Enjoy unlimited access: just £1 for 12 weeks

Subscribe now

American highlights and preview

£1 = $1.26

SWANN Galleries (25/20/12% buyer’s premium) offered what it dubbed “the largest private collection of works” by Czech-born Art Nouveau painter and illustrator Alphonse Mucha and his circle ever to come to auction on January 26.

Harry C Meyerhoff was a vintage poster collector based in Easton, Maryland.

He began collecting fin de siècle posters in the 1970s with his wife and soon turned his focus to Mucha, the best-known exponent of this genre.

His main adviser for the collection was William J Tomlinson, the Baltimore art dealer and appraiser. Meyerhoff died on February 11 last year at the age of 86.

Of the more than 200 posters, sketches and ephemera offered in the Alphonse Mucha & Masters of Art Nouveau: The Harry C Meyerhoff Collection sale in New York, more than half were by Mucha.

Many of the pieces were unique, previously unrecorded, or had never before appeared at auction.

All but one of the 136 Mucha works found new homes, leading to a 93% sell-through rate for the entire sale.

Seasonal joys

The Mucha best-seller was a rare set of silk panels depicting allegories of The Seasons, 1900, measuring about 2ft 3in x12in (66 x 30cm). The designs mark a shift in the artist’s style away from pastels and towards realism. The set sold to a dealer for $28,000 (£22,200).

Other examples of Mucha’s work printed on fabric were two red panels, one on satin and one on velveteen. The satin example doubled its high estimate to sell for $6000 (£4750).

All seven of the posters he designed for the actress Sarah Bernhardt performed well, led by the dramatic life-size depiction of Sarah Bernhardt in the role of Médée (Medea) in the play of that name, 1898, which sold to a collector for $19,000 (£15,100).

Bernhardt helped to launch the artist’s career when she commissioned him to create a poster for her 1894 production of Gismonda, which was so successful she reused the design in her 1896 Sarah Bernhardt/American Tour (sold for $4800/£3800).

Many posters made their auction debut, including the ethereal Parfumerie Gellé Frères/Sylvanis Essence, 1899, in its scarce pre-text format ($22,000/£17,500 to a dealer), and Krinogen, an unusual circular advertisement, c.1928, bought by a collector for $2000 (£1600).

Top lot of the sale overall was the complete set of five volumes of Les Maîtres de l’Affiche, which was published periodically in Paris from 1896-1900.

The art critic Roger Marx compiled what he believed to be the best Art Nouveau posters of the time from Europe and the US, with fullcolour lithographs of works by Jules Chéret, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, Mucha and others. This set, in its original binding designed by Paul Berthon, was bought by an institution for $38,000 (£30,150).

Swann president and principal auctioneer Nicholas Lowry, who is also the director of the vintage posters department, said: “This proved to be our most successful poster sale by lot and our third best by value.”