Purchase Story

Outsider Art at Christie’s

Christie’s, New York City

Photos courtesy Christie’s

When a double-sided Henry Darger watercolor and collage sells for $60,000 more than the highest-priced piece of furniture during Americana Week in New York City, people take notice.

This double-sided work by Henry Darger (1892-1973), 93 At Jennie Richee, are chaced for long distance by Glandelinians with blood hounds. / 95 At Jennie Richee, Escape down Aronburgs Run River through circle section in storm, 22" x 81", sold on the phone for $672,500 (est. $200,000/400,000). There was applause. For a generation Darger has been widely recognized as one of the stars of Outsider art. His large-scale horizontal-format watercolor drawings chronicle events and scenes from his mythical world. His magnum opus, a 15,000-page typed manuscript entitled The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion,tells the story of a great war on an imaginary planet where child slaves, led by a group of preteens called the Vivian Girls, engaged in a series of battles with their adult overlords to gain freedom. Though he finished his manuscript in the 1930s, he continued to create illustrations for his imaginary world. Much of his manuscript and several double-sided drawings are on view in the current exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum in the exhibition called Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epic, through May 27. Freed collection.

The Henry Darger (1892-1973) artwork from the Freed collection offered at Christie’s on January 19 sold for $672,500 (includes buyer’s premium). It was the second-highest price paid for a work by this artist. Later in the morning at Christie’s, a James Wady clock in a shell-carved Newport mahogany case sold for $612,500. It was pictured on the cover of Christie’s American furniture sale catalog, and the Darger was the cover lot of the catalog for Christie’s third annual Outsider art sale.

There were several bidders on the phone and in the room when the Darger crossed the block and a round of applause after auctioneer John Hays dropped his hammer at $550,000. The winner was on the phone.

Marjorie Freed, a Chicago collector and the consignor, was in the salesroom with her son. She and her husband, Dr. Harvey Freed, a psychiatrist, were early collectors. When Life magazine published an article on Outsider art in 1980, Dr. Freed said to his wife, “So that’s what we collect.” They bought from the Chicago dealers who first showed Henry Darger, Joseph Yoakum, Bill Traylor, and others. In 1991 they were among the founders of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago. Many of their friends went to New York City for their sale. They have a good eye.

Bill Traylor (1854-1949), Drinking Man with Dog, 1939, inscribed by Charles Shannon on reverse “Fall ’39 - He so drunk he step right over the dog,” retaining two Charles Shannon labels on reverse, “Drinkers” and “H-62 Drinker Steps Over Dog,”tempera and graphite on thin card, 14" x 11⅛", sold for $137,500 (est. $30,000/50,000) to collector Jerry Lauren in the salesroom. Freed collection.

New York City collector Jerry Lauren, who is very particular about adding to his large collection of Bill Traylor works, paid $137,500 (est. $30,000/50,000) for Drinking Man with Dog from the Freed collection. Two more of the Freeds’ Traylor artworks sold well over estimates. Exciting Event in Blue… went for $93,750 (est. $30,000/50,000). A Couple: Woman in a Spotted Dress and Man in Blue with a Doctor’s Bag fetched $100,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). The Freeds’ large untitled James Castle work, made of soot, spit, and colored pulp on found paper, sold for $30,000 (est. $12,000/18,000) to a collector in the salesroom.

William Edmondson (1874-1951), Lady, 1930s, limestone, 15½" high x 5¼" wide x 11¼" deep, sold in the salesroom for $137,500 (est. $40,000/80.000). Lady is an iconic work by renowned self-taught artist William Edmondson. The sculpture is further distinguished by its ownership by photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe and then Diana Vreeland. Dahl-Wolfe acquired Lady in the 1930s when she took her seminal photographs of the artist’s yard, and she later gifted the work to her friend and colleague at Harper’s Bazaar,fashion editor Diana Vreeland, who subsequently served as editor-in-chief at Vogue and as a consultant for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Lady had pride of place in her Brewster, New York, home. It was consigned by Vreeland’s great-granddaughter. Edmondson was the first African American to have a solo exhibition at Museum of Modern Art. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Edmondson’s yard remained a destination, drawing visitors including photographer Edward Weston.

Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980), New Jerusalem,signed and titled, with a photograph of Morgan on reverse of frame, tempera, acrylic, paint, and graphite on paper, 23½" x 30", sold on the phone for $27,500 (est. $15,000/30,000). A missionary, musician, poet, and artist, Sister Gertrude Morgan created colorful didactic paintings of biblical imagery to be displayed in and around her Everlasting Gospel Mission in New Orleans. Here she depicts herself as the bride of Christ next to New Jerusalem, which is rendered as an apartment complex surrounded by angels. Freed collection.

