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Handmade tiles pave the way for an artful collection

A four-panel peacock tile, made in 1910 by Frederick Hurten Rhead as a personal gift for a friend and colleague, achieved $510,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2012. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

Handmade decorative tiles are like snowflakes: no two are exactly alike. But unlike snowflakes, tiles are able to survive for centuries and delight generations of appreciative owners.

Saied Hussain, the only producer of handmade decorative cement tiles left in Egypt, testified to the powerful sensation that comes with their creation. “When you do it, you feel like you’re an artist,” Hussain said in a recent interview with Business Insider. 

A circa-1920 handmade glazed earthenware landscape tile frieze by the Mueller Mosaic Co. earned $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2022. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

As a building material, cement – which comes from the Roman word caementicium – can be traced back to ancient Greece, Macedonia and Rome. These regions’ inhabitants relied on a cement recipe of crushed volcanic ash and lime, which delivered the makings of long-lasting roads, aqueducts and the open dome of the Pantheon. By the 18th century, however, cement had evolved into two separate types: non-hydraulic and hydraulic with their setting processes dictating their uses.

This unglazed handmade ceramic tile depicts Elbert Hubbard, the founder of the Roycroft Arts and Craft community, rendered in bas relief by Roycroft sculptor Jerome Connor. It sold for $450 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2020. Image courtesy of California Historical Design and LiveAuctioneers

Non-hydraulic cement needs carbon dioxide in the air to cure, which limits its applications because it takes weeks to set. It is primarily used for indoor stone or brick work. Hydraulic cement, which is also known as Portland cement, cures within days, thanks to a chemical reaction between lime, silicates and aggregates. Its faster curing time makes it suitable for handmade tiles, but such tiles require an additional step: they must be fired at high heat to render them as encaustic tiles and ensure their hardiness.

This Danish teak coffee table from HASLEV, with handmade tiles embedded in its table top, reached a top bid of $1,000 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2021. Image courtesy of Uniques and Antiques, Inc and LiveAuctioneers

The process by which Hussain creates his encaustic tiles has not changed since cement became a favored building material in the 19th century, when factories that produced handmade tiles were much more prevalent. But encaustic tiles, whose name is derived from the Greek infinitive meaning “to burn,” date back to the 5th century and they were made in much the same way.

The first step involves sifting white cement powder to remove any heavier material. Dry background pigments are gently mixed with the sifted cement and water, then stirred to a well-blended consistency. After that, one color at a time is painstakingly poured into each section of an elaborate metal pattern set within a sturdy mold. Artisans shake the mold to make sure all of the pigments are set completely before they lift the metal pattern to reveal the final, colorful design. Finally, the whole is covered with a mixture of sand, cement and limestone to keep the pigment in place and then tightly tamped down by a press (Hussain uses a hydraulic one) to form a hard-packed tile ready for firing. Finished cement tiles are typically destined to become floor pavers for indoor and outdoor spaces.

A handmade encaustic tile featuring a yellow lion outlined in black against a dark blue field, made by the American Encaustic Tile Company, sold for $30 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Vintage Accents Auction and LiveAuctioneers

The American Encaustic Tile Company (AETCO), which thrived in Zanesville, Ohio from 1892 to 1935, was the major producer of handmade encaustic tile during the Arts and Crafts Movement, and its products sometimes appear at auction. Encaustic cement tiles are generally not as bright as other handmade tiles because the pigments shine through on their own, rendering glazes superfluous. But other types of handmade tiles cannot be completed without glazing.

Portuguese artist A. Paula hand-crafted and hand-painted a 12-tile ceramic mural of a Portuguese ship named ‘Navio Sec. XVII.’ It sold as a framed piece for $500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Estates Consignment and LiveAuctioneers

Handmade ceramic tiles are almost always glazed. Instead of sifted cement, their base ingredient is organic clay, which is molded and cut into shape – a less time-consuming process than that of cement tiles. Ceramics must be fired at very high temperatures but, as noted above, they also require a glaze, which can include ash, lead, salt or even tin. This extra step yields a hard, brick-like surface with an impermeable layer that protects the tile from moisture and decay. And of course, glazes can add a welcome splash of color. Ceramic tiles are more delicate than porcelain, but have a wider range of indoor uses than their cement cousins. 

These French handmade decorative porcelain tiles with white bas-relief motifs of a man with a bull and a woman with a cow realized $360 (as one lot) plus the buyer’s premium in August 2021. Image courtesy of Akiba Antiques and LiveAuctioneers

Porcelain tiles are made from organic clay, as well. Their decorations come from colored glazes that penetrate deeply into the clay. When the feldspar within the clay melts in the heat of the kiln, it renders a tile that is harder and more impermeable than a ceramic tile, but not as hard as an encaustic one. And because the glaze runs deeper, a scratch or a missing piece isn’t as noticeable as in ceramic tiles, which gain their glazes as thin, applied layers.

