In Depth

What to buy at the Swann Galleries Graphic Design sale

The New York saleroom's upcoming auction includes works by graphic design giants Paul Nash and Leonetto Cappiello

It was on 27 March 1942 that Benjamin Swann held his first sale, dedicated to rare and antiquarian books. Since then his eponymous business has grown to become the largest auctioneer of works on paper in the world, in addition to holding the title of New York's oldest specialty auction house. As it celebrates its 75th anniversary, its influence on the antiques world remains as strong as ever, with its upcoming annual graphic design sale on 25 May one of its most anticipated events.

Among the highest value lots this year is Le Petit Dauphinois by Leonetto Cappiello, holding an estimate of $30,000-40,000. Created for a French newspaper in 1933 towards the end of the Italian illustrator's career, it exemplifies his humorous and graphic style and remains one of his rarest posters, with only three copies sold at auction since 1989. Other highlights of 20th-century advertising include Ludwig Hohlwein's colourful Besuchet Den Tiergarten (estimate of $15,000-20,000), made in 1912 to promote the newly opened Munich Zoo, and Jacob Jongert's Ven Nelle's Tabak ($7,000-10,000), an Art Nouveau-influenced piece of tobacco advertising from 1920.

As cultural institutions mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution this year,  important examples of propaganda and Constructivist designs can be found within the lots as well, including works from Latvian avant-garde photographer Gustav Klutsis.

There's also a strong presence from some of the big names of British poster design. Another side to Paul Nash – perhaps best known for his Surrealist paintings and depictions of war – is seen with a poster created for Shell oil in the 1920s showing the landscape of Rye in Sussex (estimate of $1,500-2,000), while other pieces from the series include Edward Kauffer's depiction of Dinton Castle, Aylesbury, from 1936 (estimate at $700 to $1,000). Among Kauffer's most notable works are those for the London Underground, with bidders also able to get their hands on a poster for Charing Cross station that exhibits his early use of photomontage (estimate $1,500-2,000).

For those that favour the bold aesthetic of the 1960s, there will also be a number of pieces of interest. Among the most notable is a trio of lots from acclaimed illustrator Michael English, who is famous for his work for musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, and forming the influential design company Hapshash and the Coloured Coat with Nigel Waymouth.

The Graphic Design sale takes place on 25 May at Swann Galleries, 104 East 25th Street, New York, 10010, with bidding in person, by telephone or online via invaluable.com; swanngalleries.com

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