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Frescoes: noble art for hallowed walls

Madonna with Child secco fresco sold for €600 ($712) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2020 at A10 by Artmark in Bucharest, Romania. Image courtesy of A10 by Artmark and LiveAuctioneers

Painting on walls goes back to prehistory, when humans sketched animals, hunts, daily scenes and even their own handprints directly onto the interiors of their cave dwellings. Crude pigments made from plants, blood, red and yellow ochre (clay), charcoal, and other powdered minerals were used to render the images. Some wall art dates to 64,000 years ago.

Wall painting persists in the form of frescoes – the art of painting murals directly onto wet plaster with brushes dipped in colorful pigments. Like the works in paleolithic caves, as long as the plaster lasted, the painting did, too.

Ancient Greeks and Romans routinely used frescoes for decorating private homes, public buildings, palaces and temples. Frescoes from Pompeii continue to be excavated from the volcanic ash that buried the city in the year 79 A.D., and emerge looking as bright and colorful as they were when they were new. Frescoes became prominent in churches, cathedrals, and even in mosques and temples from the medieval period through the late Renaissance era.

Frescoes are created in two distinct techniques known as buon fresco and secco fresco. While the methods appear similar, the final results are distinctively different.

A 13th- to 16th-century Chinese polychrome fresco painting of a celestial deity with a Buddhist banner sold for €9,000 ($10,616) plus the buyer’s premium in May 2019 at Galerie Zacke in Vienna. Image courtesy of Galerie Zacke and LiveAuctioneers

Buon Fresco

Buon fresco (Italian for “true fresh”) calls for mural imagery to be painted directly onto a specially-prepared three-layer wet plaster compound called intonico (Italian for “plaster”). As it dries, the plaster absorbs the pigments and the mural becomes part of the wall or ceiling itself. Buon fresco is durable as long as the plaster remains intact.

Tiziano Lucchesi, an instructor in fresco painting at the Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy, explains the process of painting buon frescoes in three steps: “The background is laid out with a basic primer color while plaster is still wet … once the water is evaporated more, other colors can be added … before evaporation occurs … [and] … the last phase is where the evaporation is near complete and only retouches are possible.” Once the surface is ready, a charcoal or painted drawing, known as a cartoon, is laid over the top to provide the outline for the finished fresco.

Artists using the buon fresco technique must grapple with an unforgiving deadline to complete the work before the plaster dries completely. If it does, the buon fresco itself will be difficult to correct. Michelangelo’s images on the walls of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican might be the finest and best-known examples of buon fresco.

‘Dance,’ a 1939 Yannis Moralis study for a fresco, achieved €13,000 ($15,334) plus the buyer’s premium in December 2018 at Vergos Auctions P.C. in Athens. Image courtesy of Vergos Auctions P.C. and LiveAuctioneers

Secco Fresco

Secco fresco (Italian for “dry fresh”) requires painting mural scenes directly onto existing dry plaster. The target surface must be soaked with lime water before painting can begin. While the palette of paints for a buon fresco are made from a mix of dry pigment and water, those readied for a secco fresco require binders such as egg yolk, oil or glue.

Because the plaster is relatively dry, the artist has more time to complete a secco fresco than a buon fresco, but the technique has a significant disadvantage: the colors aren’t readily absorbed into the plaster and thus aren’t as durable. Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper is the best-known example of the secco fresco technique. The religious masterpiece has weathered the centuries poorly, demanding endless maintenance.

A sort of in-between technique, known as mezzo fresco (“medium fresh”), attempts to preserve the looser time schedule granted by secco fresco while strengthening the durability of the image it produces. Artists relying on mezzo fresco add lime water to their pigments in order to bind them more securely to the almost-dry plaster.

How to Tell the Difference Between the Two

According to experts, a quick way to spot the technique used to create a fresco is to assess its surface. Buon fresco is smoother overall; secco fresco is painted on existing dry plaster, which has a rougher appearance. Also, secco frescoes will noticeably craze, split and flake off, requiring constant attention and upkeep.

Schools of Fresco Painting

Painting on fresh plaster as a deliberate artistic style can be traced back at least 4,000 years, to the Minoan civilization near Crete. Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Roman and Northern African fresco paintings are prevalent on tombs, private homes, peristyles and public buildings from the ancient world. Catacombs in Rome feature buon fresco murals from the early Christian era. Even caves in the Indus Valley have examples of fresco murals from at least 1100 B.C., such as in the Brihadisvara Temple in India. These are all examples of very early fresco painting. Such works tend to head straight to national museums and are not usually made available at auction.

