Published: June 20, 2023
Review By Z.G. Burnett; Images Courtesy Swann Auction Gallery
NEW YORK CITY — On June 1, Swann Auction Galleries’ Focus on Women sale brought together almost 200 lots of eclectic materials, all of which were created by women or related to women’s contributions to art, life and society. Some of these names were better known than others in the present day, but each of the top lots exceeded and even multiplied their estimates. The auction total also surpassed its high estimate at $361,090.
An archive of photographs and letters belonging to Charlotte Perkins Gilman (American, 1860-1935) was the biggest surprise of the auction, selling at the top for $60,000 against its $700/900 estimate. Many of these were signed and inscribed by Gilman, including some promotional material, six letters to her grandson, typed and handwritten drafts and a family album. For those who missed it in high school, Gilman is perhaps best known for her short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. The third-highest lot was a complete set of Gilman’s The Forerunner in seven volumes, four of which were signed by the author and inscribed to her second husband, George Houghton Gilman. These were also inscribed by Gilman’s only child, Katherine Beecher Stetson, and the set sold for $22,500.
The second-highest-selling lot was also an archive, this time descending through the family of American magazine writer Fanny Stevenson (1840-1914). Although best known through her association with her second husband, Robert Louis Stevenson, their life together was only one adventure of Stevenson’s life. Already a published author in her own right, Robert’s family objected to the match because of the scandal surrounding Fanny’s tumultuous first marriage. After finally divorcing her first husband, Fanny married Robert and the pair eventually settled at their home Vailima, in Samoa. The archive contained photographs, descriptions and letters concerning the estate, and realized $25,000.
Two lots related to women of color were prominent in the upper lots. First was Narrative of Sojourner Truth, a Northern Slave printed in 1850 and published in Boston. Truth (circa 1797-1883) was an early feminist, abolitionist and public speaker, offering herself as a representation of all enslaved African American women. This edition included a frontispiece with the author’s portrait and was bound with its original green cloth; it achieved $20,000. Second was a hagiography about Catarina de San Juan (1605-1688) by José del Castillo Grajeda, published in 1692 in Puebla, Mexico. Catarina was also known as China Poblana, as she was reportedly abducted from southeast Asia and sold into slavery by the Portuguese. Much of what is known about Catarina comes from recorded legends like this, which was one of three published after her death, and sold for $11,250.
Following these in price was a signed and inscribed 1895 edition of The Woman’s Bible compiled by American writer and women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902). The two-part octavo is a compilation of essays and commentaries from a committee that Stanton chaired, examining biblical texts that were used to subjugate and dominate women. Stanton inscribed the first part of the book, “The Bible degrades Woman from Genesis to Revelation & yet women believe it was written by the fingers of God.” Still a controversial text, especially in the United States, it was bid to $13,750.
Prices quoted with buyer’s premium as reported by the auction house. Swann’s next Books & Manuscripts auction, focused on LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History, will occur on August 17. For more information, 212-254-4710 or www.swanngalleries.com.
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
September 19, 2023
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