NEW YORK – Marc Chagall (1887-1985), painter, designer and printmaker, was born to a devout Jewish family in Vitebsk, part of the Russian Empire. Throughout his life, he depicted its legends and lore.
After completing his art education, Chagall settled in Montparnasse, Paris, a hive of post-Impressionistic creativity. Like luminaries Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Piet Mondrian and Pablo Picasso, he experimented with modern trends, light, color and form.
Chagall also explored Cubism, depicting fragmented, abstract forms from varied viewpoints. I and the Village (1911), for example, depicts man and goat, who, through shared memories, meet in concentric circles and interlocking geometrics. The Fiddler (1913), green-head atilt, arms angled, legs bowed and feet splayed, hovers above Russia’s rural slant-roof huts and steepled churches, all swathed in snow.
When World War I broke out, Chagall and his wife—just married in Vitebsk, were stranded in Russia. During these dark days, he created a delightful celebration of newlywed love, The Birthday. In it, the artist himself—swept off his feet with joy, bends over backwards to kiss his bride. During this period, Chagall also founded a Vitebsk art school, created stage designs for the State Jewish Chamber Theater and exhibited works in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Finally, in 1923, the couple resettled in Paris.
Though art forms continued to evolve, Chagall, true to his vision, continued to portray dreamlike images of curvy mermaids, tiny topsy-turvy villagers, flying cows, floating fiddles, blue donkeys, plump roosters and light-as-air lovers. He often adorned his etchings of Old Testament figures with folkloric and Hasidic elements as well. Moreover, scores of his colorful, complex Biblical scenes, like The Creation of Man (1958), The Binding of Isaac (1966), and Abraham and the Angels Going to Sodom (1956), depict glorious, winged beings guarding and guiding from above.
In Chagall’s world, couples, too, levitate with love. The Newlyweds Over Vitebsk (Les Maries dans le Ciel de Vitebsk, 1969), blessed by a floating fiddle and bouquet-bearing donkey, hover ‘twixt sun-kissed heaven and earth. Romeo and Juliette (Romeo et Juliette, 1964), crowned with flowers, soar atop a mermaid-steed through lush-green Parisian skies. A full moon, perhaps symbolizing universal love, reflects their joyous faces.
Although raised as a Jew, Chagall repeatedly depicted Christ on the Cross, especially during the Nazi Era when he fled France for the United States. According to Susan Tumarkin Goodman, senior curator emerita at the Jewish Museum, “For Chagall, the Crucifixion was a symbol for all the victims of persecution, a metaphor for the horrors of war and an appeal to conscience that equated the martyrdom of Jesus with the suffering of the Jewish people and the Holocaust.”
In addition to etchings and paintings, Chagall produced ceramics, sculptures, lithographs, tapestries and mosaics. He also created costumes and sets for the American Ballet Theater and designed magnificent murals for the Paris Opéra (1964) and the New York Metropolitan Opera (1966).
In his later years, Chagall created exquisite stained-glass windows for the Art Institute of Chicago. the United Nations and several French cathedrals. His Twelve Tribes of Israel, a set of shimmering creations located at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, is often considered his masterwork. According the Hadassah site, each pane, which honors a son of Jacob, the Biblical patriarch, “is a microcosm of Chagall’s world, real and imaginary; of his love for his people; his deep sense of identification with Jewish history; his early life in the Russian shtetl. … Chagall’s genius transforms time and space.” Each pane has been replicated in limited edition lithographs. Moreover, several adorn stamps issued by the United Nations and the Israel Philatelic Federation.
“It has always been difficult to untangle Chagall’s two interlocking reputations—as a pioneer of modernism and as a major Jewish artist, “writes Lauren Bradley, fine art specialist at Rago Arts and Auction. “To be sure, he was both. He experienced modernism’s golden age in Paris, where he forged a highly personal synthesis of Cubism, Symbolism and Fauvism that was widely influential and that would, after a certain period of incubation, give rise to Surrealism. At the same time, he was most emphatically a Jewish artist, whose work was one long dreamy reverie of life in his native Vitebsk.”
Tropical images of Hawaii painted by artists who lived and worked on the islands highlight an online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, April 15. Many of the paintings are fresh from an estate in Honolulu.
View the auction here.
Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.
