Michelle St Laurent has made an indelible mark on the Disney fine art scene, and over her career has become one of the artists whose work is the most sought-after by Disney collectors. It’s plain to see why. Read on for more about Michelle St. Laurent and for an exclusive interview!
I love finding vintage cels. I loved even more finding vintage Donald Duck production art. As much as I enjoy a Disney cartoon, I’ve never much been a fan of Mickey Mouse. Friendly, funny, and sweet, he just didn’t resonate with me. Donald Duck? The grumpy Disney duck in Navy uniform (of sorts) is another story. I could relate to his anger management issues, and his often hollow attempts to find joy. When he did find happiness, we all knew it was real.
Last year on June 9th, It was Donald Duck’s anniversary. He turned 85. We thought now is as good a time as any to celebrate the character with Donald Duck production cels. Let me tell you the story of how we came by this great original art:
A friend worked at Disney in the 70s. There was research going on for the art program, and every day they pulled art from the Disney morgue (what is now known as the Animation Research Library) and every night they planned to put it all back, and the folks in charge said, “Oh, just keep it if you want it. It’s more trouble to put back.” These were very VERY different times. This friend completely forgot they had the art. It sat in boxes for decades. When they were finally moving after many years, they stumbled onto the box of art. Interestingly, a number of them were laminated. As you all may or may not know, I don’t sell laminated animation art (see my blog about that HERE.) so I offered to sell the unlaminated animation art they had. The art included a Briar Rose and a Philip and Samson Sleeping Beauty production cel (in original condition, full cels, which is rare, since they are mostly trimmed or laminated!) a few Mickey Mouse production cels, and these lovely, iconic images of Donald Duck, which was one of their favorite characters.
I haven’t found where these cels are from, and I’m not likely to track them down. I am guessing they were for TV. A number of them are hand-inked (with a thin ink-line to boot), so those are definitely from before 1958. What I do know is they are one step away from Disney, and have only been in three places: Disney, my friend’s house, and my gallery. No damage, no restoration, no trimming. Just great, affordable Donald Duck production cels, perfect for Disney fans who love the character!
Why DONALD DUCK? I mean, it did all ‘start with a mouse”. Well, Donald Fauntleroy Duck, in a lot of ways, represents Walt Disney Studios in ways that Mickey Mouse never did. Most notably, Donald was the cartoon character of choice when it came to the war effort.
During World War II, Donald was the one that Walt Disney used in all the propaganda cartoons. In fact, Disney won an Oscar for perhaps the most famous Donald Duck cartoon, Der Fuehrer’s Face in 1943, only a year after the studio won its first Oscar for a Mickey Mouse cartoon with Lend a Paw in 1942. You can read a bit more about Walt Disney’s support in the war effort on the National Museum of American History blog, HERE. Due to the fact that Donald was in so many wartime cartoons, he wound up on the nose of nearly every kind of US combat aircraft at the time. He was also the mascot for a number of fighter squadrons.
It’s interesting to note that there was a long stretch of time when there were very few Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts released, whereas they were releasing tons of Donald Duck cartoons. While 1942-1950, Mickey made only 12 appearances, Donald was in a whopping 67 cartoons!
The most interesting thing I discovered when researching about Donald Duck, was that he is incredibly popular in Germany. Comic books in German featuring the character sell hundreds of thousands of copies, half of which are over 16. In part that’s to the credit of Erika Fuchs, who began translating Disney comics into German in 1951, and did so until her retirement in 1988. Her choices of translation led to a character far more erudite, in fact quoting classic German literature, and even injecting political subtexts into the stories. There’s a fan club called D.O.N.A.L.D that celebrates “Donaldism”, conventions celebrating him, serious lectures on his philosophies, and a museum that opened in 2015 dedicated to Erika Fuchs in her home town, Schwarzenbach an der Saale.
I know a lot of collectors who fancy Donald and are avid collectors, but a lot of Donald Duck production cels from the older cartoons are very expensive, and few are in very good condition. Cels from the 50s and 60s are almost all Disneyland mat set-ups sold at the art corner at Disney, which means they’re stuck to their background or restored. These pieces are unusual in that they are full, untrimmed cels from an era when Disney cut their art down to smaller sizes and stuck them on litho backgrounds, making them all 9 x 12 inches. This Donald Duck production art is inexpensive, and has a great story!
Meanwhile, why Donald Duck now, in the time of COVID? Because Donald Duck perseveres. He may lose his temper, or act the prankster, but he always chooses to be optimistic and hope for the best. That’s a message we can all take to heart, even if it does come, or maybe especially because it comes from a cartoon duck.
