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Champagne, Small Talk, and Illustration Art

Richard de Thuin | October 26th, 2013


Jennifer Jones had gone by Phyllis Isley when she appeared with John Wayne in 1939 in a Western at Republic Studio on Hollywood’s poverty row and also in the serial Dick Tracy’s G-Men. Later she was discovered by David O. Selznick and obtained the lead role of Saint Bernadette of Lourdes in The Song of Bernadette (1943), for which she went on to win an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1944. Jones is depicted in this 53" x 28" framed oil on canvas, signed lower right, by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978). This famous full-length portrait is among the most reproduced works of Rockwell’s career. Four full pages with photographs and text were given to this lot in the catalog. This image is reproduced over 50 times in the press book. Rockwell commented that nothing else he ever painted was reproduced in so many ways. Rockwell was told that in addition to the image being in magazines and newspapers and on theater posters, it covered the entire wall of an eight-story building.

According to notes in the catalog, in an essay written for Norman Rockwell Museum’s 1999 exhibition of Rockwell movie poster art, the writer noted, “In an unusually ambitious 20th Century Fox publicity campaign, advertising director Charles Schlaifer decided to use a 150-foot high display of Rockwell’s illustration for The Song of Bernadette above a Broadway theater marquee. According to Schlaifer, ‘It absolutely sold the picture’ and was one of the most effective pieces ever created for a motion picture.”

Jones went on to enjoy a major film career, garnering another three nominations for best actress and one for best supporting actress, none of which she won. The Song of Bernadette received 12 Academy Award nominations, winning four: best actress in a leading role, best black-and-white cinematography, best black-and-white interior decoration, and best scoring of a dramatic or comedy feature. Bidding opened at $300,000 from the Internet and finished from the phone at $605,000 (est. $400,000/600,000).

The young woman pictured on this circa 1932 oil on canvas, 24" x 50", by McClelland Barclay (1891-1943) resembles the movie star Joan Crawford, so perhaps the gentleman pulling off his sweater might have been modeled on Douglas Fairbanks Jr., as the stars were married to each other at the time. Signed at the lower left, Lover’s Paradise, for a Cosmopolitan magazine story illustration, realized $10,625 from the phone (est. $4000/6000).

Heritage Auctions, New York City

Photos courtesy Heritage Auctions

At Heritage Auctions’ preview party on Thursday, October 24, 2013, for its illustration art sale at the Ukrainian Institute of America at the historic Fletcher-Sinclair house on Fifth Avenue and 79th Street in New York City, it was primarily a suit and tie crowd, sipping champagne or mineral water, sampling hors d’oeuvres, and indulging in small talk. Illustration art hung on the walls, and while sometimes the champagne and small talk seemed to overwhelm any interest in the artwork, it really didn’t matter because two days later there was zero reluctance for bidders to bid healthily in the salesroom, on the phones, through Heritage Live! on the Internet, or by order or absentee bids.

The main auction of illustration art was displayed on the second floor of the house, down the stairwells, and in a first floor reception area. To the right of this space there was a smaller room that housed the Frank collection of science fiction and fantasy art, which would follow the main auction on Saturday, October 26. The first auction began at noon and comprised the crème de la crème of illustration artists. There was art from George Brehm, Stevan Dohanos, Amos Sewell, Rolf Armstrong, Vaughan Alden Bass, Sam Cherry, Dean Cornwell, Gil Elvgren, Harrison Fisher, James Montgomery Flagg, Frank Kelly Freas, Charles Dana Gibson, Joseph Christian Leyendecker, Earl Moran, LeRoy Neiman, Maxfield Parrish, George Petty, Norman Rockwell, Frank Earle Schoonover, Jessie Willcox Smith, Alberto Vargas, and Newell Convers Wyeth.

The first session included 40 lots from the collection of Sherman Small (1923-2011), of which the most desirable lots were covers for the Saturday Evening Post by Stevan Dohanos. Small, a B-26 tail gunner during World War II, would cross paths with Dohanos and eventually become his number one fan. According to a blurb in the catalog, these two men “shared accomplishments of valor, love of country, and affection for one another, and an endearing friendship among two ‘regular guys’ that was forged in steel. Sherman Small and Stevan Dohanos expressed their loyalties by collecting and creating the finest examples of American illustrational art in their shared journey.”

The major Dohanos work up for bid was an oil on board, The Future Fireman,that depicts a young boy in the driver’s seat of a fire truck. It was seen on the cover of the November 14, 1953, issue of the Saturday
Evening
Post. It realized $106,250 (includes buyer’s premium). Dohanos’s former auction record was beaten twice with his Saturday Evening Post covers.