NEW YORK – David Hockney is synonymous with paintings of swimming pools, but throughout his career he has utilized many techniques and styles in creating art and his subject matter interests have ranged from landscapes to portraits. While celebrated as a painter, he is also a talented draftsman, printmaker, photographer and stage designer. From his double-portraits in the early 1960s, which gave way to swimming pools and California landscapes later that decade to rarely shown photographic collages in the 1980s and more recent iPad drawings printed on paper, the artist is known for bold and colorful works encompassing varied media.
Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Hockney was born in Bradford, England and has long maintained homes and studios in London and California, which inspires much of his artwork.
In early 2020, London’s National Portrait Gallery opened “David Hockney: Drawing from Life,” the first major exhibition of the artist’s works in two decades. The exhibition explored how drawing is integral to the manner in which Hockney (b, 1937) processes the world through his art and experiments with new techniques and concepts that later make their way into paintings. One art style seems to lead to another, creating a chain of sorts in his oeuvre.
“Drawing from Life” explores Hockney as a draughtsman from the 1950s to now by focusing on his depictions of himself and a small group of sitters close to him: his friend, Celia Birtwell; his mother, Laura Hockney; his curator, Gregory Evans, and master printer, Maurice Payne,” according to a press release on the exhibition.
The exhibition includes new and early works that have not been publicly shown before. The exhibition was scheduled to travel to other museums, including the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.
Among his most well-collected paintings are his California-inspired works, especially those of pools. The David Hockney Foundation website notes in its chronology for the artist that Hockney found endless inspiration in California’s landscape, both natural and man-made. Swimming pools were a favorite motif during the 1960s, where Hockney explored the reflective quality of pools and its interplay with sunlight. “He continues to be mesmerized, as his work attests, by that city’s swimming pools and other glistening surfaces,” according to the foundation website.
Hockney’s paintings routinely bring solid prices on the art market and it should come as no surprise little surprise that his sun-dazzled pool paintings are among the most desirable.
Hockney’s self-portrait, one of many, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, set a new auction record in November 2018 for the most expensive painting by a living artist. It sold at Christie’s New York for $90 million. In February 2020, Sotheby’s London held a contemporary art evening auction that was led by The Splash, a 1966 acrylic, selling for over $28 million. The latter painting was made near the start of Hockney’s California era, which is marked by his California Dreaming series, where he began using acrylic paints.
While portraits and his California scenes are famous for being avidly sought after by collectors, Hockney’s landscapes are also notable, even ones not associated with West Coast locales. In February 2020, William Bunch Auctions & Appraisals in Chadds Ford, Pa., sold an English landscape from the 1950s, Kirton, an oil on board, well over its high estimate for $75,000.
“In the 1950s, Hockney painted landscapes around Suffolk County before discovering abstract expressionism, which had a profound influence on his artistic visions,” according to the auctioneer’s catalog notes for this painting. Still a teenager at this time, Hockney and fellow artist John Loker were known to have spent some time around Kirton in 1957, on their way to Constable, to paint or sketch local scenes en plein air. They were often seen riding around the countryside on their bicycles.
In his native Bradford, where he was born, he is so revered that Bradford Museums & Galleries, whose art collection likely intrigued and inspired the artist-to-be as a child, officially opened up its David Hockney Gallery in July 2017 as part of Cartwright Hall.
Jill Iredale, curator of fine arts at Bradford Museums & Galleries, wrote in a blog a month later about the intimate look the new gallery offers and its rare insights. “It provides examples of the different medium he has used and introduces some of the recurring themes in his work, and it gives an insight into his family life through his personal photograph albums—albums that have never been seen in public before,” she wrote.
From his self-portraits to depictions of family and people in his inner circle to idyllic landscapes and color-saturated scenes, Hockney’s works continue to fascinate viewers. In more than 60 years of making art, he has made many memorable pictures, playing with the elasticity of space and time as well as texture, color and light.
NEW YORK – Since Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was homeschooled, he spent considerable time alone as a youth. Although his father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth, introduced him to figure study, geometrics and watercolors, the young man received no formal artistic training. Nor did he study museum masterpieces.
Instead, Wyeth’s earliest works were inspired by solitary walks in and around his hometown, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He found the neighboring Kuerner Farm especially inspiring. Through 50 years, he created nearly 1,000 drawings and paintings of its buildings, landscapes, animals and owners—Anna and Karl Kuerner.
