Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2011 Issue

The Library of Ben and Bernarda Shahn from Lorne Bair and Between the Covers

Bairshahn

From the library of Ben and Bernarda Shahn.

Lorne Bair Rare Books, together with Between the Covers, has issued a catalogue of 101 Books from the Library of Ben and Bernarda Bryson Shahn. Ben Shahn was one of America's most notable artists of the 20th century. His reputation as a painter was born of the Great Depression. After dabbling in modern art at a younger age, he developed a style of social realism. His paintings were meant to portray the struggles of ordinary people, workers, and others on the lower rungs of the societal ladder. His politics, not surprisingly to the left, directed his art.

 

During the height of the Depression, Shahn worked for the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was created to help poor farmers through these very difficult times, but as part of its work, perhaps from a publicity standpoint, it hired on a group of photographers to capture the plight of those in rural America. Shahn taught himself photography, thereby becoming both an accomplished painter and photographer.

 

One of his coworkers at FSA was Bernarda Bryson. She was also a painter, and later became his second wife. Though never gaining the reputation of her husband, she was quite accomplished in her own right. Ben Shahn died in 1969, but Bernarda lived all the way until 2004, when she died at the age of 101. She continued to paint and exhibit well into her nineties.

 

All of the books in this catalogue come from the Shahns' library. Most were received during their years together, though there are many from the years of Bernarda's widowhood, that being such a long time. A special bookplate has been designed by their son, which is included with each of these books. Here are a few of them.

 

One of the greatest of Depression-era photographers, and the Shahns' colleague at FSA, was Walker Evans. His photographs of Alabama sharecroppers in the 1930s is perhaps the classic photographic depiction of rural, Depression poverty. Ben Shahn had met Evans a few years earlier when both were developing their interest in connecting art to social concerns. They remained close friends and collaborators for the rest of Shahn's life. Item 27 is Evans' American Photographs, published by the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1961. In contains an inscription from Walker to the Shahns. Priced at $12,500.

 

Item 28 offers a longer inscription from Evans to Shahn, though it is written in a copy of American Horse-Drawn Vehicles, by Jack D. Rittenhouse. Written on Nov. 22, 1968, Evans begins "Dear Old Dr. Ben," making light of both of their having honorary degrees, and notes how both were getting old. Evans also speaks of a planned visit, though Bair notes it's unclear whether that ever took place as Shahn, who died the following March, was already quite ill. $1,800.

 

Here is a book documenting the work of the FSA photographers:  Home Town. Photographs by Farm Security Photographers. This 1940 book was edited by Edwin Rosskam, with text by Sherwood Anderson. At least 17 of the photographs within were taken by Shahn. This was his personal copy, and does show signs of use (condition is good only). It was inscribed to Shahn by Rosskam. Item 1. $2,500.

Rare Book Monthly

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    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Ronald Reagan. Series of 37 letters to Senator George Murphy, and related material, 1968-90. £50,000 to £70,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Chaim Weizmann. Autograph letter signed, to General Sir Gilbert Clayton, 6 September 1918. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Sir Winston Churchill. Autograph letter signed, to Pamela, Lady Lytton, 1942. £20,000 to $30,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Collection of a Connoisseur:<br>History in Manuscript, Part 2<br>27 April 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Oscar Wilde. Five autograph letters signed, to Alsager Vian, 1887. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Napoleon I. Letter signed to Admiral Ganteaume, ordering the invasion of England, 22 August 1805. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, through Apr. 27:</b><br>Horatio, Viscount Nelson, and Emma Hamilton. Two autograph letter signed, to Catherine and George Matcham, 1805. £6,000 to £8,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Frances Palmer, <i>Battle of Buena Vista,</i> chromolithograph, New York, 1847. $4,000 to $6,000.
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    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Romans Bernard, <i>An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775,</i> engraving, 1776. $40,000 to $60,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> <i>A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston,</i> English edition, London, 1770. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> William Soule, <i>Lodge of the Plains Indians,</i> albumen print, 1872. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Manuscript document to enforce New York’s “Agreement of Non-Importation” during the heyday of the Sons of Liberty, New York, 1769. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Clarence Mackenzie, <i>Drummer Boy of the 13th Regiment of Brooklyn,</i> salt print with applied color, 1861. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b> Moses Lopez, <i>A Lunar Calendar,</i> first Jewish calendar published in America, Newport, RI, 1806. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 15:</b><br>The Book of Mormon, first edition, Palmyra, 1830. $30,000 to $40,000.
  • <center><b>Gonnelli Auction House<br>Books and Graphics<br>19th, 20th and 21st April 2021</b>
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    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 20<br></b>Rossini Gioachino, Baguette de chef d'orchestre appartenuta a Gioachino Rossini, dono del Comune di Passy. 1500 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Manetti Saverio, Storia naturale degli uccelli trattata con metodo. Cinque volumi. 1767. 18.000 €
    <b><center>Gonnelli: Apr. 21<br></b>Poe Edgar Allan, Double assassinat dans la rue morgue. Illustrations de Cura. 1946.
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