From Incunabula to Modern Firsts—What’s Cooking at Auction
The Face of Fitzgerald
Robert Kastor, Portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald with autograph additions, $98,500 at Sotheby’s in New York on June 17.
Literary portraits—ink drawings of the early twentieth century by Robert Kastor to which the subjects have added either a few lines in autograph, or just a signature—also featured in the James S. Copley library sale that included the Twain manuscripts.
The biggest draw by far was his portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald, beneath which the author has written out the last sentences of The Great Gatsby—ending with the line “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” before adding his signature.
No other writer was thought to be worth five figures, let alone that sort of money. Tolstoy, who signed and dated his portrait 1902 and added (in French) the words, “The purpose of our existence is not existence itself. It is more than that. Our life is a mission of which we can know the obligations but hardly the purpose,” was taken for $7,500 and W. B. Yeats, to whose 1901 portrait is added an eleven-line abridgement of his poem “To the Rose upon the Rood of Time,” managed $6,000.
The Complete William Faulkner
William Faulkner, Mosquitoes ($22,500), Light in August ($47,500), and Absalom, Absalom! ($86,500) at Christie’s New York on June 22.
Here are three high spots from a 90-lot Faulkner collection in which some books struggled to match the sums paid in earlier sales or the saleroom’s estimates, but remains a truly exceptional collection that included no fewer than 24 inscribed presentation copies to family and friends.
Most copies of the 1927 first printing of Faulkner’s second novel, Mosquitoes, have a jacket featuring the insects of the title, but a few were issued in this alternative pictorial jacket, showing the yachting party of the story playing cards on deck. Only one other copy in this jacket is recorded, and this was the first to come to auction.
The 1932 first of Light in August was inscribed in 1948 for the novelist, poet, critic, and journalist Malcolm Cowley, the man whose 1946 compilation for Viking, The Portable Faulkner, had introduced him to a new generation of readers, and a man who was in large part responsible for the critical and popular acclaim that brought Faulkner a Nobel Prize in 1949. One of eight books that Faulkner inscribed during a visit he made to Cowley’s home for a Life magazine profile, and still in the original outer glassine wrapper, it had sold for $2250 in Jonathan Goodwin’s 1977 Sotheby’s New York sale.
The first trade issue of Absalom, Absalom! (1936) was one of the real financial successes of the sale. This was the first major novel published by Random House, who promoted Faulkner more aggressively than any of his previous publishers. Simply inscribed “To John [Crown] from Bill,” this copy in a slightly rubbed and soiled jacket was one of only three inscribed copies seen at auction over the past 30 years.