Thursday, June 30, 2011

Four Drawings by Ronald Searle at Auction

Bonhams's recent June 22 sale of modern illustration art included four works by Ronald Searle that reveal something of the incredible range of his work. Here we have the wickedly creepy, the absurdly political, the serenely cultured, and the preposterously grotesque all emanating from the tireless pen of one very fine draftsman. The estimates seemed on the high side to me and, indeed, only one, "The Milkmaid," a drawing which goes against every expectation of its title, sold. It's no secret that Searle is a long-time favorite of mine, and I'm sure I'll have a lot more to say about this artist in the near future, but for now I have a few comments on the four very different illustrations in this sale:

Lot No: 220
Ronald Searle (British, born 1920)
"The Pair," rejected Christmas advertisement for panty hose, n.d.  Signed.  Watercolor and ink.  35 x 48.5cm (13 3/4 x 19 1/8in).  Estimate: US$6,000 - 7,000.  Unsold
So we learn here that the pantyhose company rejected this proposed Christmas ad? What a shock indeed! I suspect Searle was having a lot of fun here and may even have expected this pitch to be rejected in what I assume was the more conservative U.S. market. My guess about this humorous, macabre painting is that the improbably suspended female hosiery did not instill the ad's client, unlike the expectant admirer, with sufficient Christmas cheer.
Lot No: 221
Ronald Searle (British, born 1920)
"Berlin Wall," illustration for "The Rise of New Nationalism in Germany," Look, December 14, 1965.  Signed lower right.  Ink.  42.7 x 35.2cm (16 13/16 x 13 7/8in).  Matted and framed.  Estimate: US $3,500 - 4,500.  Unsold.
Searle, Ronald. From Frozen North to Filthy Lucre. New York: Viking Press, 1964, Page 59

Note that Searle has labelled Berlin twice, to make certain we can "read" the gag and perhaps also to show the two faces of Berlin, that of Communist propaganda and that of harsh reality. This was published roughly just after the closing of the New York World's Fair in October of 1965, so the idea of the American international fairground was still quite relevant. The Berlin Wall had been erected in 1961.

Lot No: 222
Ronald Searle (British, born 1920)  "Metropolitan Opera," illustration artwork promoting the New York City opera house, possibly produced for advertising purposes.  Signed lower right.  Dated 1987.  Ink with abandoned sketch in pencil on verso. 34 x 28.2cm (13 3/8 x 11 1/8in).  Estimate: US $3,000 - 4,000. Unsold
I don't think this sleeping Valkyrie was created for "advertising purposes" per se, although it would have been a fantastic ad, but more likely for some licensed promotional item in the gift shop. It would have made quite a blanket! The Metropolitan Opera had a series of T-shirts, bath towels, shower curtains, a mouse pad (actually a Die Fledermaus pad), and postcards designed by Searle. These commercial items constitute some of the rare instances of Searle having to use the copyright symbol, something I have always found detestable in an original work of illustration art.

Lot No: 223(n/a)
Ronald Searle (British, born 1920) "The Milkmaid," 1987.  Initialed "RS" lower right, titled "The Milkmaid" upper left.  Pen and ink.  28.6 x 24.6cm (11 1/4 x 9 11/16in).  Estimate: US $1,500 - 2,000.  Sold for US $1,464 inclusive of Buyer's Premium. 

I may never be able to leer at a milkmaid again!

July 14, 2014 Update:  We now can see and compare two versions of "The Pair," one accepted by the client and one rejected, and they have been sold together at Swann Galleries. My earlier supposition that a woman was inhabiting the pantyhose in the second illustration now can be seen to be completely incorrect. The auction listing provides a bit of an explanation as to the rejection of the darker piece: "The black pantyhose were deemed too misshapen and vulgar; and only the red version was published." Very well. Which version do you prefer?
Ronald Searle, "The Pair"

Ronald Searle, "The Pair"

February 8, 2016 Update:  Searle's drawing for the Metropolitan Opera resurfaced at Swann Galleries last month with a more reasonable estimate. It's possible that Swann's title "Sleeping Valkyrie" is derived from the text of this blog post. For the record, the sleeping Valkyrie's name is Brünnhilde.

