Saturday, December 24, 2011

David Hall Original Watercolor of Alice and the Caterpillar

Set the wayback machine to 1991. I had recently visited Howard Lowery's auction gallery shop in Burbank for the very first time, and I discovered this amazing book that had been published 5 years previously. The original Carroll "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland", but with amazing illustrations from the Disney archives by a gentleman named David Hall, and an afterword by Brian Sibley that detailed his history with the studio and the story of this art. I was totally blown away.
Having only been collecting Alice for about two years at this point, I was not familiar with this artist, but I soon discovered that he had made another appearance over the years: The book Surprise Package, published in 1943, was chock full of David Hall art in the Alice story, which I've previously posted about here, here, and here.
It was at this point that I developed a fairly intense obsession with acquiring an original David Hall, and being the compulsive individual that I am, I managed over the course of about 20 years to acquire seven original illustrations, all from the Surprise Package book. But they were all black and white. I had never seen a color David Hall 'in the wild'. In the past few years I have seen one or two color David Hall paintings, but mostly from Peter Pan, although I did see one Alice study in a private collection.

Flash forward to about two months ago. I came across a very brief description of a piece of art in an upcoming auction that piqued my interest. I had never heard of the auction house in question, but I went to their site and discovered that they are a fine art auction house (you know, 'real' art). But this upcoming auction had one lot described as follows:

David G. Hall Jr.
(American, 20th century)
Alice in Wonderland, 1939
watercolor on paper
signed David Hall (upper left)
10 3/4 x 13 3/4 inches.
Property from the Ralph Esmerian Collection, New York, New York

So I emailed requesting images and a condition report. OMFG. This is what they sent me.
This was an original Disney David Hall watercolor, which had been published in both Surprise Package and in the aforementioned 1986 Alice book from the studio. I couldn't believe my eyes! Where did this come from? I thought that all the illustrations in the studio book were a part of the Disney archive. Until I looked more closely at those printed pages.
In Surprise Package, the image is fairly severely cropped, I guess to show more character and less background. Then when I looked at the studio book, I realized that they had merely scanned the Surprise package illustration, as it is the same crop and the quality of the image is nowhere near as crisp as most of the other images. This was indeed the original art sent to Simon and Schuster for inclusion in Surprise Package. This lends more evidence to my long-standing suspicion that all the extant David Hall Alice art (with one or two exceptions) comes from the batch of illustrations supplied for Surprise Package.
So, now I knew this was the real deal, and based on the (ridiculously low) estimate provided in the auction description, it was within my reach. But only if no one else who really understood what it was became aware of the auction. In the past I have publicized upcoming auctions with Alice art, but in this case, I kept my mouth shut. I couldn't risk anyone figuring out what it was, and the auction house is obscure enough in Disney circles that it seemed unlikely that Disney art collectors would stumble across it. So I kept my secret for nearly two months.

Now it is December 11th, and the auction is upon me. I'm sitting at my computer screen, with my wife cheering me on, and the auction begins. It is fairly near the middle of the auction so we've got time to wait, and we talk about limits, and have fun looking at what other people are buying. And then the lot comes up, and my absentee bid is the high bid. Two more people bid, then I bid again, and then a very long pause. My wife is screaming at the computer "Close it! Close it!". And . . .

I WON!!! I couldn't believe my insane luck, and I'm sure my friends in Los Angeles could hear me screaming from here in DC. So, now all I had to do was wait for it to arrive.

Which it did yesterday! Computer Girl is back from grad school in Glasgow for the Christmas holidays, and photo documented the arrival and unveiling, which I now share with you here. Merry Christmas to me!
Doorbell rings, it's FedEx!


LisaInWonderland said...

Wow! Its beautiful, what a fantastic find! Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Oh so amazing! Beautiful find!

Rich T. said...

Congratulations, and Merry Christmas, David! It's awesome!

Major Pepperidge said...

It couldn't have gone to a better home. Congrats! Great story too. Merry Christmas!

