New York—Swann Galleries broke long-standing records and brought new artists to auction for the first time in their June 5 Illustration Art sale. 76% of the rich selection of just over 250 works of art sold.
Contributing to the success of the auction was a section of works for historically important theater productions by noted set and costume designers. A promotional drawing by Al Hirschfeld for Cabin in the Sky, 1940, published in The Herald Tribune, was purchased by a collector for $32,500. Hirschfeld also designed the promotional poster for the 1943 film. An early sketch by Jo Mielziner for the set of the Tony award-winning first production of Death of a Salesman, 1949, far exceeded the previous record for a work by the artist, which had stood at $3,250—the ink and wash piece at Swann was purchased by a collector for $23,750. Costume designs by Erté and Elizabeth Montgomery, known as Motley, also performed well.
Topping the sale was Russell H. Tandy’s cover for one of Carolyn Keene’s popular Nancy Drew mysteries, The Secret in the Old Attic, 1944. Each detail of the watercolor and gouache painting was done by hand, including the precise text of the title and author’s name. After break-neck bidding, the work was purchased by a collector for $35,000, a record for the artist.
A record was also achieved by Ruth Eastman with a proposed cover for The Saturday Evening Post, titled Hitting the Links of Palm Beach, mid-1920s. The gouache painting on a printed Post cover reached $8,750, above a high estimate of $1,200. The record for a cover by Charles Addams for The New Yorker was not one of the dark gags for which he is known, but for the bright and hysterical Penguin Convention, 1977. The watercolor vista of innumerable penguins wearing nametags was also a record for any work in color by the artist: it sold to an institution for $30,000.
Another highlight was the auction debut of any work by George Wolfe Plank. Christmas Gifts, 1913, was one of more than 60 covers the artist produced for Vogue between 1911 and 1936. The elegant watercolor reached $22,500.
Works by beloved illustrators Harrison Cady, Arthur Rackham, Charles Schulz, Everett Shinn and Jessie Willcox Smith also performed well.
Specialist Christine von der Linn said of the sale, “We are thrilled with the results, as we were with the enthusiastic throng of attendees at the exhibition the preceding week. The desire for strong works that depict moments of mystery, nostalgia, humor, fashion and theatrical drama continues to fuel competition for the top lots.”
The next auction of Illustration Art at Swann Galleries will be held on December 6, 2018. The house is currently accepting quality consignments.
Image: Lot 45: Russell H. Tandy, The Secret in the Old Attic, watercolor, ink and gouache, for Nancy Drew Mystery Stories #21, by Carolyn Keene, 1944. Sold June 5, 2018 for $35,000. (Pre-sale estimate: $15,000 to $25,000)