Record Breaking Heritage Illustration Art Auction

. November 2, 2009

Prices on American Illustration Art at Heritage Auctions – particularly those pieces with the Charles Martignette provenance – continued their meteoric climb on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at Heritage Auctions’ October Signature Illustration Art Auction, with a jaw-dropping, record-setting $3.48 million total, shattering the previous single auction record, set by Heritage Auctions last July. All prices include the 19.5% Buyer’s Premium.

“We’ve learned that it’s impossible to predict the top end of the pin-up market,” said Ed Jaster, Vice President of Heritage Auctions. “We’re seeing new collectors continue to come into the market at very impressive levels – this is easily the hottest current area of collecting for us.”

Overall, the auction boasted an impressive sell-through rate of 92% sold by dollar value and 95.7% sold by number of lots. The Charles Martignette Estate, which realized an astounding $2.175 million for 369 lots, performed even more impressively as it led the way in the auction, with a 99.5% sell-through rate by dollar value, a percentage almost unheard of in the auction world.

Classic pin-up art, Martignette’s personal passion, was a major focus of the catalog and the undisputed champion of the auction, with the King of the pin-ups, Gil Elvgren, leading the way with seven major canvases offered in the sale.

“The room was abuzz as the first four paintings offered by the greatest pin-up artist of them all, Gil Elvgren, each closed above six figures,” said Todd Hignite, Consignment Director at Heritage Auctions, “which is absolutely unprecedented.”

ElvgrenThe top Elvgren, and the top lot of the entire auction, was the 1958 painting On The House which was the subject of intense bidding before finally finishing at $191,200. Elvgren’s masterful 1948 pin-up, Sheer Delight (This Soots Me) was not far off the blistering pace set by the top lot, as it soared to a final tally of $155,350, while Something’s Bothering You (What’s Wrong), Elvgren’s brilliantly colorful and scintillating 1957 masterpiece, brought $119,500. Rounding out the top Elvgrens in the auction was Check and Double Check (Now Don’t Get Me in a Corner), painted by Elvgren in 1946, which brought $101,575.

For anyone that knows their pin-up art, as the Heritage buyers showed they obviously did, the other top draws of the genre were quite spectacular, if unsurprising, given the obvious incredible quality of the offerings.

Alberto Vargas, always a huge draw in the Heritage Auctions Illustration auction, did not dissapoint as his stunning Pin-Up, 1928 – an early tour de force that suggested the genius of his later “American History” Esquire and Playboy gatefold Vargas Girls – drew much attention was erudite Vargas connoisseurs and a final price of $77,675. A world record was set for the work of Earl Moran, as his seminal and gorgeous Golden Hours, from the early 1930s, shattered the previous record as it brought a $41,825 total and a room full of applause. George Petty, long considered one of the greatest of all pin-up artists, also saw a record setting price for one of his original works as his 1947 True Magazine Pin-Up, featuring a pouting, seductive blond, with a pink phone pinned to her ear – a favorite device of Petty’s – rose to $38,837.

Incredible results were also achieved for Art Frahm (a record-setting $32,265 for 1952’s Spare), Enoch Bolles (Film Fun Cover, August 1937, $31,070), Fritz Willis (Pin-up in Wicker Chair, $20,315) and William Medcalf (Bus Stop, $19,120).

“While Pin-up and Glamour art provided the most jaw-dropping results,” said Jaster, “classic Golden Age art also out-performed everyone’s expectations, with classic Saturday Evening Post covers leading the way.”

J.C. Leyendecker showed that he continues to be a powerhouse of early 20th Century illustration as his New Years 1910 Saturday Evening Post cover, featuring an unsure Baby New Year flying a Wright Brothers-style airplane, rose to $77,675. John Ford Clymer, one of America’s great landscape illustrators, was amply represented by his Glacier National Park, Saturday Evening Post cover of July 30, 1960, which showed spirit with a $47,800 total, while George Hughes’ Dinner Party, Saturday Evening Post cover, November 11, 1961, proved hugely popular, realizing the same total of $47,800. The popularity and good prices for Amos Sewell art also continued as his Little Boy with Dirty Hands, Saturday Evening Post Cover, September 27, 1957, brought $44,812.

Brandywine School luminary, Jesse Willcox Smith, always a favorite in Heritage Auctions Illustration events, showed continued resilience as her idyllic 1902 illustration Checkers, for Scribner’s Magazine, brought $83,650 from a determined bidder. Dean Cornwell’s Romantic Couple Seated by Piano, Hearst’s International magazine illustration, March 1922, an intriguing, atmospheric painting, realized $50,787, while Norman Rockwell’s 1942 illustrations for the movie The Magnificent Ambersons brought more than $67,500 total, let by Anne Baxter’s movie poster illustration, which brought $29,875. One of James Montgomery Flagg’s very best Life Magazine Covers, Conquest of Good and Evil, from July 23, 1910, attested to Flagg’s enduring influence as it brought $28,680.

Prices on pulp, pulp-like fiction and paperback art also continued their rapid rise across the board in the auction, with Hugh Joseph Ward’s Speed Adventure Stories cover, November 1943, featuring a menacing scene stormy night horror, bringing $41,825 in heated bidding between determined buyers. Original George Rozen artwork also continued to be hot, as his cover for The Shadow, March 1932, emerged at $33,460, while Robert McGinnis’s striking, dramatic and moody paperback cover for the 1959 book, Take Off Your Mask brought an impressive $21,510 final price.

“This goes to show that nobody comes close to the prices we achieve for Illustration art, across all genres,” said Heritage Auctions’ Hignite. “The records we set are nothing short of staggering, as are the results for the lower priced art, the total realized, as well as the sell through rate. It’s going to be exciting to see how this all leads into our February Illustration Art auction.”

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $700 million, and 470,000+ registered online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit www.HA.com

Category: Auction News

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