Friday, June 23, 2017

Kandinsky Shows "Trump Effect" is in Effect?

 Bild mit weissen Linien
The so-called "Trump Effect" hinted at in my March 15th post seems in full effect now, based on the strength of Sotheby's June 21st Impressionist and Modern Art sale, which not only beat the same sale in 2016 by 45 percent, it also saw the record for Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) smashed – twice.

The first smashing painting was Murnau—Landschaft mit grünem Haus (1909), painted in his Fauvist period. It closed at a breezy $26.4 million, higher than the last comparable painting, at approximately $17 million in 2013.
 Murnau – Landschaft mit grünem Haus

However, a mere six lots later, Kandinsky's abstract Bild mit weissen Linien (1913) shattered Murnau’s new record by raking in $41.6 million.

It’s result – and in fact that of the entire sale - $187.7 million, may be seen as a barometer of the brighter mood of the higher end art market, even if only a few lots rose above their estimate.

It doesn't even really matter if the $41 million paid for Bild was within the estimate range – the record is impressive. The previous record for a comparable Kandinsky, $21 million set at Sotheby’s in 1990 for Fugue (1914) equals $39.3 million adjusted for inflation today.

As you might expect, Sotheby's is crowing these days and I expect there will be drinks all around this weekend.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

G.I. Joe Turns 75

June 17, 2017 marked the 75th anniversary of G.I. Joe's debut. Joe was first drawn and published by Chicago native Irving David Breger (1908-1970) in the very first issue of Yank Magazine, dated June 17, 1942.

Breger began drawing cartoons for his high school newspaper, and later edited Northwestern University's humor magazine Purple Parrot. Though without any formal training in art, he continued drawing cartoons during his college years, imitating the style of well-known 1920's-era cartoonist, John Held, Jr. After earning a degree in abnormal psychology from Northwestern in 1931, he spent a year traveling and selling cartoons to the German magazine Lustigeblaetter.

He was drafted into the US Army in 1941, even while freelancing for various magazines including Esquire, Collier's, The New Yorker and others. Employed as a truck mechanic by the army, he drew cartoons by night, with The Saturday Evening Post publishing them under the title Private Breger.

He was soon transferred to the Army's Special Services Division, and was eventually transferred to the staff of the newly-created Yank Magazine. Though he wanted to draw in a style reminiscent of The Saturday Evening Post, Yank's editors insisted on a unique name for his column. His character's real name was Joe Trooper, but Breger added the acronym for "Government Issue" to the equation, and created a name that would find itself adopted by both soldiers and the American homefront as the new 'doughboy' term for American servicemen: G.I. Joe.

Breger would go on to draw Private Breger for King Features Syndicate until October 1945 when the character was discharged from the army and became Mister Breger. The cartoon's popularity was enduring, and the Sunday panels would continue until shortly after his death in 1970.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

David Levy Linda Hall Library Lecture, June 15, 2017

Back in February 2016, I wrote about my self-guided tour of comet hunter David Levy's observing logs, which were on display at the Linda Hall Library, having recently been donated by him.

Mr. Levy returned to the Linda Hall Library last week to discuss the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, which will cut a path across the United States from the Pacific northwest to South Carolina.

While the talk was open to the public, I was not able to attend. Happily, the Linda Hall Library live streamed his talk. It is currently archived at Unfortunately, the video is glitchy, the audio is fine and definitely worth a listen. Dial it up and let it play in the background!

David Levy - Total Eclipse of the Sun: A Once in a Lifetime Event

Monday, June 12, 2017

Shivaree: A Rare Thomas Hart Benton Print

Collectors devour pencil-signed Thomas Hart Benton lithographs whenever they hit the market, and for good reason. Complementing the ongoing popularity of these prints is the attention paid to him by scholars.

Benton’s oeuvre is extensive, and most of his mass-produced lithographs are covered by Creekmore Fath’s salutary work, The Lithographs of Thomas Hart Benton, published by the University of Texas Press. The scope of the work is impressive, to say the least, being all the lithographs done as individual works of art.

The work I’d like to examine today, though, is an elusive creature, omitted by Fath and other Benton sources and lists, but one that has turned up in the market a couple of times over the last fifteen-odd years, and is surely rising in value to catch up to its listed compatriots.

Auctioneers that have offered it to the public since 2000 have assigned their own name for it. I, however, believe it is ‘Shivaree, Laurie and Curley,’ as listed in Lawrence’s Print Prices (1997, Gordon's Art Reference, Inc.), and dated to 1954 – which tallies with date visible in the lower left of the plate after Benton’s signature.

