Monday, 25 September 2006

Picasso - pictures for the price of a print

Lot 143
by Christopher Proudlove©
It's possible to pick up a Pablo Picasso print on an Internet site selling posters for £7.99. At the time of writing, a quick check on eBay revealed around 300 currently up for auction, some with a "Buy It Now" option for as little as £4.99. They were all probably printed yesterday. How then do you explain the fact that the print with the lady riding sidesaddle illustrated here sold for £1,650. Or indeed that the other two, at the foot of this page, fetched just £700 and £620 respectively. What makes the conundrum even more difficult to understand is that the auctioneer estimated the value of each of them before the sale at £200-300.

No, I don't know either, but I have a theory. At the spring sale of Impressionist art at Sotheby's in New York, Picasso's portrait of his mistress Dora Maar with her black cat perched on her shoulder sold for £51.6 million. The price that was more than twice the estimate and made the work the second most expensive painting in auction history. The ripple effect spread across the entire art market and Picassos flooded onto the market, one dealer reportedly taking 25 of the artist's works to Switzerland's Art Basel fair last week and selling three of them on the first day.

London's blockbuster Impressionist sales in June were awash with them as owners tried to cash in their investments. At Sotheby's, two of the top 10 most valuable paintings in the sale were by Picasso: an oil on canvas titled The Painter and His Model, done in 1963, sold for £7.4 million, while an oil on board painted in 1901 and showing elegantly dressed racegoers, titled "Les Courses à Auteuil", sold for £2.6 million.

Perhaps it was coincidence that the trio of Picasso prints appeared in a provincial sale when they did, but they were received enthusiastically and made the estimates look woefully inadequate. The three coloured lithographs came from the artist's "Toros Y Toreros" (Bulls and Bullfighters" Series and were titled respectively: “The Bull Ring of Arles”; “The Bull Fight” and “Jacqueline on horseback”.

Picasso’s fascination with the bullfight started when he was a young boy in Malaga. His childhood notebooks from school are filled with sketches of matadors, bullrings, and picadors. Interestingly, the first oil ever created by the young artist was of a matador (1889-1890) and the bullfight remained an important theme that Picasso continued to explore throughout his creative years.

Naturally, a unique work by Picasso is out of the reach of all but the mega-rich, but prints remain affordable - at least for the time being. But there are prints and there are prints. The three illustrated dated from the 1950s and were early impressions of limited editions which in each case numbered just 125. And most importantly, they were signed by the artist himself. This fact alone confers huge significance on the value. Literally hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Picasso prints are in existence, but not all of them bear his signature which in effect, was his seal of approval.

The trio were originally retailed by the London dealers Templeton & Rawling, whose gallery was based in Kendal Street W2. Each print was accompanied by its authentication certificate, and all three were framed and ready to hang on the wall. Each was a potential prize for a Picasso aficionado with champagne taste but beer pocket money.

Dramatic image

Most valuable of the three, "Jacqueline on Horseback" was an early number 27 in the edition. Another clue to its significance was the impressed the date on the plate which read 10.3.59. "The Bullfight", also numbered 27 in the edition, was an altogether more dramatic image, showing the matador being tossed head over heels by the bull which stands on its hind legs. It sold for £700, while the altogether more childlike and sketchy "The Bullring of Arles", again number 27 in the edition, was cheapest and £620.

Clearly, there is more to buying Picasso prints than it first might appear. Picasso was a prolific printmaker, using all the different techniques to master the art. His lithographs, etchings, drypoints, lino cuts, woodcuts and aquatints were all experiments aimed at pushing the boundaries further and further. Indeed, some of Picasso's graphic works are combinations of several techniques, which really tested his printmaker's skills.

A series of 15 drypoints and etchings called Les Saltimbanques (The street acrobats) were Picasso's first venture into printmaking in 1905 and the results were published by the dealer Vollard in 1913. More followed in the early 1930s but it was not until after the Second World War that most of Picasso's prints were created.

From 1945 to 1949 he produced a massive body of about 200 lithographs working in close co-operation with Henri Deschamps, a professional printmaker from the Mourlot studio, a renowned art publisher and print workshop in Paris.

