2020: Year in Review

In a year that was unlike any in our lifetimes, Swann’s specialists and staff proved to be as resilient and innovative as ever, bringing forward new and safe ways to hold live auctions, while remaining consistent in delivering quality works to the auction block. 2020 saw numerous auction records as well as an impressive array of artist debuts across our specialized roster of sales.

The year opened with the triumphant white-glove sale of the Johnson Publishing Company’s art collection, which boasted 29 new auction records, 22 of which were for market newcomers. In February we offered a complete run of first editions of Jane Austen‘s published novels in original period bindings—the beloved novels were won by a single collector on the Swann App after competitive bidding between various parties. On March 10 we held our final sale of the old era: Printed & Manuscript Americana, which brought forth excellent printings of The Book of Mormon and The Bay Psalm Book. In May we debuted our “new normal” of online-only Zoom auctions with Printed & Manuscript African Americana. Our return to the auction podium was met by eager collectors and clients who quickly embraced our new methods, specifically the Swann App. June saw Daile Kaplan host her final photographs and photobooks sale at Swann after an influential 30-year tenure with the house. Deborah Rogal stepped into the role of director after 15 years with the company. June also brought the 20th anniversary of specialized Graphic Design / Modernist Posters sales at Swann—this year’s edition delivered 10 new records. In August we closed out the summer with our second iteration of the LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History sale, which turned out auction records for Tom of Finland and Michael Leonard and offered historic material by David Wojnarowicz.

Shortly thereafter, we opened the fall season on September 17 with American Art bringing works by Grandma Moses and Emil Bisttram to the block. In October, senior specialist Devon Eastland held her first solo sale at Swann with Early Printed Books, earning a 92% sell-through rate and far surpassing the sale’s high estimate. November was busy for our prints and drawings department with Old Master Through Modern Prints boasting an auction record for Louis Lozowick, and Contemporary Art offering works from the collection of Stephen Poleskie, founder of the Chiron Press. The success of our perennial auction of Rare & Important Travel Posters saw 80% of the lots selling with records set of over half a dozen pieces—perhaps a reflection of a world stuck at home, unable to travel. December saw the debut of Modern & Post-War Art with Swann’s newest specialist, Harold Porcher, at the helm—Hedda Sterne was the star of the sale, which established a new auction record for Sterne. We concluded the year with a successful sale of Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books on December 17.

Below we share some of the highlights from our year.

 

African American Art

 
Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled, detail, seven panels of framed chromogenic prints and sandblasted text on glass, 1996-97. Sold January 30, in African-American Art from the Johnson Publishing Company, for $305,000, a record for the artist.
 
Richmond Barthé, Feral Benga, cast bronze, with a dark brown patina, modeled in 1935, cast in 1986. Sold June 4 in African American Art for $629,000, a record for the artist.
 
Charles Alston, Black and White #8, oil on canvas, 1961. Sold December 17 in African American Art for $197,000 a record for the artist.
 

Related Reading: The Elegant Sculpture of Richmond Barthé


American Art

 
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, Happy Days, oil on masonite, 1961. Sold September 17 in American Art for $81,250.
 

Books & Manuscripts

 

Autographs


     

Related Reading: Autographs & History Part I & Part II


Literature & Art Books


 
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: A Novel, first edition, three volumes, in original period binding, 1813. Sold February 20 in Fine Books & Manuscripts for $100,000.
   

Early Printed Books


   
Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, London, 1633. Earliest extant edition of this antiauthoritarian Elizabethan play. Sold October 27 in Early Printed Books for $149,000.
 
Book of Hours with Illuminated Miniatures, France, mid-15th century. Sold October 27 in Early Printed Books for $62,500.
 

Related Reading: As Seen in Books: A Glossary for Items Found in the Pages of Early Printed Books


Contemporary Art

 
Helen Frankenthaler, Hermes, color Mixografía, 1989. Sold November 19 in Contemporary Art for $47,500, a record for the print.
 

Related Reading: Abstract Art: 1940s Through Now


Illustration Art

   

LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History

 
Tom of Finland, Fucker, graphite on paper, 1965. Sold August 13 in LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History for $55,000, a record for the artist.
 
David Wojnarowicz, Untitled (Genet with Dog), mixed media collage. Sold August 13 in LGBTQ+ Art, Material Culture & History for $27,500.
 

Related Reading: David Wojnarowicz: A Heightened State of Activism


Maps & Atlases

   
John Woodhouse Audubon, California Gray Squirrel, oil on canvas, circa 1853. Sold December 17 in Maps & Atlases, Natural History & Color Plate Books for $42,500.
 

Modern & Post-War Art

 
Hedda Sterne, Untitled, oil on canvas, 1962. Sold December 3 in Modern & Post-War Art for $100,000, a record for the artist.
 
David Hare, Figure in the Windows, braised steel weldment, 1955. Sold December 3 in Modern & Post-War Art for $93,750, a record for the artist.
 
Mary Abbott, Untitled, oil and pencil on paper. Sold December 3 Modern & Post-War Art for $30,000, a record for the artist.
 

Photographs & Photobooks

 
Margaret Bourke-White, The George Washington Bridge, warm-toned silver print, 1933. Sold February 25 in Classic & Contemporary Photographs for $81,250.
   

Related Reading: The Making of a Portrait: Michael Halsband’s Photograph of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat


Printed & Manuscript African Americana

 
E. Simms Campbell, A Night-Club Map of Harlem, featured in the inaugural issue of Manhattan: A Weekly for Wakeful New Yorkers, 1933. Sold May 7 in Printed & Manuscript African Americana for $27,500, a record for the map.
 
17th year Afro-American’s Travel Guide, Baltimore, 1957. Sold May 7 in Printed & Manuscript African Americana for $27,500, a record for the publication.
 

Printed & Manuscript Americana

 
The Bay Psalm Book, Cambridge, printed for Hezekiah Usher of Boston, circa 1648-65. Sold March 10 in Printed & Manuscript Americana for $62,500.
   

Prints & Drawings

 

19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings


 
Mary Cassatt, Gathering Fruit, drypoint, circa 1893. Sold March 5 in 19th & 20th Century Prints & Drawings for $35,000.
 

Old Master Through Modern Prints


 
Erich Heckel, Männerbildnis, color woodcut, 1919. Sold May 21 in Old Master Through Modern Prints for $62,500.
 
Louis Lozowick, New York, lithograph, circa 1925. Sold November 12 in Old Master Through Modern Prints for $81,250, a record for the artist.
 

Related Reading: Artist Profile: Louis Lozowick


Vintage Posters

   
Arnost Hofbauer, Hana Kvapilova Recitace, 1899. Sold February 13 in Vintage Posters for $8,125, a record for the artist.
 

Related Reading: A Puerto Rican Archive of Graphic Design


Graphic Design / Modernist Posters


 
Charles Loupot, Ch. Philippossian Automobiles / Genève, 1920. Sold June 18 in Graphic Design / Modernist Posters for $137,000, a record for the artist.
 

Rare & Important Travel Posters


 
Paul George Lawler, San Francisco – Hawaii Overnight / Via Pan Am – To the Orient, 1939. Sold October 15 in Rare & Important Travel Posters for $21,250, a record for the artist.
 

Consign with Swann