bonhams_juneauction bonhams_juneauction
Auctions

Animation Art Auction Wars: Bonhams, Heritage, Van Eaton Holding Back-to-Back-to-Back Auctions

After years of dormancy, the animation art market has been sizzling for the last couple years. In June, it’ll be more heated than ever when three houses will hold major animation art auctions within the span of eight days.

Nearly two thousand pieces of animation art and ephemera will be sold at these auctions. This is an unprecedented event in the collecting world, and bidding enthusiasm at these sales will likely reveal how much room the market has to grow.

Heritage Auctions will kick off the animation art frenzy on June 11 and 12 with the largest auction of the bunch, with over 850 lots. Some of the artwork comes from the collections of deceased Golden Age artists Elmer Plummer, Retta Scott, Chuck Jones, and Walt Peregoy.

Just a day later, on June 13, Bonhams will present “TCM Presents … Drawn to Film,” an animation auction that includes some prime lots from the collection of Ted and Dawn Hopkins, who started collecting animation art in the 1970s when prime pieces could be bought for a pittance. Nearly 400 pieces will be available at this sale.

Finally, on Saturday, June 18, Van Eaton Galleries presents 700-plus lots of materials in its “Collecting Disney” auction. In addition to animation artwork, the auction includes a large collection of Disney-licensed merchandise and toys, corporate documents, and even a complete set of Kem Weber-designed studio furniture from the 1940s. The items are currently on display at Van Eaton Galleries in Sherman Oaks, California. Even if you can’t afford to buy anything, the catalog is among the nicest catalogs ever produced for an animation art auction and is worth looking at online or picking up a printed copy.

vaneaton_disneyauction

And now, a word of caution to buyers: absolutely make sure you establish the provenance of any animation artwork before bidding on it. If a piece comes, for example, from the collection of Ted and Dawn Hopkins, you’re safe. If a piece comes from the archives of an industry artist, you’re safe. However, many of the pieces that have turned up at auction from major houses in the past few years have literally appeared out of thin air, and buyers are throwing down major money to acquire pieces of questionable authenticity.

The majority of the forgeries, in my opinion, are Mary Blair and Eyvind Earle concept pieces. Despite the beautiful work of these two artists, their styles can be fairly easily replicated. Considering the high prices their work commands and the fact that concept art can’t be referenced against a finished film, they are obvious choices for forging. The spate of fakes is not my opinion alone — I’ve brought this issue up privately with esteemed historians and industry artists, and there is a unanimous consensus that there’s something fishy happening, and someone (or someones) is providing major auction houses with forgeries.

Auction houses have little incentive to verify the authenticity of Blair and Earle pieces, especially because they are fetching some of the highest amounts, so it is up to the individual buyer to do their own research. With such lax oversight, I would exercise extreme caution before buying any animation artwork that can be easily replicated, for example, early Ub Iwerks drawings of Mickey. Caveat emptor.

  • Jay

    Does anybody happen to know any other websites or stores where we can get original animation art? Other than the ones listed above?

    • AmidAmidi

      Van Eaton, which is doing the Disney auction, is a full-service gallery that sells art from all the studios at reasonable prices. Their website is vegalleries.com.

      HowardLowery.com has weekly auctions. It’s not necessarily prime artwork, but lots of cool stuff pops up and some real bargains can be found there. Plus, they’ve been doing this for decades and are trustworthy.

      Also, keep an eye for auctions at Hakes.com. They do multiple auctions annually, and while not big on animation, cels and other cartoon ephemera pops up every time.

      Ralph Bakshi sells artwork from his films direct on his site and there’s some beautiful pieces available.

      Unless you really know what you’re doing, avoid eBay. Filled with forgeries of every kind imaginable.

    • Lisa
  • AmidAmidi

    You’ll find some good pieces on those sites if you know what you’re looking for. You’ll also find pieces that are priced at 10x their market value, as I did when I just visited one of those sites.

    Be aware that not all animation art sellers operate ethically. I had a nightmare experience with one seller that serves as a cautionary tale of how some dealers will outright lie about what they are selling.

    Acquiring art requires a lot of knowledge on the part of the buyer. A few basic tips:

    * Watch out for forgeries. Even reputable dealers can get snookered and end up selling counterfeit art. We did a story about it a few years back: http://www.cartoonbrew.com/disney/most-disney-drawings-on-ebay-are-forgeries-31940.html (Most forged artwork is Disney-related or by a ‘name’ artist.)

    * Even if it’s not forgery, sellers at stores and auctions might mislabel the artwork. For example, someone might claim they’re selling animation drawings from a 90s Disney feature, but in fact, they’re selling drawings from a discarded scene or warm-up drawings. That might still be worth owning, but its value is worth far less than actual production artwork so make sure you know what you’re buying.

    * Be aware of limited edition artwork and drawings made by artists later in their careers. A good example: later in his life, Warner Bros. animator Virgil Ross was asked to redraw scenes and model sheets of classic Looney Tunes . He made dozens, if not hundreds, of these, and it is essentially fan-art of Looney Tunes (and in my opinion, not particularly well done). Again, if you like it, might be worth owning, but it’s essentially worthless as an investment so don’t overpay for it.

  • John Chawner

    Hello Amid:

    To add to the list of animation available via auction, the catalog from Profiles In History, Hollywood Auction 83 (29-30 Jun, 01 Jul) contains quite a bit of animation art (lots 560 – 789)

  • Doug Bloodworth

    Great article Amid (as always)!

  • Marc Arpin

    Several of the main item from the Heritage Auctions are coming from the profile in history auctions.
    Either someone is trying to make a quick profit from his previous purchase, or those pieces are not what they are supposed to be.