G.H. has a watercolor depicting young bunny-hill skiers standing in a circle in the snow. It is signed "Georgi." The work is simple yet shows ability in handling paint, as well as an artist's knowledge of light and shadow. A quick look was enough to convince G.H. to purchase this piece for $4 at a Santa Barbara thrift store.
G.H. has what I call a good eye — and a good instinct for research. She recognized the hand of an artist familiar with visual language, and she hopped on her computer to see if she could identify the signature. Signatures are difficult but necessary in researching an artist. Many artists, early on in their career, perfect a way of signing their paintings and they stick to that. Some use first and last names with dates, some just last names, some abbreviations and no dates. Some even change their style of signing throughout their career. The artist Edwin Georgi changed his style, and sometimes did not even sign.
G.H. sent me some signature samples derived from her web research that showed some similarity to the name on her piece. Since she saw some works by Georgi sell for more than $4,000, she called me to see if it was worth her time to research this further for her $4 investment.
I did a search on my powerful databases of fine artists and did not find a Georgi who painted in this style. Keep in mind I was looking at listed FINE artists. But this artist might have taken a break from a career as commercial illustrator to make this little piece. Illustrators traditionally are sold at other art marketplaces, although many have crossed the line from commercial artist into fine artist. A "listed" artist means we find the artist selling well and often at fine art auctions.
A look at illustration art auctions, however, showed Edwin Georgi was a well-known commercial artist of the mid-20th century who sells well in specialized illustration auctions held at places like Swann Auction Galleries and Illustration House. If you have a work of art that seems to be illustrative of a story, look at auction results for illustrations, not fine art.
G.H. was pretty sure she had a work by illustrator Georgi but needed further confirmation. I directed her to Minnesota-based Grapefruit Moon Gallery, which is devoted to illustration art.
Indeed, the gallery carried the work of Edwin Georgi (1896-1964), the perfect illustrator for women of the late 1940s and 1950s. He painted beautiful women with immaculate makeup and gorgeous clothing, always in flattering colors, always in idealized settings and poses. And his women are always clothed, as opposed to the pin-up artists of World War II. The moralism of the 1950s shows in his restraint.
Georgi captures the power of femininity and youth yet, at the same time, portrays the captive life of the female of the '50s. His women, although subtly sexualized, are powerful through a curve of the eyebrow or curl of a lip, almost noir- or pulp fiction like. Nevertheless, they are not in control. Georgi, who started as a writer after his service as a pilot in World War I and his education at Princeton, was a favorite illustrator for Cosmo, Esquire, Redbook, Ladies' Home Journal and The Saturday Evening Post. Advertisers who catered to midcentury fashionable women hired him.
His works do, in fact, fetch up to $4,000 at an illustration auction. Other great illustrators who sell well at such auctions are Gil Elvgren, Alberto Vargas, Earl Moran, Rolf Armstrong and Henry Clive. G.H.'s painting looks more like an illustration for a Christmas card or a children's book — no beautiful women there. To authenticate the piece, she indeed spoke with Grapefruit Moon Gallery. The owner said that although he suspected she had an original Edwin Georgi, she did not have his pretty women. As a result, if purchased by a dedicated Georgi collector, her piece might fetch $200 to $400. Not bad for $4
— competent sleuthing, G.H.!
Certified appraiser for estates, inheritances and trusts.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart's column appears every week in the Salon & Style section of the Santa Barbara News Press. Email her your questions and high-resolution photos at ElizabethAppraisals @ gmail.com
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