Auctions | September 26, 2010

Charlotte's Web Illustrations Going To Auction

NEW YORK - More than 40 original illustrations from the classic children’s book Charlotte’s Web - including the iconic cover art - from the estate of legendary illustrator Garth Williams, will be part of Heritage Auctions’ Oct. 15 Illustration Art Auction, taking place at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion, 2 East 79th Street.
 
The auction marks the first major event for Heritage in the city since the September opening of Heritage Auctions New York City at 445 Park Avenue, where the cover art is currently on public display for passersby in the “Heritage Window on Park Avenue.”
 
Published in 1952, Charlotte’s Web was named the best-selling children’s paperback of all time by Publisher’s Weekly in 2000. The original cover art and 44 of the book’s 46 interior illustrations will be offered in the auction, and sold without reserve.
 
Few children’s books have had as much of an impact on pop culture as much as E.B. White’s 1952 book Charlotte’s Web, featuring Williams’ sublime drawings of Wilbur the pig, Fern, the young girl who loves him and one very clever spider named Charlotte who saves him from slaughter.
 
“There are few people born after 1950, maybe even 1940, who are not intimately familiar with E.B. White’s timeless story,” said Barry Sandoval of Heritage Auctions, “or with these amazing illustrations. The same cover image has been used for 58 years, and this may be the most-printed cover illustration of any book by an American author.”
 
Now the Williams estate is making the art available to collectors for the first time. It was carefully preserved by the family in a bank vault since the artist's death.
 
“When Garth started doing books in the 1940s, once he completed an illustration, those illustrations were forwarded to the publisher, used, and then returned to Garth,” says Williams’ friend and attorney Richard M. Ticktin, a spokesperson for the family.
 
Susan Katz, President and Publisher of HarperCollins Children’s Books, who occupies the position once held by Ursula Nordstrom, the Harper & Row publisher who first brought White and Williams together for Stuart Little, added some historical perspective to the upcoming auction, and the place Williams’ artworks occupy in the realm of children’s illustrations.
 
“Garth Williams was one of the leading artists over the course of his 45-year career as children’s book illustrator,” said Katz. “His art graced the pages of more than 50 picture books and novels, bringing to life quintessential characters of children’s literature. Amongst his most cherished and memorable works is his depiction of Fern, Wilbur, and Charlotte on the iconic cover of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web.  These classic images, depicting true friendship and loyalty, have captured the imaginations of generations of young readers, and this auction will be an important moment for art collectors and those who treasure the memories Williams’ drawings have created.”
 
In addition to Charlotte’s Web, Williams illustrated dozens of books by a wide variety of A-list authors, including White’s Stuart Little, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series of books, George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square and his own highly controversial The Rabbits’ Wedding. His work has been compared to the illustrations of Sir John Tenniel (1820-1914) for Alice in Wonderland and Ernest Shepard (1879-1976) for Winnie-the- Pooh.
 
“Garth Williams was a brilliant, versatile and sensitive collaborator, having produced illustrations for the works of so many outstanding authors for children - Margaret Wise Brown, Russell Hoban, Randall Jarrell and Margery Sharp, to mention a few,” says Andrea Immel, Curator of the Cotsen Children’s Library in the department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University.
 
Williams was born in New York to a family of artists; his father was a cartoonist and his mother a painter. He studied at Westminster School of Art in London before landing an assignment to illustrate White’s first children’s story, Stuart Little. The 1945 tale about a shy mouse born to human parents touches on themes of leaving home for the first time, growing up and discovering oneself.
 
Seven years later, White and Williams teamed up again for Charlotte’s Web, which has become a staple of elementary school reading lists.
 
“What the book is about,” wrote Eudora Welty in the original New York Times Book Review, “is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”
 
“We continue to get letters addressed to Garth from fourth graders, wondering how it is he was able to draw these animals and people so perfectly that he instilled in these kids a love of nature,” Ticktin says. “His work, not only on Charlotte’s Web but on The Cricket in Times Square, Chester Cricket’s Pigeon Ride, Baby Farm Animals, The Gingerbread Rabbit, and The Rabbits’ Wedding, is exquisite.”
 
“Without a doubt,” said Sandoval, “Williams is one of the most important and influential 20th-century children’s book illustrators. When young and old readers today think about their favorite fictional characters, the images are essentially those created by Williams. His work will live forever in American literature.”
 
Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $600 million, and 500,000+ registered online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit HA.com.
 
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