Aviva Lehmann had a goal to be the first person to sell a million-dollar work by Joseph Christian Leyendecker. The New York City-based director of American art at Heritage Auctions met that goal four times over after a painting by the renowned illustrator sold for $4.1 million.
After an intense bidding war, Joseph Christian Leyendecker’s Beat-up Boy, Football Hero became an auction hero at Heritage on May 7 when it shattered a previous world record by the artist.
The original painting by the influential illustrator, which appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on Nov. 21, 1914, sold for the record amount at its auction debut. This handily beats the previous record for a Leyendecker original set in December at Sotheby’s, where his 1930 Carousel Ride sold for $516,100.
“I always vowed that I would be the first one to sell a million-dollar Leyendecker,” says Lehmann. “I am honored to have sold this masterwork for $4.1 million. Not only was it a huge day for Heritage, but it was a historic day for American art.”
Numerous records for several significant artists were set throughout the day, as the total for the nearly sold-out American art event surpassed the $10.7 million mark – the first American art event at Heritage to do so.
A Rockwell painting, Excuse Me! (Soldier Escorting Woman) that was on a Judge Magazine cover in July 1917 and had not been made public in more than a century, also lived up to pre-sale expectations of selling in excess of $350,000 and sold for $543,000.
Leyendecker's extraordinary portrait of a bruised, bandaged, scuffed-up but proudly defiant young boy had never before been to auction. In fact, until now, this delightful work from the creator of The Arrow Collar Man has resided with one family for nearly a century. And it looks today as it did upon its creation: The painting has never been relined and remains housed on its original stretcher.
It was estimated between $150,000-$250,000, and the bidding opened Friday afternoon at $135,000. But within seconds, it became clear this was going to be a piece over which a bidding war would be waged.
The auction room grew loud when the Beat-up Boy crossed the million-dollar mark; louder still when it surpassed $2 million, then $3 million. And when the hammer fell, when the final price hit $4,121,250, the room erupted in applause.
A gifted and inimitable draughtsman, Joseph Christian Leyendecker stands as a principal figure in the Golden Age of Illustration.
As the inventor of the Arrow Collar Man, he defined dapper dressing and everyday activity for the entire prewar generation, and as the creator of more than 300 covers for The Saturday Evening Post, he revolutionized modern magazine design and chiefly informed Rockwell’s wistful vision of America.
A sensitive observer, Leyendecker also created poignant, whimsical works capturing the antics of children, as evidenced by his iconic, recurring New Year’s Baby created exclusively for The Post.
To many collectors and historians, Leyendecker’s scenes of children are some of the finest of his entire oeuvre. Beat-up Boy, hero of 1914, typifies Leyendecker’s masterful ability to story-tell using a solitary figure as his subject-a precocious young boy beat up after a game of football-rendered in his distinctive staccato painting style.
By 1926, when The Saturday Evening Post went to four-color printing, which reproduced his paintings in all their creative and technical splendor, Leyendecker was the most famous illustrator in America.
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