November 2019

20 Years of Travel Posters at Swann Pays Off with 10 New Records

Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Edward M. Eggleston, Atlantic City / Pennsylvania Railroad, circa 1935. Sold for $16,250.

New York — “After twenty years of conducting auctions of Rare and Important Travel Posters it was validating to see the sale turn in the best results in the last three years,” noted Nicholas D. Lowry, Swann Galleries’ President and Director of Vintage Posters. The Thursday, November 14 auction saw a 75% sell-through rate, an “industry-leading number as no other poster sales come close to this level of success,” continued Lowry, as well as bringing ten new records for artists and images alike.

Works from an exceptional private collection of American railway posters included images by Leslie Ragan and Walter L. Greene. Ragan’s 1939 Art Deco advertisement for The New 20th Century Limited was won by an institution for $11,250, and Greene’s 1928 image for Storm King / New York brought a record for the poster at $9,375.

American destinations found success, setting additional artist records for Hernando G. Villa with The Chief …Is Still Chief / Santa Fe, 1931, which had not been seen at auction since Swann’s inaugural travel poster auction in 1999 ($9,375); and Paul Proehl with Chicago for the Tourist / Illinois Central, 1925 ($7,500).

Sporting advertisements proved to be popular with collectors. Willard Frederic Elmes’s circa-1923 gouache maquette Golf by the North Shore Line earned $10,625, a record for the artist. Otto Brennemann’s 1926 travel image for the South Shore Line to South Bend, Indiana for Notre Dame football set a record for the work at $8,125. Also of note was Polo / By the North Shore Line, 1923, by Oscar Rabe Hanson, which also sold for $8,125.

Leading the sale was one of three Edward M. Eggleston designs for the Pennsylvania Railroad promoting travel to Atlantic City. The circa-1935 image, which captures the magnificent hotels along the boardwalk, including the recognizable Chalfonte, Marlborough-Blenheim and the Traymore, sold to an institution for $16,250. Further works inviting viewers to travel to warm destinations included Boris Artzybasheff’s 1947 fantastical design for American World Airways to Bermuda. The poster, featuring an elegant mermaid, earned a record for the artist at $9,375. Catalina was on display with a 1938 image by Otis Shepard at $7,250, an artist record—also from the Golden State was California / This Summer, circa 1933, which sold to an institution for $10,000.

Additional highlights included Franz Krausz’s Visit Palestine, 1936 ($8,125, an artist record); Ervine Metzl’s Evanston Lighthouse / By the Elevated Lines, 1923 ($7,000, a record for the image); and Leslie MacDonald Gill’s Highways of Empire / Buy Empire Goods from Home and Overseas, 1927 ($6,250, a record for the image).

Swann Galleries is currently accepting quality consignments for the spring 2020 season. Visit swanngalleries.com or download the Swann Galleries App for more information.

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"Marvel Comics" No. 1 Sells for $1.26 Million at Heritage Auctions

Marvel Comics No. 1, the most expensive Marvel comic ever sold at public auction. 

Dallas, TX – The finest known copy of Marvel Comics No. 1, the 1939 comic book considered the ‘Big Bang’ of the Marvel Comics Superhero Universe, sold for $1,260,000 million on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at a public auction of vintage comic books and comic art held by Heritage Auctions in Dallas, Texas.

The sale set a world record for the most expensive Marvel comic ever sold at public auction and an auction house record as the most expensive comic book ever sold by the world’s largest comic book and comic art auctioneer.

“This is a historic copy of a historic comic book,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President at Heritage Auctions. “Without question, this is the granddaddy of all Marvel Comics, without which we would not have the characters and stories we enjoy in today’s comics and feature films.”
 
It was first purchased off a newsstand rack by a mailman in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, who purchased every No. 1 issue he could of both comic books and magazines, beginning in the 1940s. Published by Timely Comics, the first edition features the first appearances of characters such as the Human Torch, Ka-Zar and Angel, as well as a character called the Sub-Mariner.
 
The yet-unmatched comic book is graded 9.4 on a scale of 1 to 10, making it the best condition ever found, according to Certified Guaranty Company, by far the world’s largest and most accepted comic book grading service. The famous cover art is by the noted science fiction artist Frank R. Paul, and the interior art featured the work of illustrators as Bill Everett, Carl Burgos and Paul Gustavson.

