The Leslie & Johanna Garfield Collection: A Celebration of Prints Day Sale
Live Auction: 19 October 2023 • 10:00 AM EDT • New York

The Leslie & Johanna Garfield Collection: A Celebration of Prints Day Sale 19 October 2023 • 10:00 AM EDT • New York

S otheby’s is honored to present the Leslie & Johanna Garfield Collection of prints at auction across several sales in New York and London in 2023 and 2024. The Garfields’ devotion to amassing an in-depth survey of fine prints and their steadfast commitment to art-related foundations was exceptional.

Leslie & Johanna Garfield

By Heather Hess, Curator

These sales celebrate the extraordinary legacy of Leslie and Johanna Garfield’s obsession with prints. They had expansive eyes and were always open to new artists to complement their deep holdings of American woodcuts, British modernists, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, and British Pop. Over their lifetimes, they acquired more than 6,000 works on paper (plus a few paintings and sculptures), all because, as Jo once noted, “We just really liked them.”

Remarkably, their collecting adventure began by chance. Neither had familial nor professional connections to art: Leslie sold townhouses, and Jo was a writer. Jo explained, “This love of art— of prints— was completely spontaneous.” Leslie, then stationed in Germany, happened into a Munich shop, where he became entranced by a German Expressionist woodcut. He walked away, only to return the following weekend to remedy that mistake, unable to shake the object’s hold and prompting what he described as his "unbridled love of works on paper.”

The hunt continued in New York, as Leslie traversed galleries uptown and down looking for the next addition. Upon finding one potential new acquisition, he jotted in a diary, “Must show Jo!” Liking the prints was crucial, because they never bought anything with the intention of storing it away, although their later holdings exceeded what the walls of any New York apartment could accommodate, no matter how many sliding panels or shaded nooks for sheltering works on paper they devised.

They did not keep their discoveries to themselves, and shared their excitement with each other, with museum directors and curators, and with everyone they encountered in the print world, at parties, dinners, and fairs. Sometimes Leslie would see a print at the IFPDA Print Fair and buy one for himself and another for a museum. Sometimes, museums needed convincing. They spent twenty years championing the likes of the Provincetown printmakers (one of Jo’s discoveries, spotted when Leslie had his eye on something else) and Grosvenor School linocutters. They went on research trips to track down heirs and learn as much as they could about artists then ignored by both scholarship and the market. They bought voraciously and delighted in having multiple impressions and unique color variants that meant they were never truly finished collecting those artists. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art eventually took troves of those prints, but even then, Leslie could not resist buying some again. They cost a bit more the second time around.

So much of their collecting was driven by pure instinct. Their love of Johns came to Leslie like “a revelation” after seeing Flags I in the printer’s studio. With Richard Hamilton, which spawned their extensive collection of British Pop, an exhibition at the British Museum prompted them to look at each other “and there was a smile—a ‘yes.’” Sometimes, it was as simple as seeing a thumbnail in an auction catalog.

In that spirit, maybe this catalogue will spark others to start or deepen their own collection of prints. Jo and Leslie would have liked that.

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Works by Female Artists

Derrick Adams

"I feel more than ever that it is essential for artists to make work that celebrates Black culture. As a Black man, I am aware of my vulnerability and susceptibility to trauma and oppression on a daily basis...there are images that are less important for us to see than images of joy."

The Grosvenor School

Founded in 1925, during a most turbulent period in Britain’s history, the Grosvenor School of Modern Art revived the country’s interest in printmaking. The School’s distinctively vibrant, dynamic views of everyday life in frenetic London and its environs, greatly inspired by Futurism, Cubism, and Vorticism, delighted the British public during the Interwar years. Led by lecturer Claude Flight, students and staff members of the Grosvenor School, including Sybil Andrews, Cyril Power, and Lill Tschudi, favored the color linoleum cut print, considering it the perfect mode of expression. They found the punchy graphics rendered by this technique ideal for depicting the utopian, modernized country Britain was striving to become.

Mel Bochner

The son of a sign painter, Mel Bochner’s precise yet unconventional approach has cemented his place as a pioneer of Conceptual art. His interrogation of the linguistic breaks down the barriers of public discourse in order to shed light on language’s capacity for rage and disingenuity. For Bochner, printmaking is how he makes tangible the fickleness of meaning and the mercurial nature of speech: “I thought of prints as a way of disseminating ideas. A lot of the work I was doing at the time was ephemeral. Prints were a way to help ideas survive the world.” (Mel Bochner, quoted in ‘Pushing the Boundaries: A Conversation Between Mel Bochner and Jan Howard’ from Amazing!: Mel Bochner Prints, p. 239)

Contemporary British Printmakers

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