NEW YORK, NY.- Swann Auction Galleries
will offer a selection of rare late nineteenth century, early twentieth century advertising posters celebrating the craze for cycling at their Vintage Posters auction on February 13.
Cycling was one of the most popular fin-de-siècle pastimes and a growing sport in the 1890s and first years of the twentieth century, particularly in France. This coincided with the equally popular and emerging art of poster design, another craze that led members of the public to follow bill poster men in the street to see if they could get hold of a clean copy of a poster before it was stuck to a wall.
Such was the standing of both cycling and poster design that leading artists of the day most notably Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) took a serious interest in the medium. Now those designs are highly sought after by collectors and can make large sums at auction.
Heading the selection at Swann Galleries will be a design by Edwards Penfield (1866-1925), universally considered to be the first major homegrown American poster artist and Art Director for Harper's magazine from 1891-1900.
Penfield had the idea of issuing monthly, small-format posters promoting the publication. The posters were so popular that many other little magazines followed suit.
Large posters are quite rare amongst Penfield's work, and at more than a metre high, his circa-1895 design, Orient Cycles, Lead the Leaders, for the Waltham Manufacturing Company, is a good example of these. Graphic and colourful, it has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000.
Two posters by Toulouse-Lautrec are also included in the sale. The first is an 1896 design, one of two posters Lautrec designed for Simpson, a British bicycle company. His task was to devise an image advertising the company's new bicycle chains. Here, Lautrec depicts Jimmy Michael, a famous and race-winning British cyclist known for the toothpick he always kept between his teeth. The company's representative rejected the image because the pedals were not rendered accurately, so Lautrec had 200 copies printed at his own expense. A real rarity, it is estimated at $7,000 to $10,000.
The second Lautrec poster is his other design for Simpson, Titled La Chaîne Simpson and dating to 1900, it depicts a cycle race. The estimate is $1,000 to $1,500.
Adrien Barrère (1874-1931), another leading poster artist of the period, designed LIdéal du Touriste, an extremely scarce 1903 view of a woman on a bicycle, whose graphic appeal is enhanced by strong block colouring. Only one other copy is ever known to have been seen at auction. The estimate is $3,000 to $4,000.
Eugène Grasset (1841-1917) employed the Art Deco style to create Marque Georges Richard / Cycles & Automobiles, a circa-1897 design promoting one of the pioneering brands of the French car manufacturing industry, who also specialised in bicycles. It shows a pensive woman holding the handlebars in one hand and a four-leaf clover (the company's logo) in the other. The estimate is $2,500 to $3,500.
By contrast, Walter Thors (1870-1929) energetic vision of a lady cycling accompanied by a prancing dog is an inspired and dynamic, multi-coloured design dating to 1905 for the Peugeot company, a manufacturer who was to prove more successful than most in moving from bicycle into car production. The estimate is $2,000 to $3,000.
The unusual close-up of a cyclist at full pelt by the unknown designer PB, is full of life and colour, showing the subject with gritted teeth as they lean low over the handlebars. Offered in a group of three posters, the others being of a boxer and a jockey, together they are estimated at $800 to $1,200.
Live online bidding is available via the website at www.swanngalleries.com and on the Swann Galleries app, which means bidders from all over the world have direct access to the sale.
The Vintage Posters department, led by Swann President and Principal Auctioneer Nicholas D Lowry, conducts at least four sales per year: two broad Vintage Poster auctions that encompass a range of eras and styles, and specialized sales for Rare & Important Travel Posters and for Graphic Design, which offers Modernist posters and ephemera. As the only major auction house with a department dedicated to this field, Swann Galleries sales have become resources for collectors and scholars alike.