Many of these pieces, like Brinton’s Mill (1958), depict leaden skies above snowy landscapes. “Oh, I love white. Marvelous,” Wyeth said to Richard Meryman in a 1965 Life magazine interview. “My wild side that’s really me comes out in my watercolors—especially of snow, which is absolutely intoxicating to me. I’m electrified by it—the hush—unbelievable … the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter.”
While wintry works by Wyeth may seem contemplative, moody or melancholy, their composition is often dynamic. In the Orchard Study (1972), explains Claire Fraser, fine art and silver director at Leland Little Auctions, “features a push and pull to the image. The dramatic diagonal of the hillside, broken by the lone figure and the outline of the tree, keep the eye engaged.”
Wyeth believed that strong personal associations, when brought to significant images, imbued the artworks with their human spirits. Winter 1946, set near the location his father was killed, for example, embodies such feelings. So may Snow Hill (1989), which depicts personally significant people celebrating May Day in a winter setting.
Wyeth was not only solitary, but also secretive. In 1986, he revealed that, for over 15 years, he had surreptitiously drawn and painted 240 intimate images of an attractive woman named Helga. Since no one had known about them, they – and the artist – immediately attracted international attention.
Soon afterward, Wyeth’s wife disclosed that his discretion was not unusual. Through their 46-year marriage, he had habitually left to paint without telling her where he would be. Furthermore, she suggested that his secret work imbued his ongoing, public work with visual and emotional power.
“Wyeth’s Helga pictures resonate with viewers on two levels,” Fraser explained. “They are fascinating in a gossipy sense; but then viewers can place themselves in the landscape or relate it to their experiences and build their own narratives around the scene.”
Wyeth also drew and painted numerous scenes of Cushing, Maine, the site of his summer home. Christina’s World (1948), one of his best-known works, portrays a handicapped woman from the neighboring Olson Farm, dragging herself across a field “like a crab on a New England shore.” To some, its dark imagery suggests abandonment, loneliness or hopelessness. To others, it symbolizes courage in the face of adversity. Wyeth continued depicting the Olson Farm until Christina’s death in 1968.
Although Wyeth is often deemed a rural realist, he considered himself an abstractionist. “Most artists just look at an object, and there it sits, ” he explained to Meryman. “My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash – like something you caught out of the corner of your eye, but in the picture you can look at it directly.” To many, his spare images, worked in subdued watercolor, grainy drybrush or egg tempera, reflect not only deep emotion, but also the essence of life itself. In Wyeth’s timeless world, flimsy curtains flutter in the breeze, a sun streak illumines a half-opened door, potted geraniums peek out from a window, and snow flurries caress dry-bone boughs.
As the artist often remarked, “I paint my life.” Today, it touches others.
NEW YORK – It’s almost a cliché that an artist needs to die before he or she can be accorded the level of fame – and fortune – they richly deserved prior to their passing. Some lucky artists occasionally do burst through to the art world’s top tier while alive. David Hockney, Jeff Koons, Dale Chihuly, Jasper Johns and Gerhard Richter come instantly to mind. Someone else who certainly belongs to that exclusive club is Damien Hirst (b. 1965), the British artist, entrepreneur and art collector.
How rich and famous is Hirst? Consider this: In 2008 he made an unprecedented move for a living artist when he bypassed his longstanding galleries and sold an entire show – titled Beautiful Inside My Head Forever – at Sotheby’s. It worked – spectacularly so. The sale raised $198 million, breaking the record for a one-artist auction. In 2010, the Sunday Times Rich List named Hirst as the United Kingdom’s richest living artist, his wealth valued at $280 million.
Damien Hirst was born Damien Brennan in mid-1960s Bristol, England, and grew up in Leeds. He never knew his father, and was raised by his mother and stepfather, an auto mechanic. He was a rebellious youth, with art being the only subject in school that he liked. He attended two art colleges in England and went on to become one of the Young British Artists (or YBAs), a group that dominated the UK art scene in the 1990s. Death became a central theme in his work.
A natural born provocateur, Hirst became famous for a shocking series of artworks that featured dead animals, including a shark, a sheep and a cow, preserved in formaldehyde and displayed in large, clear display cases. Often, the animals were dissected. The best-known of these was The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (a tiger shark) and The Golden Calf (an animal with 18K gold horns and hooves, which sold at Sotheby’s for $13.39 million).