A vintage handmade pottery tile depicting a galloping knight on a horse with an oversize bird of prey, probably a hawk, made $150 plus the buyer’ premium in April 2016. Image courtesy of Great Expectations Auction Company and LiveAuctioneers

Yet another popular form of handmade tiles is fashioned from pottery clay and hand-painted to accent fireplaces, tables and countertops or serve as wall decorations. Pottery tiles are fired at high heat to maintain their glazes, and they resemble ceramic tiles in their hardness and permeability. 

Artist Andrew Hull used the sgraffito process to create this set of handmade tiles titled ‘Wrong Turn’ and ‘Pipefish and Friends.’ Together they earned $1,700 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021. Image courtesy of Lion and Unicorn and LiveAuctioneers

Lastly, there is sgraffito, an ancient artistic tile made in a manner not unlike that of fresco painting. The finished clay is fired with layers of different color pigments, with the design etched or incised directly into the tile before firing to give it its unique design. Sgraffito (an Italian word meaning “to scratch,” which gave rise to the word “graffiti”) has been around since at least the 15th century and became prevalent during the Arts and Crafts Movement of the late-19th and early 20th centuries, most notably on building facades and as wall decorations. 

Taken together, the range of different types of handmade tiles allows the collector to amass a visually stunning collection that is one of a kind. Auctions feature vintage and contemporary artistic choices in an array of styles, and each is, in its own way, special because it is the work of a human hand, and not a machine.

“If you’re not an artist, you will not be able to do this job,” Hussain said. “Maybe, God willing, this craft will last for a hundred more years.” As long as masters continue to make tiles by hand, and as long as collectors embrace their masterpieces, Hussain’s craft should continue to thrive.

NFTs: NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS OR NOT FOR THE TIMID?

An NFT image of a poster created by renowned artist Shepard Fairey, ‘Make Art, Not War,’ achieved $200 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2022. Image courtesy of ArtMeetsStreet x Mercer Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Imagine that you “own” a specific star. Ostensibly, you own it because you have its specific coordinates stored in a star registry, and a colorful certificate you received after purchasing the star says so. The star may be visible to all, but only you can claim to own that specific star.

One day, you decide to sell the star’s coordinates to someone else who buys it as an investment. The buyer, however, cannot hold the star, feel it, frame it, put it on display or store it in a box any more than you could when you owned it. The only “property” that conveys is the coordinates. And, just as you had hoped the star would one day increase in value, so does its new “owner.”

‘Suitcase in Space 1,’ a 2022 digital NFT artwork by 82-year-old Spanish artist Cristobal Toral, realized €2,000 (about $2,050) plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Ansorena and LiveAuctioneers.

If you understand any of that, welcome to the world of the non-fungible token, or NFT. As a newbie, there are some basic points to understand. 

First, the term “non-fungible” means that the item is one-of-a-kind and completely irreplaceable. Your car, for example, is non-fungible as it will have a different value from other cars, even if those cars were built in the same year and may appear identical. Anything that can be exchanged with the same value is “fungible.” A five-dollar bill is easily exchanged with another bill of the same type as both have the same value. Investopedia.com explains the concept this way: just as “… No. 2 yellow corn [is] fungible because it does not matter where the corn was grown; all corn designated as No. 2 yellow corn is worth the same amount.” 

Polish artist Yerka Jacek’s ‘Water World,’ offered in March 2022 as an NFT and a giclee print, together achieved 380,000 PLN (about $85,000) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Agra Art Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

Every line of computer code, by definition, is strictly unique, or non-fungible. When composed as an online token on a cryptocurrency blockchain – the online registry that serves as a certificate of authenticity of sorts – it becomes an NFT that cannot be changed or altered in any way. Once downloaded, the computer code defines the specialized image or plays only the unique sound that is bought and sold at online auctions.

NFTs can take many different forms. They exist as digital-game characters and trading cards, crypto art and also Internet memes, but NFTs are also being created as a kind of license for patents or online sports. So, according to theverge.com, “… anything digital such as drawings, music, [or even] your brain downloaded and turned into an AI [artificial intelligence] …” can become an NFT along with any abstraction, idea or thought. The first-ever tweet, composed and sent in March 2006 by Twitter co-founder and former CEO Jack Dorsey, sold as an NFT for nearly $3 million in March 2021.

