Published: October 10, 2000
A Consignor Moves on with His ‘Kinetic’ Collection
Ewolfs.com Auctions Rare Prints and Books
It’s hard to imagine paring down a collection that one has amassed over the course of half a century, but that’s what a Cleveland book collector did – and the beneficiaries were ewolfs.com and those who checked out its October Book and Print Auction.
This collector, who instructed Wolf’s not to reveal his identity other than to say that he is a medical doctor, was so serious that Marcel Duchamp hand picked works for him, says ewolfs’ book curator William Chrisant.
“They would go out in Cleveland and New York and discuss his works and the philosophy of art,” Chrisant says. Chess was also common ground: Duchamp was a chess master and the anonymous collector was an aficionado. This auction included seven chess books.
Duchamp’s 1963 masterpiece “La Boite en Valise” headed the assemblage of 49 prints by and books by and about the Dadaist artist in this auction. With an estimated price of $40/60,000, it sold for $55,200, which includes ewolfs’ 15 percent buyers premium.
The collector had acquired his “museum in a box” from the New York dealer Cordier and Ekstrom immediately after it was shown in the 1966 Cleveland Museum show “Fifty Years of Modern Art 1916-1966.” Signed by Duchamp, it was assembled in Paris by Jacqueline Matisse Monnier in 1963 in an edition of 30.
Duchamp was also represented in a special issue of View magazine, one of an edition of 100, which includes a cover with a smoking bottle cover that he designed; a reproduction of Pharmacy print which was hand-colored, signed, numbered and dated by Duchamp; and the first English translations of a number of classic essays on the artist. The magazine also has, on the front endpaper, the signatures of all the eighteen contributors to the Duchamp issue including Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, Man Ray and Joseph Cornell.
And his “Coeurs Volants (Fluttering Hearts),” one of an edition of 24, sold for $4,800, having been estimated at $3/5,000.
The price shock of this auction appears to have been administered by a print of Ansel Adams’ “Grand Tetons Snake River Wyoming, 1942,” which Chrisant says retails for $30,000. It fetched only $10,455, possibly a consequence of the collector’s decision to not set reserve prices in the auction. The other side of the coin is that of the 915 lots, no more than ten went unsold, Chrisant said. Of the high retail price, he notes that although “many” of the “Grand Tetons” prints are in existence, the price is a function of demand.
“It’s like the price of an Abraham Lincoln signature,” he explains. “They’re very common, but because of the demand, the price stays up.”
But the biggest surprise in this book auction may have been the emergence of six woodcut prints by the Dutch artist M.C. Escher, who specialized in “kinetic” art, which appears to be in motion, Chrisant says.
Potential buyers “questioned the authenticity because they were so rare, no one has ever heard of them,” Chrisant said. The collector was called upon to prove where he had purchased them. As one of only perhaps 20 sets of these prints, they hadn’t seen an auctioneer’s gavel in 40 or 50 years.
The prints were sold separately, but a lucky Connecticut collector won them all, in bidding that became more competitive as the lots progressed.
“We had six prints. The first one sold for around $2,000, and then the second went for about $1,800, then getting toward the fifth or sixth print, the other bidders realized they weren’t getting anything,” Chrisant said.
One of the prints had five or six bidders competing up until the last few seconds, he recalls. “There’s a whole new philosophy of bidding – a whole new science,” he said of online tactics. “People don’t want to show their hands, and they wait until the last moment to bid.”
The woodcuts, all from 1957 and estimated at $½,000, sold as follows, listed in order of the lots offered: “Two Reptiles,” woodcut #5, for $1,800; “Flying Fish/Bird,” woodcut #1, for $1,600; “Dragonfly,” woodcut #2, for $1,250; “Horseman,” woodcut #3, for $2,500; “Bulldog,” woodcut #4, for $4,300; and “Lizard,” woodcut #6, for $3,200. These prices do not include the 15 percent buyers premium.
“The six woodblock prints comprised an extremely rare series, which derived from Escher’s book Regelmatige Vlakverdeling but were printed in the late 1950s by a separate press as a special series in black rather than red ink,” states Chrisant’s catalogue description of the works. “Each of these prints, signed in pencil by the artist, originated in the artist’s estate. Most collectors have never heard of them – let alone have had the opportunity to purchase them.”
The auction also included two illustrated Escher books, which set record prices.
A copy of the Regelmatige Vlakverdeling, a collection of Escher graphics with an extra suite of six prints in red ink, last sold over ten years ago and here fetched $10,062.50. This is the only book that M.C. Escher wrote, and it outlines his elaborate artistic process. Also, Escher’s Emblemata (1932/ Edition Number 118 of 300), a collection of proverbs in Dutch with 24 original woodcuts, sold for $3,680.
The auction also included more than 100 volumes of Limited Edition Club classics, among them Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass illustrated with photographs by Edward Weston, and The Jungle signed by Upton Sinclair, as well as a collection of writings on Greek vases that put most art libraries to shame, according to ewolfs.
“It was a lifetime collection,” Chrisant says. “[The consignor] decided it was time to move on, and he auctioned everything he had.”
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm