A group of 50 Italian Liberty posters were being deaccessioned to benefit the acquisitions fund of the Palmer Museum of Art. The Penn State University’s museum is temporarily closed as it moves to a new campus building, earmarked to open in spring 2024.
Several posters from this group landed among the top sellers in the auction.
These included a design the auction house had not encountered for 25 years: an extraordinary allegorical image marking the launch of the battleship Roma from the La Spezia shipyard on April 21, 1907.
Designed by poster ‘great’ Leopoldo Metlocovitz (1868-1944), its primary subject is a mermaid bearing the wreathed SPQR emblem of the Italian state with the pre-dreadnought class battleship itself confined to the background as it cast into the Ligurian sea, accompanied by a host of Italian flags and a large plume of water. Roma later saw action in the Italo-Turkish War in 1911-12
Although almost 5ft x 3ft 6in (1.52 x 1.07m), this is essentially the top portion of the complete poster. Originally it would have had an additional text sheet underneath listing the festivities surrounding the launch.
Estimated at $10,000-15,000 to account for some replaced losses and repaired tears, it took $12,000 (£10,000).
Estimated at $12,000-18,000 and hammered at $13,000 (£10,800) was Magazzini Vittoria, created for a women’s clothier in 1909 by Aldo Mazza, another of the so-called ‘fathers of modern Italian poster art’.
The sensuous image in the Art Nouveau style is well known. It depicts a lithe and graceful woman enveloping herself within the multi-colored fabrics, a peacock at her feet looking up as in in envy. This example was in relatively good condition, just some tears repaired when mounted on paper.
A less familiar image by Mazza, and one that generated significant competition, was his Scienza Per Tutti (Science For All). Again from 1909, the client was a fortnightly scientific journal published by the Sonzogno publishing house of Milan from 1879 to 1943.
This image touting the innovation of the X-Ray was Mazza’s winning design for a competition put out by the journal. Condition graded B but now mounted in linen, it was estimated at $3000-4000 but also hammered at $13,000 (£10,800).
Among the best-performing lots at the sale at Poster Auctions International (20% buyer’s premium) in New York on July 18 was an ‘artist unknown’ advertising poster for Pan American Airlines.
Dated to c.1969, this Pan Am lass is the quintessence of 1960s cool with her mod haircut and Twiggy eye make-up.At the time, her Union Jack eyes captivated style-conscious American travellers and it did again, selling for $8000 (£6080) against a $1700-2000 estimate.
Also selling well over expectations was Alexis Kow’s 1929 image promoting a grand prix on the French Riviera. As an upper-class Russian child born in 1901 as Alexei Kogeynikov, Kow was sent to Lausanne at the age of seven to learn French. The 1917 revolution wiped out his family’s fortune and made him a permanent émigré.
At 19, he found a job as a draftsman for a small car maker, which led to his career as one of the greatest designers of automobile advertising.
This image of a car race to rival those in nearby Monaco features a sky-blue Peugeot roaring out of a bright blue Mediterranean seascape. Estimated at $4000-5000, it took $12,000 (£10,000).
Topping the August 27 sale of circus memorabilia held by Freedom Auction Company (25% buyer’s premium) in Sarasota, Florida, was a rare poster for The Great London Circus.
Printed by the Strobridge Lithographic company in 1879, the 3ft 2in x 2ft 5in (96.5 x 73.5m) sheet is centred by an image of the Fitchburg Steam Engine Company engine and boiler which generated electricity for ‘the most remarkable invention of the age’.
This was a powerful arc lamp which created light ‘equal to 35,000 gaslights’ and sufficient illumination for a night-time show of the Great London Circus and Sanger’s Royal British Menagerie.
The venture, the work of promoters James Bailey and James Cooper, made a profitable tour of the US, Australia, New Zealand, Java, and several countries of South America and became a serious competitor of PT Barnum’s ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.
The two attractions merged in 1881 and Barnham & Bailey was born. This poster, which had been professionally conserved, sold at $11,000 (£9150).