Brian Sibley said...

You know (from my afterword to the S&S edition) that I greatly admire David Hall's art, so I am thrilled for you that you found it, bid on it and WON it! Well done!

I know that the studio sold off many of Hall's b&w illustrations (more shame on them!); do you know the provenance of this piece?

In any event, congratulations and thank you for sharing this CHRISTMAS CARROLL!

Matt said...

@Brian - well, you certainly peaked my interest, so I did a little digging. My my, this little watercolor certainly had a very colorful previous owner. If you Google the name Ralph Esmerian, you will find that he was a collector of folk art, the jeweler to the stars . . . and a fraud and embezzler, currently serving a prison term, and this piece, along with the rest of his belongings, were sold to pay his not-insubstantial fines. I am happy to contribute to the repaying of his debt to society.

Anonymous said...

Hey there! A new fellow reader to your blog!

I think the story about the previous owner humors me immensely xD I must say, this is an xcellent piece! I have trouble understanding, is this a concept piece for the 1951 Alice? Or for the storybook? Or for both? ^_^;;

Nonetheless, this is a FANTASTIC acquisition :) Congratulations!

jedblau said...

Great story, Matt!

Brian Sibley said...

Fascinating story about the previous owner... I am intrigued about the original number of Hall illustrations that might have existed. When I did my book, I was given (what I was told at the time) photocopies of ALL the 1938 DH art, although it wasn't all used in the S&S edition because some of the illustrations were too divergent from the accompanying Carroll text.

Subsequently, I began seeing pieces we had not been shown coming up for auction. I imagine, when the 1938 attempt at a film was abandoned, that Hall's work no longer seemed important and some of it was 'dispersed'...

Matt said...

There must have been hundreds of drawings and painting by DH, as in addition to the 8 pieces I own, I have a series of 88 black and white photographs of this art, presumably used either to create the Leica reel, or taken from the Leica reel; and this series of stills only covers a fraction of the story. There are no images in this set from the Mad Tea Party, the Garden, the Trial, the Croquet match, the Walrus and Carpenter, the encounter with the Tweedles, Humpty Dumpty, the Duchess, and the White Knight! So who knows exactly how many WERE produced, but it had to be lots. I'd love to see the Leica reel, I know someone who has a copy, and I keep hoping he'll transfer it someday.

Brian Sibley said...

You do? I was told that no one knew if it even still existed! If it exists, why the hell wasn't it added to the last DVD/Blu-ray?

Snow White Archive said...

Congrats Matt! Super find...and terrific story and pics too.

Kelvin Cedeño said...

The Leica reel technically is on the 1995 Archive Collection laserdisc, although it's presented as a MASSIVE collection of still images rather than as a video presentation. For that edition, they managed to find 3/4 of the accompanying script, so the climax of the 1938 version is difficult to discern due to the lack of narration and dialogue.

As excellent as the 60th Anniversary Blu-ray is, it's ridiculous that Disney left out so many of the stills and song demos from the laserdisc. I had an acquaintance of mine rip all of the LD-exclusive content onto a DVD-RW, and I replaced the bonus DVD copy of the film with this custom disc of supplements to form my own definitive edition of Alice in Wonderland.

I'm working to get them online for other fans to see. I managed to cram the whole 1939 storyboard presentation into YouTube's 15 minute limit, but keep in mind the images do run quickly, so you'll be using that pause button pretty often. Please excuse the Tutti Camarata music I placed on it. It was experimental, but when I make the video (and the others) more widely available, I'm going to be using the original Oliver Wallace score.

Unknown said...

Hello, Matt! I found this blog earlier this week while I was searching for more about David Hall's work on this film (because they're so wonderful!) and I was so fortunate to find your blog and this post! :> Even though this post is years old, I felt so much emotion for your win as I saw your photos! Hopefully it still brings you much enjoyment years later. Thank you for your blog posts and I hope you had a happy Halloween birthday, like me as well!

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