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Here be dragons

This pair of rampant dragon brooches set with brilliant-cut diamonds achieved €22,000 ($25,504) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2020. Image courtesy of Subastas Segre and LiveAuctioneers

Dragons fearsome, reptilian, legendary creatures have appeared in the cultures and lore of dozens of communities across the world, but their characteristics vary from region to region. 

China’s relationship with dragons stretches back thousands of years. It portrays its dragons as wise, benevolent, powerful protectors that symbolize wealth and good fortune. Chinese dragons are not only capable of changing their size, shape, and color, they also manage to fly despite lacking wings. Because Chinese tradition says they dwell in distant waters, these beasts are associated with rainfall, waterfalls, floods and typhoons. 

A Chinese carved and underglaze red Dragons and Waves vase, made for the Yongzheng court, sold for $1.9 million plus the buyer’s premium at Freeman’s in April 2021. Image courtesy of Freeman’s and LiveAuctioneers.

Some Chinese dragons that are carved into seals, sculptures, or brush bowls feature auspicious turtle bodies. Others depicted on scrolls, sculptures, mahjong tiles and porcelain appear as four-legged, undulating beings. Larger dragon motifs, which are hugely popular at festive occasions such as the Chinese New Year, incorporate nine lucky animal aspects. These can include camel heads, deer antlers, cat whiskers, dog noses, lion manes, tiger claws, hare eyes, carp scales and snake-like necks. 

During the Imperial Era, Chinese emperors and their immediate families wore so-called “dragon robes,” exquisite silk tapestries featuring dragon motifs, which symbolized majesty, wisdom, wealth, good fortune, authority and benevolence. 

Although Indian, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean dragon motifs closely resemble Chinese ones, the feet of the animals may differ. Japanese dragons generally feature three claws per foot, while Indonesian ones have four and Korean ones five. 

A Ming dynasty dragon box realized $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2019. Image courtesy of Rivertown Antiques and Estate Services and LiveAuctioneers

 

Because Eastern dragons symbolize good luck and prosperity, their stylized images adorn innumerable porcelain items such as seals, teapots, bowls, boxes, vases, garden stools, planters and incense burners. Images of dragons set against billowing clouds also decorate luxurious repousse silver teapots, trinket boxes, hand mirrors, bracelets and brooches. 

Dragon seals, sculptures, plaques, pendants, and belt buckles carved from jade were considered doubly auspicious by the Chinese. The mythical animals represent prosperity, while jade represents longevity and immortality.

A Russian cloisonne enameled loving cup with figural dragon handles achieved $14,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2019. Image courtesy of ELITE AUCTIONEERS LLC and LiveAuctioneers

European dragons were very different beasts from those that animated the Eastern imagination. According to medieval tradition, these ancient, winged, scaly, toothy, fire-breathing creatures dwelled in dark forests, deep pools, damp caves and far reaches, guarding piles of fabulous treasure. When the dragons ventured out among mortals, they would mercilessly slaughter flocks of sheep and devastate entire villages. Unsurprisingly, slaying a dragon became a key aspect of European heroic myths. 

A Great Britain gold 5-pound quintuple sovereign BU/Proof depicting St. George slaying the dragon realized $3,650 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Golden Gate Auctioneer and LiveAuctioneers

St. George and the Dragon, the best known of these myths, was widely spread by returning Crusaders in 1200 CE. In one version of the tale, when sacrificial offerings of sheep failed to appease a local dragon, desperate villagers offered their children instead. The very day the king’s daughter was to be devoured, St. George miraculously appeared and rushed to the rescue, slaying the beast with his sword and symbolically defeating paganism. The story ends with the grateful population converting to Christianity. Depictions of St. George and the Dragon have been the subject of countless prints, paintings, porcelains, sculptures, coins, medals, and most notably, vibrant Russian religious icons; George is the patron saint of Russia and England as well as Portugal, Bulgaria, and, fittingly enough, Georgia. 

A Russian Pelakh icon depicting St. George slaying the dragon in sight of guardian angels, holy people, and members of the court sold for $44,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2012. Image courtesy of
Jackson’s International Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

Mythical dragon images continue to charm and beguile us. Three-dimensional figural tributes serve as slithery loving cup handles, teapot spouts, table bases and lighting fixtures. Dragons not only crawl across rugs and tapestries but also feature in fantastical dragon-shaped rings, earrings, pendants, bracelets and brooches. 

An animation cel depicting an open-mouthed Smaug the dragon from Rankin/Bass’s 1977 film ‘The Hobbit’ sold for $1,650 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2015. Image courtesy of Weiss Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Fans of J. R. R. Tolkien may find depictions of Smaug, the devious antagonist of The Hobbit, most captivating dragon of all. Smaug, in Tolkien’s words, is the medieval dragon personified:

 I kill where I wish and none dare resist. I laid low the warriors of old and their like is not in the world today. Then I was but young and tender. Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows! … My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt, my wings a hurricane, and my breath death!”

