Pencilhaven’s baby steps toward art

April 26, 2010

We are the meekest of dilettantes. But I think we harbor modest visions of the future, in which, while ruling our intergalactic empire, we might also have ten to twenty thousand important paintings, not to mention the collections of rare manuscripts, pillaged Bronze Age statuettes, ancient codices, amulets/crown jewels, signed first editions of Nabokov’s and Steinbecks great works and Shakespeare’s First Folio. Oh, and maps. O!, the maps. Halls and halls full of maps. Perhaps the maps could go in the wing with all of the Rothkos. Or near the Magrittes and Tanguys and Cornell boxes.

From here to there is a long journey, and we have taken the first wobbly, bourgeois steps in its general direction.

My life was changed in San Francisco 18 months ago. My uncle’s brother let us tag along with him to a Bonhams auction preview and it was while wandering through the section of paintings and prints and drawings that I saw something I recognized. “Is that a Käthe Kollwitz?” I asked, out loud, to no one. (It was).

Kollwitz, while not a ubiquitous household name like Picasso or Thomas Kincade, is nonetheless an outstanding and pioneering German artist active during the first half of the twentieth century. She is especially known for evocative prints of war, strife and grief (her oeuvre is not a lighthearted one). The print I was staring at, “After the Battle” (Schlactfeld) was from her Peasants’ War series and depicted a grim image of a mother searching for her son’s body on a dark battlefield. Though not signed by the artist, it was made from the original plate, in 1921.

The reason I call this life-altering is that I always saw works like this, by people I’ve heard of, as fundamentally out of reach. When David came the next day to bid on the print, I was sure it would go for a price well beyond the feasible range for Normal Folks. Much to my surprise, he won it, for a few hundred dollars. Not pocket change, sure, but…plausible.

Imprint at bottom right of our Käthe Kollwitz print ("Originalradierung von Käthe Kollwitz"), dated 1921.

At the same auction, we bid on and won a series of five hand-colored (watercolor) prints by Colombian artist Guillermo Silva Santamaria, wild and surreal Meso-american scenes that won David over. These we did get for virtual pocket change.

We have also made a habit of keeping track of local auctions at O’Gallerie, an auction house within walking distance of Pencilhaven. Discovering auctions has been magical for us. While you do have to exercise care and emotional control, the objets to be had are phenomenal, and, for the most part, impressive values.

Yesterday, when checking out an upcoming auction, David noticed that a certain lot from the previous auction hadn’t sold: a signed Salvador Dali retrospective print. As it hadn’t sold, we were able to make an offer directly to the consigner/owner, a lower-than-auction-estimate offer that was accepted. So now, with great suddenness, we have a signed Dali work in our home. This still gives me the happy shivers, even if it is, as always, in a dreadful frame.

Our print: Salvador Dali's "Path to Wisdom", signed at lower right

One Comment

  1. Cork Catherine says:

    Golly – a Dali! Your modest vision sounds like a cross between the last scene in National Treasure (a truly dreadful movie) and the Tardis. I have never regretted a purchase of art, only the ones I “thought” I couldn’t afford and walked away from.

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