godolphin Arabian’s sons and daughters.”All those horses were born in his lifetime,” says Charlie Thomas, director of the house sale and private collections department at Bonhams. “There are no grandchildren.”

What makes this painting exceptional? “It’s great to be reminded why the horse is so famous, and great to be reminded where the thoroughbred race horse comes from,” says Thomas. “Think of all the horses that have run at the Kentucky Derby, at Royal Ascot, at Dubai, at the Melbourne Cup–there’s a good chance that a lot of them descended from this horse.”

How to bid: The Godolphin Arabian is lot 99 in Bonhams’s sale of the Contents of Glyn Cywarch–The Property of Lord Harlech on March 29, 2017 at London, New Bond Street.

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

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LAST CALL: Sinfully Pretty, Possibly Unique 1934 Nudist Film Poster at Heritage: Children of the Sun

Children of the Sun

What you see: A movie poster for the 1934 nudist film Children of the Sun, which Heritage Auctions estimates at $400 to $800.

Who made this movie? Samuel Cummins, an exploitation film impresario who launched his career with the silent 1919 opus The Solitary Sin and went on to release Wild Oats, Trial Marriage, and Unguarded Girls, among others. He died in New York City sometime in the 1960s.

Would this poster have been displayed in public? In 1934? Where? At an independent or second-run movie house. The blank area at the top of the poster would have been printed with the venue name and maybe the screening dates. “Most theaters wouldn’t touch films such as these,” says Grey Smith, director of vintage movie poster auctions at Heritage. “A lot of these low-budget indie films had very eye-catching posters. I love the tagline–‘Nature in the raw.'”

Why risk printing a poster at all? Why not rely on word-of-mouth to lure people to the theater? “Your poster was the biggest selling tool you had,” says Smith. “You want to make it semi-tasteful, but just explicit enough to pique one’s interest.”

How racy was it for its time? “It is surprisingly up front. I can imagine a family passing this poster and the mother being outraged that the theater displayed something like this,” Smith says, adding, “In some areas, the theater owner might have taken some poster paint and painted a dress on her.”

What makes this poster special? Smith has not handled another Children of the Sun poster, save for a different version that was consigned along with this one. It has survived in relatively excellent shape, with its navy blues and butter yellows intact and its paper unfolded. “It’s a good poster for a taboo subject from an earlier period,” he says.

How to bid: The Children of the Sun poster is lot 86694 in Heritage Auctions’s Vintage Movie Posters Signature Auction in Dallas, which takes place March 25 and 26, 2017.

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

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