Swann, a New York City auction house founded in 1941, has a clubhouse social hall worth of prized golf art on the block. The collection of Richard McDonough, featuring over 60 illustrations, printed graphics, and posters is up for auction January 28th, the same day the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open tees off.
McDonough, a retired corporate lawyer based in Savannah, Georgia who authored the book Great Golf Collections of the World, first caught the collecting bug in the early 1980s. Initially he focused on antique hickory golf clubs before discovering a passion for original golf art in the 1990s that would lead him on a three-decade cross continent acquisition spree.
“I found it especially rewarding to find an illustration that I was able to tie back to the original publication. For example, the Leslie Thrasher piece available in the auction was his first cover sold to the Saturday Evening Post, which I realized, but the seller did not,” says McDonough.
“Dick’s collection reflects both a focused theme and then has great breadth within that theme. He has both lush, moody landscapes from the turn of the century to bright, colorful, humorous magazine covers and cartoons from the past twenty years,” says Christine von der Linn, Swann’s director of illustration art.
While items and ephemera associated with the legends of the game command top dollar, visual depictions of the sport are the next group up on the golf collectibles leaderboard.
“[The Market] seems to be strong for the equipment and memorabilia, followed by graphics, so I am hoping new and art-savvy collectors and investors will, like Dick, find enjoyment in this visual side that celebrates the beauty and history of the game,” says von der Linn.
One work expected to fetch a five-figure sum is In The Field, a romantic charcoal and water color illustration by Howard Chandler Christy executed in 1902.
“When I was shown this work, my heart just dropped with nervous excitement to be in its presence,” says McDonough.
“I admire the style and subtlety of the courting couple on the golf course. He only illustrated a few golf scenes. The other one from this same story has a more pronounced golf motif and was reproduced for commercial sale, but it is in a permanent collection and so would never be obtainable.”
Christy, is celebrated for his depictions of alluring, young, and stylish American women around the turn of the 19th century and this romantic interlude is a good example.
“Christy is still among the most highly sought-after American artists. His work and style are so iconic and most everyone has seen one or more of his paintings, illustrations, war posters, murals, or portraits of famous figures. He practically defined the spirit and style of America in the first quarter of the century,” says von der Linn.
Another standout image is a mid-century work by Bill Randall in which a visibly angry golfer toting both his and his wife’s golf bag strides toward the parking lot. Meanwhile his beaming wife clearly wants to rehash her round’s highlights as she flaunts the scorecard. While their post round banter may be open to interpretation, the expressions give us the gist of the story.
“The wife is obviously bragging about her score. The poor husband is dismayed, and he even broke his club during the round of golf,” says McDonough.
“A great illustrator has the ability to convey numerous sentiments at one time,” he adds.
Aside from the McDonough collection of golf illustrations which is the featured attraction of the livestreamed auction, the sale also includes sections dedicated to original children’s book art, performing arts and fashion, and magazine illustrations.