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Poe Cartoon by Charles Addams Leads Swann’s Sale of Illustration Art

Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Charles Addams, Nevermore, watercolor, ink & correction fluid, cartoon for The New Yorker, 1973. Estimate $12,000-18,000.

New York — Swann Galleries’ sale of Illustration Art on Tuesday, December 10 will feature an impressive selection of original works. Highlights include an array of theater set designs by some of the most recognizable names in the genre, classic illustrations from children’s literature, as well as illustrations for The New Yorker.  

Leading the sale is Charles Addams’s Nevermore for October 29, 1973 issue of The New Yorker. The cartoon, picturing Edgar Allan Poe as he struggles to find the perfect voice for his famous narrative poem, is set to come across the block at $12,000 to $18,000. Addams’s advertisement for Chivas Regal scotch whisky published in the February 29, 1964 issue of The New Yorker is estimated at $5,000 to $7,500.

Further selections from the sale’s distinct assortment of New Yorker works include current contributors: a group of two cartoons by Sara Lautman published in the February 11 and July 1, 2019 issues and Emily Flake’s Hang On—I’ll Uber Us a School Bus, published in the May 23, 2016 issue, offered at $1,000 to $1,500, each. Offered alongside these works is Ilonka Karasz’s Chop Suey cover illustration for the August 27, 1927 issue, at $4,000 to $6,000.

Familiar faces abound in an offering of original works from children’s literature. Ernest H. Shepard’s 1949 pen-and-ink drawing for the timeless Christmas story Bertie’s Escapade by Kenneth Grahame is present at $10,000 to $15,000. A run of works from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland include three works from D.R. Sexton’s 1933 edition, most notably a flapper Alice with the hookah-smoking caterpillar ($3,000-4,000), as well as Harry Rountree’s 1901 illustration featuring the queen ($6,000-9,000). H.A. Rey’ watercolor and gouache work for Rafi et les 9 singes—the first book to introduce Curious George—depicts Cecily Giraffe smiling as monkeys ski down her long neck ($10,000-15,000).  Also available is Ludwig Bemelmans, with sketch of Miss Clavel in a garden with Madeline and the Eiffel Tower in the background ($6,000-9,000).

Dr. Seuss’s 1937 calendar watercolor illustration It’s our first … don’t you think it looks like George? for the Thomas D. Murphy Co.—the largest color project of Seuss’s career at the time—is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. Additional designs by Seuss feature a superb original advertisement intended for billboard and print ads for Holly Sugar (featuring a somewhat skeptical-looking Grinch-like character munching on a tart blueberry pie), expected to bring $7,000 to $10,000.

Two original four-panel Peanuts cartoons by Charles Schulz mark the high point of the comics section. The first features Linus and Lucy contemplating how one measures a star in a strip published on November 21, 1961, while the second, published on May 9, 1963, is signed and inscribed and portrays Patty and Charlie Brown. Each are estimate at $8,000 to $12,000.

Tom H. John and Jo Mielziner take center stage in a remarkable offering of theatrical set designs. Following up on the record-setting sale of Mielziner this past spring, the legendary scenic designer is available with the first color study produced for the award-winning 1947 production of A Street Car Named Desire, signed and inscribed by the designer, at $7,000 to $10,000, as well as the design for Scene IV of the 1929 play The Red General, at $6,000 to $9,000. Tom H. John is present with a run of whimsical set designs for the groundbreaking 1975 Broadway production of the African-American cast of The Wiz: Emerald City ($2,500-3,500), Land of the Munchkins ($2,000-3,000), Funky Monkey ($1,000-1,500), and an assortment of 22 set designs and backdrops ($2,500-3,000). Also available by the artist are a group of four set designs for the 1976 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls ($3,000-4,000).

Works from the collection of the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust include costume designs for a 1975 production of the second act of Swan Lake with commentary and descriptions by Gorey ($8,000-12,000) and Ballet in a Nutshell, published in the January 1974 issue of Dance Magazine ($7,000-10,000).