Whether they symbolize Eastern luck and light or Western darkness and destruction, dragons remain part of our collective culture and our artistic inspiration. Like mapmakers of old describing distant shores, we too might whimsically gaze across a carefully amassed collection of themed treasures and say, “here be dragons.”

Canine Portraiture: Best In Show Forever

An 18th-century portrait of a King Charles Spaniel sold for $5,200 plus the buyer’s premium against an estimate of $200-$300 in April 2018. Image courtesy of David Killen Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Each year the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show showcases the best of dog breeds and crowns one the Best in Show. It is an honor that is remembered for generations, particularly if a well-known artist paints a portrait of the winner.

An antique English canine portrait of a spaniel in a classic pointer pose sold for $2,900 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers and LiveAuctioneers.

Paintings of canines are not new. Wealthy owners have immortalized their favorite dogs for centuries, partly for their love for the animal and partly as a status symbol that both enhances and advertises their standing as a member of the upper classes. “The Middle Ages saw dogs being illustrated in hunting scenes, symbolizing their loyalty, bravery, and affinity between man and dog,” wrote Claire Rhodes in the 2014 article Portrayal of Dogs in Art and History for holiday4dogs.co.uk.

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer’s ‘Four Dogs in a Stable’ achieved $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2018. Image courtesy of Abell Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Charles I of England had his namesake Cavalier King Charles Spaniels included in family portraits done by the superlative artist Anthony van Dyke, but it was Queen Victoria who presided over a Golden Age of canine paintings. Victoria, who reigned from 1837 to 1901, commissioned royal portraits of her many dog companions, and her passion helped foster a market that allowed artists to specialize in the niche. Some artists preferred depicting purebred dogs standing, sitting or lounging on the laps of their owners, while others favored showing them in action hunting, playing, chasing, and just, well, being a dog. Sir Edwin Landseer was arguably the most famous painter of animals, particularly horses and dogs, during the Victorian era.

‘Landscape Portrait,’ a 1994 Polaroid by William Wegman, realized $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers.

Contemporary artists who specialize in portraits of dogs succeed by capturing the animal’s individuality as well as its appearance. Many of these artists like sticking with sub-niches of the genre. William Wegman, for example, concentrates on Weimaraners, a large breed that royal families relied on to hunt big game such as boars, bears and deer, but he made his artistic reputation using his own pets as models, and not with commissioned canine portraiture. Jim Killen paints sporting dogs – animals bred to assist hunters – at work in vibrant watercolor. Other canine portraitists, such as Steven Townsend, Ron Burns and Paul Doyle, paint a variety of different breeds.

Ron Burns’ colorful 2008 dog portrait, ‘Roxie Caulfield,’ sold for $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2020. Image courtesy of Clars Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Would-be collectors of dog portraits enjoy a range of choices for how to enter the field and how to pursue their prizes. Chris Fox, Associate Deputy Director of Americana for William Doyle Galleries, summed them up succinctly following a 2020 Dogs in Art auction. “There are three categories: Sporting, pet, and mixed breed,” he said. “The breed portraits show how breed standards have changed. For instance, an 18th- or early 19th-century Pekinese has a snout that is different than today’s dog. Usually, people collect by breed and quality of the work. Most costly are pictures of sporting dogs such as retrievers, hounds and setters. Next would be Afghan hounds. On the down money scale would be lap dogs spaniels, terriers, and pugs. Last would be working dogs such as German shepherds and border collies.”

According to dealers and collectors, personality is also essential to the success and appeal of a dog portrait. An oil painting by Percival Leonard Rosseau titled Scent’s Up sold for double its estimate at the auction for $31,250. Rousseau’s ability to capture the personalities of the dogs certainly helped drive the bidding.

‘Scent’s Up’ by Percival Leonard Rousseau achieved $9,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2008. Image courtesy of Neal Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers.

While dog portraits can sell well at auction, the emotional aspects of the artistic genre effectively frustrates and discourages those who are determined to see only dollar signs. Well-rendered images of man’s best friend – those that transcend mere accuracy and competence and communicate something deep and profound about the wonder, the joy, and, yes, the absurdity of owning a dog – are precisely the images that resonate with collectors. Exceptional dog portraits are born from love rather than money. They aren’t just fit to earn the title of Best in Show; they earn the title of best at home, too.

Chagall, other modern art masters headline Jasper52 auction

You can own a Picasso. Yes, you. You can also own a Calder, a Chagall, a Dali, or a fine work by another well-respected Modern artist. Woodcuts, lithographs, and other forms of prints place these storied names in reach of budding collectors.

