It happened organically. At the urging of its loyal following, Swann Auction Galleries, the largest auctioneer of works on paper in the world, started hosting auctions dedicated to illustration.
The first Illustration Art sale happened in 2013, and for the three years that followed, Swann made it an annual tradition. That wasn’t enough—soon, the auction house moved to biannual Illustration Art sales, riding the momentum of a trend that has been growing for some time now, said Christine von der Linn, director of illustration art at Swann.
“Narrative art has a way of capturing universal truth and crossing perceived boundaries like language,” Von der Linn said. “In that way it’s less intimidating than other forms of art. When people walk through the exhibitions, they inevitably recognize these images from their favorite childhood books, advertisements, or stage productions.”
With regular auctions that include original works by giants such as Maurice Sendak, Al Hirschfeld, Charles Addams, and J.C. Leyendecker, as well as a bounty of original New Yorker covers and cartoons, Swann is uniquely positioned to help meet that burgeoning demand for visual storytelling.
In December 2021, Swann hosted its 16th sale dedicated to illustration, showcasing a typical wide-ranging and well-rounded lineup of 235 works from the genre’s most beloved artists. It was a record-breaking auction, too, totaling $852,333 in sales, highlighted by three pieces that set auction records.