Rare Morton Bartlett figure to be featured at Rago auction

Morton Bartlett’s ‘Daydreaming Girl’ will be sold Oct. 20. Rago Auctions image

LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. – On Oct. 20, Rago Auctions will offer for sale the only Morton Bartlett figure still held in private hands as part of the Curiouser and Curiouser auction of outsider art and extraordinary objects.

The quintessential figure, never before offered for sale, is titled Daydreaming Girl and is currently on display at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore as part of the year-long exhibition “Parenthood: An Art without a Manual.”

Morton Bartlett, a reclusive Bostonian bachelor who died in 1992 at the age of 83, was the very definition of an outsider artist, untrained and uninhibited. Beginning in 1936 at the age of 27 Bartlett began producing what would become his artistic legacy, a series of exceptionally rendered and expressive half-sized figures of children. Not only did Bartlett create the anatomically correct plaster forms, he also designed individually tailored clothing for them. These figures existed as a sort of ‘surrogate family’ for Bartlett – an idealized version of the life he would never lead. Few people were aware of Bartlett’s creations during his lifetime, and fewer still would have known about them after his death had it not been for their discovery by New York dealer and collector Marion Harris.

Since its discovery in 1993, Bartlett’s work has risen from anonymity to become, in the words of art critic Roberta Smith, “iconic in the outsider canon.” His creations can be found in top private and museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and Musee l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Of the roughly 15 figures discovered by Harris after Bartlett’s death, all are in private collections or museums with the exception of Daydreaming Girl. She is shown in the dress Bartlett created for her in AVAM’s exhibition “Parenthood: An Art without a Manual” with prints of Bartlett photographs and a short film about Bartlett called Family Found.

Of Bartlett’s work, Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum says, “They underscore the need for familial connection, be it in fact or fantasy, even for an intelligent man who never quite recovered from being an adoptee enough to trust a human family.”

Of Daydreaming Girl she adds, “As a work of art, this doll stands as an exquisite creation, with tender care evident in the subtle, lifelike coloration and hand-cast limbs, the bespoke clothes and surviving photos.”

Daydreaming Girl can be viewed at the American Visionary Art Museum until Sept. 1, and then again when it goes on preview at Rago Auctions in Lambertville, N.J., on Oct. 12 ahead of the Curiouser and Curiouser auction on Oct. 20.