The Graphic Arts in Books

New York

New York – Christie’s is pleased to announce the sale of one of the most celebrated American book collections - The Collection of Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow. The collection will be sold throughout 2013 in four parts, with an inaugural evening sale of highlights from Schongauer to Chagall on 9 April and The Middle Ages and the Renaissance on 10 April. Highly regarded among their contemporaries, the collection formed by the Vershbows is truly unparalleled, with its unique integration of illuminated manuscripts, books and prints.  

Arthur and Charlotte Vershbow

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Arthur Vershbow (1922-2012) graduated from MIT with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and later worked on radar technology at the university during World War II.  Arthur and Charlotte (1924-2000) married in 1947 and quickly became avid collectors, making their first donation of a work of art to the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1956 and continuing to donate each year thereafter.  Their active involvement in the book world eventually led to Arthur’s election as President of the Boston Athenæum in 1982, a position which he held for over a decade.  He also served on the Board of the Museum of Fine Arts from 1982 until his death last year.


Leading the first sale is a complete first edition of Francisco Goya’s La Tauromaquia (estimate: $400,000-600,000).  Comprised of thirty-three plates that beautifully depict the imagery and emotion of a Spanish bullfight, La Tauromaquia is the rarest of Goya’s four main intaglio series.  The Vershbow copy is one of only three known to have a title-page and the table in manuscript - all by the same calligrapher - with variant titles, the prints in a different order and the printed plate-numbers scratched and altered in pen-and-ink, making it all the more exceptional. Los Caprichos will also be offered on April 9, and the Los Proverbios and The Disasters of War will be included in Part Four of the sale in October.  

The Vershbow’s set of Invenzioni Capric di Carceri is the third and rarest issue of the first edition of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Prisons (estimate: $180,000-250,000).  His most celebrated work of architectural fantasy, Carceri is comprised of fourteen plates, each depicting cavernous underground spaces with looming architectural forms.  Only five other complete sets of this issue have been recorded, the Vershbow’s being distinguished by the artist’s ink dabbing on ten of the plates. 

A five hundred year old Book of Hours inscribed by Henry VIII is also among the highlights (estimate: $300,000-400,000).  A superbly printed and colored example, this copy bears an illustrious provenance, having once been given as a gift from King Henry VIII to his cousin.  The prayer book has been inscribed by the King: “I pray you pray for me your/ lovyng cousin Henry R.”  While manuscripts and printed books that once belonged to Henry VIII may be found among various American and European libraries, they are extremely rare in private hands.

Max Beckmann’s Berliner Reise of 1922 features ten lithographs that depict the bleakness of life in a large city following World War I (estimate: 80,000-120,000).  Complete sets, such as that in the Vershbow Collection, are extremely rare; only six sets have been offered at auction in the last twenty-five years.  Berliner Reise is the artist’s second series of large lithographs depicting the subject, following Die Hölle¸ which was published three years earlier in 1919.  Similar in format, both series begin with a self-portrait of Beckmann; the following plates are pairs of images in which one illustrates the decadent and frivolous lives of the bourgeoisie and the other the struggles and lowbrow amusements of the urban poor.  Rather than end on a note of despondency, however, the final plate of Berliner Reise leaves the viewer with a powerful image of hope, featuring a second self-portrait, this time in guise of a chimney sweep standing on a roof overlooking the city as the sun rises.  


 Part One: Highlights from Schongauer to Chagall | April 9, 2013

 Part Two: The Middle Ages and the Renaissance | April 10, 2013

 Part Three: The Baroque and Rococo Period | June 21, 2013

 Part Four: The Neoclassical, Romantic, Symbolist and Modern Periods | October 2013

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