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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

 

Indian artworks featured in Jasper52 sale April 28

Jasper52 will present a collection of contemporary Indian paintings by artists drawing from traditional styles on Tuesday, April 28.

‘Untitled DS07’ by Gond artist Dhavat Singh Uikey, 60in x 35in, acrylic on canvas, 2016. Estimate: $15,000-$18,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Hawaiian images prevail in Jasper52 auction April 15

Tropical images of Hawaii painted by artists who lived and worked on the islands highlight an online auction that will be conducted by Jasper52 on Wednesday, April 15. Many of the paintings are fresh from an estate in Honolulu.

Charles W. Bartlett (1860-1940) ‘Man in Outrigger, Hawaii,’ 1923 etching print hand-colored with watercolor, titled and signed in graphite. Estimate: $12,000-$14,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

David Hockney: more than pool pictures

NEW YORK – David Hockney is synonymous with paintings of swimming pools, but throughout his career he has utilized many techniques and styles in creating art and his subject matter interests have ranged from landscapes to portraits. While celebrated as a painter, he is also a talented draftsman, printmaker, photographer and stage designer. From his double-portraits in the early 1960s, which gave way to swimming pools and California landscapes later that decade to rarely shown photographic collages in the 1980s and more recent iPad drawings printed on paper, the artist is known for bold and colorful works encompassing varied media.

David Hockney’s ‘30 Sunflowers,’ 1996, oil on canvas, made $2.2 million + buyer’s premium in May 2011 at Phillips. Photo courtesy of Phillips and LiveAuctioneers

Considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century, Hockney was born in Bradford, England and has long maintained homes and studios in London and California, which inspires much of his artwork.

In early 2020, London’s National Portrait Gallery opened “David Hockney: Drawing from Life,” the first major exhibition of the artist’s works in two decades. The exhibition explored how drawing is integral to the manner in which Hockney (b, 1937) processes the world through his art and experiments with new techniques and concepts that later make their way into paintings. One art style seems to lead to another, creating a chain of sorts in his oeuvre.

David Hockney ‘Maurice 1998,’ etching A.P. II/X 44 x 30½in © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Richard Schmidt, Collection: The David Hockney Foundation; David Hockney ‘No. 1201,’ March 14, 2012, iPad Drawing © David Hockney. Image courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London

“Drawing from Life” explores Hockney as a draughtsman from the 1950s to now by focusing on his depictions of himself and a small group of sitters close to him: his friend, Celia Birtwell; his mother, Laura Hockney; his curator, Gregory Evans, and master printer, Maurice Payne,” according to a press release on the exhibition.

The exhibition includes new and early works that have not been publicly shown before. The exhibition was scheduled to travel to other museums, including the Morgan Library & Museum in New York.

This signed lithograph titled ‘Hotel Acatlan’ went for $67,600 + buyer’s premium in November 2019 at Palm Beach Modern Auctions. Photo courtesy of Palm Beach Modern Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Among his most well-collected paintings are his California-inspired works, especially those of pools. The David Hockney Foundation website notes in its chronology for the artist that Hockney found endless inspiration in California’s landscape, both natural and man-made. Swimming pools were a favorite motif during the 1960s, where Hockney explored the reflective quality of pools and its interplay with sunlight. “He continues to be mesmerized, as his work attests, by that city’s swimming pools and other glistening surfaces,” according to the foundation website.

Hockney’s paintings routinely bring solid prices on the art market and it should come as no surprise little surprise that his sun-dazzled pool paintings are among the most desirable.

This 1976 photo portfolio, ‘20 Photographic Pictures,’ with 20 chromogenic prints, published by Editions Sonnabend, brought $60,000 + buyer’s premium at Millea Bros. Ltd. in May 2018. Photo courtesy of Millea Bros. Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

Hockney’s self-portrait, one of many, Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), 1972, set a new auction record in November 2018 for the most expensive painting by a living artist. It sold at Christie’s New York for $90 million. In February 2020, Sotheby’s London held a contemporary art evening auction that was led by The Splash, a 1966 acrylic, selling for over $28 million. The latter painting was made near the start of Hockney’s California era, which is marked by his California Dreaming series, where he began using acrylic paints.

While portraits and his California scenes are famous for being avidly sought after by collectors, Hockney’s landscapes are also notable, even ones not associated with West Coast locales. In February 2020, William Bunch Auctions & Appraisals in Chadds Ford, Pa., sold an English landscape from the 1950s, Kirton, an oil on board, well over its high estimate for $75,000.

This early landscape oil on board, ‘Kirton,’ circa 1950s, attained $75,000 + buyer’s premium in February 2020 at William Bunch Auctions. Photo courtesy of William Bunch Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

In the 1950s, Hockney painted landscapes around Suffolk County before discovering abstract expressionism, which had a profound influence on his artistic visions,” according to the auctioneer’s catalog notes for this painting. Still a teenager at this time, Hockney and fellow artist John Loker were known to have spent some time around Kirton in 1957, on their way to Constable, to paint or sketch local scenes en plein air. They were often seen riding around the countryside on their bicycles.

In his native Bradford, where he was born, he is so revered that Bradford Museums & Galleries, whose art collection likely intrigued and inspired the artist-to-be as a child, officially opened up its David Hockney Gallery in July 2017 as part of Cartwright Hall.