Prices vary wildly. In May this year, Christie's New York sold an etching and aquatint done in 1938 and titled "Girl with Tambourine" for £401,800. It was signed in pencil and numbered number 17 from an edition of 30, but as we have seen, 1950s signed Picasso prints can be purchased for a fraction of the price.

Prints from large editions, made after the artist's death and obviously therefore unsigned, but still by skilled printmakers copying his drawings as their base material are still highly collectable though not necessarily good vehicles for investment. The ones to avoid are those that purport to have been signed by the master but whose signatures are also copies and engraved onto the plates from which the prints are produced.

Or you could just buy them anyway because they look great in any trendy minimalist setting when framed and hung together. And when you get bored with them you simply throw them away and replace them with new, cheap alternatives.

Pictures show, top: "Jacqueline on horseback”, which sold for £1,650

Above, left: "The Bull Ring of Arles", which sold for £620 and "The Bull Fight", which sold for £700

Lot 141Lot 142

numly esn 75955-060925-676689-46

© 2006 All Rights Reserved.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, 6 September 2006

Leonardo notebooks go online and available for download

A newly-released website, makes available the entire content of Leonardo da Vinci's 14th century notes. Renaissance humanism saw no mutually exclusive polarities between the sciences and the arts, and as impressive and innovative as Leonardo's artistic work are his studies in science and engineering, recorded in notebooks comprising some 13,000 pages of notes and drawings, which fuse art and science. The downloadable text is available in pdf format and has been reformatted for ease of download from the original to just over 1,100 pages. And to think Bill Gates paid $16 million for his copy.


Sunday, 3 September 2006

Barbie for sale: the story behind the ‘biggest collection in the world’

Barbie No 1

Like most of the bargains I buy on impulse, I knew it would come in useful eventually. We were browsing in a shop selling remaindered books and on the basis that one day I felt sure I would need to write about collecting Barbie dolls, the big, glossy pink encyclopaedic guide to the subject at half the recommended retail price was a must-have. That was five years ago. Since then "The Collectible Barbie Doll" by Janine Fennick has sat on my bookshelf gathering dust.

The news that top auctioneers Christie's are to sell "one of the most significant and complete collections of Barbie dolls ever to come onto the market" meant my bookshop investment was about to pay dividends. My only regret, judging by the estimates in the Christie's sale, was not investing in a stash of the dolls themselves. But believe me, buying the book was embarrassing enough.

Fact is, the September 26 auction will offer some 4,000 dolls representing what is thought to be the largest privately-owned collection in the world. It spans the entire history of Barbie, her family, friends and fashion during the second half of the 20th-century. The collection is expected to realise more than £100,000.

Until I delved into the pages of "Collectible Barbie", I had no idea just how complex Barbie's world was. In a generation, the 11 and a half-inch vinyl child's doll became an international icon. But although she was originally advertised as A Teenage Fashion Model, Barbie was inspired by something about as far away from a child's toy that it's possible to get.

Americans toy manufacturers Ruth Handler and her husband Elliot were on holiday in Europe with their children Barbara and Ken, when they saw in a shop in Switzerland a provocative novelty doll intended for men. The doll was called Bild Lili and was based on the sexy character of the same name in a cartoon strip in the German newspaper Bild.

In 1945, Elliott and his business partner, Harold "Matt" Matson had formed a small company, calling it "Mattel" by combining their names. At first they made picture frames but soon realised that toys were more lucrative. Ruth Handler was later to become president of the company. She saw Bild Lili's commercial potential and purchased several examples, each in a different outfit, to take home.

The inspiration came to her as she watched her daughter play with paper dolls. Rather than pretending they were babies, little Barbara was imagining them in grown-up roles. As a result, Ruth decided to make a doll based on a young woman that little girls could dream about becoming. Barbie, named after Barbara, was unveiled by Mattel at New York's annual Toy Fair in February 1959.

Initial skepticism resulted in poor orders from toy and department store buyers but during the first year of production, 351,000 dolls were sold. There was also criticism. Detractors said Barbie's voluptuous figure was based on male fantasy. Ruth stuck to her guns but over the years, Barbie underwent a gradual change to reflect changes in standard and current fashion.

