Saturday, December 14, 2019

Auction News - The Ballet Pieces

The December 10, 2019 Illustration Art Auction at Swann Galleries in New York City offered a scintillating selection of original works by Edward Gorey in several themes. Going to the ballet was a lifelong obsession for Edward Gorey and two of the lots offered were ballet themed works.

Ballet in a Nutshell (Lot 42) was the first Gorey piece offered in the auction lineup. Originally published in Dance Magazine in January 1974, this large (8" x 10" image), beautifully detailed pen & ink drawing distills Edward Gorey's innumerable theater going experiences into a single image. The piece sold for $6250.00 (including buyer's premium), the only piece in the group to sell slightly below its pre-auction estimate.

The top half of the nutshell shows three performers dancing on stage, while the lower half shows the theater lounge at intermission. Mr. Gorey was a familiar figure in the lobby lounge, holding court and exchanging bon mots with other attendees. The sometimes complimentary, but more often amusingly bitchy comments rise like poison cigarette smoke from the participants - the man on the far right is holding a cigarette. It could be assumed that the third gentleman from the right is Mr. Gorey himself, the silhouette shows a man in a bulky (fur?) coat.

The fashion styles of the day are evident, even is silhouette. Pant legs are flared. A person (man, woman?) on the left has a neck scarf, over the shoulder bag, leggins, and chunky heeled shoes. The woman in conversation with the Gorey figure has a short, mod skirt and earrings. the central group is an older crowd with bow ties, more traditional dresses and hair ribbons. This drawing clearly represents the time period in which it was created.

This piece is a technical tour de force in pen & ink. Light and shadow are expertly conveyed from the onstage lighting of the performers to the masterful use of white space in the brightly lit theater lobby. The infill of small, vertical lines around the "nut" give a sense of the endless carpet in the theater lobby. This piece is a sibling to Edward Gorey's 1973 volume The Lavender Leotard, or Going A Lot to the New York City Ballet (, which presents much the same subject in book form.
The next lot (Lot 75) included two costume sketches from a 1975 production of Swan Lake, presented by the Andre Eglevsky Company at the Rockland Community College, Suffern, New York. This lot sold for $10,000.00 (with buyers premium), solidly within the estimate. Both of these designs have amusing notations that present intimate windows into Edward Gorey's love of ballet. The notes on the first piece begin with the exclamation, "Whee!". The costumes are clearly presented, with Sigfried's costume is minutely detailed as to types of fabric and decoration.
The owl costume on the second page is similarly detailed and beautifully illustrated. Edward Gorey clearly envisioned how a performer would move in the costume, indicating where and how the large feathered cape was to attach to the dancer's body. Special details, such as "dark brown unshiny boots with cuffs" and "hands in white gloves with finger ends stained black" provide not only costume details, but give the performer a glimpse into the character, as envisioned by Mr. Gorey.

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