Swann Galleries
Illustration Art, January 28, 2016

Hammer Price $1,300

Swann Galleries catalogue
Illustration Art, January 28, 2016
Image added February 21, 2016

Swann Galleries catalogue
Illustration Art, January 28, 2016
Image added February 21, 2016

Note:  Don't miss the extraordinary Ronald Searle Tribute blog written by Matt Jones which has many, many more examples of this artist's work.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Whistler's "Upright Venice"

Lot No: 33 James Abbott McNeill WhistlerUpright Venice (Kennedy 205) Etching, printed with tone in blackish-brown, on laid, signed with the butterfly monogramme and inscribed "imp" in pencil on a paper tab lower left, from "Twenty-Six Etchings," 1879/80, 256 x 180 mm (10 1/8 x 7 1/8 in) (SH) (unframed) Estimate: £3,000 - 5,000, €3,400 - 5,700, US $4,900 - 8,100

I have always admired the technical virtuosity of Whistler's etching "Upright Venice."  The transition from the immediate foreground seen from above to the distant background with Santa Maria della Salute is a real tour-de-force.  There is actually a small, blank area between the foreground and background, and this print can almost be thought of as two separate though spatially-related images.

Bonhams's catalogue is now online for the July 12 sale of Prints at their New Bond Street location.  The auction listing for "Upright Venice" can be found right here:

July 12, 2011 Update: Sold for £9,000 inclusive of Buyer's Premium. That's a very healthy price indeed!


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Birthday, George Booth!

George Booth, "Oh, Say, Can You See." 
The New Yorker, July 4, 2011

In Monday's mail The New Yorker arrived featuring a wonderful Fourth of July cover by George Booth, entitled "Oh, Say, Can You See." Over the years, Booth has created a great many delightful covers for the magazine, often featuring his signature English bull terrier. He turns 85 today, Tuesday, June 28, just a few days before our nation turns 235. Happy Birthday, George! Thanks for all the fabulous drawings. And Happy Birthday, America!


While we're on the subject, Taraba Illustration Art offers this classic Booth original artwork of a skittish dog:
George Booth, Beware! Skittish Dog,
Variant of a drawing from The New Yorker, August 15, 1997, page 60

Artist: George Booth (b. 1926)
Description: Dog sitting next to sign
Caption: “BEWARE! – Skittish dog”
Publication information: Not published, rather a version of one of Booth’s most recognized cartoons. The published version appeared in The New Yorker on August 15th, 1977. A third version appears in the book,Omnibooth: The Best of George Booth. A copy of the book accompanies the purchase of the artwork.
Medium: pen and ink
Size: 2.75 x 4.5”
Signature: signed, lower right.
Condition: The ink has faded somewhat, otherwise good, framed.
Comment: In a 1999 interview with the Boston Phoenix, Booth recalls this cartoon, saying “I drew an ornery-looking mutt in the New Yorker and somebody wrote a letter and said, ‘Is that an English bull terrier?’ And I didn’t know what they looked like. I went to the library, and gradually the dog became an English bull terrier… I had drawn a dog sitting next to a sign that read Beware of skittish dog. That was the character that started that. I think Mr. Shawn had said something about it. He liked it.”
A copy of the article is included with the purchase of the artwork.

Price: $2,500.

George Booth, Beware! Skittish Dog,
The New Yorker, August 15, 1997, p. 60
Image added November 6, 2012

George Booth, Beware! Skittish Dog,
The New Yorker, August 15, 1997, p. 60
Image added November 6, 2012

July 12, 2011 Update:  Illustrator James Gurney of Dinotopia fame has started a contest of sorts to "finish" this Booth cover by cleverly filling in the white space. Contestants are encouraged to submit their completed artwork to The New Yorker for judging, while the magazine, of course, hasn't agreed to any such contest. It seems likely that Gurney himself will be the judge at the end of the month. My fear, probably unjustified, is that such a prank may discourage the magazine from publishing any future covers with unused white space. For the record, I think Booth's use of all that empty space is just teriffic, and I suspect Gurney thinks so too. Nevertheless, the slightly subversive "Unfinished Cover Contest" is proposed here and there are already some decent submissions on display.