Notable fashion advertisements and cover designs include Julie Castillo’s 1992 original ad for Polo Ralph Lauren Stadium Competition series clothing line ($1,000-1,500); Gerda Wegener is available with two circa 1920 pen and ink drawings likely for Gyraldose or Malaceïne toiletries ($700-1,000); and Georges Lepape’s Sur la Terrasse, the cover illustration for the May 10, 1930 issue of Vogue ($8,000-12,000).

Exhibition opening in New York City December 5. The complete catalogue and bidding information is available at swanngalleries.com and on the Swann Galleries App.

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Antebellum Daguerreotype of Enslaved People Sells for $324,500 at Cowan’s

Courtesy of Cowan's

A rare antebellum quarter plate daguerreotype believed to be the earliest known image of enslaved African Americans with cotton sold for $324,500.

Cincinatti, OH — An incredibly rare antebellum quarter plate daguerreotype believed to be the earliest known image of enslaved African Americans with cotton sold for $324,500 in Cowan’s American History auction on November 15. The photograph, likely taken sometime in the 1850s, depicts an upland Greene County, Georgia plantation owner, his family, and 10 enslaved African Americans.

“We were privileged to sell this historic record of antebellum American History,” said Wes Cowan, Cowan’s vice chair and principal auctioneer. “Clearly, this was one of the most important daguerreotypes we’ve ever sold and as an auction house that regularly sells important historical photography, I don’t say that lightly.”

The daguerreotype was purchased by the Hall Family Foundation on behalf of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri. The lot opened with an absentee bid at the starting price of $50,000 before a representative of the Nelson-Atkins Museum and two other phone bidders took over the action. After several minutes of back-and-forth bidding, the foundation emerged as the winning bidder when the hammer fell at $260,000. The inclusion of a 25% buyer’s premium resulted in a final sales price of $324,500. The photograph had been estimated to sell for $100,000 to $150,000.

“This daguerreotype makes a major contribution to the larger story of both American history and American photography, and is a significant addition to our daguerreotype holdings, an emphasis, dating back to 1995, in which we take considerable pride,” said Keith F. Davis, the senior curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum.

The daguerreotype is believed to depict the rural Greene County, Georgia plantation of Samuel T. Gentry (1798-1873). While other Gentrys lived in Georgia at the time this image was taken, Federal Slave Schedules from 1850 and 1860 indicate a mere handful were slave holders, and only one -- Samuel T. Gentry -- owned at least 10 slaves, the number depicted in this daguerreotype.

Samuel Gentry was no mere yeoman farmer, but neither was he a member of the upper stratum of the planter class. Between 1850 and 1860, he owned between 15 and 18 slaves, which would have been slightly more than the average Georgia slaveowner at the time. Most plantations worked by slaves at the time looked more like Gentry’s humble homestead than the large coastal plantations most often depicted in history, making this a rare look at the pervasiveness of slavery.

It is probable that Gentry commissioned this photograph to document his prosperity. The photographer carefully posed the scene so that the family “wealth” is clearly on display: ten enslaved African Americans are visible in the picture, with several displaying baskets of cotton perched atop their heads. Cotton – the production of which was made possible by Gentry’s slaves – is an integral part of the tableau.

“We are incredibly honored to have acquired this piece. We appreciate that it depicts a scene from a difficult time in American history and is important to many different communities,” added Jane Aspinall, curator of photography at the Nelson-Atkins Museum. “We feel fortunate that this previously unknown image will now become a part of our collective knowledge base, and will be preserved alongside our other treasured holdings of early photography.”

While the Gentry daguerreotype was the crowned jewel of the auction, there was significant interest across multiple categories that drove the auction as a whole well above its low estimate of $770,000 to a $1.1M total.

“We’re obviously excited to sell a daguerreotype for $324,500 but what I’m most proud of is seeing so much success across a broad spectrum of categories,” said Katie Horstman, Cowan’s director of American History. “Today proved that not only can we sell the blockbuster photography lots, but manuscripts, archives, relics, and ephemera from throughout American history.”

Photography of Native American subjects was the single hottest category of sale with four lots topping $30,000. The top lot of the category, and the second highest sales price of the day, was a William S. Soule album of Southern Plains Native Americans, which sold for $57,500. The album contained 40 albumen photographs of members of the Kiowa, Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa-Apache, Arapaho, and Wichita tribes, many identified.