13th-century Chinese stucco fresco depicting a procession of female immortals, sold for €3,800 ($4,482) plus the buyer’s premium in April 2021 at Capitoliumart s.r.l. in Brescia, Italy. Image courtesy of Capitoliumart s.r.l. and LiveAuctioneers

Churches, cathedrals and houses of worship all relied on fresco murals to teach the lessons of the Bible in the 12th and 13th centuries. Many medieval fresco murals enliven the structures of the Eastern Orthodox community, such as Andrei Rublev’s frescoes in several prominent Moscow cathedrals. Giotto’s Betrayal of Christ, painted in 1305, is a celebrated medieval fresco that graces the Arena Chapel in Padua, Italy.

The Italian Renaissance period was something of a golden age for fresco, with works rendered by Botticelli, Coreggio, and Massacio, as well as Michelangelo, whose Sistine Chapel frescoes became part of the very fabric of the ceiling of the Vatican. The painter known as Raphael created The School of Athens, one of the highest forms of fresco painting in the Vatican, completing it in 1511. Artists routinely painted frescoes until the early 16th century, when the medium’s use slowed considerably in favor of small and large oil paintings, which were far more portable.

The Baroque period, which spanned the late-16th to mid-18th century, marks the last great era for the fresco. Artists such as Pietro da Cortana, Carlo Miratta, and Tiepolo, whose frescoes featured in the Wurzburg Residences series of the 1750s, represented the last of the Italian Grand Manner painters of fresco art along with the Bolognese School.

After the Baroque Period, the use of fresco for enlivening interiors declined as an art form, although some artists, includingTheodore Chasseriau and Puvis de Chavannes, did work in the medium into the late 19th century.

A fresco ‘cartoon’ – a work laid over the target surface to provide an outline for the scene – created by Ben Long for his 2004 ‘Beheading of John the Baptist’ fresco sold for $350 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2014 at Tory Hill Auctions in Raleigh, N.C. Image courtesy of Tory Hill Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

A few early 20th-century artists such as Diego Rivera, Francesco Clemente, David Siqueros and Jose Orozco, embraced the fresco technique as they led Mexican Muralism into prominence as part of a public art movement. Some projects commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the United States during the Great Depression featured secco frescoes by local artists that are still displayed in public buildings such as city halls, post offices and state capitals.

While it is not as dominant an art form as it once was, fresco painting continues to be taught online and at art schools. Budding and experienced art collectors will find examples at all levels with which to start, or enhance, any collection, and range from cartoons, studies and preparatory works to actual fragments or panels recovered from a building.

Emile Gruppe, Artist-King of Gloucester

An undated Emile Gruppe canvas titled ‘Old Dartmouth’ sold for $1,270 in March 2021 at DuMouchelles Fine Art Auctioneers & Appraisers in Detroit, Michigan.

Mention the name Emile Gruppe to just about anyone in Massachusetts art circles and their eyes instantly brighten. Gruppe (1896-1978) was born in Rochester, New York, raised in the Netherlands, and in the early 1930s made his way to the picturesque fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts. There, he embarked on a long and prolific career, first as a tonalist painter and later as a Monet-inspired impressionist, a hallmark style for which he became famous. Gruppe’s vivid depictions of life on the water, especially fishing boat scenes, earned him a nice living.

A signed, untitled Emile Gruppe painting from the estate of Diana H. Douglas of Southern Pines, N.C., sold for $24,200 in September 2014 at Leland Little Auction Gallery in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

You could say Emile Gruppe had a head start in life. His father, Charles P. Gruppe, painted with the Hague School of art in Holland and served as a dealer for Dutch painters in the United States. He actively encouraged Emile’s artistic interests (as well as those of siblings Karl, a sculptor; Virginia, a watercolorist; and Paul, a cellist). Emile would watch his father create Barbizon-inspired landscapes and in so doing learn the rudiments of painting and drawing.

The family moved to the United States permanently in 1913 because of growing tensions in Europe. Young Emile’s formal training, such as it was, began in Rochester, where his parents apprenticed him to a sign painter. But he had larger ambitions for himself. He enrolled at the National Academy in New York City and later the Grande Chaumiere in Paris. He also attended classes at the Art Students League. In Provincetown, Massachusetts, he learned from the landscape painter Charles Hawthorne at the Cape Cod School of Art. But his most influential teacher was John Carlson, whom he met at the Art Student League’s summer school in Woodstock, New York.

This Emile Gruppe painting Early Morning Gloucester sold for $13,310 in May 2016 at the Rockport Art Association in Rockport, Mass.

