Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Beatles Photos, Medieval Fashion and Forbes’s Auctions

In the early 1960s the Beatles posed for hours for the German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, even before the roster of four band members was finalized. She met them when they first played in her native Hamburg and encouraged them to imitate her bowl-cut hair and collarless jackets.
Astrid Kirchherr, via Guernsey's
Members of the Beatles in 1960: John Lennon, foreground, and Stuart Sutcliffe.


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Astrid Kirchherr, via Guernsey's
Members of the Beatles in 1960: From left, Pete Best, George Harrison, Lennon, Paul McCartney and Sutcliffe, cropped by grease pencil markings. They are among images up for auction.
She was briefly engaged to the bass player Stuart Sutcliffe, who died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962, at 21. She later tried to branch out as a photojournalist, but potential clients always asked, “Where are the Beatles pictures?”
This spring Ms. Kirchherr, 73, decided to shed the baggage. Early this fall Guernsey’s auction house in New York will offer about 800 of her negatives and prints. Although she says she has remained friends with the surviving Beatles, she cannot wait to stop being asked about them, and the past in general.
“I must tell you the truth, I’m absolutely fed up with it all,” she said in a recent phone interview. She added, “I’ve got to take care of my age.”
Buyers at the auction will receive rights to reprint and publish the photos “as they see fit,” Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s, said.
Ms. Kirchherr, despite her jadedness, has come back into the limelight in the last year. Arne Bellstorf, a German comics artist, wrote and illustrated “Baby’s in Black: The Story of Astrid Kirchherr & Stuart Sutcliffe” (published by Reprodukt). A retrospective of her work closed in January at the Victoria Gallery & Museum in Liverpool, and Liverpool University Press (distributed by University of Chicago Press) has issued a Kirchherr monograph.
In July the new Museum of Liverpool will open with a gallery devoted to Beatles memorabilia. It will display a jacket that the drummer Pete Best wore during Hamburg stints before he was replaced by Ringo Starr, and Sutcliffe’s black leather wallet, with white hearts painted on the corners and an inscribed love note from Ms. Kirchherr.

Medieval clergy and royals kept trying to ban the latest fashions in clothing. The lawmakers fumed as male trendsetters wore daringly short jackets over leggings and long pointy shoes, and women exposed cleavage and stiffened their hair into tall twin cones.
“Women thus horned and branched resemble horned snails and unicorns,” a French bishop scolded his congregation around 1370. In the early 1400s, councilors to Charles VII warned, “among all the inhabited nations of the earth none is so deformed, variable, outrageous, excessive and inconstant in its garments and dress as the French nation.”
Two exhibitions opening this month document the era’s extreme outfits. The Getty Museum in Los Angeles has brought out about 20 illuminated manuscripts for “Fashion in the Middle Ages,” which opens on May 31 and runs through Aug. 14. At the Morgan Library & Museum in Manhattan, “Illuminating Fashion: Dress in the Art of Medieval France and the Netherlands” opens on Friday with about 50 book illustrations and four reproductions of costumes made of wool, velvet, silk, gold embroidery and synthetic fur.
Curators at both institutions spent years scrutinizing paintings, architectural ornaments, tapestries and stained glass that portray various professions, religions and nationalities. German women tended to wear ruffled veils, and the Milanese wrapped themselves in patterned silk. Medical professors in Paris were required to identify themselves with violet robes, and Jews in some regions had to put on two-tone badges and yellow conical hats.
Fur-lined hoods kept priests warm in dank stone churches. Peasants harvesting in the summer would take off their drab wool tunics and strip down to their linen undershorts. Thousands of squirrel pelts went into the construction of a single royal suit, and women in enormous hairstyles had to duck to fit under balconies and through doorways.
Uncomfortable clothing, with tight bodices and sleeves that encumbered the hands, was considered a status symbol. “It means you don’t have to do work,” said Roger S. Wieck, the Morgan’s curator of medieval and Renaissance manuscripts.
Book illustrations commissioned by rich patrons, however, did not necessarily portray real-life habits. Prostitutes are shown in exaggeratedly expensive garb representing their soullessness, Mr. Wieck said.
“Kings are depicted always wearing a crown, even in bed,” he and the historian Anne H. van Buren write in a book accompanying the Morgan show.
In the Getty exhibition’s volume, the costume historian Margaret Scott points out that peasant dress is often glamorized, “even to the extent of including gilded straw hats.”
Les Enluminures, a gallery in Paris, has opened a show to coincide with the Getty and Morgan exhibitions. “Dressing Up and Dressing Down in the Middle Ages and Renaissance: Costume in Art,” through Aug. 25, contains about 35 pieces, including a 16th-century prayer book with images of jeweled pendants (about $91,000) and a 1460s German watercolor of executioners wearing fashionable short robes in a depiction of the biblical Massacre of the Innocents (about $21,000).
Chunks of the eclectic collections of the publishing magnate Malcolm S. Forbes and his heirs have been dispersed at auctions scattered throughout the last year. The family sold toys at Sotheby’s in New York in December, ship models in January at Red Baron in Atlanta, and Soviet spacesuits at Bonhams in New York on May 5. An improbable cluster of military memorabilia, sports trophies and Cartier stone flowers in crystal vases will be up for sale on June 1 at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas.
The lots, partly from Forbes’s office, have estimates ranging from under $100 for a silver spoon given to the third-place winner in a “pretty baby” contest in 1917 to $5,000 for a singed fragment of the Hindenburg zeppelin converted into a bar stool. Estimates are a few hundred dollars each for awards for hobbies like darts and croquet and relics of British colonial exploits, including 1920s photos of Welsh soldiers in Cairo and an 1870s ceremonial trowel commemorating construction of a turreted exhibition hall in Jaipur, India.
Buyers at the recent Forbes sales are already reselling the material. Last weekend Mosby & Company in Frederick, Md., auctioned about 80 of the family’s toy motorcycles from the Sotheby’s sale at prices of up to $1,540 each this time. The Forbeses’ 18th-century London house is on the market for about $19 million, and the new owner will be allowed to acquire its Victorian paintings as well.
“That’s going to depend on the buyer,” said Bonnie Kirschstein, managing director of the curatorial department of Forbes L.L.C. in New York.
“We still have lots and lots of stuff,” including photographs and Franco-Prussian paintings in storage, she added.

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