On August 11, starting at 1 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will conduct a 65-lot Modern Art Masters auction, featuring lithographs by Rufino Tamayo, Hans Hartung, Pablo Picasso, Jules Cavailles, Marc Chagall, and many more.

Marc Chagall, ‘Creation for Drawings from the Bible,’ est. $350-$400

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Robert Indiana’s legacy of LOVE

Robert Indiana ‘LOVE’ milled aluminum paperweight table sculpture, which sold for $576 in May 2021 at Uniques & Antiques.

Those who may not know the name Robert Indiana will still recognize his most famous and iconic creation: his LOVE print, with the word “love” in upper-case letters, arranged in a square with a tilted letter “O”. It first appeared in a series of poems originally written in 1958, but gained momentum when it was pictured on the Museum of Modern Art’s Christmas card in 1965. The print was also the basis for the artist’s LOVE sculpture in 1970 and the hugely popular US Postal Service stamp in 1973. Of the Christmas card, Indiana said, “It was the most profitable Christmas card the museum ever published.”

Robert Indiana was born Robert Clark in New Castle, Indiana, in 1928. He was adopted as an infant, but went to live with his father in Indianapolis after his parents divorced. He used the last name “Indiana” as a nod to his Hoosier upbringing, but most of his adult life was spent living in New York City and Maine. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, and the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland.

Indiana’s career took off in the early 1960s after Alfred J. Barr purchased his work The American Dream 1 for the Museum of Modern Art. He became famous for artworks that consisted of bold, simple, and iconic images, especially numbers and short words such as EAT, HUG, and, of course, LOVE. In 1977, he created a Hebrew version of LOVE using “Ahava,” the Hebrew word for love, and in 2008, a stainless-steel sculpture, HOPE, was unveiled outside the Democratic National Convention in Denver. He called HOPELOVE’s close relative.”

‘HOPE,’ a 2008 limited edition silkscreen on paper, which sold for $6,500 in February 2021 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions.

“Robert Indiana was a part of the group of artists that settled on Coenties Slip in lower Manhattan in the early 1950s with his then-lover, Ellsworth Kelly,” said Monica Brown, Senior Specialist of Prints and Multiples at Hindman in Chicago. “I think that his bold use of color is very much in keeping with this group of artists that included Kelly, Jack Youngerman, Cy Twombly, Agnes Martin, and others, but he took it one step further by tapping into very basic human psychology with his use of words and symbols – a very apt nod to Pop Art. Words and numbers as symbols can be literal, they can be subtle, they have meaning, and they have hidden meaning.”

Brown said she thinks this is what separated Robert Indiana from the rest of the pack. “When his peers were moving into color fields, action painting, and all of the forms of abstraction they could find,” she said, “Indiana turned to language, numbers, and symbols with the very precise and deliberate colors of, say, an Ellsworth Kelly, only employing the very Pop Art style of recognizable words and symbols. In doing this, such as with his LOVE sculptures, he is bringing the viewer’s own interpretation, thoughts, and feelings into the concept of the artwork.”

Robert Indiana, ‘Star of Hope,’ 1972 enameled and chrome plated brass. It sold for $6,150 in January 2020 at Copake Auction, Inc

Rico Baca, auctioneer and owner of Modern Auctions in West Palm Beach, Florida, said Robert Indiana’s appeal is in large part due to familiarity, and, as with many artists, being in the right place at the right time. “Signs are such a ubiquitous part of our culture,” Baca said, “and Indiana’s reinterpretations, with their familiar text styles, imagery, color palettes, and symmetry, are just very relatable. They immediately register with the viewer.”

Baca said that while Indiana’s work catered to the preferences of the period, the concept remains relevant and easily ‘refreshed’ with current topics, such as the aforementioned HOPE or the color variant Greenpeace Love, which was created in 1994. In February 2019, Modern Auctions (then Palm Beach Modern Auctions) sold an example of the Greenpeace Love image for $5,200 against an estimate of $2,500-$3,500.

Complete portfolio of Robert Indiana ‘Numbers’ prints from 1968, which sold for $41,925 in May 2021 at Hindman.


Regarding the market for the artist, who died in 2018, Monica Brown said she’s seen strong demand for Indiana’s works during the last five to ten years. “I think that as we move forward, there are serious questions to be resolved with his estate before collectors in certain categories can feel confident that his legacy, and thus his market, will be protected into the future,” she said. “I feel – and hope, as a true supporter of Robert Indiana’s work – that this will be rectified eventually.”