“John Carlson turned me into a painter,” Gruppe once said. “He taught me to see all the pictorial possibilities of a subject.” By the time he arrived in Gloucester, his style had been pretty well cemented. He was a bold, robust Impressionist, one who earned places in gallery shows and exhibitions throughout the United States. While based in Gloucester, Gruppe also maintained a studio in Carnegie Hall in New York and had vacation retreats in Jeffersonville, Vermont and Naples, Florida. He painted every day, completing around 200 paintings a year for 60 years.

An oil-on-canvas winter harbor scene by Emile Gruppe sold for $14,400 in March 2013 at Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, New York.

Mary Westcott of Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts, said Emile Gruppe is revered in the New England area for his outstanding contribution as a local artist who taught and mentored many other artists. “Whenever one of his paintings comes to auction, it is given prominent advertising and always photographed,” she said. “Although he painted other subjects and locations, he is best known for his ‘Ships in Harbor’ scenes.  He’s often compared to William Lester Stevens, Aldro Hibbard and Anthony Thieme, and his work is most easily recognized. He is a giant among giants and continues to be sought by collectors and museums.”

Alexa Malvino of Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California, said Emile Gruppe benefited from being able to create art alongside a collection of other talented American artists, adapting and experimenting with impressionistic plein air painting. “The California artist Armin Hansen comes to mind first,” Malvino said. “Not only is their subject matter very similar, but even the color palettes of their works align. Small details like the execution of the hats on their fishermen make you wonder how familiar they were with each other’s work, despite working on separate sides of the country.”

The Emile Gruppe work titled ‘Morning Light at East Gloucester’ sold for $10,240 in August 2020 at Clars Auction Galley in Oakland, California.

The American Impressionist landscape was a subject often seen coming out of California from painters such as the Society of Six, Mary DeNeale Morgan and William Ritschel, the latter of whom spent much time in New York but created many of his great works after his move to Carmel in 1918. “Gruppe’s work also had a similar feel to the paintings coming out of Canada during that time,” Malvino observed. “The Group of Seven included artists like A.Y. Jackson and Tom Thomson – who passed before the creation of the group but whose work greatly influenced it – were also capturing the fantastic fall landscapes of the East Coast.”

As for the current demand for paintings by Gruppe, Alexa Malvino said the painter’s auction market has been fairly consistent for the past 10 to f15 years, with works selling for a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, contingent on the provenance, subject matter and condition of the works. “Despite the current demand for contemporary and Pop Art,” she added, “I don’t see his market softening in the coming years. His themes and beautiful execution of the Impressionist style seem to be timeless. The Impressionist era was such an important part of American art history and given his talent and many contributions to the movement, it’s likely the demand for his works will remain steady.”

Emile Gruppe’s ‘The Old Timer’ sold for $42,500 in November 2018 at Kaminski Auctions in Beverly, Massachusetts.

Mary Westcott said there continues to be a demand for Gruppe’s work. “The prices realized are on a broad spectrum and depend mostly on subject matter, early or late work and quality. Rarely are any of his paintings not sold. The demand for his work is still here and likely to continue.” Matt Cottone of Cottone Auctions in Geneseo, New York, concurred, remarking, “There has been a recent resurgence in the Gruppe market, with new interest on a national level.”

Emile Gruppe was as much a teacher as he was a painter. He founded the Gloucester School of Painting in 1942, operating it until his death, with a faculty that not only included himself but many of his own teachers, including Carlson. He wrote books for artists on brushwork, color and technique. His paintings can be found in major auction galleries, such as Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Skinner. His son, Robert Gruppe, a painter, maintains the Gruppe Gallery at Rocky Neck in Gloucester, while his daughter, Emilie, maintains the Emile A. Gruppe Gallery in Jericho, Vermont.

Jasper52 offers fine art, prints & multiples, Apr 28

On April 28, Jasper52 will offer a sale of fine art, prints, and multiples which will kick off at 5 pm Eastern time. The auction features precisely 210 lots that will tempt you to seriously reorganize your walls. Prints Specialist Mary Battaglia curated the sale.

Erik Lovko, ‘Tango,’ estimated at $2,000-$2,500

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Market for horse portraits keeps trotting along

What would you prefer: a great portrait of a horse, or a great portrait of a car? Andrew Jones, founder of the eponymous Los Angeles auction house, suggests that 90 percent of people would choose the horse, which may seem surprising to some.

More than 100 years have passed since the automobile displaced the horse as our main form of transportation. Admittedly, there are some truly spectacular cars out there. But a painted portrait of a car? Even a magnificently rendered image of a Murphy-bodied Duesenberg, or a Bugatti Type 55? No. The horse wins, and by far more than a nose. But why?

