NEW YORK – A Marc Chagall portfolio featuring lithographs celebrating the circus took the top lot at Swann Auction Galleries’ sale of 19th and 20th century prints and drawings.
The recent September auction featured a selection of works from the collection of the late print dealers Betty and Douglas Duffy of the Bethesda Art Gallery, by Howard Cook, Thomas Hart Benton, Rockwell Kent and John Sloan. There were also select works from The Eric Carlson Irrevocable Trust.
Chagall’s Cirque sold for $143,000. The 1967 portfolio includes complete text, 23 color lithographs and 15 black and white lithographs, 17 inches by 13 inches (sheets). Chagall (1887-1985) held an avid interest in the circus throughout his career and often represented circus scenes in some of his most important printed and painted works. According to one of his biographers, “For [Chagall], clowns and acrobats always resembled figures in religious paintings. The evolution of the circus works reflects a gradual clouding of his worldview, and the circus performers now gave way to the prophet or sage in his work — a figure into whom Chagall poured his anxiety as Europe darkened, and he could no longer rely on the lumiére-liberté of France for inspiration,” (Wullschlager, Chagall: A Biography, New York, 2008).
Another highlight was a 1923-24 George Bellows’ lithograph, Dempsey and Firpo, that sold for $37,500. On Sept. 14, 1923, Jack Dempsey, known as the “Manassa Mauler,” and Luis Firpo, the “Bull of the Pampas,” fought at the Polo Grounds in New York. During the first round, Firpo, after already having been knocked down seven times, finally knocked his rival out of the ring and into the press box. Dempsey was boosted back into the ring and then later won the fight, knocking Firpo out in the second round.
This monumental lithograph by Bellows depicts that pivotal moment when Dempsey is sent through the ropes. Bellows (1882-1925) depicted himself as the balding spectator at the far left of the composition; he was at the match covering the event for the New York Evening Journal. The lithograph on cream woven paper is signed and titled in pencil, lower margin, and signed by the printer, Bolton Brown, in pencil, lower left. This important lithograph, 18” x 22-3/8”, sold for $37,500.
Other highlights include two Martin Lewis works that sold above their high estimate: The circa 1919 etching, Men Working on Elevated Train Tracks, Looking at Airplane in Sky, sold for $42,000 (estimate was $10,000-$15,000) and the 1929 Glow of the City sold for $40,000 (estimate was $20,000-$30,000); and a 1932 Diego Rivera lithograph, El Sueño (La Noche de los Pobres), sold for $40,000.
For all results, visit Swann Auction Galleries at swanngalleries.com.