By all accounts, Mary Blair was Walt Disneys favorite artist. She was a definite favorite, too, of the more than 4,100 worldwide bidders who pushed Heritage Auctions
June 19-21 Animation Art event past the $3.7 million mark, making it whats believed to be the single largest Animation Art sale ever.
Its certainly a record for a Heritage animation event, the third consecutive record-breaking Animation Art Auction for Heritage Auctions. And the $3.7 million realized was almost twice the pre-auction estimate.
Fourteen of the sales top 20 lots were painted by the expressionistic Blair, whose works have filled books and traveled in Disney-compiled exhibitions. For a decade, from 1943 to 1953, she worked for Disney and defined some of the studios finest works; she gave them their style, breathed into them their life. Blair saw the world in a fresh, new way, wrote her biographer John Canemaker, and brought a special childlike beauty and gaiety to the works of print, theme parks and movies.
That includes her conceptual painting for 1953s Peter Pan in which Peter and Tinker Bell lead Wendy, John and the Lost Boys through the jungles of neverland. That piece as fine as any art hanging in any museum, an epic narrative told in a single gouache the color of a verdant forest at shimmering sunset sold for $63,000.
Blairs mischievous conceptual painting of Alice and the Cheshire Cat, done for the 1951 film Alice in Wonderland, sold for only slightly less: $60,000.
But not all of Blairs offerings in the weekend event were cinematic: Her concept painting for the Its a Small World! exhibit at the 1964s Worlds Fair in New York City, in the UNICEF Pavilion, was another of the sales decided highlights. Its renown reproductions of this kaleidoscope of gold, green and purple decorate the lobby of the Disneyland resort in Anaheim helped elevate the works sale price to $45,600.
Blairs work for Disney was among the many centerpieces and masterpieces anchoring the June 19-21 sale.
Another was David Halls painting of Peter, Wendy, Nana and Michael aboard Captain Hooks Jolly Roger, a conceptual rendering done for Peter Pan way back in 1940. Only four years ago, Disney scholar Didier Ghez wrote in his book They Drew as They Pleased: The Hidden Art of Disney's Musical Years (The 1940s - Part One) that this freshly uncovered piece is without a doubt one of David Hall's masterpieces. Its price tag only underscores its artistic and historic value: $36,000.
I believe Heritage Auctions has brought front and center Animation Art as a true American art form in its own right, said Jim Lentz, Heritage Auctions Director of Animation Art. It mixes pop culture with some of the greatest artists and visionaries this country has ever produced Disney and Blair, yes, but also Eyvind Earle, Charles Schulz, Matt Groening and so many more included in this auction.
Disney led the way in this sale, but impressive results were seen from all studios with magnificent results from such iconic shows as A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch That Stole Christmas and The Simpsons not to mention the opening animation sequences from Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.
In fact, one of the events most impressive offerings came from
Dragons Lair, to be precise, the 1983 game created by pioneering animator Don Bluth. A pop-culture icon of sorts, Dragons Lair has lived more than a few lives, including, most recently, as a character of sorts on Netflixs Stranger Things. Perhaps this explains why the original artwork for a Dragons Lair promotional poster, originally estimated to sell for around $2,500, sold for $54,000.
The Simpsons actually set what appears to be a world record for a production cel from that long-running series certainly, for one featuring Barney and Linda Ronstadt. Thats right: A cel featuring the wildly unlikely twosome, from the classic fourth-season episode Mr. Plow, realized $24,000, which was a mere 32 times its pre-auction estimate.
And a production cel from the immortal A Charlie Brown Christmas sold for $38,400 after a round of spirited bidding. Whats notable about this result is that this work, like the cel from The Simpsons, doesnt feature the title character. It was taken from the specials opening sequence during which an ice-skating Snoopy leads the kids across a frozen pond.
Bidders hearts grew a few sizes when a production cel from Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas made an appearance this one, especially, featuring the blue-eyed green meanie from Mount Crumpit learning the true meaning of Christmas. A relative bargain at $11,400, as Christmas doesn't come from a store.
Two of TVs most magical creations also pulled some big numbers from thin air.
A group of two cels from the animated introduction to 1964s Bewitched, featuring Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens and Dick York as the First Darrin, sold for $13,200. And a hand-painted, hand-inked cel from the opening of 1965s I Dream of Jeannie blinked into existence $12,600.
There are countless other highlights from the June 19-21 Animation Art auction, including but by no means limited to:
Mickey Mouse as The Sorcerer's Apprentice in a Production Cel Courvoisier Setup From 1940s Fantasia: $36,000
A display of the Seven Dwarves made for the Disney Store in the 1990s: $43,200
A drawing from the 1914 short Gertie the Dinosaur by Little Nemo creator Winsor McCay: $12,000
Eyvind Earles concept art/color key background painting for 1959s Sleeping Beauty: $24,000
A Walt Disney-signed two-page letter to stockholders from 1941: $11,700
There were more than 1,600 pieces in Animation Auction event and in the end, every single piece but one sold during the auction. Lentz offers a good reason why.
I believe this auction was an auction of smiles, said Heritage Director of Animation Art. And we need to smile today more than ever.