It won't surprise fans of illustration that the largest collection of Beatrix Potter's work resides with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and that when one of Potter's drawings does manage to find its way to auction, it tends to sell for above its estimate. Potter, the grande dame of children's book illustration, took the world by storm in 1902 with the release of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and her reputation as the most significant artist in this beloved category holds strong to this day. She was a prolific albeit discriminating producer, and it's a rare day that one of her original drawings becomes available to the determined collector.
How about three drawings? The three illustrations from Potter's There was an Old Woman Who lived in a Shoe, circa 1917, are ink and watercolor on paper and encompass all the coziness and wit of Potter's oeuvre. They are among the top offerings in Heritage
's October 6 Illustration Art Signature ® Auction, which is packed with gems from this Golden Age of illustration, as well as favorites from the pulp and pin-up genres.
Of these particular Potter drawings, writes Anne Stevenson Hobbs, onetime Curator of Children's Literature at the Victoria and Albert Museum: This three-page rhyme sequence comprises six of eight lines (in Beatrix Potter's hand) and three pictures: a running mouse; a mother mouse with babies and cradle; and a white mouse lying in bed. Mice proliferate in most of Beatrix Potter's early rhyme pictures, often charmingly clothed but still mouse-like. She became especially fond of mice. I shall be glad to get done with the rabbits,' she declared... . Animals tucked up in bed, sick or sleeping, were a favorite subject.
Says Meagen McMillan, Heritage's Senior Director of Illustration Art: Nursery rhymes are the first narratives we are introduced to as children the images opposite them often hold tangible nostalgia. We are thrilled to be offering this outstanding example of a timeless verse from Beatrix Potter, one of the greatest Golden Age illustrators and storytellers.
Other significant lots from the Golden Age of illustration include perhaps the most significant comic bellwether of our still-new digital age, the 1993 New Yorker cartoon known as One the internet, nobody knows you're a dog by the great Peter Steiner. Another New Yorker favorite, Charles Addams, has two cartoons in this event: the watercolor Fantastic Feast from the Addams Family Illustration (the dining guest does not look particularly happy with his main course, presented to him in the bowels of a castle), and a New Yorker illustration from 1940, Congratulations, It's a Baby!, which was included in the National Academy of Design retrospective for Addams in 1992. Also from the Golden Age: four lyrical takes from the ever-popular Edward Gorey, including his 1964 Filboid Studge (another dinner guest looking skeptical) from 1964's The Unrest-Cure & Other Stories, a book re-released by The New York Review of Books in 2013.
Pin-ups have been a mainstay of the illustration art category since Alberto Vargas captured the attention of the entertainment world way back in 1919 his come-hither portraits of solo women set an industry standard that still resonates, and his work from his days at Esquire, Playboy and beyond are collector favorites. Nearly a dozen of his works are in this auction, headed by two that show his considerable range: His full-color, fully-fleshed painting Spanish Lace from 1928 combines intricate detail with Deco styling in a breathtaking portrait of a dark-haired beauty; and the winning blond in his Esquire calendar illustration from December 1946 epitomizes his erotic sensibility and reminds us of why Vargas was in such high demand for most of the 20th century. Another pin-up giant of yesteryear, Gil Elvgren, has a solid handful of works in this event, most notably an oil-on-canvas winkingly titled Bird's-Eye View (Well-built), from 1955, which introduces us to a smiling siren looking straight at the viewer; she's just finished building a birdhouse which she displays proudly as the hammer in her right hand catches her skirt. It's Elvgren at his cheeky best.
The pulp arena in illustration art is going strong and getting stronger as a new cohort of collectors joins veteran collectors in their nostalgia-laden appreciation of the form. The work of book-cover artist Alex Schomburg is in high demand among sci-fi, fantasy and adventure buffs, and with good reason: Schomberg's tight, clean, high-color illustrations are classics of the form, and the five Schomberg works in this event are led by his 1954 gouache-on-board dust-jacket cover for Paul Capon's The World at Bay (with the UFO invasion underway) as well as his cover for Arthur C. Clarke's The Challenge of the Sea from 1960.Horror is of course a significant chunk of pulp illustration fandom, and Greg Staples' striking and moody original portraits ofFrankenstein's Monster andFrankenstein's Bride, from 2020 and 2021,will be reproduced in this year's upcoming Illustrators Quarterly issue 41. These two oil-on-paper depictions beautifully preserve our classic ideas of the anguished monster and his reluctant bride. Drew Struzan's illustrations that capture the Star Wars universe are always popular, and Heritage presents three in this event, including this wonderfully impressionistic portrait of a young Jedi carrying his exacting master in Luke Skywalker and Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. It takes you right back to 1980 and Luke's (and our) first introduction to the oldest and most powerful Jedi, and the beginning of a fandom that endures.