A polychrome pencil and tempera work on paper, inscribed ‘Small Californian Forest,’ realized $66,572 + buyer’s premium in June 2019 at Itineris. Photo courtesy of Itineris and LiveAuctioneers

Jill Iredale, curator of fine arts at Bradford Museums & Galleries, wrote in a blog a month later about the intimate look the new gallery offers and its rare insights. “It provides examples of the different medium he has used and introduces some of the recurring themes in his work, and it gives an insight into his family life through his personal photograph albums—albums that have never been seen in public before,” she wrote.

From his self-portraits to depictions of family and people in his inner circle to idyllic landscapes and color-saturated scenes, Hockney’s works continue to fascinate viewers. In more than 60 years of making art, he has made many memorable pictures, playing with the elasticity of space and time as well as texture, color and light.

Andrew Wyeth: inspired by winter

NEW YORK – Since Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was homeschooled, he spent considerable time alone as a youth. Although his father, illustrator N.C. Wyeth, introduced him to figure study, geometrics and watercolors, the young man received no formal artistic training. Nor did he study museum masterpieces.

Instead, Wyeth’s earliest works were inspired by solitary walks in and around his hometown, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He found the neighboring Kuerner Farm especially inspiring. Through 50 years, he created nearly 1,000 drawings and paintings of its buildings, landscapes, animals and owners—Anna and Karl Kuerner.

‘Cold Spell,’ 1965, watercolor on paper, 19in x 28in, signed lower right: ‘Andrew Wyeth.’ Realized: $200,000 + buyer’s premium on Nov. 1, 2019. Heritage Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Many of these pieces, like Brinton’s Mill (1958), depict leaden skies above snowy landscapes. “Oh, I love white. Marvelous,” Wyeth said to Richard Meryman in a 1965 Life magazine interview. “My wild side that’s really me comes out in my watercolors—especially of snow, which is absolutely intoxicating to me. I’m electrified by it—the hush—unbelievable … the loneliness of it—the dead feeling of winter.”

‘In the Orchard Study,’ gouache, watercolor, 1972, signed, sheet size 20½in x 28¼in, overall 32½in x 40¼in. Realized $57,000 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy of Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

While wintry works by Wyeth may seem contemplative, moody or melancholy, their composition is often dynamic. In the Orchard Study (1972), explains Claire Fraser, fine art and silver director at Leland Little Auctions, “features a push and pull to the image. The dramatic diagonal of the hillside, broken by the lone figure and the outline of the tree, keep the eye engaged.”

‘Cow,’ pencil, signed, 4½in x 7in. Realized $1,400 + buyer’s premium in 2016. Image courtesy of Kaminski Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Wyeth believed that strong personal associations, when brought to significant images, imbued the artworks with their human spirits. Winter 1946, set near the location his father was killed, for example, embodies such feelings. So may Snow Hill (1989), which depicts personally significant people celebrating May Day in a winter setting.

‘Snow Hill,’ limited edition collotype, signed and numbered, framed 41in x 54¼in. Realized $2,000 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Case Antiques Inc. Auctions & Appraisals and Live Auctioneers

Wyeth was not only solitary, but also secretive. In 1986, he revealed that, for over 15 years, he had surreptitiously drawn and painted 240 intimate images of an attractive woman named Helga. Since no one had known about them, they – and the artist – immediately attracted international attention.

Soon afterward, Wyeth’s wife disclosed that his discretion was not unusual. Through their 46-year marriage, he had habitually left to paint without telling her where he would be. Furthermore, she suggested that his secret work imbued his ongoing, public work with visual and emotional power.

‘Braids [Helga],’ color offset lithograph, 1979, signed and initialed, 9 5/8in x 12 3/16in, edition unknown. Realized $900 + buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy of Stanford Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

“Wyeth’s Helga pictures resonate with viewers on two levels,” Fraser explained. “They are fascinating in a gossipy sense; but then viewers can place themselves in the landscape or relate it to their experiences and build their own narratives around the scene.”

Wyeth also drew and painted numerous scenes of Cushing, Maine, the site of his summer home. Christina’s World (1948), one of his best-known works, portrays a handicapped woman from the neighboring Olson Farm, dragging herself across a field “like a crab on a New England shore.” To some, its dark imagery suggests abandonment, loneliness or hopelessness. To others, it symbolizes courage in the face of adversity. Wyeth continued depicting the Olson Farm until Christina’s death in 1968.

Andrew Wyeth painted this watercolor titled ‘Empty Basket on a Sloping Hill’ on the title page of the book ‘Christina’s World,’ by Betsy James Wyeth, published 1982. The work is pencil-signed and inscribed, ‘Painted for Larry Webster with warmest thanks for the great design on this book, Andrew Wyeth.’ Realized: $24,000 + buyer’s premium in 2010. Image courtesy Clars and LiveAuctioneers

Although Wyeth is often deemed a rural realist, he considered himself an abstractionist. “Most artists just look at an object, and there it sits, ” he explained to Meryman. “My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash – like something you caught out of the corner of your eye, but in the picture you can look at it directly.” To many, his spare images, worked in subdued watercolor, grainy drybrush or egg tempera, reflect not only deep emotion, but also the essence of life itself. In Wyeth’s timeless world, flimsy curtains flutter in the breeze, a sun streak illumines a half-opened door, potted geraniums peek out from a window, and snow flurries caress dry-bone boughs.

As the artist often remarked, “I paint my life.” Today, it touches others.