Naturally, many animal rights groups expressed outrage. But Hirst produced less controversial pieces, too, like his “spin paintings” (created on a spinning circular surface) and “spot paintings” (rows of randomly colored circles, made by Hirst’s many assistants). He’s also created medicine cabinet sculptures and pharmacological art such as Controlled Substances Key Painting, and Lullaby Spring (a steel cabinet with 6,136 pills that sold for $19.2 million to the Emir of Qatar).
Not all of Hirst’s artworks have been home runs. In a 2007 exhibition titled Beyond Belief, he unveiled a work titled For the Love of God – a human skull recreated in platinum and adorned with 8,601 diamonds weighing a total of 1,106.18 carats. The piece was modeled after an 18th- century human skull, but the only surviving part of the original was the teeth. Hirst’s asking price was a cool $100 million, but alas, there were no takers. The following year, it finally did sell – to a consortium that included Hirst himself, along with his celebrated gallery called White Cube.
“Hirst is popular because he’s taboo,” said Julie Garret VanDolen of J. Garrett Auctioneers in Dallas, Texas. “The more outlandish his work and behavior, the more interest he generates. The old adage ‘bad press is good press’ applies to Hirst. Take Neiman Marcus. Rumor was the over-the-top retailer would produce garbage bags to sell at holiday time for insane dollars. It was their schtick and they welcomed the controversy. Hirst does what he wants and doesn’t fear backlash or naysayers. It makes him a bad boy, and we all know how that goes. Picasso did the same.”
Monica Brown of the Chicago-based auction house Hindman called Hirst “the master of marketing,” adding, “Everything he does, from the banal to the ostentatious, makes headlines. He was very aptly a part of the Sensations show that launched so many YBA’s careers and since then he has thrown himself into the spotlight over and over again, most recently returning to painting himself and documenting it on Instagram. Speculators in the art market wonder: Could he be the next Warhol?”
Brown said each time Hirst unveils what she called “a new and incredible stunt, such as his Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable – the art market sits up and takes notice, “even if it’s just to cast a critical eye. In true ‘all press is good press’ style, there seems to be something irresistible about Hirst to buyers. The sheer price of his paintings create demand for his prints. And, like Warhol, one could argue that any good contemporary collection would not be complete without a Hirst.”
Garrett concurred that demand for Hirst’s work is “relatively strong, as abstract and midcentury art styles are so popular. Color is in demand, and designers are embracing pops of wild hues, and mixing old and new pieces in risky and fun ways. It’s going to become increasingly difficult to sell pieces that are environmentally controversial, but his other works will remain desirable.”
Garrett said signed pieces are going to be critical as the market becomes more saturated with workshop items and knockoffs. “We recently sold a piece from Hirst’s workshop, unsigned, as a total roll of the dice,” she recalled. “It sold because of the sheer chance it could have been a Hirst. The buyer confessed it simply intrigued him and he enjoyed the colors. It was fun; I think that is probably what fans of Hirst like the most – the unpredictability and the fun of it all.”
Art critics haven’t always been kind to Hirst. His 2009 exhibition of paintings titled No Love Lost, Blue Paintings was dismissed by one as “dull” and “amateurish.” The year before, in a Channel 4 documentary titled The Mona Lisa Curse, art critic Robert Hughes called Hirst’s work “tacky” and “absurd.” Still, he’s been lauded for the way he’s galvanized interest in the arts – raising the profile of British art and helping to create the image of “Cool Britannia.” In the 1990s British Heritage Secretary Virginia Bottomley praised him as “a pioneer of the British art movement,” while England’s sheep farmers ironically were pleased that he’d raised interest in British lamb.
NEW YORK – One can look at a large tree and see its natural lines spoiled by a somewhat cancerous growth along the base or trunk that we would call a knot. Yet, to a woodcarver, this deformity hides lovely, durable bowls, tureens and containers.
Today this knot or burl and wood objects in general are known as treenware (loosely “of the tree”). Early examples are now collectible art, but it wasn’t always that way. Wooden bowls, cups, utensils and storage containers were household necessities throughout the millennia, mostly because wood was the only affordable and plentiful resource around. Woodworking has been found in China, ancient Egypt, early Rome, and as far back as the Neolithic period 12,000 years ago.
By the 1600s, though, most of the old growth forests in Europe were long depleted to meet the needs of a growing population. With a population of the known world at about 580 million, wood was a main source of building, heating, shipbuilding and domestic implements. Wooden bowls made from burl, for example, were hard to find and not an everyday household item for everyone. The Age of Exploration of the 15th to 17th centuries helped change that. The New World, once discovered, provided not only expansive new territory but also a much needed resource – trees.