Other highlights in the category included a remarkable album of Kiowa and Comanche Native Americans by George W. Bretz that sold for $43,750; an Irwin & Mankins album of Kiowa and Comanche Indians including Quanah Parker for $37,500; and three photographs taken by Mathew Brady of the Sioux Delegation visiting Washington D.C. in 1877 for $32,500.

Archives were another key driving force for the auction. An exceptional archive of the postmaster and Indian Agent of Fort Berthold in the Dakota Territory was the top lot of the category selling for $56,250. The archive spanned roughly 1865-1895 and provided enormous insight into the daily happenings and ongoing issues at Fort Berthold Indian Agency during a critical period.

Other archives of note included an extensive South Carolina family archive from the Civil War including correspondence from five of six brothers fighting in the war that sold for $15,000; a San Francisco Gold Rush era letter archive for $11,875; and a West Virginia family archive from the Civil War for $9,375.

Miscellaneous highlights from the auction included a rare Dr. W. F. Carver As He Appeared Before the Emperor of Germany poster that sold for $12,500; a John C. Fremont, Freedom's Candidate campaign flag for $10,625; an original manuscript treaty between the Sisseton Sioux and Arikara, Hidatsa, and Mandan in 1870 for $10,625; and a “respectfully forwarded” original manuscript of the same 1870 treaty that sold for $10,000.

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Rick Black Named Winner of the Anolic Jewish Book Arts Award

Courtesy of Rick Black

The Amichai Windows, Rick Black's limited edition artist book of Yehuda Amichai's poems.

Arlington, VA – Rick Black, a book artist, poet and director of Turtle Light Press, was named the winner of the 2019 Isaac Anolic Jewish Book Arts Award.

“The award panel was very impressed with all of Black’s artwork,” said Rita Rosen Poley, director and curator of the Temple Judea Museum in Elkins Park, Pa, who headed the awards panel. “It is always a tough decision as there are so many talented artists who apply but he submitted a very compelling proposal.”

“I was very pleased to hear that I won the award,” said Black, 62, who works out of his studio at home in Arlington, Virginia, and prints at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in Hyattsville, Maryland. “It is wonderful to have the support and appreciation of the committee.”

Black, a former journalist with The New York Times in Israel, plans on exploring the Biblical story of the binding of Isaac. He will use letterpress printing techniques to play with individual voices, gaps and silences in the text as well as Japanese sumi-e ink painting to convey the stark landscape. He will integrate traditional midrashic interpretations as well as his own questions about the story.

“I want to reflect the sacred geography of the Biblical text,” said Black, “and to capture the ambiguities of the story, many of which are still facing us today, such as that between faith and morality.
 
The award, which comes with a $1,500 grant, was largely based on Black’s most recent artist book, The Amichai Windows, a bilingual limited edition of Yehuda Amichai poems with multi-layered collages. A number of major institutions, including the the Library of Congress, Yale University and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, have acquired it so far.

The Isaac Anolic Jewish Book Arts Award is named in honor of Isaac Anolic, a practicing attorney who was dedicated to all aspects of Jewish law and culture. His intense support of his families’ artistic endeavors have led, in turn, to support for those creating art out of the book form. The award is meant to highlight the love of books by the Jewish people, who are often called the “people of the book.”

The Anolic Family also named two other award-winners: Addam Yekutieli won the Naomi Anolic Early Career Jewish Visual Arts Award and Hannah Altman took home the Bertha Anolic Israel Travel Award. Please see https://anolicfamilyaward.org for more information about all of the awards; or www.amichaiwindows.com to learn more about Black's most recent artist book. 

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Il Guercino Leads Old Master Drawings at Swann Galleries

Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino, The Holy Spirit Appearing to St. Gregory, red chalk, late 1640s. Sold for $21,250.

New York—Swann Galleries’s curated sale of Old Master Drawings on Tuesday, November 5 brought original works, studies and preparatory drawings from the most sought-after European draughtsmen from the past several centuries.

