World War I aviation art highlights auction

Seldom seen examples of original World War I aviation art come to auction at Bonhams & Butterfields in San Francisco on Monday, Nov. 15, when the international auctioneer presents its Antique Arms & Armor sale.

"Portrait of an American Aviator" by Rene Lelong, 1919

A highlight of the auction is the Ron Farrington Collection of Aviation Art, which features oils and watercolors on canvas and board depicting World War I dogfights, aircraft and portraits of aviators. Many of the offered lots are works commissioned by the French, German and American governments, rarely seen at auction. One such example is “Downed Fokker,” an oil painted by Henri Farre, a pilot/observer appointed by the French to recreate scenes of air combat during the war. This signed work could bring $5,000 to $8,000, auction officials predict.

Dated 1918 is an oil signed by Francois Flameng titled “Devant Mondidier” depicting a French anti-aircraft battery in action (estimated auction price $10,000 to $15,000). In 1920, many of Flameng’s military paintings were donated to the Musee De l’Armee in Paris. Claus Bergen, appointed Marine Painter to Kaiser Wilhelm in 1914, painted the oil “von Richthofen’s Flying Circus” which is expected to bring $8,000 to $12,000 during the auction.

A featured lot for November’s sale will be a rare and historic canvas fuselage insignia panel (pictured above) from a Spad VII flown by the Lafayette Escadrille displaying the familiar Indian head insignia. The panel was collected by a mechanic who served with the Escadrille and is being offered by his descendants, estimated at $15,000 to $20,000.

“Not since the November 2000 Flayderman Collection sale have we had such an offering of aviation art — this truly is a rare opportunity for collectors and institutions,” said Paul Carella, director of the Antique Arms department at Bonhams & Butterfields.

Previews open in the San Francisco gallery of Bonhams & Butterfields on Friday, Nov. 12, continuing daily Saturday and Sunday until sale day on Monday. The illustrated catalog will be online for review and purchase at

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