Here is the COVID Cartoon Comfort for this week’s Wednesday Wonders: It’s a clip from the fantastic“Aquarela do Brasil” from 1943’s Saludos Amigos. There’s so much joy and friendship in this cartoon. It seems perfect as people around the world join together to show compassion and concern for all those affected by the pandemic. You can see the whole cartoon on Disney+.
It’s getting down to the last minute for getting Christmas presents and holiday gifts! We thought we’d help the folks out there who are still struggling to find something wonderful, and suggest film art. Disney art and Marvel superhero art, just to name two, make crowd pleasing, inventive gifts for family and friends who love movies. Our experience in the gallery is it can be the sort of art people don’t buy themselves, but love and enjoy, and would be so happy to get as a gift! We have so many visitors who frequent our store and know all about the movies, and come by just to see what’s new. They respect and look up to the artists that are represented here. I’m also so excited when someone close to them comes in and gets them a piece. It’s always so well received!
With that in mind, here are a few pieces that are ready to display and are $150 or under:
How many of my longterm clients know that the mice and birds in Cinderella are some of my all-time favorites? I’m not alone. John Rowe does a great composition of them and the star of the film, Cinderella’s castle…ummm, I mean, Cinderella.
Oh that haughty iris is such a great character. There are so many minor characters that are memorable in Alice in Wonderland. Here are just a few of them, created in a great Disney fine art piece by Michelle St. Laurent:
What a wonderful piece this Dig A Little Deeper is! Heather Theurer has gotten lots of press for her live action reinterpretations of Disney princesses. Here is her version of the first African-American Disney princess:
Did you love Moana? Of course you did. This is one of the best scenes in the whole movie, captured in Disney fine art by Rob Kaz.
You’d be surprised at the number of adult fans this pixie dream girl has. She should be the original “not bad, just drawn that way”, but regardless, many a fan would love to have this sometimes-sweet fairy.
And what about Star Wars: The Last Jedi? You loved it? You hated it? Either way, you’re probably a fan of the saga, and so is that loved-one. Here’s a sold-out Star Wars limited edition of BB8 the Astromech droid by Steve Thomas that no one will argue about. The best of the new Star Wars characters captured in official Star Wars film art!
Maybe that hard-to-buy-for friend or family member is a fan of Marvel. If everyone didn’t love Thor and company before Ragnarok, they do now! We have framed special-release posters from San Diego Comic-Con of both Ragnarok and Black Panther that will be a great gift and tickle their fancy. We also have a sold out Captain America limited edition and a great New Avengers piece…
OMG! You can get Thor, Cap, and Iron Man by Alex Ross for your Marvel-obsessed loved-one! Can there be a better gift? No. The answer is no.
Of course there are lots of other options on our “GIFTS IN-STOCK” page, which you can get to by clicking HERE.
We’ll be here in the gallery Christmas eve until at 2pm, as well as…
Thursday 10-6pm, Friday 10-6pm, Saturday 10-6pm, Sunday 12-2pm, but check with us if you need to stop by outside these hours. We are here to help!
so come and see us and let us solve the age-old problem of gift-giving…You’ll be grateful, and the receiver will be thrilled!
Best of the holidays to you all,
Leslie and Michael
So…to restore or not to restore…and what does a collector need to ask or look for when considering vintage animation art for purchase? How might the art have been altered or restored?
What to do when a cel is damaged you are considering or gets damaged while on your wall or in your collection?
My opinion on this is that it is absolutely fine to restore cels. However, the world of animation art needs to set parameters of what is acceptable and it is essential as a part of the “industry” to know BEFORE you buy a cel whether it’s been restored already or not.
IN addition to that, backgrounds created for cels need to have very clearly indications that they are created specifically to enhance the set up, and that they are NOT original from Disney. This has recently become quite a problem. When we have a background created for collectors, we have our artists sign the back and the style is about 30 to 40% off from the original style of the actual background, so that it is clearly not from the studio and cannot be passed off as such. (there have been problems with cels that have “hand prepared backgrounds” being passed off as preliminary or original studio backgrounds in recent auctions)
While the collectors I know are perfectly willing to buy art that has been repaired or even needs repairing, there are often cels that are sold from old collections that have little to no paint and are completely repainted. As long as the potential collector is aware of that, no harm done. However, if they are under the impression that the paint is original, that seems disingenuous. Also, ArtInsights often buys art for more money for the very reason that it hasn’t been touched by restorers. There are many dealers and collectors buying art for next to nothing and having that art restored, then selling it for less but without stating the art’s history with restoration.