Leading the auction was Il Guercino’s late-1640s red chalk study of St. Gregory being greeted by a dove—likely a drawing related to an unfulfilled commission for a painting of the saint. The Holy Spirit Appearing to St. Gregory sold for $21,250.

Additional Italian drawings included Christ’s Charge to Peter from the circle of Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino. Based on one of Raphael’s seven large cartoons painted as designs for tapestries, the work represented the Italian Renaissance at $10,625. Mannerism featured a red chalk drawing A Figure Scene with a Woman Feeding a Monkey, a Seated Man, Putti and a Boar from the school of Francesco Primaticcio at $5,460, and a pen and brown ink study An Allegory of Summer from a follower of Il Salviati at $6,500.

Henri-Edmond Cross’s circa-1890 pointillist watercolor The Sower topped the French offerings at $19,500. French Baroque works found success with Laurent de la Hyre’s St. Peter Healing the Sick, circa 1635, a black-chalk and pencil preparatory drawing for the artist’s painting for the May Notre Dame of 1635, which earned $15,000. Works from the estate of Eric Carlson included Théodore Géricault’s Le Giaour, an 1820 preparatory pen, ink and pencil drawing for the same-titled lithograph, brought $5,000.

Drawings by Eugène Delacroix were well received with two pencil works based loosely on figures in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescos reaching $9,375, as well as Delacroix’s first large-scale government commission—an 1833 ink, wash and pencil preparatory study created for the allegorical decorations of the Salon du Roi in the Palais Bourbon in Paris, which brought $5,250.

Todd Weyman, the house’s Director of Prints & Drawings, noted of the sale, “We were pleased to offer this fine group of Old Master and nineteenth-century drawings, a category we'd not had an auction for in the past five years, built around the collection of the late New York art dealer Eric Carlson. This incredible selection of drawings, together with the Old Master prints from the previous week's auction, combined for a total of nearly $1.3 million, a very strong showing for the Old Masters overall.”

Swann Galleries is currently accepting quality consignments for the spring 2020 season. Visit swanngalleries.com or download the Swann Galleries App for more information.

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The Eric Carle Museum to Open “Now & Then: Contemporary Illustrators and their Childhood Art”

Amherst, MA — What can the art of childhood reveal? Does it show burgeoning talent, exciting potential or, perhaps, simply the beginning of a love to create? Those are some of the questions explored in an exhibition co-curated by award-winning illustrators Grace Lin and Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Together, with 17 other artists, they honor childhood creativity in Now & Then: Contemporary Illustrators and their Childhood Art, on view from December 14, 2019 to May 10, 2020 in The Carle's Central Gallery. Visitors will see examples of each artists' childhood drawings and how they foreshadow their current artistic interests. From stick drawings and crayon animals to beautiful watercolors and digital illustrations, the pairings will inspire young visitors to make connections to their own creations--and their future potential.

In addition to Lin and Krosoczka's own work, the featured artists include Cece Bell, Nidhi Chanani, Jason Chin, The Fan Brothers, Julie Flett, Jeff Kinney, Elisa Kleven, Barbara Lehman, Rafael López, Oge Mora, Juana Martinez-Neal, Raúl the Third, Shadra Strickland, Don Tate, Evan Turk, and Tillie Walden. Lin and Krosoczka selected artists working in myriad formats--picture books, chapter books, and graphic novels--and chose contemporary artists since,"one of the purposes of the exhibition is to show kids where their own artistic journey could take them, and if the artists are familiar to them, then the pairings of childhood and professional artwork becomes much more resonant," notes Lin, "That said, I also hope the exhibition introduces people to some new favorite illustrators too."

Despite the different book forms and artistic styles, certain similarities among the artists soon became evident to the curators. Lin observes that many of the artists made books as children. "As someone who was folding and stapling sheets together for a book as a child," she said, "I find it charming that so many of us were already in love with bookmaking." Krosoczka makes another connection: "It's amazing how much work from childhood was archived by these artists and their families."

Planning for the exhibition proved a trip down memory lane for several of the featured artists. Oge Mora, author and illustrator of Thank You, Omu!, recipient of a 2019 Caldecott Honor Award, pairs a cut-paper collage from the book with a self-portrait completed in first grade. Mora recalls how proud she felt seeing her six-year-old brown face on the page: "My skin, my story, were things to be celebrated," she observes. "It is interesting looking back at this early class project and reflecting on how much a later class project [in college] became my very first picture book, Thank You, Omu!"