An 1879 Herbert Kittredge portrait of the stallion Bonnie Scotland and chief groom Robert Green sold for $40,000 at Case Antiques Inc Auctions and Appraisals in January 2018.

Well, the mammal has a long head start. Horses have appeared in art pretty much since human beings began creating images as art. The walls of the caves at Lascaux, France, are famously adorned with images of galloping equines rendered in charcoal and ocher. According to current scholarship, the cave paintings are about 17,000 years old. Horses star in other pivotal works of art. Two of the three paintings in Paolo Uccello’s 15th-century trio of tempera-on-wood panels dubbed the Battle of San Romano, showing the artist’s understanding of linear perspective, place white horses front and center. Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 images of Sallie Gardner galloping with a rider identified as “G. Domm” on her back literally changed the way horses are portrayed. The photographs proved that at some point, however brief, all four of a horse’s hooves leave the ground when it runs.

But the biggest difference is an insurmountable one: cars don’t have personalities, but horses do. Great portrait artists don’t just capture the facts of the sitter, they also capture the intangibles known only to those who love them best, and fix them to the canvas for all to see. In the case of equine portraits, the sitter just happens to be a horse.

A set of 12 equine portrait prints, based on the work of 18th-century British artist Thomas Spencer, sold for £4,600, or roughly $6,300, at Cheffins in September 2015.

“Sitter” also happens to be a contradictory term in this context, as the horses are never shown sitting. Many picture the subject in profile, standing perfectly still, which presents the viewer with another contradiction. We seem to love horses best when they’re moving; Uccello, Muybridge, and the Lascaux artists agree on that. But painting a horse that’s standing still allows us to appreciate the horse at rest, and to admire the skill of the portraitist. “If you’ll Google paintings of horses, you’ll be shocked at how many don’t look like a horse should,” Jones said.

Sarah Campbell Drury, vice president of Fine and Decorative Arts at Case Antiques Auctions & Appraisals in Knoxville, Tennessee, points out that the noted equestrian artist Henry Stull “credited part of his success to actually having studied horse anatomy at veterinary school.”

Commissioning a painted portrait is expensive; horse portraits, in and of themselves, are luxury goods, not unlike a Patek Philippe chronograph or a Ferrari 599 Manual. Horse portraits represent the fact that decades or centuries ago, someone was rich enough to pay an artist to immortalize a favorite horse. “There is the emotional connection and desire to have a portrait as a remembrance and keepsake. But we must also remember that many horses were in fact the livelihoods of their owners. They were raced and bred for large sums of money,” Campbell Drury says. “They were extremely important financial assets. So equine portraits could be used almost as marketing or promotional materials to represent this asset in situations where the horse itself could not be present, not to mention as status symbols.”

An 1895 horse portrait by John Chester Mathews sold for $1,600 at Case Antiques Inc Auctions and Appraisals in January 2017.

British demand for these images during the 18th- and 19th centuries was strong enough to sustain dedicated specialists. “During the period when equine portraiture was at its peak, it was common for the wealthiest of racehorse owners to commission portraits of their most important animals, allowing a handful of artists to earn a living solely from those types of picture,” says Patricia Durdikova, an associate in the Paintings department at Cheffins auction house in Cambridge, England. “Portraits of the horses which defined the development of British horse racing, known as the Foundation Sires, are as sought after in the current market as they were at the time of painting.”

Some horse portraits present the animal as a supreme luxury object. An 18th-century English canvas of an unknown equine with a manor house in the background sold for $9,750 against an estimate of $800-$1,200 in February 2018 at Litchfield Auctions.

In September 2015, Cheffins offered a set of 12 equine portrait prints based on the work of British artist Thomas Spencer, one of the few who made his living by depicting elite horses. He portrayed the animals in profile, attended by riders and grooms and surrounded by text that recounted their accomplishments. Estimated at £1,000 to £2,000, or about $1,300 to $2,700, the mid-18th-century group sold for £4,600, or roughly $6,300.

Horse portraits become more interesting to collectors with each proven fact they can claim. An anonymous artist painting of an anonymous horse in a nondescript field can sell well if it’s competently rendered. If we know the name of the artist, that’s good; if we know the name of the horse, that’s equally good, and sometimes better. If the horse has a confirmed racing history, better still. If human beings appear with the horse, collectors prefer to know who they are and why they’re there. If the backdrop contains details that support and confirm what we know about the horse, e.g., buildings belonging to specific horse farms, or a glimpse of the country house of its owner in the distance, that’s beneficial, too.

