A Macabre Collection of Spooky Art Heads to Auction, Led by a Spine-Chilling Dürer Woodcut Print

The collection was amassed by the late print dealer Richard Harris.

Studio of Jan Brueghel the Younger. Allegory of War. Photo courtesy of Bonhams

In time for Halloween, a large collection of spooky art gathered by late antiques print dealer Richard Harris is now up for auction.

Harris began assembling his trove around 2001, with an especial focus on symbolic representations of death. As he once put it: “I think that everyone ought—not to be obsessed by fact of death, but be aware of the fact that dying is a part of living.” The collection at Bonhams’s “Dance of Death” online sale comprises some 115 objects spanning paintings, photographs, sculptures, and other ephemera.

“Richard felt that while ‘death’ is not the most pleasant of subjects, it is one we all will have to deal with at some point in time. He thought of his collection as a ‘Visual Gateway to the Conversation about Death,’” said Bonhams’s Deborah Ripley, who is overseeing the auction.

Carved Boxwood Memento Mori Figure, 17th–18th century, in the manner of Hans Leinberger. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

Ripley said the popularity of the skull motif, from tattoos to high fashion, points to a contemporary interest in death that has “not diminished but has indeed burgeoned” in recent decades.

“This collection explores some of the origins of this interest throughout millennia and through the lens of many different cultures,” Ripley said.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Chronique Medicale (1891). Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

In his own words, Harris, who died in March at the age of 85, said the uniqueness of his collection lies with its “breadth and depth” and that it is not just a trophy collection of masterpieces. Part of his hoard was previously displayed at the Wellcome Collection Museum in London in 2012.

“The collection started with my interest in human anatomy both in prints and books of the 17th and 16th centuries,” Harris said in an interview at the time. “I didn’t find enough material that was really wonderful that I thought I’d like to collect and so narrowed that down a bit to skeletons and skulls of the human.”

 

 

Albrecht Dürer, Four Horsemen, from Apocalypse. Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

Bonhams pointed to a few items of particular interest in the sale including a 1891 drawing by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec using black Conté crayon on paper. Titled La Chronique Medicale, the drawing was made as as study for the cover of a medical journal but was rejected for being too macabre.

Another highlight is a 1497 woodcut print by the northern Renaissance master Albrecht Dürer. That work, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, features the harbingers of the last judgement—Plague, War, Famine and Death—galloping over both kings and peasants without regard. The work is expected to fetch as much as $30,000 at the auction, in line with the greater interest in Old Master prints, according to Bonhams.

Jim Dine, The Face in the Rage of Red (1986). Photo courtesy of Bonhams.

Other works of note include photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe and Irving Penn, a large skull painting by Jim Dine and wood sculptures of partially flayed bodies.

The auction runs through November 1.

 

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