University Archives

Lot 184

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Jack Kerouac Original Drawing Depicting the Nativity

An original drawing by Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), the famous American Beatnik writer and artist. Provenance: The piece will be accompanied by an estate certification signed by John Shen-Sampas, executor of the Kerouac Estate by descent. John Shen-Sampas is the son of John Sampas, who was the brother-in-law of Jack Kerouac, and the brother of Stella Kerouac, Jack's wife.

The pencil drawing on paper is signed by Jack Kerouac as "Kerouac '63" at lower right. Suspended in a floating mount at center and framed behind glass. Not examined out of frame. The paper leaf shows expected wear including light wrinkles and a few chipped edges. Mounting traces and tape remnants are found along the edges and at the corners, and a 2" long closed tear at lower right shows evidence of a past repair. Two labels are found verso (further described below.) Else near fine. The paper leaf measures 10.875" x 8.5" while the overall frame measures 17.125" x 13" x 1.5."

The drawing depicts a classic Nativity scene comprised of the Baby Jesus, Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, two of the three Magi, and two barn animals. Kerouac used a pencil eraser to form radiating rays of light encircling Christ's head, and also to form haloes around three of the four other figures. Kerouac relies on traditional Christian iconography to depict the story of Christ's birth, but his sparse pencil strokes and canted perspective betray his modernism. Kerouac often depicted religious subjects in his artwork. Hallmark biblical events such as the Supper at Emmaus, the Last Supper, Ecce Homo, the Crucifixion, the Pieta--and, as we have seen, the Nativity--frequently appear in his sketches and paintings.

A gallery label verso indicates that this work was once exhibited at the Whistler House Museum of Art in Lowell, Massachusetts, Kerouac's hometown. The birthplace of American Impressionist James McNeill Whistler, the Whistler House Museum had been converted into an art museum in 1908. The museum's exhibit "Jack Kerouac: Painter and Poet, An Exhibition of Jack Kerouac's Paintings and Poems" was on display there in the fall of 1998. A printed quote from Ed Adler, noted Beatnik scholar and artist, is also found verso.

Kerouac's artistic aspirations first emerged when he attempted a self-portrait at nine years old, according to John Shen-Sampas, Kerouac's literary estate executor. Kerouac claimed that he would rather be a painter than a writer, and when he was writing, he filled his notebooks and journals with sketches and doodles. While Kerouac was never really known for “his artistic endeavors in painting and drawing," when he died, Kerouac “left a trove of portraitures, drawings and sketches behind." Kerouac's artwork was inspired by celebrated modern artists as Willem de Kooning, but also by his interest in Roman Catholicism and Buddhism.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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August 19, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

Wilton, CT, US

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