Collecting the Works of Women Illustrators
Our fall 2019 sale of Illustration Art on December 10 features a superb selection of artwork by women, whose contribution to the field is only just beginning to receive the recognition it deserves. Here Laura Polucha, a cataloguer in our Illustration Art department, touches on highlights, including storybook illustrations, advertisements and cartoons from the last century’s most successful women working as illustrators.
From Lillian C. Davids to Emily Flake: A Century of Women in Illustration
Around the turn of the twentieth century, early women illustrators defied social norms by finding work and fulfillment outside the domestic sphere, and moved beyond the stereotype of the casual “lady painter.” Their level of artistic ability, technical competence and commercial savvy established a baseline professionalism that paved the way for later generations. Though diverse in style and historical period, the women discussed here are united by their role as illustrators to produce art that both shapes, and is shaped by, popular culture.
In addition to the fashionable ladies from the flapper era, depicted in works by Gerda Wegener and Faith Burroughs, offerings also include magazine story illustrations from Clara (Simpson) Davidson, Dorothy Hope Smith and Martha Sawyers. The children’s illustration section of the sale includes works by Helen Jacobs, Maria Louise Kirk and Lorraine Fox in addition to a work by award-winning illustrator Jane Breskin Zalben, a Nancy Drew book cover by Polly Bolian, and an array of charming illustrations for an unpublished book by Lillian C. Davids, which have become staff favorites. An unpublished promotional illustration by Marilee Heyer for the film Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and a sporty illustration by Julie Castillo, a market newcomer, represents the contemporary offering.
The robust section of cartoons from The New Yorker is notable for the juxtaposition of contemporary cartoons by Emily Flake and Sara Lautman alongside early contributions by Roberta Macdonald, Barbara Shermund and the prolific Ilonka Karasz. As one of the few early twentieth-century publications to support the work of women cartoonists, The New Yorker and its more diverse approach to humor helped to diminish the prevailing cultural stereotype that women had no sense of humor. This sale’s inclusion of the amusing feminist social commentary of Roberta Macdonald from the 1940s, together with the uproariously funny and relatable contemporary witticisms from the likes of Emily Flake, showcases the enormous talent and humor of women across generations.
Lillian C. Davids
Group of four illustrations including a cover and chapter designs for an unpublished work by Davids, circa 1880.
Estimate $600 to $800
Though little is known of Davids’ life and career, her skill for captivating illustration is exemplified through the charming grasshoppers rendered for this unpublished work from the late 19th century. The enchanting creatures partake in a variety of activities, including Polar expeditions and caring for their companions who have fallen ill with malaria.
Two pen & ink illustrations, likely for Gyraldose or Malaceïne toiletries, circa 1920.
Estimate $700 to $1,000
In this pair of advertisements from the Art Deco period, Wegener demonstrates her skill for rendering women with a playful sensuality. Wegener moved to Paris from Denmark in 1912 and quickly earned a reputation for the masterful artistry of her fashion illustrations and advertisements, which appeared in leading Parisian publications alongside the work of her more famous male contemporaries the likes of George Barbier and Georges Lepape. Wegener’s personal biography often overshadows her artistic talent, as her transgender spouse and frequent model, Lili Elbe, underwent the first known gender confirmation surgery in 1930. In June 2019 we sold Two Women in a Window, a watercolor, crayon, charcoal and wash illustration of two models (one Lili Elbe), for $20,000.
Flapper Filosofy, group of 10 cartoons for King Features Syndicate, circa 1930.
Estimate $1,000 to $1,5000
As a staff cartoonist for King Features Syndicate, Inc. and O’Dell Newspaper Service, Faith Burrows Swank created numerous Jazz Age characters, including Ritzy Rosalie, Beautyettes, and Glamourettes. This group of cards from Flapper Filosofy, which ran from 1929 to 1935, feature the “good girl flapper,” capturing the fashionable charm of the era’s independent “new woman.”
Dorothy Hope Smith
Story illustration for Fancy Pants by Florence Ostern, 1932.
Estimate $1,500 to $2,500
Dorothy Hope Smith is best known as the artist behind the image of the “Gerber Baby,” which has been featured on jars of baby food and company advertisements since 1928. Adept at painting children, Smith trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago before illustrating children’s books for Putnam in New York City and producing advertisements for Ivory Soap.
China Sky, likely illustration for the story of the same name by Pearl S. Buck, 1940-41.
Estimate $800 to $1,200.
Influenced by a trip to Bali early in her career, Sawyers is best remembered for her depiction of Asian cultures and peoples in both fiction and non-fiction. In the era of World War II, Sawyers found her niche traveling the world as a visual correspondent and published her work in Collier’s and other popular periodicals. She trained at the Art Students League.
Mystery at the Ski Jump, original cover & frontispiece illustration for the book of the same name by Carolyn Keene, 1960.
Estimate $3,000 to $4,000
Bolian’s striking cover illustrations for the Cameo editions of the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories series helped to hook young readers on following the adventures of Carolyn Keene’s clever heroine. Nancy Drew covers have proved to be popular with collectors, with an original cover illustration of The Secret in the Old Attic, 1944, by Russell H. Tandy selling for $35,000 in June 2018.
Man Rowing, original illustration for Polo Ralph Lauren Stadium Competition clothing line, 1992.
Estimate $1,000 to $1,500
Castillo is a prolific contemporary artist and graphic designer working in several media, in both fine art and commercial illustration. In addition to Ralph Lauren, her client list includes Gucci, Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, ESPN, Harley Davidson, and The New York Times.
Swann Auction Galleries
- Dorothy Hope Smith
- Faith Burroughs
- Gerda Wegener
- Julie Castillo
- Lillian C. Davids
- Martha Sawyers
- Polly Bolian
- Fine Art
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