‘The Great Chain of Being’ by Anna Mills is an artistic taxidermy sculpture of a savannah wildcat, an African grey hornbill and a marmoset monkey. It also exists as an NFT. The sculpture and the NFT sold together for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022. Image courtesy of Public Sale Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

There are positive and negative aspects to creating, buying and owning an NFT. One of the positive aspects can be illustrated with the star registry example above. The key difference between owning a star on a printed registry and an NFT made from computer code is that the creators of the star registry can’t collect royalties if the same star is resold, while the creator of the NFT does. Told another way, in the United States, contemporary artists are paid when their artwork is first sold, but not when it is resold.

 In 2021, Chris Torres, creator of the Nyan Cat Internet meme, said to businessinsider.com, “Most NFT platforms allow the artist to retain their copyright and trademarked work, which I feel is huge for an artist because it lets them keep their creative rights.” Also in 2021, Torres sold an NFT of Nyan Cat, a flying cat with a pop tart as its body, for nearly $600,000. NFTs allow creators of crypto art, as the Nyan Cat is called, to retain the copyright and continue to collect royalties every time the same NFT is resold to a new owner. More importantly, an artist can sell directly to a buyer without the need for a dealer or an agent who works on commission.

The NFT marketplace is relatively new. The first example, made by Kevin McCoy and Anil Dash and consisting of a short video clip of the sale itself, sold for $4 in May 2014. (Dash was the buyer.) By 2017, series of NFTs such as the CryptoPunks, CryptoKitties, Pepe trading cards and the Bored Ape Yacht Club were part of a $250 million marketplace and growing. An NFT by the artist known as Beeple (aka Mike Winkelmann) achieved $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021, generating headlines worldwide.

An individual NFT by the digital artist known as Beeple (Mike Winkelmann), titled ‘Bull Run Day #4951,’ achieved $40,000 plus the buyer’s premium in November 2021. Image courtesy of Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

These types of digital artworks, as well as video and gaming characters are the most traded NFTs to date. According to a financial report by globenewswire.com, NFTs represent a $3 billion worldwide market that is expected to grow to $13.6 billion in 2027. The growth is expected to come from celebrity endorsements and the increasing use of game characters that can be bought and sold via game platforms. Crypto exchange platforms are also creating NFT marketplaces such as OpenSea, Rarible, Larva Labs, Cloudflare and Dapper Labs. All that is very positive for creators of NFTs, but what are the drawbacks of the NFT itself?

Anything can become an NFT, even this collage by Marc Karzen celebrating the 40th anniversary of ‘The David Letterman Show.’ The lot consisted of a signed book, a digital print and an NFT with the cryptocurrency wallet to access it. Collectively it earned $2,500 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Santa Monica Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

As with anything considered valuable, only time and another buyer will determine its worth in the future. Remember the NFT of the very first tweet that sold for $3 million in March 2021? It was auctioned again in April 2022 and anticipated to sell for $50 million. But when no one bid more than $280, the NFT was withdrawn. Not even celebrity can help sell an NFT. In January 2022, Former First Lady Melania Trump created an NFT called Head of State Collection, featuring an image of her wearing a unique white outfit worn at a state visit with the president of France. It realized about $180,000, but public blockchain records later revealed Mrs. Trump herself purchased it after few interested buyers participated in the auction.

A fickle market aside, there are issues around the copyright of an image, video or game token represented by the NFT. Just creating an NFT doesn’t always mean ownership rights automatically transfer with it. Because of what are known as “personality rights,” buyers need to be sure the seller is also the owner of the image depicted in the NFT itself.

‘Bandera,’ a 2019 Bradley Settles landscape offered as an oil-on-board plus an NFT, sold for $850 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Vogt Auction Texas and LiveAuctioneers.

One of the most obvious downsides of an NFT is that if it is on the Internet, anyone can access it. You may have bought a video or graphic artwork as an NFT, but everyone else can still download it, too. It’s not unlike owning an original Picasso while everyone else owns a print. With an NFT, you, as the purchaser, may not own the copyright, which gives the original creator the ability to continue selling the same NFT many times over if they so desire. It wouldn’t make sense for the creator to do this, as it dilutes the scarcity of the NFT, but it can happen. Potential buyers should consider whether owning something that they can’t really control is in their best interest, bragging rights aside.