Brown is alluding to how the late artist was in the news recently, and not in a good way. After three years of battling in court, the estate of the artist and his former business partner reached an agreement that settled their legal disputes, but at a steep cost. Millions of dollars were spent on the case, money that would have otherwise gone toward realizing Indiana’s dream of turning his old home on the remote island of Vinahlhaven, Maine into a museum to memorialize his legacy.

Rico Baca said it’s interesting how closely auction records support the themes in Indiana’s work. “His popularity hasn’t dropped off, especially for the most familiar titles,” he said. “His larger LOVE canvases are still selling at a million or more, higher than his other imagery. The sense of nostalgia is something people like, newer collectors included.”

‘Purim: the Four Facets of Esther (I),’a 1967 print by Indiana, sold for $2,048 in March 2021 at Rachel Davis Fine Arts.

Baca added it doesn’t hurt that there are Indiana editions available across all price points. “An entry level collector may not be ready to purchase an original work or the entire Decade suite, for example,” he said, “but a single HOPE screenprint is a viable investment with current appeal.” Modern Auctions sold one at its February 2021 auction for $6,500 against an estimate of $2,000-$4,000. 

Seth Fallon, auctioneer and co-owner of Copake Auctions in Copake, New York, said the LOVE image is so iconic it will secure Indiana’s place, and his value, in the art market. “It seems to me artists with works that are so recognizable it really lends to their ascension in the art world,” Fallon said. “You see it with artists like Jeff Koons. While some people criticize works that are so commercial, it still seems like they are able to hold values and be collected.”

Pre-Columbian art: a collectible for the ages

NEW YORK – Pre-Columbian art is a collective term that describes the architecture, art and crafts of the native peoples of North, South and Central America, and the islands of the Caribbean dating from the second millennium B.C. to the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and subsequent European conquests of the early 16th century. That’s a broad swath of history, not just in terms of time but geography as well; Pre-Columbian art was produced from Chile up to what is now New Mexico.

Since many Pre-Columbian cultures didn’t have writing systems, they used visual art to express their views of the cosmos, religion, philosophy and the world. They produced a wide array of visual arts, to include painting on textiles, hides, rock and cave surfaces, bodies (especially faces), ceramics, and architectural features (including interior murals, wood panels and other available surfaces). Fortunately, many of these artifacts survive and are highly collectible today.

Pre-Columbian Nayarit matched sitting figures, circa 200 B.C.-A.D. 200, Mexico, red and white painted terra-cotta, painted wood stand, Andre Emmerich label to underside of female figure, each approximately 13in tall. Sold for $18,750 at an auction May 17, 2018. Image courtesy of Millea Bros. Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

The Pre-Columbian cultures included the following:

  • The Olmec civilization, which flourished around 500-400 B.C. They produced jade figurines and created heavy-featured colossal heads, 6½ feet tall, that still stand today.
  • The Mayans (circa 200-950 A.D.), whose art focused on rain, agriculture and fertility, in images in relief and surface decoration, plus sculpture, often with hieroglyphic text.
  • The Toltecs, a culture that dominated the Post-Classic period (10th-12th centuries A.D.). They built huge, block-like sculptures, like the freestanding columns at Tula, Mexico.
  • The Mixtecs, who developed a style of painting called Mixtec-Puebla, as seen in their murals and manuscripts, where all space is covered by flat figures in geometric designs.
  • The Aztec culture in Mexico, which produced dramatically expressive artworks, such as the decorated skulls of captives and stone sculpture; naturalism was a recurring theme.
  • The Chavin culture (1000 B.C. to 300 B.C.), which produced small-scale pottery, often human in shape with animal features (especially jaguars), spectacular murals and carvings.
  • The Paracas culture, also of Peru, most noted today for their elaborate textiles, some as long as 90 feet, which were primarily used for burial wraps for Paracas mummy bundles.
  • The Nazca people (A.D. 200 to the mid-eighth century), whose ceramics depicted abstract animal and human motifs, some of the most beautiful polychrome ceramics in the Andes.
  • The Moche, who flourished about A.D. 100-800 and were among the best artisans of the Pre-Columbian world, producing delightful portrait vases, metallurgy and architecture.
  • The Wari (or Huari) Empire, in the Andes region, noted for their stone architecture and sculpture, but best known for their large ceramics, many depicting the Andes staff god.
  • The Tiwanaku Empire, in what is now Bolivia (A.D. 375 to A.D. 700), famous for its Gate of the Sun, which depicts a large image of the staff god flanked by religious symbols.
  • The Chimu people of Peru (A.D. 700 to A.D. 900), who produced excellent portrait and decorative works in metal (some in gold but mostly silver); also known for featherwork.
  • The Inca Empire in Peru, which produced many gold and silver sculptures, large ceramic vessels covered in geometric designs and tunics and textiles containing similar motifs.