This Adolf Wölfli (1864-1930) untitled work, 1918, stamped “Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik WALDAU” with handwritten number 39 next to the stamp, and “A9303” and dated 1918, colored pencil and graphite on paper, 19 5/8" x 27 3/8", from the Namits collection, sold in the salesroom for $75,000 (est. $40,000/80,000). Wölfli was institutionalized in 1895 at the Waldau Clinic in Bern, Switzerland, where he stayed for the remainder of his life. Shortly after his admission, Wölfli began to draw. His magnum opus, a multivolume, 25,000-page epic illustrated text chronicled his imagined life as a knight, emperor, and saint. According to Cara Zimmerman’s essay in Christie’s catalog, the French artist Jean Dubuffet and writer André Breton became active advocates for Wölfli’s work, even visiting the Waldau Clinic in the mid-1950s. In a 1965 exhibition catalog for the 11th Exposition international du surréalisme, Breton wrote that Wölfli’s “vivid creations…as an ensemble represent one of the three or four most important oeuvres of the twentieth century.”

Most of the bidding for the Darger was on the phones against a bidder in the first row. A phone bidder won the 22" x 81" double-sided watercolor with long titles for each side: 93 At Jennie Richee, are chaced for long distance by Glandelinians with blood hounds. / 95 At Jennie Richee, Escape down Aronburgs Run River through circle section in storm. The large scenes include bloodhounds, girls, and a dragon. The buyer paid $672,500, well over the $200,000/400,000 estimate.

James Castle (1899-1977), untitled (Attic Scene with Abstracted Figures and Clothes),soot, spit, and colored pulp on found paper, 8½" x 11", sold for $30,000 (est. $12,000/18,000). It was bought from the J. Crist Gallery, Boise, Idaho, in 1997 and was shown at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art in Chicago from January 15 to March 19, 1997. Freed collection.

Bill Traylor (1854-1949), A Couple: Woman in a Spotted Dress and Man in Blue with Doctor’s Bag, 1939-42, retaining on the reverse a Charles Shannon label reading “H-63 Blue Man, Brown Woman Pointing,” tempera and graphite on card, 14⅞" x 13¾", sold for $100,000 (est. $40,000/60,000). The Freeds bought it from the Carl Hammer Gallery, Chicago, in 1983. Freed collection.

Felipe Benito Archuleta (1910-1991), Ostrich, 1980, dated and initialed “1-29-1980 F.B.A.” on the stomach, paint and putty on carved wood, 82" high x 53½" x 23", sold on the phone for $4375 (est. $5000/10,000). The Freeds bought works from this Tesuque, New Mexico, artist and his family in the 1980s. Not shown: Archuleta’s Dragon, 32" high x 98½" long x 40½" wide, a collaboration with his son Leroy Archuleta (1949-2002) and grandson Ron Rodriguez (b. 1968), sold for $4000 (est. $5000/10,000). A Felipe Archuleta Pig, 1977, 21" high x 43" long x 13" wide, sold for $5625 (est. $3000/5000). Leopard by Leroy Archuleta, which the Freeds bought in 1982, sold for $1250 (est. $1000/2000). Roadrunner, by Felipe, 1987, 21½" high x 28" long x 8" wide, from another collection, sold for $2000 (est. $3000/5000).

Not every lot soared over estimates. The Freeds’ Martín Ramírez work Horse and Rider,a classic subject and his most common image, sold for only $40,000 (est. $15,000/30,000). It still had its tabs for hanging and showed where the two pieces of paper join. The Freeds’ real outsider was Tin Woman—not a tin man as cataloged. Tin Woman wears chandelier earrings and sold for only $625 (est. $2000/4000). By Mike Rodriguez, Wild Boar, 1990, of carved wood and horse hair, sold for only $125 (est. $500/700), a real bargain. It, too, got applause in the salesroom.

 A collaboration by Felipe Archuleta, Leroy Archuleta (Felipe’s son), and Ron Rodriguez (Felipe’s grandson), Dragon, a wood, paint, and putty creation made in 1986, sold for $4000 (est. $5000/10,000). Leroy Archuleta’s Leopard sold for $1250 (est. $1000/2000).

The Freed collection was offered during the first part of the sale, followed by consignments from various owners. Two carvings by William Edmondson were offered in the sale. Lady from the 1930s, once owned by legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, sold for $137,500 (est. $40,000/80,000). Nurse Wootton, consigned by the heirs of a New Jersey and California family who had bought it in 1949 right from Edmondson’s yard, sold for $112,500 (est. $50,000/150,000). The prices were well below the $511,500 price paid by Jerry Lauren for Edmondson’s large masterpiece Lion that sold last year.

Two Art Brut works by European artists who were embraced by the artist Jean Dubuffet sold well. A double-sided colored pencil and graphite on pieced paper by Aloïse Corbaz (1886-1964) sold to an online bidder from Luxembourg for $137,500 (est. $40,000/80,000), an auction record for a work by this artist. Other works by Corbaz are currently on view in the exhibition Vestiges & Verse: Notes from the Newfangled Epicat the American Folk Art Museum along with works by Darger, Adolf Wölfli, and 18 other artists that illustrate their artistic narratives. An untitled colored pencil and graphite on paper by Adolf Wölfli sold for $75,000 (est. $40,000/80,000) to a collector in the salesroom.

