Caricaturist’s portraits up for bid
NEW YORK (AP) — A toothy, grinning Liberace, drawn for the cover of Colliers magazine in 1954. A swivel-hipped Elvis Presley. A sly, bow-tied Bob Hope. Jack Benny, complete with violin.
And we haven’t even gotten to such theater icons as Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Laurence Olivier and Stephen Sondheim.
They are among the portraits of show-biz celebrities by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld to be sold Thursday, in an auction devoted solely to Hirschfeld’s work, said Swann Auction Galleries which is holding the event. The sale will include Hirschfeld drawings, prints, books, letters and movie posters.
Hirschfeld died in January at age of 99 as preparations for the auction were under way.
For nearly 70 years, Hirschfeld’s theater drawings appeared in the drama pages of The New York Times, and his work appeared in many other publications, too, from Playbill to TV Guide. His drawings are in the collections of several major institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, both in New York City. In June, Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre was renamed for Hirschfeld.
All 128 items for sale Thursday are from private collections, says George Lowry, Swann chairman. Much of the material came from a retired Cleveland automobile dealer, who has been collecting Hirschfelds since the 1940s, Lowry added.
“The very best items are original drawings that are in color — such as the Bob Hope or the Liberace,” Lowry says. The Liberace drawing was expected to fetch between $8,000 and $12,000, while the Hope caricature was pegged at between $10,000 and $15,000, according to catalog estimates.
Among the more unusual works is a watercolor done by Hirschfeld during a two-month stay in Tahiti in 1931. It features palm trees and a grass hut, a most un-Hirschfeldlike creation, although his distinct signature is readily visible in the work’s upper right-hand corner. Its sale price was estimated at between $15,000 and $20,000.
Also for sale is a pen-and-ink drawing entitled “Broadway at Night,” done in 1943, and which celebrates a crowded, wartime Times Squares filled with soldiers, sailors, theatergoers, panhandlers and even a nun.
Lowry says the estimated prices were determined by when the works were published, where they were published, how important the subject was and whether the work was in color. “And obviously, early drawings are more valuable than the more recent drawings,” he says.
George Lowry’s son, Swann president Nicholas Lowry, cautions that the prices listed in the catalog were only estimates.
“No matter what we tell you, someone may walk in the door who loves Groucho Marx, for example, more than anything else in the world and will pay whatever it takes to get it,” Nicholas Lowry says.