Rare Pre-Columbian Chavin bone/turquoise jaguar claw from the north coast of Peru, circa 1400 to 400 B.E. A jaguar claw, hand-carved from a human elbow bone with pointy turquoise claws of brilliant aqua hues and a carved, double-headed serpent design around the wrist. 1.75in wide x 2.125in high. Sold for $13,695 at an auction Jan. 19, 2017. Image courtesy of Artemis Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Bob Dodge, founding director of Artemis Gallery Ancient Art in Louisville, Colorado, said Pre-Columbian art appeals to a large segment of the art and antique collecting universe. “For many, Pre-Columbian art complements their antiquities, ethnographic/tribal objects and even modern art,” he said. “There are examples, such as ceramics from the Chavin culture of Peru, dating to around 900 B.C., that one would swear is Cubist and inspired Picasso. And who knows, maybe it did.” 

Of course, Dodge said, other collectors specialize exclusively in Pre-Columbian art. “The reasons are many,” he said, “but in conversations I’ve had with collectors, something I often hear is, ‘Classical antiquities are refined but Pre-Columbian art is powerful.’”

Oaxaca region Zapotec pre-Columbian sculpture. Good condition considering its age, several repairs on the back of the headdress, no apparent losses. Measures 14in high. Sold for $1,200 at an auction April 14, 20118. Image courtesy of Blackwell Auctions and liveAuctioneers

The fact is, Pre-Columbian art varies dramatically from region to region. “Objects from the Mayan region are completely unique from objects found in western Mexico,” Dodge observed. “Peruvian objects are dissimilar to pieces found in Colombia or Ecuador – but in every region of the Western hemisphere one can find objects that showed every bit of artistic skill that you would see in the finest Egyptian, Greek or Roman antiquity.”

Dodge continued, “The subjects and emotions found in every art style – love, hate, fear, sex/eroticism, religion, death, birth and even a profound sense of humor – can be seen in Pre-Columbian art. They are just shown in a different style than we were used to from the ‘Western’ cultures.”

Pre-Columbian human skull, Oaxaca, Mexico, circa 16th century. Human skull with eye sockets covered in seashell discs, believed to be of the Zapotec culture. The Zapotec culture was an indigenous pre-Columbian civilization that flourished in the Valley of Oaxaca in Mesoamerica over 2,500 years ago, having left significant archeological evidence of their presence at Monte Alban, one of the first major cities in Mesoamerica. Sold for $4,500. at an auction Nov. 10, 2018. Image courtesy of Potter & Potter Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

And, he said, affordability is and always has been a big advantage of collecting Pre-Columbian art versus classical antiquities. “While masterpieces of Pre-Columbian art can fetch six figures at major auction houses, one can still find superb examples under $10,000 and build an impressive collection while never paying more than $2,000 per piece. There are pieces in my personal collection that I acquired for under $1,000 that are among my all-time favorites.”

Like with many genres of collectible, there are trends in collection interest in Pre-Columbian art. “It seems some of the Peruvian cultures, Chavin in particular, are quite hot,” Dodge reported. “The Chavin of northern Peru are one of the earlier cultures found in the Pre-Columbian world. They descended into the Moche, who ultimately descended into the Inca – of course conquered by the Spanish around 1532. Other Peruvian cultures like the Chancay and Nazca are also seeing increased interest of late. We also find objects of jade being eagerly sought-after with much interest coming from collectors in China.”

Pre-Columbian Mayan incised blackware vessel, Mexico (A.D. 700-850). Size: 4¼in by 4 in. Sold for $2,688 at an auction May 6, 2020 by Material Culture. Image courtesy of Material Culture and LiveAuctioneers

Dodge said certain regions are always in high demand. “Maya ceramics are always in style, as are good examples from the regions of Colima in Mexico, Cocle in Panama, Inca from Peru, Aztec from central Mexico, stone objects from Veracruz and gold and silver from any region.”

As for market demand for Pre-Columbian art (as well as most forms of ancient art over the last five to 10 years) has been steady, Dodge said, but attributed much of that to his gallery’s growth and expansion. “Sadly,” he said, “I think the trend for the foreseeable future is a steady decline as the collector base ages. The typical collector is over 60 years old – with the average age certainly in the 70s. These older buyers are not being replaced with a younger buyer – at least not right now.”

Pre-Columbian pottery mask, 6¼inch tall by 6¾in wide. Sold for $6,150 at an auction Jan. 18, 2014. Image courtesy of DuMouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

Dodge added, “What we have seen is that typically younger people today have the resources to buy, just not the interest. They prefer experiences to objects. They aren’t looking to fill their houses up with pieces of art or history.  We have obtained literally hundreds of collections where the owner has died and the surviving children have no interest in anything in the collection. We find it sad, and not just from a potential revenue perspective.”