Jeff Kinney, best known for his cartoon-style illustrations in the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, may have the most dramatic change from childhood. Kinney submitted a hyper-realistic graphite drawing of Bedouins that he made at age 11, although it looks executed by a much older artist. He pairs it with a humorous, frenetic scene from Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Meltdown, in which Kinney deliberately adopts a childlike style.

Brothers Terry and Eric Fan illustrated their dinosaur story, Many Years Ago, when they were ages four and five. Their mother helped them spell out the text and staple the book together. "Mom always encouraged us to tell stories, even as kids. She was our biggest champion as far as our art," said Terry in a Publisher's Weekly interview. Terry and Eric include a facsimile of Many Years Ago in the exhibition paired with an artwork depicting dinosaur topiary from The Night Gardener, their first published picture book. "A lot of time has passed between the two books, but I like to think they share a common thread," says Eric.

Elisa Kleven's childhood artwork, done at age eight, is a birthday card for her mother. It shows a pastoral landscape of farms and horse-drawn wagons. Kleven says, "Growing up in sprawling, smoggy, 1960s L.A., I often wished I could live in the worlds of the books I loved, where animals talked, humans were closely intertwined with nature, cars had not yet been invented, and seasons changed. Because I couldn't live in these places, I created them in my drawings." Kleven's adult illustration, from her recent publication Hiro's Hats, is a masterful, textural collage of snow monkeys frolicking in cherry blossom trees. She observes, "A visual echo of my mother's birthday card can be seen in the top right corner, where a mother snow monkey and her child sit happily in a blossoming tree."

Lin and Krocozska, former classmates at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), are also experiencing a "now & then" moment. As alumnai, they curated two shows at RISD, including one on the same premise: "The process wasn't vastly different," notes Kroscoczka, "but the level of support The Carle has provided has been awe-inspiring." The Carle's chief curator Ellen Keiter says, "Now & Then is an exhibition to inspire our youngest visitors to compare past and present, and to imagine what their art might look like in the future."

Lin and Krocozska observe that their first art studios were in their family's kitchens and their first exhibitions were on the refrigerator doors. Riffing on this shared experience, they designed the gallery with a distinct 1980's kitchen flair. Visitors to the exhibition can enjoy drawing activities at a "kitchen table" and display their own work on a "refrigerator door" There are numerous books by the participating artists to enjoy on a custom-designed "window bench."

From refrigerator doors to museum walls--Now & Then celebrates a child's potential. "Every artist has their own journey to travel and there is no way to know where the path will go," say Lin and Krosoczka. "But by connecting these childhood works to those made in adulthood, we hope to show young artists what is possible, and what could be just beyond the horizon."

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Getty Center Museum Presents "Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art"

Courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. 48, fol. 59

Georges Trubert. French, active Provence, France 1469 – 1508. The Adoration of the Magi, about 1480 – 1490. Tempera colors, gold leaf, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment.

Los Angeles — Early medieval legends report that one of the three kings who paid homage to the Christ Child in Bethlehem was from Africa. Written accounts sometimes describe Balthazar, the youngest magus, as having a dark complexion. Nevertheless, it would take nearly 1,000 years for European artists to begin representing him as a Black man.

Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art, an exhibition at the Getty Center Museum on view from November 19, 2019 to February 16, 2020, examines how representations in European art of Balthazar as a Black African coincided with the increased interaction between Europe and Africa, particularly with the systematic enslavement of African peoples in the fifteenth century.

“This exhibition examines the illuminated manuscripts and paintings in the Getty’s collection that tell the story of Balthazar, placing this artistic-religious narrative in the context of the long history of material trade networks between Africa and Europe,” says Timothy Potts, director of the Getty Museum. “By exploring how his representation coincided with and was furthered by the rise of the slave trade, we can begin to understand the works of art in our collection, and the broader historical and cultural phenomena they reflect, in new ways.”

