Illustration discovered on bathroom wall sets new world record at Skinner auction

Skinner, Inc., one of the nation’s leading auction houses for antiques and fine art, has set a new world record for a rare illustration by Aubrey Beardsley. At the Nov. 16, 2008, Fine Books & Manuscripts auction, Beardsley’s The Climax fetched $213,300 including buyer’s premium, well over its $15,000-$20,000 estimate. It sailed past the previous record for a Beardsley drawing of $159,600. A second Beardsley illustration fared almost as well; A Platonic Lament sold for $142,200 including buyer’s premium, significantly surpassing estimate expectations of $15,000-$20,000.

These original pen and ink drawings were provided as illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s controversial Salome: A Tragedy in One Act, 1894, published in London by Elkin Mathews & John Lane, and in Boston by Copeland & Day.  After being exhibited in Europe they returned to the collection of John Lane. In 1926, the drawings were dispersed in a sale at Anderson Galleries where the entire series was purchased by an agent acting on behalf of a collector. Nine of the 13 drawings were eventually donated to the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, as part of the Grenville Winthrop Bequest. The whereabouts of the two lots sold at this auction remained a mystery to Beardsley scholars and collectors for more than 80 years.

A Platonic Lament and The Climax were recently discovered hanging on a bathroom wall in a Boston-area home. They were found and identified by Stuart Whitehurst, director of Skinner’s Fine Books & Manuscripts department, during a routine appraisal visit to the client’s house.  According to Whitehurst, “Extraordinary items bring extraordinary prices.” Whitehurst continued, “The purchase of these illustrations presented a unique opportunity to acquire the last two pieces in this suite, and contesting bidders appreciated that fact. Opportunities like this happen but once.”

English artist Aubrey Beardsley burst onto the international art scene at the height of the Art Nouveau movement. A young illustrator with very limited classical training, he was perhaps the most controversial artist of his time, known for grotesque erotica. Beardsley aligned himself with other English aesthetes including Wilde. He died at the early age of 25 of tuberculosis. Given that his career was cut so short, his works are as rare as they are beautiful, making them all the more sought after by collectors.

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