Anyone considering collecting Pre-Columbian art need to be mindful that condition reports for just about any object are essential. This is especially true for ceramics, but even applies to stone pieces.

ALPHONSE MUCHA: ART FOR LA BELLE EPOQUE

Alphonse Mucha, a Czech illustrator, painter, and graphic artist, lived in Paris during La Belle Epoque, a late 19th-century era associated with art and gaiety. After years of providing illustrative art to books and magazines, Mucha’s life took an unexpected turn. Legendary screen actress Sarah Bernhardt commissioned him to create an original theatrical poster for Gismonda, a Greek melodrama which she would star in and direct.

Gismonda, Sara Bernhardt, Alphonse Mucha, lithograph, 82 x 26.5”. Realized $8,500 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers

As color lithography advanced, Parisian advertising posters became more artful, giving graphic designers a welcome platform in which to exhibit their talents to potential customers. When Mucha’s soft-hued, elongated, goddess-like vision of Bernhardt was released, it caused a sensation. “…Paris woke up on 1895’s New Year’s Day to find the city plastered with this beautiful and hypnotic illustration, but by lunch, all had been removed and taken home by poster aficionados and fanatic Bernhardt fans,” writes Hyperallergic a contemporary online forum offering art perspectives.

At the time, only a handful of avant-garde artists had been creating similar, free-flowing designs. Yet due to a similarity of style, Mucha’s sylph-like maidens set amidst sweeping, swirling natural motifs became associated with those of the emerging Art Nouveau movement. In France, in fact, Art Nouveau became known as le style Mucha. Like Bernhardt, the illustrator had become a celebrity.

La Dame aux Camelias, Alphonse Mucha, La Dame aux Camelias, 30 x 8”, Imp. F. Champenois, Paris , 1896. Realized $13,000 + buyer’s premium in 2012. Image courtesy of Poster Auctions International and LiveAuctioneers

After Gismonda, Mucha went on to create theatrical posters portraying Bernhardt as La Tosca, La Dame aux Camélias, and Medea, knife in hand, towering above her slain son. Although executed in subtle pastels and golds, all are dramatic in spirit and substance.

Concurrently, Mucha produced numerous sets of decorative art posters. The Flowers, for instance, features four sensuous damsels, each amid sprays of blossoming irises, roses, carnations, or lilies. The Times of the Day depicts maidens in natural, sun-lit surroundings framed by flowery, ornamental openwork windows. The Moon and the Stars, on the other hand, shows them free of halos or alcoves, floating dramatically through dark night skies.

Summer, lithograph, Alphonse Mucha, 44.5 x 24.25”. Realized $750 + buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Universal Live and Live Auctioneers

The Precious Stones series features four lithe maidens, each with an ensemble in matching amethyst, emerald, topaz, or ruby-hued eyes, robes, hair accessories, and Byzantine-like, halo-effect crescents. The Arts Series, a limited edition on vellum, celebrates aesthetic creativity with maidens and natural motifs nestled in circular alcoves. According to the Mucha Foundation, Dance is personified with falling leaves blown by a morning breeze; Painting, with a red flower encircled by daylit rainbows; Poetry, with an evening star at dusk; and Music with a birdsong at moonrise.

Alphonse Mucha Lefèvre-Utile biscuit company advertisement, designed for display at points of sale, 14 x 20 7/8”. Imp. F. Champenois, Paris. Realized $14,000 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy Poster Auctions International and LiveAuctioneers

Mucha also produced an array of bright, eye-catching advertising posters for Nestle’s Food For Infants, Lance Perfum Rodo, Cassan Fils Printing Works, and railway services in Monte Carlo. He also designed enticing posters advertising La Belle Epoque indulgences like Benedictine Brandy, Moet & Chandon Dry Imperial Champagne, and Le Chocolat Ideal.

Mucha’s designs were also adapted for use in packaging designs, postcards, menu cards, wine labels, and calendars featuring female faces framed by signs of the zodiac. As commissions continued to flow in, he also authored Documents Decoratifs, an innovative, encyclopedic handbook for artists and craftsmen, offering an array of Art Nouveau patterns for personal use. Along with copies of his decorative panels, it contains botanical and figural studies, and his delicate wallpaper, tableware, stained glass, furniture, and jewelry designs.

Alphonse Mucha Postcard, “Laurel,” circa 1901, near-mint condition. Realized $300 + buyer’s premium in 2007. Image courtesy of Jackson’s Auction and LiveAuctioneers

In 1910, Mucha, who had long dreamed of painting the history of his homeland, began creating Slav Epic, a monumental series of murals depicting a millennium of mythological Slavic history. During World War II, his canvases were hidden, then languished in storage. In the years to follow, Mucha’s work fell out of fashion.