According to the Gospel of Matthew, “magi from the East” paid tribute to the newborn Christ with offerings of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Magos is an ancient Greek word for a Persian priest-astrologer or dream interpreter. Revered as wise men, they came to be known as three kings because of the number and richness of their gifts. European writers later assigned names to these individuals, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar, and specified that the kings came from the three then-known continents of the world: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Despite further written descriptions of Balthazar as a Black African, European artists continued for centuries to represent him as a White king. Such treatment was not exclusive to the magi. Medieval European artists typically (and potentially inaccurately) represented biblical figures as White, indicating cultural or racial difference only though costume or attribute.

In the earliest example of the Adoration of the Magi (about 1030-40) in the Getty’s collection, the three kings are virtually identical and are represented as three White men. Only Caspar, the eldest, is distinguished by his gray beard and slightly longer robes. The exhibition contains other examples in which Balthazar’s African origin was communicated through his turban, which resembled that of the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, or his leopard-pelt headdress. The materials that the magi held and gifted, including hardstone vessels and gold, also carried powerful geographic associations with lands distant from Europe.

Trade was an essential way people knew the world during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. African elephant ivory and gold circulated across the Sahara Desert and up the Swahili Coast into the Mediterranean and Europe. Commerce in gold brought inhabitants of both continents into frequent contact, and Black African soldiers served in the courts of medieval European rulers. Diplomacy offered yet another point of contact. In the fifteenth century, Ethiopian rulers sent church delegations to Italy in an attempt to forge alliances, both religious and military, with Rome. In the exhibition this story is presented through a Gospel book from the northern monastery of Gunda Gunde.

In the 1440s, with the Portuguese incursions into West Africa, the slave trade escalated in unprecedented ways, industrializing the practice and bringing thousands—ultimately millions—of subjugated Black Africans into Europe and the Americas.

It was at precisely this historical moment that artists began representing Balthazar as a Black African with some frequency. European artists also often alluded to his African identity by depicting him as White but with a Black attendant. This frequent juxtaposition of White ruler and Black servant in fifteenth-century images of the magi reflects the very real commodification of Black Africans in Europe at the time.

One intriguing manuscript in the exhibition provides a tangible case study for the emerging interest in depicting Balthazar as Black. The manuscript, first painted about 1190-1200, had included several images of the magi as White men. Some time in its later history, likely when the book was modified in the fifteenth century, Balthazar’s face was tinted with a brown wash in several places (the opening on display will show The Magi Approaching Herod). Such changes to illuminated manuscripts reveal the evolving worldviews of their audiences. Could the increased number of Black Africans in England at this time have prompted the later artist to revise the figure of Balthazar in the older manuscript?

Potts concludes, “There is so much that cannot now be known about the countless Africans who inspired works such as those on view in the gallery. Although many of their names have been lost to time, we are hoping, through case studies, that this exhibition will pull back the veil on the long history of Africans in pre-modern Europe.”

Balthazar: A Black African King in Medieval and Renaissance Art is curated by Kristen Collins, curator in the Manuscripts Department and Bryan C. Keene, associate curator in the Manuscripts Department, and will be on view November 19, 2019 through February 16, 2020 at the Getty Center Museum. The curators of the exhibition shared their inspiration for the project on the Getty Iris, and they are developing further social media content for the run of the show.

Related programming includes a conversation with Dr. Guy Casely-Hayford on Sunday, January 12, 2020.

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Second Annual CA Young Book Collector’s Prize Deadline Dec. 1

Courtesy of Southern & Northern California Chapters of the ABAA

California — Most great collectors started when they were young, and most great collections started with a passion for a particular object or subject. When these objects are books and manuscripts, the collectors are called bibliophiles, or lovers of the book.
 
The purpose of The California Young Book Collector’s Prize is to nurture the next generation of bibliophiles. The competition is open to collectors aged 35 and under who are living in California. All collections of books, manuscripts, and ephemera are welcome, no matter their monetary value or subject. The collections will be judged on their thoroughness, the approach to their subject, and the seriousness which with the collector has catalogued his or her material.
 