‘The Mistresses of Picasso,’ originally painted in gouache on paper in the 1930s, was auctioned as an NFT in May 2022 and attained $1,675 plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of International Art Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

Also, it should be noted that anything created for a blockchain requires large amounts of energy to produce and maintain. According to Columbia (University) Climate School’s website, a University of Cambridge analysis estimated that bitcoin mining consumes 121.36 terawatt hours a year. This is more than all of Argentina consumes in a year, or more than the annual consumption of Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft combined. This results in pumping some 65 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equivalent to the output of the nation of Greece. Generating Bitcoins, or any of the other 19,000 cryptocurrencies out there, makes a significant contribution to climate change. Minting an NFT is no different. 

The French newspaper ‘20 Minutes’ auctioned an offset printing plate for the front page of its January 13, 2020 supplement, along with an NFT of a complete six-page digital version of same, to benefit charity. It realized €3,000 (about $3,079) plus the buyer’s premium in October 2021. Image courtesy of Piasa and LiveAuctioneers.

NFTs are also closely linked to the cryptocurrency market, which is undergoing its own grim adventures. The Guardian newspaper reported on July 2, 2022 that the market for NFTs had hit a 12-month low of slightly more than $1 billion in June after peaking at $12.6 billion in January.

Nor are NFTs any less prone to theft than tangible artworks. Burglars come for them as well, as celebrity Seth Green found out. In May 2022, news broke that Green had lost four of his NFTs in a phishing scam, including a Bored Ape upon which he intended to base an animated TV show. The theft of the Bored Ape meant Green no longer controlled its likeness, placing the future of the show in doubt. The following month, Buzzfeed reported that Green regained his missing NFT by paying $260,000 to an entity known as 165 ETH, as confirmed by public blockchain records.

Any new opportunity to buy and sell will have its pros and cons. To get started in collecting NFTs requires a reasonable understanding of cryptocurrency, the blockchain, access to markets, online auctions, the attendant scams and various fees involved. You also need to school yourself on how to securitize the NFT you buy and on the marketability of any NFTs you create. And you need to understand how accessible the NFT would be in the future if the website, cloud platform or Tor network that hosts it is no longer online.

A work by Tel Aviv-based artist Shira Barzilay, aka Koketit, titled ‘Family Tree VideoArt’ and offered with an NFT, achieved $12,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022. Image courtesy of Tiroche Auction House and LiveAuctioneers.

In the end, owning an NFT could conceivably help to preserve a small part of the Internet as a historical snapshot in time, making your collection a digital museum of sorts. Whatever the motivation, an NFT is just another way to own unique items that aren’t necessarily accessible. They may lead to future monetary and economic innovations that will benefit collectors and the world to come.

Modern Art Masters sale explores power of works on paper, May 24

A Pablo Picasso linocut, an Egon Schiele self-portrait lithograph, and a Bernard Buffet lithograph will fight for top lot status at Jasper52’s Modern Art Masters auction, which will be conducted on Tuesday, May 24, starting at 3 pm Eastern time.

Bernard Buffet, ‘Clown on Red Background,’ est. $200-$250

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 to host Ancient Arts Auction, Feb. 16

On Wednesday, February 16, starting at 8 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will hold an Ancient Arts Auction – 84 lots of treasures from the impossibly distant past. Among the items on offer will be an ancient Greek terracotta pair of winged horses; a painted wood Egyptian sarcophagus lid from the Late Period, dating to circa 664-323 BCE; a circa-300 Roman glass jar with blue decoration; an Egyptian limestone canoptic jar with a baboon-headed lid; a circa-480 BCE Attic pottery red-figure kylix; a Mesopotamian limestone male head; an ancient Egyptian granite figure of the god Horus-Sobek; a circa-3rd century BCE Greek embossed silver finial for a ceremonial chair; the head of a female mummy from Egypt’s New Kingdom, XVIII Dynasty, dating to circa-1550-1069 BCE; a Roman marble head of Aphrodite; a gold Phoenician scarab ring; an Etruscan terracotta star dish; and a Greek Xenon-ware mug, to name just a few.

Pair of Greek terracotta winged horses, est. $24,000-$29,000

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52’s Dec. 28 auction presents 66 lots of iconic Warhol

On Tuesday, December 28, starting at 3 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will present a sale of Original Modern Art Lithographs and Etchings. The tightly curated lineup, featuring just 66 lots, is entirely devoted to the works of the late Pop Art legend Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Many of his most celebrated and coveted motifs are on offer, including images of Marilyn Monroe; Chairman Mao Tse Tung, the late president of the People’s Republic of China; Campbell’s Soup cans; the dollar sign; Edvard Munch’s The Scream; flowers; Beethoven; and the historic Apollo 11 moonwalk. Some of these prints are individuals, and others are groups or suites that represent a repeated theme.

Warhol ‘Dollar Sign’ Suite, est. $1.500-$2,000

View the auction here.

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.