Mucha’s creations enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, however, when his pre-modern graphic art captured the imagination of free-thinking, 1960s coming-of-agers. Copies of his instantly recognizable posters adorned college dorms across the nation. Some pundits of that period speculated that Mucha’s highly detailed, spiraling images might have been the inspiration for the mind-bending swoops and swirls of post-modern psychedelic art. In examining some of the now-classic designs of rock concert posters of the 1960s/’70s – especially those of San Francisco’s Fillmore West and Family Dog – there is certainly substance to the argument that Mucha was godfather to the hippie-art movement.

Persian miniatures illustrated historic manuscripts

NEW YORK – Persian miniatures are small, highly detailed paintings that illuminate historic manuscripts. Their designs, worked on handmade, cotton-rag paper, feature colorful, mineral pigments bound in gum Arabic. They have kept their vibrant colors because, like medieval illuminated vellum manuscripts, they were part of books kept closed for centuries.

This fine art reached the Persian Empire, a cultural crossroads associated with modern-day Iran, during the Islamic Conquest (A.D. 600-900). After medicinal manuscripts, featuring ornamental calligraphy and simple illuminations, were translated from Arabic, Persian miniaturists illustrated them.

Islamic Art Timurid miniature painting from a Shāh-nāmeh depicting Nufel against Laila’s tribe Iran, possibly Herāt, 15th century, 16.00 x 23.50cm including frame. Realized
€500 ($541) + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Capitoliumart s.r.l. and LiveAuctioneers

Throughout Islamic dominance, Persians strove to preserve their ancient culture and identity. The monumental Shāh-nāmeh (Book of Kings), created by poet Ferdowsi, culminated this endeavor. This Persian-language epic, with 60,000 rhyming couplets and hundreds of fine miniatures, celebrates the country’s cultural character, Zoroastrian religion and mythical, legendary and romanticized past.

Through the next millennia, though Persia was repeatedly beset by foreign powers, wealthy patrons commissioned copies. Some survive.

Persian miniatures became a significant art form during Seljuk-Turkish rule (1037–1194). Many, edged by ornamental, Islamic-style vegetal and geometrical patterns, portrayed youthful, Asian-type faces featuring slanted eyes, rosebud mouths and braided hair.

Depiction of the ‘Fire Ordeal of Siyavush’ from a Shāh-nāmeh; ink, colors and gilt on heavy paper, early 17th century, 12¾ x 7in. Realized $3,800 + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy of Tremont Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

During the Mongol conquest decades later, invaders not only slaughtered Persians and decimated their cities. They also destroyed innumerable illustrated manuscripts. Yet as the Mongols pushed eastward, examples of traditional Chinese narrative painting reached Persia. Local miniaturists soon created similar curved-line, delicately tinted, feathery designs featuring auspicious lotus, peony, phoenix and dragon motifs.

Though Persian miniature style was linear, artists also developed the concept of a parallel perspective. In other words, by creating multiple planes and layering their elements, their two-dimensional designs projected three-dimensions. Appropriately, these reflected the multilayered nuances of their traditional, calligraphic, poetic texts.

“From the historic viewpoint,” explains Iran Review, “an independent, nongovernmental and nonpartisan website,” “the most important evolution in Iranian art … has been the adoption of Chinese designs and coloring, which were mixed with the specific conception of Iranian artists.”

From ‘The King and the Ambassadors’ manuscript, gouache, ink, gilt details on paper, 16th century, 9 x 5¼in framed. Realized $900 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

As dynasties rose and fell, distinctive Persian miniature styles emerged, often differing from major city to city. Prestigious workshops in Tabriz, capital of the Timurid Dynasty (late 1300-1400s), for example, favored smaller, elongated, expressionless figures clad in Chinese-style armor or silk garments. Many, set against subtly colored landscapes or all-over designs, are depicted on multiple planes.

Miniatures created in Shiraz, also under Timurid rule, were known for vivid palettes, expansive landscapes and expressive mystical and romantic themes framed by freely drawn natural motifs. Additionally, their designs often feature a new practice of vertical perspective—layering figures one over the other. Distant objects appear at their top; near ones appear at their base.

Persian War scene featuring nasta’liq script, paper, 23 x 19cm, 19th-20th century. Realized €600 + ($683) buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Oriental Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Through the 1400s, miniatures from Herāt, now in Afghanistan, featured naturalistic plant and animal images, along with scenery and human figures on varying planes. Despite multiple viewpoints and three-dimensional, hexagonal depictions of planar pavilions, they are unified by homogenous lines and coloring. In fact, many consider Herāti miniatures the pinnacle of Persian painting.

