Published: March 3, 2020
Review and Onsite Photos by W.A. Demers, Additional Photos Courtesy Poster Auctions International
NEW YORK CITY – Vintage poster fans converged at Poster Auctions International’s (PAI) street-level gallery in downtown Manhattan for the firm’s 80th sale on February 23. And those who were not in the gallery jumped on the internet and phone lines to bid on the more than 500 choice examples that were gathered for this sale that totaled $1.9 million.
PAI president Jack Rennert said he was thrilled with bidders’ avid interest in a wide range of works. “Works by Alphonse Mucha and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec are always highly sought-after, as exhibited in this auction’s record sales for designs by these artists. But we were pleasantly surprised to see a similarly impassioned interest in lesser known works, including posters that we have never had at auction before.”
For Black History Month, the auction began with 41 black images, many of which were from the Keith Williams (1941-2010) collection. A good friend of the gallery and an astute collector, Williams was passionate about collecting black-themed posters regardless of their political correctness. In addition to the blatantly stereotypical examples like the Oleo brand’s circa 1910 poster featuring a black caricature with exaggerated lips, eyes and head to advertise spark plugs, there were celebratory images of icons like Josephine Baker, whose 1931 poster by Georges B. de Pogedaieff (1897-1971), a remarkable design overlaying Baker’s name in negative type over her face, brought $10,200.
The top selling poster in this run was a touching World War I recruitment ad, “Colored Man is No Slacker,” which provided early fireworks in the sale when it was pursued vigorously by competing internet bids to leave its $800-$1,000 estimate far behind to finish at $12,000. The 1918 poster by an anonymous artist portrays a couple tenderly saying goodbye while an African American infantry unit marches with the American flag in the background. In the gallery for this sale was Williams’ daughter, Quineen Shelton of Oakland, Calif., who remarked that it was wonderful to see her father’s collection displayed on the gallery’s walls.
Alphonse Mucha’s (1860-1939) Art Nouveau masterwork, “Precious Stones,” 1902, one of his best sets – and one of the rarest – sold for $192,000 to a private collector in the United States. Only three or four examples of this set are known to have survived among collectors. Each gem – topaz, ruby, amethyst and emerald – is represented by an ethereal yet seductive lady and its characteristic color is worked into the entire pattern, including the woman’s dress and the flowers at her feet.
“One of the finest specimens of this rare and famous decorative set ever seen – in the impressive larger format,” stated the firm’s catalog notes. Each panel measures 17¼ by 40-7/8 inches. “Precious Stones” was not only the top lot overall in the sale, it also set a new world record for sales of this work.
Also catching fire with bidders was Mucha’s most endearing and enduring set – “The Seasons,” 1896 – which marches through spring, summer, fall and winter with sylph-like female figures interacting with the appropriate environment. This large-format set went out at $45,600. And his celestial 1896 design for Sarah Bernhardt, “La Dame aux Camelias,” realized $31,200, indicating that Mucha’s appeal in the market continues on a growth trajectory.
While Mucha continued to reign supreme with 30 Art Nouveau designs in this sale, among the 522 lots were an array of designs: circus and Wild West, San Francisco rock, World War I, early Israeli designs and iconic works from other masters like Jules Chéret, Leonetto Cappiello, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and more.
A run of about 40 posters by Art Deco master Leonetto Cappiello (1875-1942) was led by a rare preparatory work for his well-known Cognac Monnet. The maquette, circa 1927, 19 by 28¾ inches, had provenance from Jean Cappiello, the artist’s son. Founded by a group of local vintners in 1838, the cognac brand adopted the slogan “sunshine in a glass,” interpreted here quite literally by Cappiello as a Bacchus-like nymph expressing her adoration for the beverage. It sold for $52,800. Also doing well were his ebullient 1911 “Florio / S.O.M.” bid to $18,000 against an estimate of $7/9,000; and the 1902 “Champagne de Rochegré” bringing $9,600.
Presaging both Mardi Gras and spring tantalizingly close on this late winter day, Art Deco artist Jean Dupas’ (1882-1964) 1926 depiction of commedia dell arte characters in an advertisement for a student ball, employing highly stylized courtesans, jesters and nobles to create a stunning tableau vivant representing merrymaking at its most sophisticated. “Bal des Etudiants/Alhambra – 8 Janvier 1927” sold for $43,200. Dupas’ 1929 “Spring Fashions Are Here!,” employing a similar aesthetic, was won for $6,600.
Fetching $40,800 was a celebratory image by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) titled “Confetti,” 1894. In the Nineteenth Century what we call confetti – the colorful yet harmless shreds of paper showered on folks at weddings, parades and holidays – were plaster pellets that not only made a mess but hurt people. A London paper manufacturer had a better idea to create flecks of paper that were as pretty as they were harmless and commissioned this poster from Lautrec. The Belle Epoque artist’s rare 1893 “Les Vieilles Histoires” sparked interest from multiple parties, leading to a winning bid of $31,200.
An auction rarity in the world of posters, Jules Chéret’s 1897 “Folies-Bergère / Loïe Fuller,” which has not crossed the block since 2012, according to the auction house, sparked collector competition. Estimated at $5/6,000, the work earned $16,800.
Also making an impact at the sale were Charles Loupot’s 1939 maquette, “St Raphaël,” which fetched $28,800, and his 1921 “PKZ / Burger-Kehl & C.” going out at $20,400. Walter Schnackenberg was represented by “Deutsches Theater,” taking $15,600, and Manuel Orazi (1860-1934) hit $33,500 with his ethereal “Théâtre de Loïe Fuller,” from 1900, an Art Nouveau masterpiece to coincide with the 1900 Exposition Universelle.
Rennert likes to stage his auctions in thematic sections, grouping rarities into distinct sub-portions of the overall sale. Thus, collectors vied early in the day for Philibert’s 1921 “Clair de Lune /Michelin” of two Bibendums hitching a ride in the automotive posters category. Featured on the auction catalog’s cover, the image of the joyriding official mascots of the tire company swept to $13,200, more than twice the high estimate.
In the bicycles category, the circa 1895 “Cycles Gladiator,” by an anonymous artist soared to $33,500.
Rock poster fans were treated to Randy Tuten’s 1970 “Jefferson Airplane / Quicksilver Messenger / Santana (‘Winterland’)” for a benefit concert to bail out the Grateful Dead after their New Orleans arrest. Estimated at $2/2,500, it earned $4,800.
The circus industry, which used posters and billboards more thoroughly than most, was highlighted by a rare circa 1910 example, “Buffalo Bill & Pawnee Bill / A Sioux Chief,” by an anonymous designer. It generated an intense battle between internet and phone bidders, claiming $7,800 from an online bidder. And Penfield’s 1898 “Golf Calendar” appealed to golf enthusiasts, swinging to a win of $21,600.
Prices given include the buyer’s premium as stated by the auction house.
Poster Auctions International’s next sale will be conducted June 14, with consignments accepted until April 1. Jack Rennert said the sale will include a great collection of Spanish Art Nouveau posters, many not seen before. For more information, 212-787-4000 or www.posterauctions.com.
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