July 22, 2011 Update:  James Gurney has posted an update here on the "unfinished" cover contest. The New Yorker, we learn to our surprise, has agreed to post some of the contest submissions on its own blog.  Meanwhile on Gurney Journey, Gurney himself will select three finalists at month's end and allow his readers to select their favorite. The entries are quite interesting. No word on what George Booth thinks of all this.  Emily Kan, the assistant to cover editor Françoise Mouly, did ask Booth how he came up with his ideas here on the New Yorker's blog. The answer may not totally surprise you.

July 31, 2011 Update:  James Gurney has selected three finalists for the "New Yorker Unfinished Cover Contest" here. He posted a link to the Stretchbook blog's entry hereThis exercise brought out a lot of good ideas!

August 18, 2011 Update:  Emily Kan, on the New Yorker's News Desk blog, reports on the entries for James Gurney's "Unfinished Cover Contest" here. George Booth, we are told, is "delighted" with all this fuss over his July 4 cover. “I think it’s just lovely that we stirred them up. It’s good to get reactions, and it doesn’t bother me. They can do whatever they want.” Meanwhile the magazine's art critic Peter Schjeldahl is baffled by it all.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Timothy Q. Mouse at Howard Lowery

WALT DISNEY STUDIOS Dumbo (1941) original production animation drawing  red, blue and black pencil on untrimmed animation sheet, image size: 4.5" x 3.75"
Howard Lowery is holding an online auction of animation art, including this finished animation drawing of Timothy Q. Mouse from Walt Disney's "Dumbo" (1941). The Q stands for...well, it doesn't stand for anything.  Online bidding closes Saturday, July 9, although it could potentially be extended by enthusiastic continued bidding.

July 9, 2011:  This drawing sold for $204. I think the buyer did well.  

WALT DISNEY STUDIOS Dumbo (1941) original production animation drawing  red, blue and black pencil on untrimmed animation sheet, image size: 4.5" x 3.75"

Mosaic of "Dumbo" Sequence 20 from Mayerson on Animation. Scene 23 is at lower left
Image added May 31, 2012

I learned of the sale through Amid Amidi, who posted this at Cartoon Brew:


Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Sendak Trio

Lot No: 212
Maurice Sendak (American, born 1928)
"1990 International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY),"poster design for the conference in Williamsburg, Va., September 1990.
Signed and dated 1988.
55 x 42.5cm (21 5/8 x 16 3/4in).
Matted and framed.
Estimate: US$400,000 - 700,000 

On June 22, this lovely 1988 poster illustration by Maurice Sendak executed for the International Board on Books for Young People failed to sell at auction in New York. Original illustrations by Sendak are generally hard enough to come by, but images of this quality are rare indeed. The irony is that any number of Sendak fans and collectors would be absolutely delighted to acquire such a stunning, original, large-scale watercolor. The characters are recognizable and desirable, including Max, a Wild Thing (named Moishe), and the alligator from "Alligators All Around" in The Nutshell Library.

Alas, Bonhams's pre-sale auction estimate of $400,000 to $700,000 put this piece out of reach of all but a very few. At first I was stunned by the audacious estimate, but on reflection Sendak has an awful lot of admirers and I doubt whether many images of this quality will come to the market any time soon. So while the artwork didn't sell at this lofty price, it probably could have sold, perhaps in a better economy or else just on a better day. I certainly don't fault Bonhams for trying to coax an astonishing sale price from an astonishing painting. Ultimately, though, it's the market, not the seller, that determines the monetary worth of a unique work of art.

Maurice Sendak, IBBY Congress 1990
International Board on Books for Young People!
September 2-7
Williamsburg[,] Virginia
Pencil Rough
Image added April 15, 2012

Maurice Sendak, 1990 International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) Poster Original Art
Image added June 26, 2012

Maurice Sendak, IBBY Congress 1990
International Board on Books for Young People!
September 2-7
Williamsburg[,] Virginia
Pencil Rough
Image added June 26, 2012

The published poster:
Maurice Sendak, IBBY Congress1990 International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY) published poster
Image added April 20, 2015

Bonhams 20th Century Illustration Art Auction Catalogue Cover Illustration
June 22, 2011
New York
Image added January 19, 2013

The original auction listing is here:

Images copyright ©2011 Bonhams 1793 Ltd. and the artist.