Three paintings by Gil Elvgren sold for six figures, an auction record was set for Rolf Armstrong, and there were strong results across the board for works by Alberto Vargas and George Petty.

Among the 107 lots of science fiction and fantasy art, a record was set for Virgil Finlay at more than triple his previous auction record. Viridi, Goddess of Nature, an oil on board, sold above estimate for $56,250. This was the third special catalog devoted to the world-renowned Jane and Howard Frank collection of science fiction and fantasy art. Beginning in the 1960’s the Franks collected major examples of weird and fantastic art, a passion that continued through succeeding decades. They amassed an array of the best art by all of the major fantasy artists such as the aforementioned Virgil Finlay, plus Frank R. Paul, Allen Anderson, Boris Vallejo, Jeff Jones, and other artists.

Heritage Auctions is a class act from A to Z. From the preview party to the last lot to go under the hammer, everything was done in a remarkably professional manner. Kathleen Guzman, the auctioneer, called bids for both auctions with maybe a ten-minute lunch break between and an occasional sip of water. That her voice didn’t give out is a sign of her professionalism. At the front of the salesroom between eight and ten attendants, their backs to the room and facing the podium, took phone bids while to Guzman’s left two young women oversaw Internet bids. On a screen facing the salesroom, the current lot up for bid in real time was visible to bidders. Also visible was where the bids were coming from—Internet, phone, room, etc., and below the current bid was a list of the last three sold lots with their realized prices.

The total amount of both auctions equaled $3,762,690. Lots that failed to find a bid are listed on the Heritage Web site (www.HA.com) so interested parties can make an offer to purchase a piece of illustration art post sale.

For more information, contact Heritage Auctions at (212) 486-3500 or via the Web Site (www.HA.com).

The third of eleven lots by Stevan Dohanos (1907-1994) from the collection of Sherman Smith and one of four examples of illustration art that Dohanos created as covers for the Saturday Evening Post, this Victory Garden artwork for the May 26, 1951, issue was signed at the lower left. This 48" x 36" oil on masonite brought $81,250 (est. $40,000/60,000) from the Internet.

The Future Fireman, a 39" x 31" oil on board by Stevan Dohanos, painted for the November 14, 1953, issue of the Saturday Evening Post,was signed at the lower left and sold to the room for $106,250 (est. $30,000/50,000).

Pictured on the auction catalog cover was this sexy image, Lucky Dog (Dog Gone Robber) by Gil Elvgren (1914-1980). The 30¼" x 24" oil on canvas was signed at the lower right and had been used for a Brown & Bigelowcalendar illustration in 1958. Provenance included Judy Goffman Cutler’s American Illustrators Gallery, New York. All the action was among the phones until the painting brought $173,000 (est. $50,000/75,000). This painting was reproduced as figure number 316 in Gil Elvgren: All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups by Charles Martignette and Louis K. Meisel (1999).

Inscribed to the famed Skippy cartoonist Percy Crosby and signed on the bottom edge, this 19" x 14¾" pen-and-ink on paper by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), Engagements, Saint Valentine, was used for a Life magazine illustration in the 1920’s. It reached almost three times the low estimate to sell to the room for $13,750.

I Thank Him for the Knowledge That I Shall Not Tell!!…And, Perhaps…I Shall Not Wholly Die…Perhaps, 1910, depicts a white man tethered to the ground while an Indian holding a knife sits nearby. This oil en grisaille on canvas, 28" x 42½", signed and dated at upper right by Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945) had been exhibited at the Gmeiner Art and Cultural Center, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, in September 1999 and sold via the Internet for $103,125 (est. $60,000/80,000).

Both the room and the phone wanted The Artist and his Model, 1921, by renowned artist Dean Cornwell (1892-1960). This 34" x 36" oil on canvas, signed at the lower left, had existed in a private collection for decades and had never been offered on the market. This painting went to the phone for $53,125 (est. $25,000/35,000).

One Prehistoric Night, a17¾" x 15½" (image) pen and watercolor on board, signed lower right by Frank R. Paul (1884-1963), for a Wonder Stories pulp digest cover from November 1944, depicts soldiers zapping prehistoric dinosaurs attacking their spaceship. The phone won this lot for $23,750 (est. $10,000/15,000). A letter from Forrest J. Ackerman of Hollywood, California, was included. Frank collection.

Two phones battled each other to win Space Settlement, an AMP corporate commission (1988) and a 16¾" x 28¼" (image) casein and acrylic on board that John Conrad Berkey (1932-2008) signed at the lower right. This painting was also reproduced and prominently featured as the only double page gatefold on pages 37A-37B of John Berkey: Painted Space (1991). This painting from the Frank collection opened at $5000 and went on to realize $16,250 (est. $3000/5000).


Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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