The Rise of Illustration Art in the Public Eye

Swann Galleries’ Illustration Art Director Christine von der Linn weighs in on the burgeoning category:

Illustration art has the ability to reach people in a way that many genres do not. It captures universal truths and crosses diverse cultural and social boundaries through visual storytelling. From cave paintings, through historical images, and into twenty-first-century cutting-edge digital animation, artists have always depicted their world through visual media.

Charles Addams, Movie Scream, pen, ink and watercolor cartoon for The New Yorker, 1947. Sold for $31,200.
Read More: Charles Addams—About an Cartoonist of Incongruous Charm

Expanding the Breadth of Illustration Art

Institutions, foundations, and museums, having expanded their understanding of how visual storytelling plays a role in our lives and history, are growing their collections rapidly. Newport Rhode Island’s National Museum of American Illustration, opened in 1998, was the first national museum to be devoted exclusively to American illustration artwork. And now, eager fans are awaiting the opening of The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Los Angeles, whose holdings will expand the breadth of illustration art to include digital art, cinematic art, and photography.

Changing Production Methods & Public Perception in Illustration

From Swann’s perspective, when visitors walk into our exhibitions, they inevitably find something that resonates personally, whether it be a favorite book or story from childhood, a cartoon, a sport, an event, a movie, a memory or a feeling. In preparing our sales, the stories that consignors and buyers share resonate with us and make our jobs meaningful—and incredibly fun.

Cataloguing History: Why we hold specialized auctions.

Ilonka Karasz, Chop Suey, gouache, cover illustration for The New Yorker, 1927. Sold for an auction record of $13,750.

Researching the pieces we offer often allows us to delve into historical and artistic knowledge that we love sharing in our descriptions. Illustration art can satisfy both pleasure and purpose: I recall a buyer who was determined to purchase a Madeline image by Ludwig Bemelmans for their grandchild’s room, thus bridging three generations of family for whom the books meant so much. Or, recently, a university was determined to acquire a rare work of African-American theatrical set design to expand their esteemed performing arts collection, and bring to light underrepresented performers and genres.

Al Hirschfeld, Paul Robeson as Othello, ink illustration for the 1943 Broadway production, published in The New York Times, 1942. Sold for $68,750.

Collecting the Works of Women Illustrators

Miriam Troop, Rain on Laundry Day, oil on canvas, color for The Saturday Evening Post, 1940. Sold for $40,000.

By offering these illustration art auctions, we are not only continuing Swann’s founding commitment to the arts and humanities, but are helping to preserve this timeless art for future generations. This spring finds us embarking on our twelfth auction of original illustration art, a direct response to an increasingly wider—and hungrier—audience of collectors, consignors, and institutions, who urged us to offer more narrative art back in 2012.

Christine von der Linn

Director, Illustration Art

(212) 254-4710 ext. 20

Consign Today

Erté, La Cage Improvisée, gouache, cover illustration for Harper’s Bazaar, 1922. Sold for $45,000.

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