Because Persian miniatures were traditionally created in workshops through divisions of labor, most cannot be traced to specific artists. Yet those featuring particularly expressive characters, narrative creativity, dark-light naturalism and simple spaces edged by grid-like architectural sections, for example, have been attributed to (or created under the direction of) the Herāti master miniaturist, Kamāl ud-Dīn Behzād.

Illumination from the Shāh-nāmeh, Ferdusi, describing the reign of Alexander the Great, 20.5 x 27.5 cm, 17th century, possibly Shiraz. Realized €1,900 ($2,382) + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of Florence Number Nine srl and LiveAuctioneers

After the fall of the Timurid Dynasty, Behzād worked under the Safavid Empire (1501-1736) in Tabriz, then in Isafan. Since manuscript illustration enjoyed royal patronage during the late Safavid era, Reza Abbasi depicted finely drawn royal courts, palaces, nobility, as well as dynamic battles and hunting scenes in sumptuous shades of gold. Many of his works, instead of illustrating costly poetic manuscripts, were created as single-page paintings for personal albums. Since these were shown privately, scores, instead of depicting discreet, Islamic-style illustrations, were far more suggestive.

Though miniatures retained the Persian spirit through the subsequent Qajar Dynasty (1794-1925), they often featured European-style shading and perspective. Hossein Behzad and Mohammad Gaffari Kamal-ul-Molk are noted Qajar miniaturists. Persian teahouse miniatures, simple, free-drawn paintings of religious stories and epics by untrained painters on cloth and walls, also arose during this era. Mahmoud Farshchian, who combines classic Persian forms with new techniques, is a contemporary Persian miniature master.

Shāh-nāmeh, Ferdowsi, featuring nasta’liq script, with Persian export stamps to text (A.D. 1890/91), paneled with calf vellum (A.D. 1823-24) 360 x 220mm, Iran. Realized £6,500 + buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of
Bloomsbury Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

According to a professional preservationist, “Exposure to ultraviolet light starts and accelerates all types of deterioration in materials that make up miniature paintings. Due to their starch-paste sizing, they are also prone to damage from insects and high humidity, So, ideally, these treasures should be stored in dry, dark places, either in folders or matted and boxed. The best way to preserve them is not to display them at all.”

Yet she adds, “I’ve hung my own matted, framed Persian miniatures in a dark hallway against an interior wall of my house. To enjoy them, I turn on the light.”

Choice contemporary art offered in Jasper52 auction Sept. 1

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, Jasper52 will present an online auction of urban and contemporary art that includes works by some of today’s most recognized artists such as Yayoi Kusama, Banksy, KAWS and many more.

Damien Hirst, (British, b. 1965) ‘H7-3 Butterfly Heart,’ 2020, laminated Giclée print on aluminum composite panel, 28 x 29in. Estimate: $5,000-$6,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

June 2 fine art auction transports bidders to South Pacific

On Tuesday, June 2, Jasper52 will present an auction of more than 100 artworks sourced from a Honolulu estate, about half of which have South Pacific subjects and themes.

Jean Charlot (French/Mexican, 1898-1979), ‘Presenting the Tabua,’ serigraph/silkscreen print from the Fijian series, 1973. Image: 20in x 15¼in. Sheet: 25¾in x 20in. Estimate: $1,100-$1,500. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Chagall experienced modernism’s golden age firsthand

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.

‘Les Maries dans le Ciel de Vitebsk,’ 1969, oil on canvas, 16in x 10½in. Realized €400,000/$583,004 + buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy of Millon & Associes and LiveAuctioneers

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.

‘Romeo et Juliette,’ (CS 10 Sorlier), 1964, edition 15/200, Charles Sorlier engraver, Mourlot printer, signed, 26 1/8in x 40 in. gilt woodframe. Realized $28,000 + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy of Brunk Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

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.

‘Le Profil Bleu,’ framed lithograph, 1972. Signed and numbered 25/50, 25½in x 19in,
Maeght Editeur, Paris, publisher. Realized $3,000 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

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).

‘Tribe of Levi,’ limited edition lithograph from Maquettes of Stained Glass Windows for Jerusalem, 1964, signed, 29in x 20¾in, Charles Sorlier, printer. Realized $8,500 + buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy of Dane Fine Art and LiveAuctioneers

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.

‘Lozna near Witebska,’1985, Adam i Ewa, signed, limited edition lithograph, approx. 30½in x 22¼in. Realized 26,000 PLN (Polish Zloty) or $7,444 in 2012. Image courtesy DESA Unicum SA and LiveAuctioneers

“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.”

Lithograph 1977, signed and numbered 61/150, published by Sorlier Graveur on Arches. Approx. 26in x 19½in image. Realized $8,500 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy Auction Gallery of Boca Raton LLC and LiveAuctioneers