Clementine Hunter (1886-1988), Leaving St. Augustine’s, 1950s, oil on pasteboard, 19½" x 24", sold in the salesroom for $15,000 (est. $3000/5000).

A few works by artists who worked in the 1950s and are no longer alive sold for twice their estimates. Clementine Hunter’s Leaving St. Augustine’s, 1950s, sold in the salesroom for $15,000 (est. $3000/5000). A Madge Gill (1882-1961) untitled ink on card drawing with four female heads among geometric designs, 1950s, went for $11,250 (est. $4000/6000). Howard Finster’s Howard Behind the Desk of Visions (Self Portrait) #1744, 1980, sold for $12,500 (est. $5000/7000).

A double-sided work by Carlo Zinelli, Brown Circle with Horses/Pink Figure with Crosses, sold for $11,250 (est. $10,000/20,000). Joseph Yoakum’s Mt. Millow in Ozark Range Jefferson County Missouri, 1964, went for $10,625 (est. $7000/10,000). Two artworks by Thornton Dial sold for more than their estimates, and others sold within estimates, but all sold in this now well-developed market. Dial will be included in the exhibition History Refused to Die at the Metropolitan Museum of Art opening in May.

There was a lot of energy in the salesroom, and when the sale was over, bidders got up and made a beeline for the Outsider Art Fair at the Metropolitan Pavilion, where sales, especially for the old masters, were brisk. Many of these artists now have auction records, thanks to Cara Zimmerman, who has now completed her third annual Outsider art sale at Christie’s.

“I was thrilled to see the material I love thrive in the market,” said Zimmerman after the sale. “It is an all-inclusive field; so many voices express an explosion of different aesthetics, beginning with the Europeans who were the totems who helped Dubuffet and Breton find their authentic art in the 1940s and 1950s.”

Whether called Art Brut, Outsider art, self-taught, visionary, vernacular, or contemporary folk art, all but four of the 90 lots offered sold—that is a 96% sold rate. The separate catalog was titled “Beyond Imagination: Outsider and Vernacular Art featuring the collection of Marjorie and Harvey Freed,”and the sale contributed $2,017,375 to Christie’s $8,255,750 total for Americana Week. “I leave the term warfare to curators and academics. I focus on the objects. My job is to present the best group of objects I can find,” said Zimmerman.

For more information, contact Christie’s at (212) 636-2000 or check the website (www.christies.com).

William Edmondson (1874-1951), Nurse Wootton,carved “WM” on back of figure, limestone, 20½" high x 11½" wide x 11½" deep, sold on the phone for $112,500 (est. $50,000/150,000). According to the catalog, “In 1949, the New Jersey-based Denton family piled into a station wagon to visit William Edmondson, an African American sculptor in Nashville, Tennessee. Fisk University anthropologist Gitel Poznansky had told the Dentons of Edmondson’s astounding yard, filled with finely rendered limestone carvings, and had encouraged them to acquire a piece. Edmondson showed the family around his workshop, and they returned home with this sculpture of a seated nude woman, whom the artist described as ‘Nurse Wootton.’ According to Mark Schlicher, producer of the forthcoming Edmondson documentary Chipping Away, the artist was referring to Nina E. Wootton, the Director of Nursing at the Woman’s Hospital of the State of Tennessee and Edmondson’s hard-nosed supervisor at his longtime job.” The artist initialed the back of the sculpture “WM.” Edmondson rarely signed his work. The chiseled lettering on the plinth is in keeping with the outlined lettering on his tombstones. This sculpture is one of four known seated nudes by Edmondson, two of which are in the collection of the Cheekwood Estate and Gardens in Nashville. This one is the only one signed by the artist.

Aloïse Corbaz (1886-1964), Aristoloches, 1925-33, double-sided, colored pencil and graphite on pieced paper, 19¼" x 25¾", from the Namits collection, sold online to a bidder from Luxembourg for $137,500 (est. $40,000/80,000). Artist Jean Dubuffet was a great advocate for untrained art makers and coined the term Art Brut, meaning “raw art.” He and renowned Surrealist André Breton, among others, established the Compagnie de l’Art Brut in 1948 as an organization dedicated to preserving this type of work. Dubuffet first saw Corbaz’s art around 1946, and he visited her on multiple occasions. Breton was also entranced by her drawings, and Aristolocheswas in his personal collection. According to Dr. Jacqueline Porret-Forel, who introduced Dubuffet to Corbaz, “Breton was so struck by this drawing that he told Jean Dubuffet he had to have it. We gave it to him [from the Compagnie’scollection]. He called it Imperial Violets.” Work by Corbaz is included in the current exhibition Vestiges & Verse at the American Folk Art Museum.

Originally published in the March 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest

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