After making original comic art auction history just last month with the $5.4 million sale of Frank Frazetta's cover painting for Eerie #23, the famous "Egyptian Queen" painting, Heritage Auctions has one heck of a follow-up on their hands with this week's European Comic Art Signature Auction. The headline piece of the auction, Hergé's very first Tintin cover art, which appeared on the February 13, 1930 issue of Le Petit Vingtième, has just passed the $1 million mark with buyer's premium, with three days to go until auction close as of this writing. The piece had a pre-auction estimate of $1.3 million, but at this point I wouldn't bet on that amount taking this historical prize home.
Le Petit Vingtième ("The Little Twentieth") began in 1928 as a weekly supplement to the Catholic daily Belgian newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle ("The Twentieth Century"). Hergé (the pseudonym of Georges Prosper Remi, the pen name is the French pronunciation of "RG", his initials reversed) started working for Le Vingtième Siècle at age 18 in 1925, and became editor-in-chief of Le Petit Vingtième at its launch.
Tintin first appeared in Le Petit Vingtième issue 11 on January 10, 1929. The debut story, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, was serialized in two-page installments, running until May 1930. The story is anti-communist satire featuring Belgian journalist Tintin with his dog Snowy traveling to the Soviet Union to do an exposé on Joseph Stalin's Bolshevik government. Along the way, Tintin's investigative efforts bring him to the attention of the OGPU — the Soviet secret police — who then try to kill him.
As Heritage notes, this auction for the Tintin cover art for the February 13, 1930 Le Petit Vingtième, marks a rare opportunity for collectors and institutions alike, as it has been one of the rare covers signed by Hergé in private hands. Most of the others are owned by the Hergé Museum in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. They further describe the context of this cover art:
The scene which Hergé chooses refers to the 57th double-page of the story, and shows the hero carving a tree trunk into a make-shift propeller for his plane, watched by Snowy. This composition is remarkable in more ways than one. First because Hergé chose not to make do with enlarging one of the panels from his story and removing the speech balloons: instead he works here as an illustrator, composing the image with care and paying attention to detail in every part. Then, because, as a painter would do, he wants to bring the whole image surface to life, he leaves practically none of it blank: the sky is 'furnished' by the wing of the plane, the earth by wood-chips.
Elegance suffuses this piece: in the forms of the wood-chips, the supple folds of the leather of the flight jacket, and of the boots, the appearance of sheepskin on the hero's collar and gloves… The streaks of the tree stump which Tintin in sitting on respond to the lines of Snowy's bandages. The grass we can make out near the plane's wheel echoes the thin pines on the horizon.
Hergé's humor also comes into bloom in this large-format composition (measuring 10.5" x 11.5"): to the veins and knots of the wood are added young leaves struggling to grow despite Tintin's concerted carving.
A supreme decorative effect is the artist's choice to allow the ingenious pilot's propeller to break out of the frame, on one side and the other. He gives his image relief and depth, which he had not yet dared to show in the panels of his story. By chance, this remarkable composition goes on to benefit from a mechanical grey tone and a secondary color (green), both of which bring a multi-colored effect to this first appearance on a front cover.
While Heritage is calling this their European Comic Art Signature auction, I'd note that this designation appears to be a general characterization of what they might consider the prospective collector audience for this group of work, and not about the artists themselves. I see that the lots are available to view in Paris this week, though the floor auction will be conducted at Heritage's Dallas headquarters. But in addition to a range of European comic artists, the auction also includes the likes of Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Winsor McCay, Richard F. Outcault, and Osamu Tezuka among others.
Internet bidding for this auction is ongoing until the morning of June 8. The live floor auction (which bidders anywhere can also participate in via Heritage Live) for this historic first Tintin cover by Hergé from Le Petit Vingtième takes place on June 9.