Of Provenance & Peter Rabbit

Christine von der Linn, Swann’s Art & Illustrated Books expert, shares some insight into this week’s 20th Century Illustration auction:

One of the challenges of putting together a sale of original illustration art is the research and time that goes into determining the authenticity of a work. Knowledge of previous ownership–i.e. provenance–is helpful and interesting to buyers but is also very important in cases where forgery or theft may be a concern. 

There are famous forgers, such as Yves Chaudron who notoriously faked the Mona Lisa (more than once!) and Han van Meegeren, who duped the Nazis into buying his Vermeers and was the subject of many books on the forgery of famous Old Master paintings. But, some “artists” have found much easier targets, faking the signatures and drawings of collectible 20th-century artists and illustrators. These thieves cleverly construct their fraudulent works after the death of artists to avoid any dispute by their creators. One recent case is that surrounding Maurice Sendak, the great children’s book illustrator and author most famous for Where the Wild Things Are, who died in 2012.

This Thursday, Swann is proud to offer original drawings by Sendak, all with stellar provenance. Most come from the private collection of Peter Caponera. When Sendak and his partner, Eugene Glynn, moved to their country home in Ridgefield, Connecticut in 1972, Caponera became their gardener and groundskeeper at the request of the previous tenants. They befriended him and his sister, Lynn, then still a child–who would become the artist’s trusted aide. The four remained very close over the years and the Caponeras were at Sendak’s bedside when he died on May 8, 2012.

Lot 215 is a charming watercolor of Peter Rabbit, Inscribed “For Peter” to Caponera, chosen by Sendak both for the recipient’s name and as an homage to the artist’s greatest influence, Beatrix Potter, for whom he had great respect and admiration. 

Lot 216 is a later edition of Where the Wild Things Are with an amusing ink drawing of “Wild Thing” monster Moise donning a sweater with the letter “P” (for Peter) and holding a robust plant, a nod to Caponera’s green thumb. 

Caponera’s collection includes additional Sendak titles with inscriptions and drawings of famous characters from his books.

Lot 219 is a first German edition of Wild Things with an adorable drawing inscribed to musicologist Robert W. Gutman who wrote the first important biography of Richard Wagner. Sendak, a great fan of opera, depicted Max, in his wolf suit, singing from the score of Das Rheingold with the inscription “thank you for all the great Wagner!”