|By Susan Emerson Nutter
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — When vintage clothing enthusiasts hear the name Lilly Pulitzer, the first thought that comes to mind has to be color; lots of color used in fanciful patterns filled with flowers, animals and everything in between.
Born Lillian Lee McKim in November 1931, Lillian Pulitzer Rousseau, aka Lilly Pulitzer, died in April 2013 but not before this American socialite established herself as a fashion designer extraordinaire. Think cruise wear, West Palm Beach-wear, funky brightly colored designer, high society-wear.
The graphic animal and floral prints her talent created were unique. The fact that many a Lilly Pulitzer clothing pattern incorporated her name written in cursive echoed her confidence. Lilly Pulitzer Inc. became the clothing company when it came to catering to both women and men with money to spare.
It was no surprise the bright hues synonymous with the “Queen of Prep” would be center stage when close to 300 lots from Lilly Pulitzer’s estate came to auction via Leslie Hindman Auctioneer at its West Palm Beach location. Be it a bamboo bedroom suite, ceramics or fine art, Lilly liked to surround herself with the vibrant shades that led to her success.
Buyers were out in mass, be it in-house (more than 400) or online, and all were eager to take a piece of Pulitzer home.
“Yes, buyers were interested in the lots up for sale due to the beauty of the items, but the fact that Lilly was once the owner was a major draw,” said Maura Ross of Leslie Hindman’s West Palm Beach location.
A pair of 38-inch-high Chinese export porcelain covered urns with famille verte decoration and faceted bodies were a sale highlight. Done in colors of turquoise, yellow and bright green – Lilly Pulitzer staples – the pair came to auction with an estimate of $2,000-$4,000. Even though the paint and glaze seemed to flake off easily, these urns soared to $42,500.
Another Chinese export piece, this being a porcelain jardinière that was 21 inches in diameter demanded $40,000 in order to be taken home. This piece was appropriately decorated in a pink floral design on a blue quatrefoil ground and came to the auction block with a $100-$200 estimate, making for excited chatter among those in attendance.
Again, two seemingly commonplace pottery cats easily shed their pre-sale estimate of $200-$400, topping out at $8,125. And again color was key with one feline done in a bold blue glaze featuring a large flower design, the other wearing what appears to be a man’s shocking yellow shirt and black tie. Both in a seated position, they measured 14 1/2 inches high and were in the manner of Galle.
A bedroom suite once used by Lilly was in high demand. The Victorian bamboo and lacquer suite included a half tester bed, an occasional table and a side table. Coming into the sale with a high estimate of $2,000, the lot stopped at $22,500, a final price that did not seem to jive with the fact the set was in pretty shaky condition.
According to the Leslie Hindman catalog description of the bedroom suite, “All pieces are in usable, but fragile condition. The bed has been disassembled, cut in certain areas and re-glued back together. Smaller bamboo pieces have broken off and been re-glued. All pieces showing wear to the finish of the bamboo, missing some small pieces of bamboo throughout and having scuffs, scratches, and chips to paint consistent with age and use.”
The paintings sold at this Lilly Pulitzer auction equally reflect this fashion designer’s tastes. Marche aux Fleurs, an oil-on-silk laid to board by Le Pho (French, 1907-2001) was a wonderful representation of what its name states: a flower market. Showing three large vases brimming with fanciful floral arrangements, two female figures can be seen behind the vases upon closer inspection, arranging the displays. This painting more than doubled its pre-sale estimate when it finished at $32,500.
Another painting did not seem to fit the Lilly Pulitzer appeal of riotous color but did again include flowers and, more importantly, animals. Many of Pulitzers’ vintage fabric designs incorporate animals into the pattern, making whimsy a fashion statement. This Doris Emrick Lee (American, 1905-1983) oil-on-canvas Farm Scene included flowering trees as well as a goat, two horses and ducks swimming in a meandering stream. The painting brought $16,250.
Still, the one lot that seemed to resonate what Lilly Pulitzer truly represents was one of the last items to sell. A printed canvas map of Palm Beach in a white frame came to the auction block with an estimate of $40-$60. But this wasn’t any map rendition; this was how Lilly saw her hometown.
The land of the map was done in Lilly’s signature bright green bisected into familiar roads. Each road’s name was presented in Lilly’s familiar handwriting. Pops of pink and orange depicted all that Lilly loved – a giraffe, elephant, lion and flamingo – animals again found in any number of Lilly Pulitzer fabric patterns. Lilly’s flagship store is rendered at lower left, and sailing in the bright blue waters of the pattern is a sailboat whose sail is emblazoned with the designer’s name, her trademark “XX Lilly” in cursive.
A simple canvas, yes, but so perfectly Pulitzer, no one seemed shocked when it landed at $16,250. And why should they be? Those who love all things Lilly could easily see the panache Pulitzer was known for reflected here, the same panache that brought the selling of her estate in just under $600,000.
“The items that Lilly Pulitzer lived with really showed her personality,” Ross said. “And collectors were eager to own a piece of what Lilly loved.”
Prices are inclusive of a 25 percent buyer’s premium.