The winner of the competition will be awarded:
 
    •    A gift certificate of $500 to spend at the 2020 California International Antiquarian Book Fair
    •    An exhibition of the winner’s collection to be presented in a showcase at the book fair
    •    A stipend of $250 towards exhibition expenses (to help cover travel costs, showcase labels, and insurance)
    •    A year’s membership to the Book Club of California
    •    A year’s membership to the Bibliographical Society of America
    •    A year’s subscription to The Book Collector
    •    A year’s subscription to Fine Books & Collections magazine
     
The deadline for receipt of submissions is December 1st, 2019, and the winner will be notified by January 6th, 2020. The exhibit will be at the 53rd California International Antiquarian Book Fair held in Pasadena, CA, from February 7-9, 2020. The winner will be responsible for insuring his or her collection and for setting-up their exhibition on February 6th and taking it down on the evening of February 9th. The showcase will be for exhibition only; no parts of the collection can be offered for sale during the fair. Because this year’s book fair will be held in Pasadena, the jury will be comprised of the executive committee of the Southern California Chapter of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America.
 
To participate, please submit the following materials as a pdf file:
 
    •    Your age and contact information, including mailing address, telephone number, and email.
    •    A list of no more than twenty entries from the catalogue of your collection.
    •    A statement of no more than 1000 words concerning your collection. This should include a summary of your collection; your reason for forming the collection; a description of one or two of your most prized items (supported by photographs); and a description of a few desiderata, those works that you lack, but hope to find one day to add to your collection. All items in the collection must be owned by you, the collector.

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Rembrandt Leads Old Master Through Modern Prints at Swann

Courtesy of Swann Auction Galleries

Rembrandt's Pieter Haaring, etching, drypoint & burin, 1655. Sold for $81,250, a record for the print.

New York — With an offering from the past five centuries, Swann Galleries’s Tuesday, October 29 sale of Old Master Through Modern Art brought collectors exceptional works from key artists and included Rembrandt etchings from the John Villarino Collection.

Rembrandt van Rijn was the highest selling old master in the sale with seven etchings selling among the top 20. Leading the auction was Pieter Haaring, etching, 1655—the scarce lifetime impression brought a record for the print at $81,250. One of the earliest dated landscape etchings by Rembrandt Landscape with a Cottage and a Large Tree, 1641, saw a price of $40,000.

“Certainly the highlight of the Old Masters was the distinguished John Villarino collection of Rembrandt etchings, with 25 lots from the collection finding buyers internationally, for a total of more than $275,000,” noted Todd Weyman, the house’s Director of Prints & Drawings. Most notable from the collection was A Beggar Seated on a Bank, 1630, a likely early self-portrait of the artist that earned $60,000; A Beggar with a Cripples Hand Leaning on a Stick, circa 1630, set a new record for the etching at $15,000; Two Tramps, a Man and a Woman, circa 1634, realized $14,063; and sheet studies from 1632 and 1641-42 brought $21,250 and $35,000, respectively.

“A significant focus of this auction was the selection of Old Master prints, which at $900,000 accounted for nearly half the day's total, indicating that the market for old master prints, for which Swann is the only auction house in the U.S. to devote semiannual auctions, is still relevant despite the ascendancy of contemporary art,” continued Weyman. Albrecht Dürer’s circa 1496-97 woodcut Samson Fighting with the Lion, brought $21,250, and Lucas Cranach’s 1508 woodcut The Judgment of Paris, found success at $20,000.

Modern European stalwarts featured Paul Klee’s rare 1905 etching Der Held mit dem Flügel—Inv. 2. The work from his Inventionen series reached $75,000. Der Tod im Krankenzimmer an 1896 lithograph by Edvard Munch based on the artist’s same-titled 1895 painting sold for $43,750. René Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une Pipe, etching 1962, exceeded its high estimate selling for $17,500.

Among American printmakers Martin Lewis found success with two 1930 drypoints of New York City scenes: Shadow Dance ($42,500), and Spring Night, Greenwich Village ($18,750).

Additional highlights included Henri Matisse’s 1946 aquatint Tête de jeune garçon, Masque ($25,000), and Pablo Picasso’s 1934 etching from the Vollard Suite Taureau ailé contemplé par Quatre Enfants ($22,500).  

Swann Galleries is currently accepting quality consignments for the spring 2020 season. Visit swanngalleries.com or download the Swann Galleries App for more information.

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