Vintage nude photographs of Jazz Age beauties, Ziegfield Follies stars discovered in Connecticut estate

MERIDEN, Conn. – An extraordinary archive of Alfred “Cheney” Johnston (1884-1971) glamour photos of Jazz Age beauties, as well as important artworks from the renowned Ziegfield Follies photographer’s personal collection, will be auctioned on April 16, 2011 at Nest Egg Auctions’ gallery in Meriden, Conn.

Johnston’s personal photo archive, which was bequeathed to a neighbor 40 years ago and has remained in the same family ever since, includes dozens of beautiful nudes that were considered very daring for their time. Johnston was a trailblazer in celebrity photography and rose to the top of his profession with his stunning pictures of showgirls, film stars and rising starlets – among them Barbara Stanwyck, Clara Bow, Paulette Goddard, Gloria Swanson and Julie “Catwoman” Newmar. Johnston’s ability to put his subjects at ease resulted in stylish portraits whose artistic quality has withstood the test of time.

“Many of Cheney Johnston’s now-classic photos were donated to the Library of Congress and will never again be in private hands. This only heightens the rarity and desirability of the photos in our upcoming auction,” said Nest Egg auctioneer Ryan Brechlin. The 11- by 14-inch glamour prints, each created by the master’s hand, carry individual estimates ranging from $100 to around $2,000.

The photographic portion of the sale also includes Johnston’s cameras and other equipment; personal letters from high-profile friends (e.g., Lady Ashton, publisher Conde Nast and mentor Charles Dana Gibson), books, ephemera and Art Deco furnishings from his West 67th Street apartment/studio in Manhattan.

Johnston’s celebrity images graced the covers of many popular magazines of his era. The financial rewards of his success enabled Johnston to amass the impressive collection of art featured in the April 16 auction. Leading the selection is a rare, framed oil-on-canvas painting by Alphonse Mucha (Czechoslovakian, 1860-1939), father of the Art Nouveau movement. Similar in style to Mucha’s Spring Night, the signed (authentication pending), 15 1/2 – by 20-inch depiction of young lovers in a tender embrace served as the cover art for the May 1922 issue of Hearst’s International Magazine.

“Mucha was commissioned to create a series of covers for the magazine in 1921 and 1922,” said Brechlin. “As the commission was drawing to a close, Mucha was becoming immersed in another project, his masterwork Slav Epic. It’s possible that the artwork we’re auctioning was painted prior to the Hearst’s International commission and that Mucha simply cut it down to suit the magazine’s size requirement. That would have been an intelligent way to fulfill his deadline commitment to the magazine without sacrificing quality.” The Mucha is estimated at $100,000-$200,000.

Another highlight from Cheney Johnston’s personal art collection is a marble sculpture of a fish by Ukranian/French sculptor Chana Orloff (1888-1968). Orloff’s work is held in private and institutional collections worldwide, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Orloff’s whimsical marble fish sculpture measures 14 1/2 inches tall by 18 inches wide, and is expected to make $5,000-$10,000 at auction.

The Johnston collection also includes an Edward Steichen signed silver gelatin print ($800-$1,200), a group of six Robert Harding Davis signed photographs ($500-$1,000) and a Rockwell Kent photo portrait and block print ($400-$600).

The auction list continues with a William Couper (American, 1853-1942) marble bust of a woman signed “Wm Couper, Florence” ($2,000-$4,000), rare Lenci Italian porcelain figures of a clown ($1,000-$3,000) and Don Quixote ($1,500-$2,500); and a Gleb Derujinsky (Russian, 1885-1975) 17¼-inch-tall bronze dancer on marble base ($800-$1,200).

Additional artworks include Louis Icart aquatints, Gayac colored drypoints, many fine editions of Edward Dulac’s Illustrated Fairy Tales, and two original works by the American abstract expressionist Charles Seliger (1926-2009). A 1920s Knabe baby grand piano ($1,000-$3,000) adds the finishing touch to a remarkable time capsule of the Art Deco period, as assembled by one of its best and brightest contributors.

All forms of bidding will be available, including live via the Internet through For additional information, call 800 448-0692. The catalog may also be viewed on Nest Egg’s website.

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