Lucy Kemp-Welsh might be best known as the illustrator of the 1915 edition of Black Beauty. Andrew Jones Auctions sold an undated horse portrait of hers for $550 in December 2019.

Most desirable of all, obviously, is a portrait of a horse whose name appears in the bloodlines of winners of the Kentucky Derby and other high-stakes races. A painting that sold at Case in January 2018 featured just such an animal. The work depicted the stallion Bonnie Scotland with chief groom Robert “Uncle Bob” Green. The horse’s descendants include Man-O-War, Sea Biscuit, Secretariat, and several other immortal champions.

The 1879 painting had even more going for it. Robert Green is outstanding in his own right. He was born into slavery and, after gaining his freedom through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, rose to become the highest-paid employee of Bonnie Scotland’s home farm. The work was painted by Herbert Kittredge, who distinguished himself as a master of equestrian art before dying at the shockingly young age of 28. The painting sold at the top of its estimate range for $40,000 to Belle Meade Plantation, the Nashville farm where Bonnie Scotland lived and Green worked.

In June 2016, an undated painting by French 19th-century artist Rosa Bonheur made $6,500 at Wiederseim Associates.

Drury acknowledges that the 1879 Kittredge painting was something of a unicorn. A horse portrait with a wealth of information behind it is, in her words, “pretty rare.” Most collectors must make do with less. However, when asked how the painting would perform if it were re-consigned to Case today, Drury replied, “Actually, about the same. The market for equestrian portraits seems to be fairly stable – pardon the pun.”

Jones says horse portraits continue to hold our attention because they give us something we need. “Horses in motion, horses standing still, it’s a very peaceful form of art,” he says. “Even before COVID-19, it was a lovely thing to hang on a wall.”

Japan’s Leonard Foujita became toast of Paris art scene

NEW YORK – Few artists of the 1900s experienced the exhilarating highs and devastating lows as Léonard Foujita (1886-1968), the Japanese French painter and printmaker who was once called “the most important Japanese artist working in the West during the 20th century,” but was vilified during and after World War II for being a leading and enthusiastic painter for Japan’s military. Today, works by Foujita are prized by collectors and can be seen in many museums worldwide.

Color woodblock by Leonard Foujita, titled ‘Self Portrait with a Cat,’ plate signed left center, image: 13in tall x 9¾in overall; with frame: 16½in x 12in, est. $500-$700, sold for $945 at an auction held Dec. 11, 2016, at Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif. Image courtesy of Clars and LiveAuctioneers

Born Fujita Tsuguharu in Tokyo, Léonard Foujita studied Western art at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. At age 27, he set sail for Paris, where he commanded almost immediate and explosive success, enjoying such luxuries as running hot water in his apartment and a chauffeur-driven car. He sought out, and befriended, artists such as Amedeo Modigliani, Pascin, Chaim Soutine, Fernand Leger, Juan Gris, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and a host of others.

Foujita was able to nimbly bridge the cultures of Japan and France by introducing a completely new and original style of painting, one that blended traditional Japanese painting and inking techniques with popular modern European composition, styles and mediums (such as oils and watercolors). He was extremely prolific and painted a wide range of subjects that included cats, beautiful women and other portraits, military scenes (mostly during World War II) and himself.

Lithograph (framed) by Leonard Foujita, titled ‘Le Rêve,’ 1947, signed and noted EA in pencil lower recto, 22in x 29in, sold for $1,300 at an auction held Nov. 11, 2017, at Rago Arts & Auction Center in Lambertville, N.J. Image courtesy of Rago and LiveAuctioneers

Especially popular were Foujita’s grand fond blanc paintings – milky female nudes, outlined on white backgrounds. These served him well throughout the 1920s, when he was earning as much money as Picasso. But in 1929 he returned to Japan, primarily to escape the tax collectors in Paris, and got a chilly reception when he attempted to sell his paintings to a Japanese public that was oblivious to his fame and reputation in France. In 1931, he left Japan, this time for Brazil.

Again, success followed. Foujita traveled and painted throughout all of Latin America, giving hugely successful exhibitions along the way. In Buenos Aires, 60,000 people attended his exhibition, and more than 10,000 lined up just to get his autograph. By 1933 he was back in Japan, where the winds of war were beginning to blow. He was welcomed back as a celebrity this time, but became a noted producer of propagandistic art in Hirohito’s bellicose Japan.

