January 17, 2008 (Indianapolis, Indiana. Joni Back-Bubenzer) Dan Ripley announces the offering of a large and important portrait by American artist and illustrator, Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) at Antique Helper’s 2008 Premier Art and Antique Auction on Sunday, February 10th.
Having graced the cover of the November, 1922 Motor Magazine, this portrait came to Antique Helper accompanied by the kind of impeccable provenance every auction house dreams about. Most likely a portrait of Christy’s second wife, model Nancy Palmer, it was given by the artist to the consignor’s grandfather, Ernest Ropkey, publisher of Motor Magazine. It has remained in the Ropkey family for eighty-five years.
The consignor, military collector and historian Fred Ropkey, paints a colorful portrait of his grandfather who also founded the Indianapolis Engraving and Electrotype Co. (now known as Ropkey Graphics). According to Fred, Ernest was also a Brown County artist whose circle of friends included T.C. Steele and Marie Goth. Even as an established businessman, the elder Ropkey continued to keep a studio in Brown County.
But it was the engraving company, opened in 1880, which kept Ernest Ropkey in the public’s eye. Among the company’s clients were the Stutz and Duesenberg auto companies. They relied on Ropkey and his staff to produce the detailed illustrations and cut-away drawings needed by the nascent auto industry.
As active in social and political realms as he was in business, Ernest served on the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and was elected President of the City Council. His good sense and strong reputation led colleagues to encourage him to run for Governor, an honor he chose to decline. Ropkey also had a strong hand in the creation of the Indianapolis Airport. Carl Fisher, founder of the Indianapolis Motor Speedeay, counted Ropkey as a friend.
Ropkey’s interest in the booming automobile business led him to produce Motor Magazine, joining Saturday Evening Post in his publishing stable. Christy painted several works for the cover of the publication, including the portrait offered by Antique Helper. By the time this cover was created, Christy had become well known as a popular American artist.
Early in his career, Christy was considered a military artist. Dispatched to Cuba in 1898, he was sent to document the battles of the Spanish American War. Ironically, it was here that he unknowingly crossed paths with another Ropkey ancestor, Lieutenant R. H. Noble, who led the 16th Infantry in the capture of San Juan Hill.
Christy moved from his early career as a military artist to complete commissions for major historical paintings, including the colossal, 20’ x 30’ mural, “The Signing of the Constitution” (1940), which hangs in the United States Capitol. However, Christy is probably best known for his trademark “Christy Girl.” Representative of the artist’s ideal American woman, the Christy Girl was a true 20th Century female. Educated, adventurous, athletic, outdoorsy and beautiful, Christy Girls graced the covers of some of the most popular magazines of the day, including American Legion, McCall’s and William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan. But the most recognizable representation of the plucky Christy Girl can be found on the military recruiting posters created during WWI.
Christy and his stylish wife Nancy drew plenty of attention as they navigated their way through plays, parties and social gatherings in the 1920’s. The couple’s comings and goings, attire and companions were frequently reported by daily newspaper society columnists, as they became part of New York’s most elite circles. In the 1920s, he left his work as an illustrator to become a painter of celebrities and socialites. Counted among the rich and famous who sat for portraits with Christy were Presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, General Pershing, Amelia Earhart, Lillian Russell, Will Rogers and the Prince of Wales.
The painting, presented in Antique Helper’s 2008 Premier Art and Antiques Auction, provides a unique opportunity for collectors to own an outstanding example of work from an important figure in American art. “We are pleased to offer this painting in our February 10 auction,” says Antique Helper’s owner, Dan Ripley. “The marriage of quality and provenance merit the kind of marketing and personal services that we strive to offer. It is exciting to see work of this kind in our gallery, and it will be fun to observe the attention it is sure to receive.”
The February 10 auction will begin at 11 AM, Eastern Standard Time. Doors will open at 9:00 AM, and the gallery will be open for preview in the days before the auction. An online catalogue will be posted on our website, www.antiquehelper.com, at least 10 days before the event.