The State of Illustration Art Collecting

Illustration Art Specialist Skye Lacerte discusses market
Courtesy of Swann Auctions

Charles Dana Gibson, And you believed the guides, illustration published in About Paris by Richard Harding Davis, 1895. Sold July 2020 for $3,750.

Swann Auction Galleries will be closing out their auction year with an Illustration Art sale set for December 14. Swann’s Illustration Art Specialist, Skye Lacerte, discussed her background with us, some of her favorite illustrators, and what trends she is seeing in the illustration art market:

What illustrators are you thinking about lately? Who’s catching your eye?

Lately, I’ve been interested in illustrators who were innovative in their approach to composition, efficiency, and artistry. A perfect example is Clarence Coles Phillips, better known as Coles Phillips and the creator of “the fadeaway girl.”

Courtesy of Swann Auctions

Coles Phillips, cover for The Saturday Evening Post, watercolor, gouache, and graphite, 1920. In the collection of the Delaware Art Museum.

What’s distinctive about Phillips? What about his style speaks to the contemporary collector, even though he was working 100 years ago?

Phillips is one of the most recognizable illustrators of the first half of the twentieth century. His first cover for Life appeared in 1908, the same year he debuted his signature design, which came to be known as “the fadeaway girl.” The fadeaway style refers to Phillips’s masterful use of shapes and edges to suggest a silhouette. In essence, a woman’s figure is rendered with a detailed face, arms, and legs, but the clothing is a solid, flat color that blends into the background. The defined elements are placed within the negative space in such a way as to suggest volume and form.

The style was not only innovative in design but also in practice, as it allowed publishers to reduce the number of colors to print. Today’s collector will be drawn not only to Phillips’s resourceful invention that marks a significant advancement in American illustration but also to the modern, independent, and seductive “It” girl, following in the footsteps of Charles Dana Gibson and Howard Chandler Christy.

Fade-away or not, Phillips’s illustrations have been known to go for 30–150% over the estimate at auction.

Courtesy of Swann Auctions

Russell Patterson, The Old Town Looks Just the Same, preliminary study for Life magazine cover, 1927. Sold June 2021 for $1,040.

How did you get into this line of business? What draws you to illustration?

During my childhood in Southern California, I was exposed to classic Hollywood movies and the visual culture that they spawned. I later discovered and grew to appreciate contemporary art, specifically artists who were inspired by popular culture and the combination of image and text, such as Barbara Kruger, Carrie Mae Weems, and Cindy Sherman. This admiration of art and pop culture, as well as my education in library and information science, led me to the role of curator of the Dowd Illustration Research Archive at Washington University in St. Louis. For fifteen years, I expanded my knowledge and appreciation of illustration art, building the collection and revealing its significance to students, faculty, and the public.

What’s an exciting thing coming up this season?

We are offering two original illustrations by Arthur Rackham that are new to the market. In addition to being pristine examples of Rackham’s work, one of the pieces has an exceptionally unique story. After publication, Rackham altered the work, arguably evidence that he preferred the new composition to the one seen on the printed page.