Ink on paper attributed to Leonard Foujita titled ‘Girl with Dog,’ dated (1933) and signed in both English and Japanese lower left. Sight: 15¼in x 11½ in; framed: 23 1/8 x 18 5/8 inches. Estimate: $2,000-$3,000, sold for $26,670 at an auction held Oct. 12, 2019, at Michaan’s Auctions in Alameda, Calif. Image courtesy of Michaan’s and LiveAuctioneers

After the war, he returned to Paris, renounced his Japanese citizenship, became a French citizen and converted to Catholicism. Most of his bohemian friends had scattered, and the Paris art scene of his youth was also gone. He began painting caricature portraits of elfin children and took on commission work, like the decoration of a chapel in Reims. Still haunted by the war, Foujita said in a prayer at the chapel’s dedication, “I would like to atone for my sins of the last 80 years.”

Still, his successes could not be denied. His Book of Cats, published in New York in 1930, with 20 etched plate drawings by Foujita, is one of the top 500 (pricewise) rare books ever sold, and it is ranked by rare book dealers as the most popular and desirable book on cats ever published. Also, a portrait of Man Ray’s liberated lover Kiki, titled Reclining Nude with Toile de Jouy, was a sensation at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1922. The work sold for $1.2 million in 2013.

Color woodblock on paper under glass by Leonard Foujita, titled ‘Chat Couche,’ 1929, signed in ink lower left and with inscription in Japanese, sight: 12¾in x 17in, framed: 18in x 22in wide. Sold for $2,250 at an auction held April 25, 2017, at John Moran Auctioneers in Monrovia, Calif. Image courtesy of Moran’s and LiveAuctioneers

“I believe Foujita’s popularity had a lot to do with his unique blend of Eastern and Western artistic traditions,” said Lauren Bradley, a fine art specialist with Rago Arts & Auction in Lambertville, New Jersey. “He tended to explore personal subject matter – portraiture, beautiful nudes, quirky interior scenes and the like, which are more consistent with Western art. But his execution tended to be very Japanese – delicate, expressive lines, simple, bold bands of lights and darks. This combination resulted in a unique final product that was really eye-catching, particularly in Paris in the 1920s.”

Bradley said it didn’t hurt that Foujita was also a larger-than-life character. “He had a very curated look – severe bowl-cut hairdo, round glasses and big gold earrings. He wanted to be noticed. In fact, he told his father in a letter, ‘Consider me dead until I’m famous.’ Foujita was also a master at self-marketing. He took photos of himself painting and wasn’t afraid to include himself as the subject of his own works. People really fed off of it.”

Watercolor and India ink on paper x Leonard Foujita, titled ‘Cat,’ signed and dated lower left with Japanese inscription, 15¾in x 11½in (sight, less frame). Sold for $4,375 at an auction held Dec. 28, 2017, at Woodshed Art Auctions. Woodshed Art Auctions and LiveAuctioneers image

Bruce Wood, a painting conservator, auctioneer and owner of the Woodshed Gallery in Franklin, Massachusetts, said, “In Paris, the avant-garde artists of Montmartre in France embraced Foujita and his art as exotic. He became part of the scene that nurtured the edgy images of Picasso and Soutine, but also was inhabited by romantics. Mondrian, who became a good friend, and Cocteau, both of whom produced lyrical renderings of the human body, found a kindred spirit in Foujita, whose work represented sexual yearning and subterfuge.”

When Japanese collectors were seemingly buying everything in the go-go 1980s, Foujita’s market was “very strong – the strongest it had been since his first Parisian period,” Lauren Bradley said, “Then there was a bit of a contraction in the ’90s and early 2000s, but in just the last several year we’ve seen a renewed interest in his work. The collector pool also seems larger than it was in the ’80s, with demand from collectors all over the world. His work is still fresh and distinctive, even after all these years. Plus, because he was an adept painter, draftsman and print-maker – there are many mediums to collect at a variety of price points, which makes him really accessible.”

Japanese woodblock print by Leonard Foujita, titled ‘Portrait of a Blond Parisian Woman,’ printed in circa 1934, 16in x 10½ in. Sold for $687.50 at an auction held April 15, 2017, at Woodblock Prints World in Carmichael, Calif. Image courtesy of Woodblock Prints World and LiveAuctioneers

Bruce Wood said because Foujita was so prolific, many lower priced works are readily available. “However,” he added, “the most sought-after pieces depicting cats continue to rise in price. Still, and I think it’s mostly that Foujita worked primarily on paper, and (because) works on paper historically command less money than those on canvas his works have not achieved the stellar results of many of his peers. I think that demand for his work will continue to accelerate here in the United States as multicultural awareness raises demand for it.”

