Original Charlotte’s Web cover art brings $155,350 in illustration art auction

Part 1 of the Garth Williams Archive brings $780,000+; Elvgren pin-ups continue to dominate; Leyendecker, Willcox-Smith lead Golden Age offerings on Oct. 15


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Garth Montgomery Williams (American, 1912-1996), The Miracle, Some Pig, Charlotte's Web, page 78 illustration, 1952, Graphite and ink on paper, 7 1/2 inches by 10 inches, signed lower left. $23,900. Photo courtesy Heritage Auction Galleries

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NEW YORK – The original 1952 cover art for the best-selling children’s book, Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, brought $155,350 on Oct. 15 as a feature of Heritage Auctions’ Signature® Illustration Art auction. Part One of Garth Williams: The Art of Charlotte’s Web – consigned by the late artist’s family – brought more than $780,000, with the cover art to the famous book establishing a world record price for any Williams art. The price for the cover was more than five times the presale estimate. All prices include 19 1/2 prcent buyer’s premium.
 
The auction proved to be Heritage’s second highest-grossing illustration art auction since the inception of the category, tallying an impressive total exceeding $3.75 million – eclipsed only by the February 2010 $4.5 million illustration art auction – with 939 bidders vying the more than 500 lots in the auction, translating into a 97.4 percent sell-through by total value. The auction marked the first major event for Heritage under the auspices of its newly opened New York offices at 445 Park Avenue (at 57th Street).
 
“The response to the Charlotte’s Web art was tremendous,” said Barry Sandoval, director of operations for the comics and original comic art auctions at Heritage, “especially to the iconic cover art. We expected that the cover art would exceed our initial estimate of $30,000 or more, but for it to break $150,000 is breathtaking.  It just shows how universally beloved this book and this art really are.”  
 
Another famous drawing from the book, the page 95 illustration entitled, “There Was the Handsome Pig, and Over Him, Woven Neatly in Block Letters, Was the Word TERRIFIC,” brought $95,600.
 
The overall focus of the auction was on classic Golden Age illustration, which did not disappoint, but the unchallenged king of the genre remains Gil Elvgren, whose pallet produced fully four of the top 10 lots of the entire auction, including the top offering of the entire event in the form of his 1958 oil painting, “Riding High,” from the estate of Charles Martignette, which realized $167,300.
 
“This is one of Elvgren’s greatest, and certainly most famous, images,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President of Heritage. “We’re now seeing more consistent prices on the top artists coming out of Martignette’s collection, and without a doubt Elvgren continues to be the most popular of all artists.”
 
Illustrators known for their contributions to The Saturday Evening Post captured the full attention of the Golden Age collectors participating in the auction, with J.C. Leyendecker providing the brightest fireworks of all. Leyendecker’s Christmas-themed American Weekly cover, December 19, 1948, featuring a trio of surprised kids watching Santa Claus plant a serious kiss on their mother, also from the Martignette estate, taking top honors, realizing $131,450.
 
The Saturday Evening Post artists continued to inspire collectors, as artist Thorton Utz’s impressively large and immediately memorable Saturday Evening Post cover of May 30, 1959 – featuring an epic traffic jam to start off the summer travel season – established a record price for the artist as the price soared to $89,625 amidst spirited bidding.
 
Golden Age greats continued to impress, with the ever-popular Jessie Willcox-Smith showing her enduring draw as her lovely mixed media The Daisy Wreath realized $68,713, while  Howard Pyle’s “‘And who’s going to support ‘em?’ demanded Mrs. Barkley” illustration from Old Chester Tales, by Margaret Deland, 1898 – a painting with a provenance in Norman Rockwell’s own collection – impressed to the tune of $65,725. Rockwell himself, always an important part of an illustration art auction at Heritage, made his contribution to the festivities with his famous oil painting “Al Smith Was Fellowman to Every Man,” 1945, another entry from Martignette, bringing $60,945.

Harvey T. Dunn’s famous “Reclining Nude,” 1939, painted by the legendary artist for the 1941 Guild Artists Bureau of Manhattan’s controversial “Sexhibition” proved to be one of the most popular offerings of the day – and was certainly one of Charles Martignette’s favorite paintings from his epic collection – bringing $59,750 from a determined buyer.
 
One of the great surprises of the auction came in the form of another legendary children’s illustrator, Ludwig Bemelmans, whose “Madeline and Horse at Dinner Table,” a gouache illustration based on his story “Madeline in London,” but is not published in the book, with a brilliant red background, brought $47,800, a record for the artist.
 
“The enduring popularity of the Madeline books cannot be doubted,” said Todd Hignite, Consignment Director for Illustration Art at Heritage, “nor can the demand for high quality examples of Bemelmans work from, or based on, those superb books. We were all very impressed by where this particular piece finished.”

Further highlights include, but are not limited to:
 
Gil Elvgren, Ticklish Situation, 1957: Oil on canvas, signed lower left. The lobby card based on this painting was reproduced as figure 327 in Gil Elvgren All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, Taschen, 1999. Realized: $101,575.
 
Gil Elvgren, Smoke Screen, 1958: Oil on canvas, signed lower right. This painting was reproduced as figure 253 in Gil Elvgren All His Glamorous American Pin-Ups by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, Taschen, 1999. Realized: $83,650.
 
J. C. Leyendecker, Saturday Evening Post cover, Dec. 24, 1921: Oil on canvas, initialed lower right. This is one of the most lushly painted and charming holiday-themed Post covers Leyendecker ever painted. Realized: $77,675.
 
Howard Chandler Christy, Triptych of Three Nudes, Hunting, Fencing, and Tambourine, decorative folding screen, circa 1925-1930: Oil on canvas laid on board, each panel signed. When Charles Martignette acquired the painting, he often told colleagues that he considered the work to be one of his finest acquisitions. Realized: $56,763.
 
Maxfield Parrish, The Oaks, The Garden of Years and Other Poems, book illustration, 1904: Oil on board, not signed. This illustration was the frontispiece for Guy Wetmore Carryl’s The Garden of Years and Other Poems. Realized: $56,763.
 
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, visit www.HA.com.


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More Images:

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Garth Montgomery Williams (American, 1912-1996), There Was the Handsome Pig, and Over Him, Woven Neatly in Block Letters, Was the Word TERRIFIC, Charlotte's Web, Page 95 illustration, 1952, Graphite and ink on paper, 8 1/4 inches by 10 inches. Signed lower right. $95,600.
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Garth Montgomery Williams (American, 1912-1996), Charlotte's Web, book cover, 1952, Graphite and ink on paper, 14 inches by 11 inches. Signed lower right. $155,350.
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Gil Elvgren, (American, 1914-1980), Riding High, 1958. Oil on canvas, 30 inches by 24 inches. Signed lower right. $167,300.

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