Benton often only signed his last name to the pencil-signed lithos, but two of three examples I’ve seen over the last 15 years have seen him sign his entire name, Thomas Hart Benton. One of these also included a personal dedication. The third example was not pencil signed.

If any Benton collectors or scholars have additional information about this particular print, I’d love to hear from you!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Return of Army Pinks and Greens?

The Army Times is reporting that Sergeant Major of the Army, Dan Dailey, is working on bringing back the old ‘pinks and greens’ uniform of the Second World War era.

Dailey is to address an upcoming uniform board meeting about bringing back the iconic uniform for daily business settings.

His idea is to highlight old army traditions - something the Marine Corps does so well with its uniforms and give soldiers an alternative to camouflage.

Of 5,000 Army Times active duty readers surveyed, 77% viewed the old uniform favorably, while 72% said they’d like to see the pinks and greens come back as an option to camouflage and dress blues.

If the idea is approved, the army will have to work through costs and uniform allowances, but it seems to have good momentum within the army itself.

I know it’s too much to expect any return of even a variation on our WWI-era uniforms, so I wish the Sergeant Major success with the old Nazi killer threads.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

3 Easy Tips for Appraisal Preparation

Contrary to the image given appraisals by programs like Antiques Roadshow, professionally written appraisals are very serious documents. They are products of diligent research that must respond to myriad conditions and circumstances, all of which are processed by the appraiser.

The true professional appraiser spends considerable time and effort keeping up their credentials by constantly pursuing continuing education – on top of the time they’ve already put in that gives them expertise in a given field.

Appraisals may serve as evidence in a court case, or as documented support for an insurance claim. They may be the go-to document for a family wanting to split up an estate fairly and efficiently. I’m sure you can come up with other very serious uses for an appraisal.

‘You get what you pay for’ is the philosophy at work here.

All the same, there are ways a client can help expedite the appraisal process and save themselves money. As with most things in life, the best way is by paying special attention to the organization of the items under consideration.

Clients regularly ask how we can streamline their process to both expedite the final product and save themselves a bit of money. Because I too want the process to go as smoothly as possible, I offer the following tips:

1) Organize the items to be evaluated in a well-lit area that provides the inspecting appraiser a 360-degree view of the items, including room to tip large items to view the undersides or backs.

For fine art, it may be necessary to remove an item from its frame. Fine art appraisers like myself are knowledgeable about this process. When it comes to fine art, bear in mind that the frame rarely adds value to the work itself, so don’t worry about it being removed briefly from its frame. Appraisers are adept and removal without compromising the frame.

Having the work secured back in the frame is usually quite painless. If the back of the frame is sealed by a large sheet of paper, it may be that there is an attempt there to hide something that will significantly impact value, and appraisers must be sure of all aspects of your piece before rendering a trustworthy value conclusion. This is for your own good, as they say!

2) Talk to your appraiser about cleaning up the items before the inspection. This is an important step because there are some kinds of items whose value might be harmed by cleaning, such as things with confirmed historical importance, and your appraiser will surely tell you not to touch a thing.

Your appraiser should also be able to offer you handy tips for safely cleaning up your items in a way that will make them look their best, no matter what their condition. Even if cleaning up something means exposing a flaw, it should be done. Believe it or not, the flaw may actually add value to a piece, but in the end what you want is an accurate valuation of the item in its current state.

3) Gather any provenance beforehand, that is to say, formal documentation of an item’s journey through the past, such as its gallery or show appearances, loans or displays in museums, and any previous sale documentation whether auction or private. These documents may well save the appraiser time by helping streamline the research process.

But don’t panic if your item doesn’t have any of these things – absence of provenance is more common than you might expect!

So there you are! Three easy things you can do that can save you money and help your appraiser produce the most accurate appraisal document possible!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Antiques Roadshow: Reality Stick Edition

Antiques Roadshow is a very popular program with many of my clients. For my own part, I appreciate how the show traces the history of an item and contextualizes it with value.

The downside is that often I encounter people with the expectation that because their item is old, it just must have excellent monetary value.

Explaining reality - especially when disappointing - is itself an art form, and appraisers must be adept at it.

Here’s an example of expectation meeting cold, hard reality. I’m not sure the UK Antiques Roadshow appraiser was quite ready for the man’s reaction...