DALLAS – As expected, The Then-Lover, an illustration by Brandywine School luminary Jesse Willcox-Smith, topped an auction of rare and desirable illustration art, March 12-13 at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, which totaled almost $1.8 million, with after-auction buys continuing to drive the final tally higher. The bucolic painting, featuring a young girl kneeling by the side of a bed as she holds her dolly, brought $89,625, with buyer’s premium, and further cemented Willcox-Smith’s place among the most-sought after and important illustrators.
It was a singular Maurice Sendak Where The Wild Things Are backdrop landscape, however, that drew spontaneous applause in the auction gallery when the masterpiece came up for bidding. After a spirited back and forth between bidders on the telephone and on Heritage LIVE!™, the piece was hammered home for $74,688, including buyer’s premium, a world record at auction for a piece of Sendak artwork.
The prices realized for these works, among many in the auction, drives home the high desire for the very rare pieces of Sendak and Willcox-Smith art that come to auction, and firmly establishes that bidders are willing to pay fine art-like prices for the art of America’s greatest illustrators.
“We are thrilled with the results,” said Ed Jaster, Vice President of Comics and Comics Art at Heritage. “The most exciting aspect of this auction are the lofty prices for key pieces in all areas of the field – we saw incredible results not concentrated in one area, but in all areas, which is particularly rewarding as we strive to cover the entire range of the art form, from classic Golden Age painting, to pulp and paperback art, pin-ups, illustrated book art, and everything in-between. This is a positive indication of the strength of the overall market.”
To prove this point, other diverse highlights of the auction included:
Norman Rockwell’s Martha Washington: A Man’s Wife, preliminary study, 1939, an oil on graphite painting. The piece was painted as a preliminary study for the three figures in an illustration for Howard Fast’s story, Martha Washington: A Man’s Wife, which appeared in the February 1939 issue of Ladies’ Home Journal. The caption for the finished illustration: "The girl crouched on the bench had been crying softly. At her feet was a bundle tied to an old quilt. Martha said quietly, ‘why did it happen?’" Inscribed and signed, "To my ole friend Fred Hilderbrandt, Norman Rockwell." Realized: $59,750.
Taking a Chance (No Bikini A Toll), a 1962 oil on canvas painting by the legendary pinup artist Gil Elvgren, whose ladies now command five and six figure prices. This painting was reproduced as figure 471 in Gil Elvgren All His Glamorous American Pinups by Charles G. Martignette and Louis K. Meisel. Realized: $44,813.
Alberto Vargas’ Vargas Girl, Playboy illustration, from July 1961, a mixed-media on board painting, which appeared with the caption: "No, I’m not the farmer’s daughter – I’m the traveling salesman’s daughter." Realized: $44,331.
Hat Dance, a pastel on paper, from Rolf Armstrong. Realized $33,460.
John Ford Clymer’s Aug. 29, 1959 Saturday Evening Post cover, an oil on board work, showed the enduring popularity of the artist’s work when it realized $31,070. Clymer painted many memorable covers for The Saturday Evening Post. It has been estimated he painted more than 80 scenes of pure Americana for these covers between 1945 and 1963. In 1964, after 40 years as an illustrator, he discontinued his commercial work and devoted his efforts to painting North American game animals and scenes from Western history.
A complete five page story, Little Annie Fanny at the Olympics, from Playboy, June 1968, brought $28,680. The story, by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder and Jack Davis, was done with gouache on board and was also reproduced on pages 169-173 of Playboy’s Little Annie Fanny, Volume 1, 1962-1970, Dark Horse Comics, 2000.
Albert Hirschfeld’s ink on paper drawing, Classic Comedians, rose well above its pre-sale estimate of $7,000-$9,000. Originals by Hirschfeld featuring such desirable subject matter are quite rare, and this example featured an iconic, impeccably drawn image. Collectors of Hirschfeld’s work certainly recognized the quality of the work, which ultimately realized $26,680.
Original artwork from Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, as he’s now known to generations of Americans, rarely comes up for public auction. His illustration, Drunk Again, from The Seven Lady Godivas, 1939, proved that desire for his original work, no matter how obscure, is very high. This example was one of the few examples known to exist in private hands. The ink and watercolor on paper illustration realized $26,290, and reads: "Brutus was suffering the most extravagant hangover ever experienced by man or beast. He lay sprawled on his rumpled straw, his eyes bloodshot, his nostrils aquiver. His addled head swam, devoid of all horse sense. As a colleague in science he was no help at all. ‘He’s drunk!’ said Arabella. ‘And I want another horse.’"
To see a full list of prices realized, read detailed descriptions of each lot and to download high-resolution, full-color, enlargeable images for each lot, go online to www.HA.com/7005.