AS MARKET SIZZLES, WORKS BY ARTISTS FROM FRAZETTA TO CRUMB CONTINUE BREAKING AUCTION RECORDS
By Brian Keagy
It has been said that records are made to be broken, and with global sales reaching $67.4 billion in 2018 — up 6 percent year-on-year — the worldwide art market is as primed as any industry to achieve record-setting, eye-popping results.
From historically significant artists bolstered by established collectors to more obscure artists now garnering deserved attention, Heritage Auctions has built a track record of world auction records across numerous fine art categories. This is no accident, according to Heritage Auctions Vice President and American Art Director Aviva Lehmann — as acquiring potential record-setting consignments follows a time-tested formula.
“There are five factors we see that are the most impactful,” Lehmann says. “They hold true for pretty much any auction house and are things that we always look for: provenance, condition, rarity, quality and taste.”
By adhering to those necessities, forecasting and acquiring fine art that has a chance to establish a new record becomes fairly simple. “For sure, we definitely have a feeling going in that a piece might be able to set a record price,” Lehmann says. “Ultimately we don’t know what will happen in the auction, but we do typically have a gut feeling.”
Below are world auction records for pieces of art offered by Heritage Auctions.
BRIAN KEAGY is a staff writer at Heritage Auctions.
An established comic book and newspaper strip artist before he began creating comic cover fantasy artwork in the mid-’60s, Frazetta reached the pinnacle of his craft in 1969 with this spectacular painting. Egyptian Queen was produced for print as the cover of Eerie magazine #23 in mid-1969 and is credited with revolutionizing fantasy illustration in American art. The painting remained in his family’s possession since its creation, and its availability for the first time to the public led to a massive record price.
This evocative painting of three men sharing a campfire backed by a golden Southwestern sky is one of Leigh’s most revered works among Western art collectors. While spending many years traveling through the West — particularly in the Indian lands of New Mexico and Arizona — the artist spent as much time as possible painting outside and capturing the essence of those lands. Home Sweet Home was acquired in the early ’40s by Eric Jonsson, co-founder of Texas Instruments and one of the most revered mayors in Dallas’ history before presenting at auction.
The prolific Crumb became a key figure in the bohemian counterculture movement of the ’60s. One of his most famous and popular characters is Fritz the Cat, which dates to his first homemade comics as a teenager. This oversized cover art was created for a collection of stories first published by Ballantine in October 1969 and became so sought after that it warranted a second printing a month later. Stashed away in a private collection for years, it represents one of Crumb’s most important single pieces of art.
Harvey grew up in the Texas Hill Country hearing stories about ranch life from his father and grandfather, who was a cowboy during the trail-driving era. Duly inspired by the tales of tough men and wild cattle, his paintings depicted the essence of Texas from the turn of one century to the next. When Cowboys Don’t Change presents a powerful, iconic representation of the traditional American West, and the price realized in 2018 took this talented artist’s auction prices to a completely new level.
Born into an artistic family, Thompson’s father Cephas actually discouraged his early work while pushing him to become a farmer. Fortunately, the artist chose to develop his talent and, after heading to England in 1852 for a few years of independent study, his work began reflecting the meticulousness, rich color, and attention to texture that characterizes the work of the British Pre-Raphaelites. Remarkably, Riverbank in Bloom set its auction record against a pre-auction estimate of $8,000-$10,000 after two collectors who had seen it at Heritage’s San Francisco office competed for it feverishly.
One of England’s premier portrait painters in the 1930s who was noted for his captivating portraits of beautiful women, Brockhurst painted rising film star Merle Oberon in his Chelsea studio in 1937 while she was in London working on a movie. A prodigy who won a place at the Royal Academy schools when he was 17, the artist’s works depicted a much-prized surreal and hyper-realistic quality. The outstanding provenance of Merle Oberon came from the actress to her daughter, Francesca Pagliai.
Jameson was a rising star of the Hudson River School whose life and career were tragically cut short from his death while in combat during the Civil War. A prodigy in both art and music, his ability to reflect his influences was vividly displayed in his expansive landscapes that explored theatrical light and weather effects. Grazing Sheep at Headwaters of a Stream became a masterpiece of its era and is one of about two dozen works of his that are known to exist.
An obscure French-American painter who worked in and around New Orleans between 1838 and 1842, LeVasseur executed an extraordinary and rare portrayal of Nicaragua from an American artist’s perspective in the first half of the 19th century. Despite the impeccable quality and rarity of his works, there was concern that they would not sell heading into the 2019 auction, but enthralled bidders drove the price realized into six figures.
Half of a distinguished pair of talented siblings with his heralded brother Joseph Christian, Frank Leyendecker developed a signature academic style utilizing crisp brushstrokes and dramatic highlights. The brothers’ booming commercial illustration business was built upon designing covers for popular magazines, helping usher in the Golden Age of illustration. This Vanity Fair cover reflected Frank’s focus on a more elegant, Art Nouveau-inspired design, as well as themes of fashion, culture and the arts.
The second-highest price realized by Sandzén (the world auction record of $670,000 for his 1921 work, Lake at Sunset, Colorado, is also held by Heritage), this painting is a tour de force from the artist and is a magnificent representation of his dazzling skill. Creek at Twilight was purchased by the 1927 graduating class of the Washington High School in Milwaukee, Wis., and hung in the institution’s basement for safekeeping before it was rediscovered. Proceeds from the sale were invested to fund college scholarships for needy students.
This article appears in the Fall 2019 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.