From a lively New Deal-era fresco study to an illuminated Rauschenberg edition: our pick of the highlights from February’s sales

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Kindred McLeary, Study for fresco painting at the Madison Square Station Post Office (1937-39)

The Artists of the WPA, Swann Auction Galleries, New York, 16 February

Estimate: $2,500 to $3,500

“I wonder how many curious eyes have ogled McLeary’s frescoes while waiting to buy stamps or mail a package,” says Harold Porcher, the Modern and post-war director at Swann Auction Galleries. In the 1930s and 40s, the Treasury Section of Fine Arts commissioned a series of murals by Kindred McLeary (1901-49) for municipal buildings across the US, including Pittsburgh’s US Post Office and Courthouse and the Norwalk Post Office. This study is for the Madison Square Post Office series, titled Scenes of New York. The murals represent different New York neighbourhoods, with this lively scene depicting Harlem. “The rarity of McLeary’s artworks at auction only heightens the desirability of his works in the market,” Porcher says. “His attention to detail and flowing composition set McLeary apart from other lesser-known artists of the New Deal era.” He expects the study to catch the attention of “savvy WPA [Works Progress Administration]-era American art collectors”. He adds that the original mural is in Swann’s neighbourhood.

Courtesy of Bonhams

Mariano Rodriguez, Masas (1981)

Modern and Contemporary Cuban Art Sale, Bonhams, New York, 31 January-10 February

Estimate: $12,000 to $18,000

This vibrant scene is by the Cuban artist Mariano Rodriguez (1912-90), whose work frequently explored his country’s national identity. Following the closure of a major exhibition last month, this lot at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, this lot is likely to be on the radar of a growing field of collectors. “The geometric abstractions of Los Concretos artists, with their universality, have been driving much of the interest in the Cuban art market,” says Andrew Huber, the head of post-war and contemporary art at Bonhams, New York. “Yet there is strength elsewhere, including with the Vanguardia [Cuban avant-garde] artists such as Rodriguez. [This painting] is a late career example that is notable for its explicit illustration of national pride and identity. Whereas the aforementioned abstractions lack any obvious connection to the island aside from perhaps materials used, Rodriguez has foregrounded Cuba, dotting the canvas with Cuban flags. He has further laid bare his communist ideals by transforming a group of individuals into a swirling mass of colour and form.”

Courtesy of Christie’s

Three Charles II silver-gilt furnishing vases and covers (around 1670-80)

An Opulent Aesthetic: An Important Private Collection from an English Country House, Christie’s, London, 9 February

Estimate: £70,000 to £100,000

These ornate vases were created during the restoration of Charles II as King of England in 1660—a period in which the demand for ornate design grew. They encapsulate a number of features admired within the so-called “renaissance of English silversmithing”. Due to their lack of marks, they are likely to have been bespoke commissions, and are understood to have last been on the market in 1919, when they were sold as part of the Earl of Home’s estate sale. “Seventeenth-century silver furnishing vases are rare,” says Adrian Hume-Sayer, director of private collections and country house sales at Christie’s, which is presenting the pieces in a broader sale featuring works from an unnamed English country house. He adds that “although this sale is being sold anonymously, the interiors in which the items are illustrated give context and appeal to buyers”. The total presale estimate for the auction is “in excess of £3m”.

Courtesy of Phillips

Robert Rauschenberg, Sling-Shot Lit #4 (1985)

Editions and Works on Paper, Phillips, New York, 15 February

Estimate: $10,000 to $15,000

This illuminated, changeable assemblage work made from lithographs and sailcloth comes from an editioned series first displayed at the now-closed B.R. Kornblatt Gallery in Washington, DC, in 1985. Numbered 10/25, it arrives to auction from a “West Coast Collection”. A Washington Post article published at the time the series debuted notes how the “individual elements of each ‘Sling Shot’—mixed media, Pop-style imagery and audience participation—have formed the basis of Rauschenberg’s ground-breaking art for several decades.” Phillips has previously offered Sling-Shot works at auction, most recently in 2020, when Lit #2 sold for $27,500 (with fees). However, some “rare-edition” Sling Shot works have been offered for as much as $65,000 on online marketplaces such as Artsy.

Photo: Stephane Briolant. © Hergé/Tintinimaginatio 2023

Hergé (Georges Remi), Tintin in America (1942)

The World of Hergé, Tintin’s Creator, Artcurial, Paris, 10 February

Estimate: €2.2m to €3.2m

The familiarity of this unique cover page for the Tintin in America album of 1942 has attracted fans since it was first created 80 years ago. The drawing is from the third volume in the famous series, which has been translated into 100 languages over the years and depicts the intrepid Belgian reporter setting off to the US. The sale will likely prove testament to the comfortable spot that comic art now occupies on the art circuit. “Given that there is only one album cover (against 62 plates within the colour album itself), the rarity of this piece is widely understood,” says Artcurial’s Éric Leroy. He adds that the “comic book market is doing well, especially Hergé, who remains a reference in the field”.

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