An original illustration by Jesse Willcox Smith, one of the famed Red Rose Girls of the Brandywine School of American Painting, will lead the March 12-13 Signature Illustration Art Auction at Heritage Auction Galleries.
“The Then Lover is a tour de force of Smith’s mastery over style, substance, mood and color as embodied by her favorite subject, a pristine young girl, as she shares a reflective moment with a doll,” said Todd Hignite, Consignment Director of Illustration Art at Heritage. “It is classic Willcox Smith, and a testament to the enduring beauty of the halcyon images of Golden Age American innocence she is so famous for.”
Jesse Willcox Smith may have come late to art – she was already 20 by the time she first picked up a brush – but she more than made up for it once she found her voice. Illustration work was never in short supply for Smith, but it was after studying with Howard Pyle at Drexel University in the late 1800s that she became one of the foremost artists of the day, painting classic portraits for a variety of important magazines of the day, most notably St. Nicholas, Scribner’s, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s Weekly, Harper’s and Century. Her sensitive portraits of “perfect” children set the standard in commercial art, and they hold up to today as well as any piece of fine art of the period, if not better.
“This is classic American art no matter how you classify it,” said Hignite. “It’s comparable in quality to any number of great names, and would be fully at home in most any museum collection. Call it whatever you want: Illustration Art, Fine Art or portraiture. At the end of the day it’s simply great art.”
Golden Age American illustration art is particularly strong in the March Heritage auction. A very rare painting from fellow Pyle student Maxfield Parrish (American 1870-1966), Encounter at the Mermaid Tavern is among the grouping, along with a superb Haddon Sundblom (American, 1899-1976) Coca-Cola poster illustration, Play Refreshed, circa 1950. The auction also includes Kuppenheimer Men, original illustration art from J.C. Leyendecker (American 1874-1951), a Pruett Carter (American 1891-1955) illustration from Woman’s Home Companion, an oil on canvas illustration from Andrew Loomis (American 1892-1959), Woman with a Fall Leaf, which is part of a substantial group by the esteemed painter, and a prime-period Norman Rockwell Study from 1939.
“Each of our auctions has a strong cross-section of greats in the field,” said Ed Jaster, Director of the Illustration Art department, “but this grouping of Golden Age art is particularly striking. These are all examples of material that is rare in today’s marketplace, and to see such an excellent selection is a special thing.”
As the undisputed leader in the category, Heritage auctions have come to exemplify the diversity and depth of the field, and the March 12-13 auction is no exception. In addition to the Golden Age heavyweights, there is great early, pioneering fantasy art by original Tarzan artist J. Allen St. John in the form of Thuvia, Maid of Mars illustration, 1920, which appeared as the frontispiece of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, A. C. McClurg and Co., 1920; a rich group of classic American pin-up art, including Gil Elvgren’s playful Aw-Come On, circa 1953, and Rolf Armstrong’s seductive Hat Dance, circa 1950; an excellent Shadow cover, Gems of Jeopardy by Graves Gladney, circa 1941, anchors the pulp cover section of the auction, and, as a special treat, what can only be considered as one of the best men’s adventure magazine covers ever, I Fought the Sea Killer, Adventure cover, August 1956, by the great, unequaled Mort Kunstler.
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