That was certainly a welcome surprise when Colonists first landed in the Americas of the early 17th century. There was an overwhelming abundance of old growth trees and virgin forests of every variety of hard and soft woods. Needing household cooking and working implements, the new Colonists relied on the skills of Native Americans for their first set of treenware because woodworking was a skill most early Colonists did not possess.
Native Americans had perfected the skill of carving their wooden household necessities. Bowls made from hardwood burl utilized a long process that included using fire to shape a burl bowl, then patiently smoothing it with a hard shell, beaver tooth or smooth stone. Later, woodturners, the most familiar of European woodworkers, would join the Colonies who specialized in turning bowls on pole and treadle lathes, a method unknown to the Native Americans, but most familiar to Europeans for nearly 2,000 years. The skills for learning how to fashion bowls from burl, though, had to be learned by the Colonists over time, so trading for the more highly skilled Native American burl and wooden items predominated for most of early America.
By the middle of the 19th century American craftsmen forged their own identities and specializations. The Native Americans had long stopped hand carving bowls and other wooden treenware and instead used the tools traded with the early Colonists such as axes, knives, adzes and other metalware to continue creating their own distinctive styles.
One such craftsman was David Mills Pease of the Cascade Valley of northeastern Ohio. Beginning about 1850, his woodturning skill produced the everyday useable lidded and unlidded household items to store grain, seeds, salt and general cooking implements. Natural, unadorned, practical and stable, Peaseware, as it is known, is usually turned and varnished maple, but sometimes combined with other woods. They were always more functional than decorative and made to last for generations. By 1876, Peaseware could be found at world’s fairs and international expositions until about 1906.
More distinctive treenware was created about the same time by Joseph Lehn in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. What’s particularly noteworthy about Lehnware, as it is known, is that it is quite decorative. Lehn was a wood turner, cooper and furniture maker by trade but by 1856 or so was being recognized by his elaborately designed treenware.
Turning boxes, cups, barrels, buckets, kegs and barrels wasn’t quite enough. Lehn decorated them in patterns of strawberry, pomegranate and floral decorations using yellow, blue, red, green and salmon colors. All had a repeated sequence and were uniquely hand-painted and at times, had decals added.
Lehn died in 1892 at the age of 94, but his distinctive style of treenware survives as collectibles today. Some of his later pieces bore a paper label that read: “Made by Joseph Lehn in his 91 year Jan. 1, 1889.”
Peter Stauffer was a neighbor of Joseph Lehn and made blanket chests with similar decorations as Lehn. William Carl Heilig turned cups and saucers as well as chests and chairs. He may have signed his work “Wm. C. Heilig Ephrata” in the same period as Joseph Lehn. Robert F. Lausch of Ephrata, Pennsylvania, continued the turning and decorating of boxes in the Lehn tradition in the 1960s, 100 years later.
Treen Can Be Faked
Vintage treenware is difficult to date, according to Steven Powers in his book North American Burl Treen: Colonial & Native American. “Exact dating can almost never be attained with treen,” Powers writes. “Our best gauge for dating treen is dating it to like forms in other materials that have a known date … [and so it] becomes quite instinctual or more of a feeling.”
Because of this, many early Native American burl bowls have been modified to attract more buyers at auction such as adding handles or figures into the bowls or other native treenware. Additional carvings are noticeable because the wear would be quite different, for example. Powers suggests that most faked Native American treenware at auctions are the carved effigy bowls that are carved too thin and rounded at the bottom which is not usual. Other small footed bowls have been made in China and Tibet made of ash burl and claim to be early Native American treenware, but a well-trained eye can notice the discrepancies of added carvings and unusual use of nonnative woods.
A ‘Green’ Collectible
Treenware handcrafted or turned from burl or any wood wasn’t usually as long-lasting as the metal pots, pans and other implements that were more the norm in the industrial age. But for the early Colonists and Native American communities, treenware was plentiful, strong and dependable. Only later would treenware become more decorative, artistic and collectible and yet still maintain its ability to be useful for generations to come. What could be more “green” than that?
An auction devoted to 18th and 19th century portrait miniatures, small hand-painted masterpieces, will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, May 22. The online auction represents a who’s who of the rich subjects and famous miniature portraitists of their eras.
View the auction here.
Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.