Skip to main content
Go to accessibility notice


    VERONICA HELFENSTELLER (American, 1910-1964)
    Seven from a suite of eight together with two additional illustrations for "The Centaur Plays Croquet", 1944
    Gouache on paper
    12-3/4 x 17 inches (32.4 x 43.2 cm) (each sheet)
    Six signed: V Helfensteller

    From the Estate of Sam and Betsy Cantey.

    The Fort Worth Public Library, One-Woman Exhibition, May 1944 (complete set was exhibited).
    Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, "Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s", February 16-May 11, 2008 (only the two illustrations apart from the suite were exhibited).

    The cutting edge of visual art in 1940s Fort Worth is evident in the work of Veronica Helfensteller, an artist of the Fort Worth Circle - a dozen young men and women bound together by the pursuit of modernism. Helfensteller was the group's most experimental female painter, and her imagery often blended animal subjects with fantastical settings. Long before Cats appeared on Broadway, Helfensteller turned to T. S. Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, as well as gothic tales by Edgar Allan Poe, for inspiration. Her reputation as a fantasy painter surely played a role when local art patrons Sam and Betsy Cantey, in 1944, asked Helfensteller to bring The Centaur Plays Croquet, a classic Louisiana short story, to life in a series of eight insightful illustrations.

    Set in the fictional town of Mimosa, Louisiana in 1884, The Centaur Plays Croquet was written by New Orleans author Lyle C. Saxon. It was published in 1927 in The American Caravan, an anthology of new American literature. Saxon's story drew immediate attention for its unusual structure and satirical content, qualities strongly hinted at by its formal title, "The Centaur Plays Croquet: The Strange Case of Mrs. John David Calander of Mimosa, Louisiana, and the Fabulous Monster Which She Kept as a Pet, Thereby Causing Great Scandal in the Community." Told through sworn testimony from six eyewitnesses, the story recounted an ill-fated love affair between a plantation owner's young wife, Ada Calander, and a wild centaur living in the swamps near the home Ada shared with her older husband. Each 'witness' recalled the story through the lens of their own religious, ethnic, and economic prejudice, leaving the reader with a decidedly mixed verdict on Ada Calander's behavior, her ultimate fate, and on life in rural Louisiana.

    In May 1944, this collection of gouache illustrations, depicting significant encounters between Ada and the centaur, was included in a comprehensive exhibition of Veronica Helfensteller's work at the Fort Worth Public Library. At the time, Helfensteller described the Centaur collection as "a Christmas gift done for a friend," leaving the true purpose of Cantey's request unclear. Two of these works, "Reclining under a tree (they) played at chess and cards" and "Horace, she cried..." were exhibited in 2008 at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in the exhibit entitled Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s (see plates 79 and 80 in the illustrated catalogue).

    Condition Report*: Condition report available upon request.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. Heritage does not guarantee the condition of frames and shall not be liable for any damage/scratches to frames, glass/acrylic coverings, original boxes, display accessories, or art that has slipped in frames. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2013
    16th Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 1,452

    Buyer's Premium per Lot:
    25% on the first $100,000 (minimum $14), plus 20% of any amount between $100,000 and $1,000,000, plus 12% of any amount over $1,000,000 per lot.

    Shipping, Taxes, Terms and Bidding
    This item cannot be shipped using standard methods. Please contact us for more information. Sales Tax information

    Important information concerning Sales Tax and Resale Certificates. Learn More

    Terms and Conditions  |  Bidding Guidelines and Bid Increments |  Glossary of Terms

    Sold on Nov 16, 2013 for: Sign-in or Join (free & quick)
    Track Item

    Heritage membership

    Join Now - It's Free

    1. Past Auction Values (prices, photos, full descriptions, etc.)
    2. Bid online
    3. Free Collector newsletter
    4. Want List with instant e-mail notifications
    5. Reduced auction commissions when you resell your
    Consign now
    • Cash Advances
    • More Bidders
    • Trusted Experts
    • Over 200,000 Satisfied Consignors Since 1976
    Consign to the 2021 November 5 American Art Signature Auction - Dallas.

    Learn about consigning with us

    I look forward to several future consignments with Heritage and with your continued guidance and expertise.
    William Levin, M.D.,
    Beverly Hills, CA
    View More Testimonials receives more traffic than any other auction house website. (Source:

    Video tutorial

    Getting the most out of search