Past Auction

The Hirschfeld Sale Surpasses Expectations at Doyle New York

Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 10am EDT |
New York
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Over 100 Lots from the Collection of Famed Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld

  • Over 100 Lots from the Collection of Famed Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld
  • Memorabilia, Artwork, Accessories, Books, Furniture and Decorations from Hirschfeld's Townhouse and Studio on Manhattan's Upper East Side
  • Also Featuring a Special Section of Artwork by Hirschfeld from Other Collections

Doyle New York held The Hirschfeld Sale on June 22, 2011, comprising over 100 lots of property from the Manhattan townhouse and studio of the famed caricaturist Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003). Offerings included memorabilia, artwork, accessories, books, furniture and decorations.

With competitive bidding from buyers in the salesroom, on the telephones and via the Internet, the sale totaled $161,613, surpassing the pre-sale estimate of $69,975-106,215, with a strong 80% sold by lot and 97% by value.

Highlighting the Al Hirschfeld Collection was a colorful 1953 pastel on paper by Beauford Delaney (American, 1901-1979) entitled Street Scene, which sold for a stunning $37,500, far surpassing the pre-sale estimate of $4,000-6,000. A Monte Blanc Lorenzo de Medici sterling silver fountain pen inscribed with Hirchsfeld’s name fetched $4,063 against an estimate of $800-1,200. A framed Persian glazed ceramic tile measuring 8 3/4 inches square sold for a surprising $3,840, many times its estimate of $100-200. And a 2001 portrait of Al Hirschfeld by Peter Max (American, b. 1937) estimated $1,200-1,800 achieved $2,813.

Objects from Al Hirschfeld’s studio also sold strongly. An oak artist’s easel estimated at $200-300 sold for $3,125; an oak spool and thread box containing art supplies estimated at $500-700 achieved $1,375; and a painted wood and iron studio drafting table fetched $1,188.

A special section of the auction offers artwork by Al Hirschfeld from other collections. Highlights included a 1979 ink on board depiction of Dolly Parton, Barry Manilow, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Diana Ross, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, and David Crosby that sold for $8,320 against an estimate of $4,000-6,000. A 1999 ink on board depiction of playwrights Margaret Edson, Christopher Durang, Patrick Marber, David Hare, Arthur Miller, John Guare, Connor Mcpherson, Martin Mcdonagh, Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams achieved $5,000 within the estimate of $4,000-6,000. A 1983 etching of Marilyn Monroe in The Seven-Year Itch fetched $5,000, several times its estimate of $1,000-1,500.

Al Hirschfeld (1903-2003)

Born on the first day of summer in St. Louis in 1903, Al Hirschfeld contracted “a sickness for drawing” at a young age. His nascent talent was such that a local artist implored his parents to leave for New York City where young Al’s talents could bloom and be utilized. Al was all of twelve when he arrived in the city he would call home for the next 87 years. He lived in Washington Heights, took classes at the National Academy, and was soon playing sandlot ball with a young Lou Gehrig.

A chance encounter on Fifth Avenue brought him to the door of Goldwyn Pictures and the office of publicity director Howard Dietz who hired him as an errand boy. Soon he was a contributing artist to a variety of filmstudios, the new media of its day, that were mushrooming all over Manhattan. At the tender age of twenty, Hirschfeld was the art director of Selznick Pictures, employing a stable of artists in a brownstone where the Museum of Modern Art stands today. Within a year Selznick went bankrupt, and Al took a studio with a young Mexican artist he met at a party at Carl Van Vechten’s. The recently arrived Miguel Covarrubias’ stylized drawings captured the zeitgeist and appeared in Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Time. "There was something about Miguel's background that made him a natural graphic artist," recalled Hirschfeld, "and a lot of that rolled onto me." Hirschfeld published his first caricature in April 1925, yet left for Paris six months later where he had a studio for the next eight years, returning periodically to “add to my collection of contemporary money” with assignments from film studios and newspapers.

In New York in December 1926, Hirschfeld doodled a likeness of French actor Sacha Guitry on his program during a performance. His companion was the show’s press agent who asked him to put his sketch on a clean sheetof paper, and the following Sunday it appeared six columns wide on the top half of the Drama section of the Herald Tribune, beginning an association with the paper that lasted nearly two decades. A telegram from The New York Times requesting a drawing of Scottish vaudevillian Harry Lauder in January 1928 led to “exhibitions” almost every other week for the next 75 years. In 1943, an editor complained that he couldn't tell what paper he was reading, since three of the city's papers regularly featured Hirschfeld drawings. Al agreed to an exclusive newspaper arrangement with the Times that allowed for complete artistic freedom. He continued to supply film studios, magazines, book publishers, and record labels with a seemingly endless parade of drawings that look as fresh today as they did when they were drawn. His embrace of the moment has kept his work from being dated. “The work never happens in the past tense,” says Jules Fieffer, despite spanning nine decades. “Line as movement -- prancing, skipping, twisting and dancing,” according to critic Michael Kimmelman, “was the vehicle through which Hirschfeld conveyed the adrenaline rush of live theater and his absorption in the here and now, resulting in art that looks eternally, uncannily fresh.”

“Hirschfeld’s art triumphantly refutes all the misconceptions of caricature,” wrote Whitney Museum director Lloyd Goodrich. “There is nothing negative about it; its humor, while sharp edged, is affirmative and gay. It takes all kinds of liberties with literal facts, but it grasps essential truths of character. And as art, Hirschfeld’s drawings are the work of a highly sophisticated artist, who uses the graphic medium to create rich and vital design.” In an industry that is the vainest on earth, his drawings of performers made friends not enemies.Hisadmirers and collectors included the Marx Brothers, Eugene O’Neill, Katharine Hepburn, Steven Speilberg, Frank Sinatra, Carol Channing, Zero Mostel (who once claimed Al “was God with a beard”), Whoopi Goldberg, and countless others. A voracious reader with an active night life who had traveled the world and was on a first name basis with many of the top celebritiesfor nine decades, Hirschfeld never lost the wide-eyed wonder of people and productions that made his drawings instantly accessible to a wide audience.

His impact continues to be felt even outside the confines of traditional two-dimensional art. The directors of Oscar-winning animated films such as Up and Ratatouille, cite Hirschfeld as a significant influence. “When Al Hirschfeld did a drawing of a celebrity, it often looked more like the person than the person did. That’s our goal in animation,” says director Brad Bird.

He is represented in many public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Harvard Theater Collection. Hirschfeld authored several books, including Manhattan Oases and Show Business is No Business, in addition to 10 collections of his work. He won two Tony Awards, and was declared a Living Landmark by the New York City Landmarks Commission in 1996 and a Living Legend by the Library of Congress in 2000.

As the only artist to have a Broadway theater named in his honor, he remains a presence in today’s theater world. His work and spirit live on in the Foundation that bears his name and led by his widow, Louise Hirschfeld Cullman, who has seen that an art-based curriculum focused entirely on Hirschfeld drawings is available for all students in New York City schools. The Foundation has also organized monographic exhibitions of Hirschfeld work on a wide variety of topics all over the world. The barber chair and table where he created virtually all of his work is on permanent view 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on the plaza of Lincoln Center at the entrance of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts. The contents of his home, where he spent a majority of his time both working and entertaining, shortly to be on view at Doyle New York and soon to be appearing in homes and institutions around the world.

David Leopold


The Al Hirschfeld Foundation

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  • Property from the William Haber Collection
  • Property from the William Haber Collection
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  • The Al Hirschfeld Collection
  • The property of Doyle New York

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