PARRISH, WYETH, LEYENDECKER REPRESENT THE BEST-PERFORMING ILLUSTRATION LOTS OF THE PAST YEAR
NORMAN ROCKWELL, MAXFIELD Parrish, N.C. Wyeth and J.C. Leyendecker remained the masters of illustration art this past year.
Auction results in the 12-month period ending October 2015 bear that out, says Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster: “We set new Heritage records for Parrish and Wyeth, and a new world auction record for J.C. Leyendecker.”
But it wasn’t just the masters of American illustration getting collector attention. The year also saw growing interest in illustrations from the 1960-1990 era, Jaster says. “H.R. Giger of Alien fame made our list, and prime examples by Patrick Nagel and LeRoy Neiman consistently brought $100,000 or more.”
While these masters no doubt will continue receiving attention in the years to come, Daniel Zimmer, editor and publisher of Illustration magazine, says collectors are also fascinated by what he calls “underground sexy artists” like Paul Rader (1906-1986), Bruce Minney (1928-2013) and Robert Bonfils (b.1922). Their risqué images, often done for erotic paperback novels and men’s adventure magazines, were published from the mid-1960s to early 1970s.
“Some collectors are really into that stuff,” Zimmer says, “I guess because it was always under the counter and rare, even when it was new, so the stuff is really rare today. Finding some of these things is a real challenge, and I think collectors like things that are genuinely obscure and hard to find.”
NEWELL CONVERS WYETH
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882–1945) achieved fame and greatest commercial success from his work for Scribners’ Illustrated Classics. This 1927 oil on canvas, titled When He Was Fourteen, Michael Strogoff Had Killed His First Bear, Quite Alone (top), realized $269,000 at a May 2015 auction.
Smithsonian magazine once deemed Maxfield Parrish the “common man’s Rembrandt.” In fact, during the Great Depression, a Parrish illustration was displayed on the walls of one out of every four American homes, notes the book Worlds of Enchantment: The Art of Maxfield Parrish. His romantic, richly colored images of winsome maidens and faraway places continue to appeal to modern audiences. The Little Peach appeared in the March 1903 edition of Ladies’ Home Journal, illustrating a poem from the children’s book Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field. The oil on stretched paper realized $515,000 at a November 2014 Heritage auction.
J.C. Leyendecker (1874-1951) painted numerous covers for The Saturday Evening Post’s Thanksgiving Day issues, which often reinforced themes of American bounty, hard work and traditional family celebrations. This piece – titled Thanksgiving, 1628-1928: 300 Years (Pilgrim and Football Player) – appeared on the magazine’s November 24, 1928, cover. It realized $365,000 at a May 2015 auction, a new world record for the artist.
Over the past 10 years, Gil Elvgren (1914-1980) has pulled away from the pack as the greatest artist of America’s pin-up age. His 1962 oil on canvas Bear Facts (A Modest Look; Bearback Rider), completed for the Brown & Bigelow calendar company, sold for $209,000 in October 2015.
Patrick Nagel (1945-1984) created some of the most popular images and graphics of the 1980s, with his work appearing in Playboy magazine and on the cover of pop group Duran Duran’s best-selling album Rio. His 1982 acrylic on canvas Mirage sold for $131,000 in May 2015.
Norman Rockwell remains one of America’s most beloved illustrators. Many of his classic painting are featured in an exhibit running through Feb. 13, 2016, at Brigham Young University’s Museum of Art. “Rockwell’s contributions to our visual legacy, many of them now icons of American culture, have found a permanent place in our national psyche,” the museum boasts. Choosing Up (Four Sporting Boys: Baseball), a 1951 preliminary piece for Brown & Bigelow, realized $125,000 at a November 2014 auction.
Swiss artist H.R. Giger (1940-2014) created the terrifying creature in director Ridley Scott’s 1979 horror classic Alien. His designs for the film won him an Oscar in 1980. His 1984 acrylic on paper Future-Kill sold for $93,750 in May 2015.
LeRoy Neiman (1921-2012) was one of the most recognizable contemporary artists in the world, best known for his depictions of cafe society, cocktail culture, sporting events and portraits of sports icons. His oil on board Manhattan Panorama, 1980-1984, realized $137,000 at a May 2015 auction.
JESSIE WILLCOX SMITH
In 1915, Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935) signed a contract to paint covers for Good Housekeeping magazine. Her work later appeared in Ladies’ Home Journal, Harper’s, Century and Leslie’s Weekly. Fifty-six years after her death, she was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame, the second woman to be so honored at the time. Her mixed media on board titled Building a Sand Castle, for July 4, 1924 cover of Good Housekeeping, realized $71,875 in November 2014.
Before launching his career as the wildly popular children’s book author Dr. Seuss, Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991) was an ad man and editorial cartoonist. In the years after he published Horton Hears a Who!, The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, Geisel in 1964 completed this watercolor on paper, Six Bird Atomic Reactor. It realized $60,000 at a May 2015 auction.