For the first time in its 30-year history, Neal Auction Co. in New Orleans is featuring a George Rodrigue Blue Dog on the cover of its auction catalog.
It’s just one example of heightened interest in Rodrigue’s work in the six months since the artist’s death.
How much money will the painting bring? Its estimated value is between $25,000 and $35,000, but the sale price won’t be determined until the auction June 28-29.
“This is the only Rodrigue work we’ll have in this auction,” said Rachel Weathers, the auction company’s director of paintings, prints and photography. “I would say the value of (Rodrigue’s paintings) has increased. Every work is unique, and it’s such an early date that it’s hard to tell if we’re seeing a trend.”
The company has auctioned three Rodrigue paintings so far this year. The first sold for $25,095 on Feb. 9, and two others sold for $59,535 and $15,535 on April 27. A silkscreen went for $5,227 on April 27.
In 2013, Rodrigue’s works sold for between $8,000 and $13,000 at Neal.
“Well, the value will go up, because George is no longer painting,” said Mark Tullos, director of the Louisiana State Museum. “The prices naturally will inflate as his pieces are more in demand.”
Rodrigue died at age 69 on Dec. 14 in Houston after a bout with cancer. The New Iberia native gained national acclaim for his Blue Dog paintings in the 1990s, but his body of work also included portraits of politicians, authors and musicians, as well as an extensive series on Louisiana’s Acadian culture.
Rodrigue’s original artwork is sold exclusively through the three Rodrigue Studio Galleries in New Orleans, Lafayette and Carmel, California.
“Everything has gone up in price, but we’re not selling originals in our retail galleries,” said Jacques Rodrigue, the late artist’s son and executive director of the George Rodrigue Foundation. “There are three reasons we’re not selling originals. One, because we’re not interesting in selling. Two, because we don’t need to sell them. And three, because we wouldn’t know how to price them in our retail galleries.”
But the galleries are selling limited edition prints of Rodrigue’s paintings.
“Generally, when we reopened the galleries, all the prices just about doubled,” Jacques Rodrigue said.
Limited edition prints averaged $2,000 before the galleries locked their doors in observance of Rodrigue’s death. The same prints now sell for $4,000.
“We have many collectors who routinely call regularly,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “But a new wrinkle in my dad’s work is the release of his posthumous prints with the seal, ‘From the Estate of George Rodrigue.’ These are images that my dad intended to be released as prints.”
The first was titled “Mardi Gras 2014” and was limited to 450 prints.
“They were priced at $500,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “And they sold out in five days.”
The second, “Spring Adds Color to My Life,” also was limited to 450 prints and was priced at $650. The original painting is on exhibit at the Louisiana State Archives through June 30.
“I raised the price to $750 for ‘Spring Adds Color to My Life’ prints because we only have 20 left,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “We were blown away by the response the public has had to my dad’s work.”
Tullos said the George Rodrigue Foundation is wise not to sell its collection of original work.
“They would be dealing with falsehoods if they sold something because the market value demands it,” he said. “The issue is of the future value of the pieces. The foundation is wise to hang onto what they have until they feel they can release it for either public or private collections.”
Tullos was director of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum before being named director of the state museum system in late 2012.
“The Hilliard has a great collection of Rodrigues, and the New Orleans Museum of Art has a big collection,” he said. “People can go to these places if they want to see his work. The State Museum has one of his earlier pieces, but we’d certainly be interested in adding to that. We’d love to see more of George’s work in public institutions, where more people will be able to see them.”
Meanwhile, the foundation generated its own interest when the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities chose it as program director of Turnaround Arts: Louisiana.
“The program is designed to turn around failing schools through the arts,” Jacques Rodrigue said. “The last few months for the foundation have been unbelievable. This honor shows that we’re doing something important.”
Back in the art world, Neal Auction Co. will be auctioning more Rodrigue pieces in the fall.
“I know I have a silkscreen lined up, and I’m anticipating some other pieces,” Weathers said. “We’ve had a number of inquiries about auctioning Rodrigue works, but everyone loves their paintings, and when they have them, they tend to hang on to them.”