The first-ever Barbie had V -shaped eyebrows and vivid red lips and nails. Wearing a black and white striped knitted swimsuit, she looks distinctly similar to Bild Lili. However, the late 1950s saw the beginning of the trend that still strongly influences today's designers and Barbie and her wardrobe encapsulated this perfectly.

She started following fashion and teenage lifestyle trends, eventually becoming known for blazing her own fashion trail. The Christie's sale charts her progress. A Barbie Number 1 is estimated at £800-1,200 but later on in 1959, she wore designer outfits such as "Gay Parisienne" which featured the famous "balloon-line skirt" conceived by Hubert de Givenchy (estimate: £400-600), while in 1960, "Sweater Girl" featured a knitted twin-set reminiscent of Lana Turner's skirt and sweater appeal, (estimate: £80-100).

Barbie Trivia
  • Ruth Handler was born Ruth Mosko on November 4 1916 in Denver, Colorado the daughter of Polish immigrant parents. She died on 27th April 2002 in Los Angeles, California.
  • Barbie's boyfriend Ken is named after Ruth Handler's son
  • Barbie has had more than 95 careers - from rock star to palaeontologist and Presidential candidate
  • The first Barbie doll sold for $3
  • Barbie is sold in more than 150 countries.
  • Three Barbie Dolls are sold somewhere in the world every second
  • Barbie has represented 45 different nationalities
  • Barbie has had over 43 pets including 21 dogs, 14 horses, three ponies, six cats, a parrot, a chimpanzee, a panda, a lion cub, a giraffe and a zebra
  • Barbie's full name is Barbie Millicent Roberts
  • Over one billion outfits and pairs of shoes have been produced since 1959 for Barbie and her friends, using 105 million yards of fabric

Coco Chanel's influence can clearly be seen in "Fashion Luncheon" (c. 1966) featuring a Jackie Kennedy-style suit (estimate: £80-100), and "Solo in the Spotlight" featuring a Balenciaga-inspired gown from a design in 1951 (estimate: £70-100).
Other highlights from this important era include "Enchanted Evening" inspired by Grace Kelly's sumptious evening gown which she was photographed wearing in Life Magazine, January 1956, (estimate: £60- 80).

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw Barbie following the trends of London's pop culture and taking inspiration from the "Flower Power" movement. Mattel even produced a "Twiggy" Barbie inspired by the waif-like style icon in 1967 (estimate:£80-100). Barbie fashions included "palazzo pajama" pant suits, the zany glitz of the "disco" era, hot pants, mini-skirts and flares.

By the 1980s, Barbie's original fans had reached their twenties and thirties, and Barbie collecting began to attract adults as well as little girls and in the 1990s, some of the world's most famous designers such as Bob Mackie, Givenchy, Versace, Vera Wang, Dolce & Gabbana and Christian Dior began creating fashions specially for the toy, setting a new standard with over-the-top glamour for Barbie featuring stunning gowns of sequins and beads.

The Christie's collection is being sold by Ietje Raebel, herself a part time fashion designer who was born in Utrecht in 1921. She started buying the dolls in the early 1960s, originally as playthings for her daughter Marina, but her love of clothes and fashion took over and she began to collect Barbie herself.

Once Marina was a teenager, she joined her mother in collecting virtually every Barbie in existence, both vintage and current examples on the market at the time. Between them, they amassed the largest Barbie collection in private hands.

It was Ietje Raebel's dream to turn their collection into a private museum, but she succumbed to Alzheimer's disease in 2002 and the dream has never been realised.

The sale is at Christie's South Kensington and is one of a series being marketed as 20th Century Week (Click here for the online catalogue). Other sales include: 20th Century British and European Decorative Arts (Tuesday September 26); Vintage Film Posters; Modern Decorative Prints and 20th Century Fashion and Accessories (Wednesday September 27) and Modern Design (Thursday September 28).

Picture shows: The first ever Barbie, dating from 1959. She's estimated at £800-1,200 in the Christie's sale

© 2006 All Rights Reserved.

Labels: , ,