Old Masters to modern art ready to hang in May 8 auction

Original works of art will be going up for bid Wednesday, May 8, in a Jasper52 online auction titled “Old Masters to Modern Art Oil Paintings.” Art lovers can choose from 78 paintings having estimates ranging from $350 to $22,000. Offered are paintings from Italian, French and British schools of art. Subjects include portraits of famous leaders, saints, women of nobility and the common man.

Large Classical landscape, ‘Hagar and The Angel,’ oil on canvas, 19th century, follower of Claude Lorrain (French, 1600-1682), 49in. by 62in. Estimate: $18,000-$22,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Top Armenian artists featured in online auction April 24

Forty-two works by world-class Armenian artists comprise an online auction to be held by Jasper52 on Wednesday, April 24.

Aram Yengibaryan, ‘Still Life with Russian Dolls,’ oil on canvas, 80 x 100cm (31.5in. x 39.4in.)
Estimate: $1,400-$1,600. Jasper52 image


 

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

 

Miami Beach Antique Show brings auction to Jasper52 March 30

On March 30, Jasper52 will present an auction loaded with choice items exclusively from the prestigious Miami Beach Antique Show. From iconic Van Cleef & Arpels Alhambra jewelry to an exquisite museum-quality clock and garniture set, this special online auction features only the best in jewelry, watches, decorative art and fine art.

Patek Philippe women’s 18K rose gold and diamond Twenty~4 quartz wristwatch, ref. 4908/11R. Estimate $23,000-$28,000. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Animal paintings by listed artists featured in online auction Nov. 28

Jasper52 will offer nearly 100 original works of art, many at affordable price points, in an online auction Wednesday, Nov. 28. Paintings range from Victorian landscapes to contemporary still lifes, all by listed artists.

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Women who rocked the art world

Women are on the rise. You can see it everywhere—politically, culturally and, to a subtler and perhaps less profound degree, artistically. Make no mistake, women have been creating art for millennia, as long as men, only in far fewer numbers than their male counterparts. That can be attributed in large part to a woman’s traditional role throughout history: that of mother, caregiver and family provider. Those important, although burdensome and time-consuming, duties left little time for pursuits like painting and sculpture—at least for most women.

Susan Hertel (American, 1930-1993), ‘Interior with woman and dogs,’ oil, graphite and charcoal on canvas, 43¾ inches by 52¼ inches, $21,250—a new auction record for the artist (estimate $6,000-$9,000). Sold Oct. 23, 2018. John Moran Auctioneers image.

But that was then and this is now, in the era of the Me Too Movement and women in politics. The point was driven home at John Moran Auctioneers’ inaugural Women in Art Auction, held Oct. 23 at their gallery in Monrovia, California. It was so successful that a second one is planned, probably in fall 2019. Comprising 93 women artists and 124 lots, the auction shed light on mostly California and American women artists from the 19th century to the present day. Prices were strong across the board, and new auction records were set for Susan Hertel, Ethel V. Ashton and Dora Gamble.

“There’s an absolute correlation between the events of today and the rise of women in art,” said Morgana Blackwelder, John Moran’s vice president and director of Fine Art. “Early this year, given our political and social climates, we felt it was a moment in time to conduct a sale that was topical and relevant, and the Women in Art Auction proved to be a perfect choice. We wanted to remove the bias that favors men and give women more of a voice so as to call attention to their mostly prewar artistic contributions. We didn’t know what to expect, but it was a huge success.”

Kathryn W. Leighton (American, 1875-1952), ‘The Young Chief,’ oil on canvas, 44¼ inches by 36 inches, $22,500 (estimate $18,000-$22,000). Sold Oct. 23, 2018. John Moran Auctioneers image

Blackwelder said the auction enjoyed an 80 percent sell-through, with around 80 people in the gallery and hundreds more participating online. “We learned that the people who attended the sale were buying pieces they felt a connection with, and for the most part, that connection was with the female artist. Statistically, women have tremendous buying power and are able to make personal financial decisions more now than ever before.” She said it was no surprise most of the artists were California based. “The state has always been a magnet for culture and the fine arts.”

Mary Dowd of Myers Fine Art in Florida said she’s been conducting auctions since 1988 at their gallery in St. Petersburg, and has noticed more and more women being sprinkled into the mix. “I think women artists got a huge boost around 20 years ago with the opening of the Museum of Women Artists in Washington, D.C.,” Dowd said. That shined a spotlight not only on the more-established women artists, but the up-and-comers, as well. As for identifying trends and emerging talent, I find browsing Art Basel and the other fine art shows to be a great way to stay current.”

