Examining Edward Gorey’s Market

Edward Gorey is having a moment. Gorey has had many of these over the years—he was the quintessential multifaceted artist/illustrator/author who remains many things to many people: a master of sinister stories yet a tender messenger of human tales; a brilliant, quirky playwright and producer of stage works, a puppeteer, a devoted ballet fan, and a prolific graphic designer. He could draw, sew, etch, and craft most anything: Martha Stewart has nothing on Edward Gorey. Recently, more of his books, ephemera, and artwork have hit the market and collectors are fired up.

Swann has been instrumental in raising his market by bringing some of his most iconic original artwork to auction and has bested his record price again and again.

Almost Apotheotic: A Scholarly Fan Base Like No Other

A few things have prompted this recent uptick in interest in Gorey. Much of this can be credited to the ongoing efforts and outreach of Edward Gorey House, the artist’s home in Cape Cod which serves as a museum and puts on fascinating exhibitions of his work and personal possessions.

Then there’s the Edward Gorey Charitable Trust, which owns the copyrights to all the artist’s works and manages the estate, art, and archives. It recently expanded and plans to open its doors to researchers. The Trust also ensures that funds go to support the animal welfare causes that Gorey championed.

Swann is honored to help these efforts when teaming with TEGCT:

Media coverage blossomed again with the bestselling 2018 biography by Mark Dery, Born to be Posthumous: The Eccentric Life and Mysterious Genius of Edward Gorey, which touched on his childhood, his extraordinary output and collaborations.

Gorey’s fans are passionate and love him with deep devotion. The common thread among them is an appreciation for his droll wit and irresistible characters like Figbash, Mr. Earbrass, the Doubtful Guest, his dashing Flappers and hapless children. There is even the annual “Edwardian Ball” whose guests – many of whom sport tattoos of Gorey figures peeking from the flesh under their goth gowns—call him their “Patron Saint.” And now fans can soon enjoy his work on the screen. Currently underway are a movie adaptation of The Doubtful Guest, a series produced by AMC based on Neglected Murderesses, and a feature-length documentary with live footage from his last years.  

Gorey’s Worlds — Edward Gorey’s Influences

What about Gorey’s own tastes? He bequeathed his personal collection—what he loved, collected, and was influenced by—to The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. Their brilliant 2018 exhibition Gorey’s Worlds blew up the idea that it was only English art, Victoriana, and the macabre that piqued his wild mind.

It was French art and photography (Manet! Atget!), Japanese Ukiyo-e, modern, and contemporary art, like Balthus and Burchfield, that grabbed him. Of course, American folk art, animal studies, Surrealist works, and objects—in fact, lots of quirky objects and ephemera—also graced the rooms, contextualizing the full breadth of his 50-year output.

Edward Gorey, Haunted America, ink, pencil and watercolor, 1990. Sold January 2015 in Illustration Art for $10,000.

The Wadsworth Atheneum purchased Haunted America from Swann in 2015 which was included in Gorey’s Worlds alongside the artist’s own exhibited works. Through exploring these inroads both the dedicated collector and curious enthusiast alike can gain a strong sense of Gorey’s vast oeuvre.

The “Gorey” Details — What to Look for When Buying an Original Edward Gorey Artwork

So what do Gorey collectors look for when buying his original artwork? They seek examples of his most iconic imagery which, given his disparate subjects and interests, is a wide field. The highest prices achieved tend to be for anything relating to his most successful commercial work.

Topping that list is the macabre imagery of Dracula! Or Mystery! with its bats, cemeteries, and femmes fatales, his ballet and theater images (see the Amphigorey set pieces above), and, without a doubt, anything relating to his love of cats. He thought of his feline companions as family and kindred spirits; they served as artistic inspiration and appeared in his artwork with great frequency.

In addition to those themes, the more detailed the image, the more desirable and valuable it tends to be. One of Gorey’s hallmarks is the exquisite intricacy and meticulousness of his ink work: the wallpaper and fabric patterns, the shadow effects, the decoration. He loved tight composition and the miniature which he peppered with dashes of trompe l’oeil.

Colored works are also uncommon. Gorey confessed that he never felt entirely comfortable applying color and preferred pops of bright, sometimes startling pigments that served as their own bold statement. These were often set off by muted hues to exaggerate the juxtaposition.

This trifecta of cats, fancy inkwork, and color play united in the original cover art created circa 1993 for The New Yorker. It was hidden for decades in the magazine’s archives, rediscovered, and finally published December 10, 2018, prompted by the acclaim of Dery’s book and once again evincing Gorey’s cyclical revivals.

Christine von der Linn Talks Edward Gorey’s Cat Fancy with The Hot Bid

Because he was so surehanded, it is always fascinating to see Gorey’s edits. Several artworks reveal pencil sketching around the inked image, correction fluid, or occasionally, an actual paste-over with a redrawn detail as shown in this Publisher’s Weekly cover artwork: where you can see the patch to the plaid trousers of the man on the far right. Beneath the flap was an originally inked and anatomically awkward kneecap that Gorey could not accept. These discoveries are always wondrous for cataloguers and help us understand his process and perfectionism.

Related Reading: Collectors on Collecting: Sam Speigel on Collecting Edward Gorey

Edward Gorey’s Enduring Popularity

Edward Gorey, You’ve Written Me to No Avail…, postcard art. To be offered in our June sale of Illustration Art. Estimate $4,000 to $6,000.

Ultimately, what would Gorey think of his enduring popularity, his status as an icon of illustration? He would likely be flattered if a bit puzzled. His fan base was already growing steadily by the 1980s. To assuage his guilt at not being able to answer the growing influx of fan mail, he created a response postcard which he had printed, would hand sign within its fancy banner, and mail back. It, too, contained his favorite tropes: a languid cat sitting upon a Japanese urn of letters overflowing onto a patterned carpet, both camouflaged by the elaborate wallpaper and drapery (with tassels of course!). A voice bubble above the cat delivers the contrite-yet-candid message: “You’ve written me to no avail, Because I never read my mail.”

Edward Gorey’s celebrity, so much like his beloved character the Doubtful Guest, who also first appeared standing atop an urn one day, “has shown no intention of going away.” 

Related Reading: Where He Crosses Over: Edward Gorey Posters & Postcards

Do you have original artwork by Edward Gorey we should take a look at?

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