Skewering the Veep
Philip Guston's Lampoon of Spiro Agnew at Bonhams Modern and Contemporary Art Sale

Richard Nixon's tempestuous first term as President of the United States (1968-72) caused despair among America's artistic community. In the summer of 1971, close friends, novelist Philip Roth and abstract expressionist-turned-existential painter Philip Guston, put their despondency to creative use. Roth wrote the satirical Our Gang and, inspired by his friend's work and conversation, Guston produced his famous series of cartoons excoriating Nixon and his cronies. A work from that time – lampooning Nixon's Vice President Spiro T Agnew as a set of golf clubs – will be offered at Bonhams Modern and Contemporary Art sale which runs online from 13-27 May. Guston dedicated and gave the drawing to Barbara Sproul, who was romantically involved with Roth at the time. It is estimated at $25,000-35,000.

Hawkish on America's involvement in Vietnam, popular with conservatives and loathed by the left, Agnew was useful to Nixon as an attack dog on liberals and the growing number of anti-war and civil rights protesters whom he characterised as enemies of the Silent Majority of decent, law-abiding Americans. He served a full term as Vice-President but was forced from office in October 1973 after pleading no contest to a charge of tax evasion (behind which it emerged sat many years of systematic corruption). He was only the second Vice President to leave office prematurely, and the only one to do so under a cloud. Nixon resigned as President in August the following year to avoid impeachment over lying about the extent of his knowledge of the Watergate break-in and the subsequent cover up.

The Canadian-American painter Philip Guston (1913-1980) came to prominence as an abstract expressionist and a member of the New York School. In the late 1960s he controversially broke with the movement and embraced a simplified representational style which he pursued for the rest of his life.

This auction also features Modern art by blue-chip artists of great renown, but at approachable price points. Highlights include:

Sin título, (1949), an enigmatic portrait in watercolor and gouache on paper laid on board, by René Portocarrero (1912-1986), estimate $25,000 - 35,000.

Pages d'Amour, pour Paul et Dominique by Françoise Gilot, (born 1921),estimate $8,000 – 12,000. Gilot created this whimsical drawing for Andre Verdet's book of poems, Pages d'Amour, published in 1951. For the volume of poetry, Gilot created 17 original lithographs, with the present work a preparatory drawing later given to Paul Éluard to commemorate his marriage to Dominique Laure. Éluard was a poet and key figure in the artistic milieu of the early 20th century. As a founding member of the Surrealist movement, signing the original manifesto in 1924, Éluard became close friends with Miró, Dalí, and Picasso, the latter of whom introduced the poet to Gilot.

Nature morte, oil on canvas, by Jean Souverbie (1891-1981), estimate $10,000 - 15,000

Yellow Flowers, Interior scene in pastel on paper by master of color, Paul Maze (1887-1979), estimate $4,000-6,000


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