Auction of the Patricia and Donald Oresman Collection on November 20, 2018
Roy Lichtenstein's 1994 Print, Nude Reading, Achieved $112,500
Over 550 Lots of Paintings, Drawings, Prints and Photographs Depicting Readers, Writers and Journalists
NEW YORK, NY -- Doyle was honored to auction the Collection of quintessential New Yorkers Patricia and Donald Oresman on November 20, 2018. Comprising over 550 lots, this remarkable collection showcased the works of prominent artists, popular illustrators and renowned photographers. The paintings, sculptures, works on paper, prints and photographs spanned several decades, movements and mediums. Each work shared a common theme: Reading. Throughout the collection, figures were depicted in the act of reading, writing, printing and studying, many fully engrossed in literature.
With competitive bidding in the saleroom, on the telephones and via the Internet, the auction totaled a successful $998,476, surpassing its estimate of $624,085-953,595, with an exceptionally strong 86% sold by lot and 98% sold by value.
Highlighting the sale was Roy Lichtenstein’s (1923-1997) color relief print, Nude Reading, which achieved $112,500, surpassing its estimate of $70,000-90,000. The 1994 print incorporated Lichtenstein’s comic strip-inspired Ben-Day dot technique.
The subject of a recent major retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was represented by one of his Arthur Rimbaud in New York series of late 1970s photographs of a figure wearing a paper mask of the legendary poet. The photograph realized $17,500, more than doubling its estimate of $6,000-8,000.
Among the other artists represented in this extensive collection were Milton Avery, Aaron Bohrod, Marc Chagall, Lucien Freud, Alberto Giacometti, Rockwell Kent, Kathe Kollwitz, Jacob Lawrence, Rene Magritte, Henri Matisse, Alexander Rodchenko, George Tooker and Andy Warhol.
Patricia and Donald Oresman
Not coincidentally, the works are a reflection of the Oresmans themselves -- a long-married couple who could often be found sitting among their books, fully engrossed in literature. Naturally, their love of reading informed their acquisitions. Their constantly growing art collection complemented a massive private library, designed by noted New York architects Fairfax & Sammons to showcase both books and art. The collection clearly mirrors the Oresmans’ lifelong passion for literature.
Their extensive library was in constant use. The hundreds of books lining the shelves were not decorative design elements. Each book was meant to be read, and Mr. Oresman endeavored to complete every one. At over 1,200 square feet, the Renaissance-inspired space with high coffered ceilings featured ornately carved bookshelves and a graceful winding staircase inspired by one found in New Mexico’s Loretto Chapel. Photographed in 2013 for New York magazine, the library sported clever sliding panels and secret compartments for the ever-expanding art collection. Photographs the collection were also published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and the apartment with the collection appears in three books, American House: The Architecture of Fairfax and Sammons by Mary Miers, New York: Behind Closed Doors by Polly Devlin, and New York Splendor: The City’s Most Memorable Rooms by Wendy Moonan. The Oresmans’ Central Park South duplex afforded a commanding view of the park while also providing a magically serene setting for immersing oneself in a fine novel.
The couple collected many pieces created during the Great Depression, from images depicting upper class businesspeople poring over great literature and theologians immersed in religious texts to struggling down-on-their-luck folks studying the want ads. This focus led them to amass an important group of works by WPA artists including Aaron Bohrod, Jacob Lawrence, Louis Lozowick, Louise Nevelson, Ben Shahn and many others.
The New Deal’s Federal Art Project -- the public arts arm of the WPA -- was a massive undertaking. It employed artists and craftspeople to teach young artists, create murals and commercial illustration, and design stage sets. From 1935 to 1943 the WPA was responsible for creating over 200,000 unique works of art.
Mrs. Oresman was a social worker, book lover and a passionate student of Emily Dickinson’s poetry. Mr. Oresman, an attorney and businessman, served on the board of The New Criterion, The Landmarks Conservancy, The Morgan Library, The Library of America, The Academy of American Poets, and others. His energy seemingly knew no bounds. A tireless activist for preservation, his role in the Conservancy, in particular, helped create the New York City Historic Properties Fund.
On the event of the 2004 exhibition of works from their collection at Poets House in New York, Mr. Oresman commented, “I think there is an intensity to reading that captures artists’ imaginations because it has a very private element to it.”