Also, part of “restoration” or “giving the art more eye appeal” may involved adding cels that are not production to a set up that enhances the image. Now this is not referring to putting together cels that come from different sources, that is perfectly fine. This is referring to opening up eyes that were previously closed…or adding more to a registered cel to complete a cel where the arm, or half a wing, or whatever, is missing… or adding Tramp to Lady, when the cel set up previously only had Lady there, and the Tramp cel has just been manufactured to add “eye appeal”. These are all practices that border on fraud.
It is part of the reason ArtInsights sells less animation now, because we’d rather just follow our own rules without calling attention to what any other dealer may or may not be doing.
As a collector, here are some questions you may want to ask when purchasing art, whether from ArtInsights or from another gallery, dealer, collector, or auction house. While there is no guarantee anyone will be completely transparent, at least you’ll know you’ve asked the right questions… PLEASE REMEMBER to always watch the movie to find the cel therein. If the gallery or company with whom you are transacting has already done it (which they should have) or knows where in the film the image originates, have them tell show you, and/or reaffirm by watching it yourself. There are certainly cels that come from cut scenes, or edited scenes, or are more concept than finished, but whoever you are working with should know that and tell you so.
- Has the art been restored in any way?
- If so, by whom? If that is considered proprietary information, at least ask whether it has been restored in gouache or acrylic paint.
- If restored, was there any line work done? (the ink line is on the surface of the cel and paint is on the back. Even very liberal dealer/collectors believe there should be minimal line work done–i.e. outlines repainted–as part of restoration ….At what point does the art lose all original integrity?
- If restored, was the art trimmed and reapplied to another cel? Some believe this effects the value, but this is another argument in the animation art world…because “CEL” refers to the whole piece of plastic, not just the part with the character. When you buy a cel, you are buying the piece of plastic, not just the image of the character.
- If the restored cel is a Courvoisier set up, or an Art Corner piece from Disneyland, are those aspects of the restored cel being included with the art being purchased? Make sure the Courvoisier background is original and not fabricated. There are some that were being briefly recreated through a new license with Disney. I don’t think it’s being done now, but check the provenance of the art to know for sure.
- If not Courvoisier or Art Corner, and there is a background, is it hand prepared, preliminary, or studio background an original background from the film? (sometimes someone will call a background a studio background because it is FROM the studio, but NOT from the film.
- If the art is cracked or there is paint separation, can the provision be that if there is further damage it will be taken care of by the company from which you are purchasing the art?
- Whenever possible, ask for an image of the art before restoration. This way you’ll be sure to know what’s been done to it, what might have been added, and reaffirm color was reapplied more or less correctly based on the original. (for example, there are scenes of Lady where she is very dark from part of the movie at night and some dealers have had those repainted to a more palatable color, which is not consistent with the original color used in those scenes. The same goes for Alice’s hair, which is sometimes an odd green color but looks normal onscreen, and almost all of the highlight hair on Peg during “He’s A Tramp”.)
- Avoid restored limited editions unless you are buying them for nearly nothing, as well as cels that will be restored that have seeping color in the cel, (like the bright pink of the Cheshire Cat) unless you are willing to have the art trimmed to the outline and reapplied to a new cel.
When considering restoration for art you already own, remember to ask these questions:
- How do you want to have the art restored? In gouache means it may get damaged again in the same place and in the same way, but it is being done with the same kind of paint as the original. In acrylic you are restoring it permanently, but it is paint that may not have been used back when the film was being made
- How long will the restoration take? Some studios take a LONG time. Like, years. Ask for a due date, and have it written as part of the exchange. If the restoration takes several months longer than that, consider having it returned.
- Obviously you’ll want to have an estimate given. Don’t believe there’s only one game in town. By the same token, make sure you have read or heard good references for the restoration studio you are using.
That is all I can think of at the moment, but it may have confused you. This restoration business is rather complicated. It really is a matter, as collector, of deciding what you are comfortable with and knowing what questions to ask and what kinds of restoration you believe acceptable based on the art you’re buying. Certainly if you are buying a piece that has been almost completely repainted, you should expect to pay way less unless it is the rarest of the rare. (and remember the dealers more prone to hard sell will tell you everything is the rarest of the rare. RAREST means things like Chernabog, the Queen from Snow White, and things along those lines…but in those cases, you’d better know where the art you are considering has been since the moment it left the studio…)
I hope this information is elucidating and helpful to those of you who love vintage art, and isn’t too discouraging. To all of us at ArtInsights, we believe you are better off knowing more and being more aware as a collector. If this leans you in the direction of using us to find your art, so much the better. We love creating loyal clients. Even if you never buy from us, at least you’ll go into your own transactions with eyes wide open, and they won’t have been painted that way.