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A record-setting S$6,179,651 auction of 20th-century animated art is proof that old is gold

The three-day event by Heritage Auctions saw hundreds of works from every old-school animation studio worth its salt.

Nostalgia bait – or the weaponised use of rose-tinted glasses on foggy, childhood memories for pleasure and profit – is the ultimate form of frustration. Not because it’s obvious, but because we’d fall for it regardless. Reviving the Space Jam franchise 25 years after the first movie was released, whether constructed by loving artists with the best of intentions or not, will be seen as a cash grab. The actual quality of the material doesn’t matter.

Despite that, the truth remains – nostalgia makes money. Especially when you’re purchasing what’s essentially a distillation of the last century’s achievements without any impurities or new-age nonsense. That might come in the form of a mint-condition, early production copy of one Nintendo’s best and brightest, or an extravaganza of old-fangled animation art. Today, we’ll be looking at the latter. 

Mary Blair Peter Pan Mermaids and Jolly Roger Pirate Ship Concept Painting (Walt Disney, 1953)

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Heritage Auctions’ recent three-day Animation Art signature auction recently concluded with more than 1,700 drawings, sketches and conceptual paintings changing hands to the tune of US$4,547,071 (S$6,179,651). The auction’s rousing success saw record prices from every major animation studio, including the likes of Disney, Warner Brothers, MGM and more.

Eight of the 10 top performing pieces sold during the National Day weekend was an oeuvre of the late Disney great Mary Blair, whose worked on films like Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Peter Pan. A conceptual painting for the lattermost animated film made in 1953 topped the weekend’s sales for a cool S$98,000. 

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This was closely followed by an artwork conceptualising a castle facade for famed Disneyland ride It’s a Small World at S$90,000. Her other features in the top 10 included other works depicting Captain Hook, Alice and the supporting crew of much-loved Disney characters.

Hair-Raising Hare Bugs Bunny and Gossamer Production Cel (Warner Brothers,1946)

Naturally, celebrated Looney Tunes icons like Bugs Bunny and the slightly less popular (thoug no less significant) Marvin the Martian also got on the list. A still from 1946’s Hair-Raising Hare (directed by Chuck Jones) earned its third-place spot, selling for S$72,000, closely followed by a raygun-toting Marvin the Martian at S$65,000.

These old-school animation works, while not making as flashy a headline as multi-million dollar NFTs, prove that art ages very much like fine wine in the world of memorabilia and art collection. 

For more from Heritage Auctions.