Julia Thecla (American, 1896-1973), ‘Talisman’ (1945), casein, gouache opaque watercolor on artist board, 9 inches by 9 inches (sight), $28,320 (estimate $10,000-$20,000). Sold March 13, 2016. Myers Fine Art image

Myers Fine Art specializes in artworks from the Magical Realism Movement out of Chicago in the 1930s-1950s, one that spawned talents such as Julia Thecla and Gertrude Abercrombie. Both were featured in a Myers auction two years ago that did particularly well. “Magical Realism was a regional phenomenon, and the paintings remain very popular in Chicago,” Dowd pointed out.

A painting by Thecla, in fact, was in the John Moran auction just held. It was a Surrealist composition depicting an elephantesque tightrope walker and realized $7,500.

Gertrude Abercrombie (American, 1909-1977), ‘Owl with Carnation,’ oil on Masonite, 5 inches by 7 inches (sight), $7,080 (estimate $3,000-$5,000). Sold Feb. 9, 2014. Myers Fine Art image

Some women artists have benefited from money and connections (often through marriage), which no doubt helped them attain the attention and respect they deserved. The celebrated American abstract expressionist Helen Frankenthaler (1928-2011) was born into privilege but added to her cachet when she married the artist Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991). They both had wealthy parents (her father was a New York State Supreme Court judge) and were known as “the golden couple,” famous for their lavish entertaining. Career building is easier with no money worries.

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986), the grand dame of all female American artists, was the second of seven children born to Wisconsin dairy farmers, and struggled in her early years as an artist. But when she was introduced to Alfred Stieglitz, the successful New York City art dealer and photographer, in 1917, a professional working relationship eventually led to marriage and O’Keeffe’s emergence as the “Mother of American modernism.” She is acclaimed worldwide for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York City skyscrapers and New Mexico landscapes.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), whose mother-child renderings are hugely popular among collectors, never had to worry about money. Her father was a successful stockbroker and land speculator. Her mother, the former Katherine Kelso Johnston, came from a banking family. Katherine was educated and well read, and had a profound influence on her daughter. Mary grew up in an environment that viewed travel as integral to education. She was first exposed to the great French artists of the day at the Paris World’s Fair of 1855. Some would later become her colleagues.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), ‘Simone Talking to Her Mother,’ pastel on paper, 25½ by 30½ inches, $990,000 (estimate $400,000-$700,000). Sold Sept. 15, 2015. John W. Coker Auctions image.

While Elaine de Kooning (American, 1918-1989) never achieved the level of acclaim of her famous husband, Willem, she still enjoyed an enviable career as an Abstract Expressionist and Figurative Expressionist painter, plus she wrote extensively on art of the period and was an editorial associate for Art News magazine. Her talent emerged when she was quite young, but she was not a privileged child. Her father worked at a bread factory in Brooklyn, and her mother had psychiatric issues. Elaine made money as an art school model to help pay for her own art education.

Returning to privilege, Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) was a French impressionist who came from an eminent family, as the daughter of a government official and granddaughter of a famous Rococo artist, Jean-Honore Fragonard. Morisot met her longtime friend and colleague, Edouard Manet, in 1868, and married Manet’s brother Eugene Manet in 1874. The marriage produced a daughter, Julie who posed frequently for her mother and other Impressionist painters, including Renoir and her uncle Edouard, who exerted great influence on Berthe’s emergence as an artist.

It could be argued that Lee Krasner (American, 1908-1984) was a co-equal with her celebrated but self-destructive husband, Jackson Pollock. Lee knew from an early age she wanted to pursue a career in art and attended the Women’s Art School of Cooper Union, on an art scholarship. She struggled through the Great Depression, as a waitress and a teacher, and spent a good portion of the 1940s nurturing Pollock’s home life and career, at the expense of her own art. Still, Krasner is one of the few female artists ever to have a retrospective show at the Museum of Modern Art.

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926), ‘Portrait of Lady in Hat with Dog,’ drypoint etching on paper, 5¾ inches wide by 7¼ inches tall. Collection of Catherine Saunders-Watson

And let’s give a nod to the better-known female American self-taught folk artists, such as Ann Mary Robertson Moses (also known as Grandma Moses, 1860-1961), Clementine Hunter (another centenarian who’s often called the Black Grandma Moses, 1887-1988), and Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980). All came from humble beginnings and overcame hardship to earn a place at the top of their craft—regardless of gender. Rich or poor, living or passed, women in art are a force to be reckoned with, and one that will only grow stronger as the playing field is leveled between women and men.