The power and depth of the Charles Martignette Collection of Illustration Art continued to exert its influence on May 4 in the form of Gil Elvgren’s Gay Nymph, 1947, which brought $286,800 – a World’s Record price for the artist – against a $60,000+ pre-auction estimate–in Heritage Auctions’ $3.409+ million Signature® New York Illustration Art event at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion. All prices include 19.5% Buyer’s Premium.
“Collectors are definitely keyed into the quality and rarity of the auctions we’re putting together,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President at Heritage Auctions, “and nowhere more so than as evidenced by the price for Elvgren’s sublime Gay Nymph. Major nudes by Elvgren are exceedingly rare and represent some of the most desirable paintings the artist ever created. Without a doubt this is one of the absolute best and the price reflected that.”
The auction saw 1,112 bidders vying for the 394 lots in the auction, via live floor bidding, real time Internet bidding on Heritage LIVE!, as well as on the phone and in previously submitted email and mail bids. The result was an astounding sell-through rate of 99.16% by value, exceptional even by Heritage standards.
Joseph Christian Leyendecker’s Lovebirds, The House of Kuppenheimer Style Book advertising diptych, Fall/Winter 1918-1919 proved the desirability of the artist’s work for the Kuppenheimer as it rose rapidly amidst spirited bidding to finish the day at $155,350.
“Again and again Leyendecker has shown a strength and a steadiness in the market that is really only topped by the very biggest names like Elvgren and Rockwell,” said Todd Hignite, Consignment Director for Heritage Auctions. “When it comes to Golden Age illustration his Kuppenheimer diptychs are second to none and obviously collections recognize the quality as shown by the consistently high prices realized.”
Without a doubt, however, the overall story of the auction belonged to Elvgren, who se sublime work dominated the top 10 pieces of the auction, with fully five of those 10 lots coming from his charmed palette. Elvgren’s Denise (Pur-r-rty Pair), 1960, from the Martignette Collection, brought $119,500 while his Curving Around (Sharp Curves), 1960, also from Martignette, realized $83,650.
Rounding out the Elvgren quintet in the auction were his Barbecutie (Rare Treat), 1964, which finished the day at $55,269, while Beat That!, 1953, realized at $53,775.
Demand for key work from pulp artist Hugh Joseph Ward continued to show strength with collectors as his April 1942 Super Detective pulp cover, Mrs. Big – another great piece from The Martignette Collection – realized $66,825 against a $10,000+ estimate.
Record prices were realized in the auction for several artists, most notably for Elbert McGran Jackson’s Winter & Spring, Saturday Evening Post cover, March 10, 1928, which topped all previous offerings from the artist with a $35,850 price realized, while Edward Runci’s lovely Pin-Up in a Floral Bikini, another Martignette offering, obliterated its $5,000+ pre-auction estimate to finish at $33,460.
The work of pin-up master Alberto Vargas is always closely coveted by collectors, and a pair of the master’s works made an expected appearance close to the top of the list as the auction drew to a close. His Esquire-Era Pin-Up, circa 1943, realized a solid $32,265, while his gorgeous Seated Nude, a stunning peak period example of his work, realized $31,070.
“As evident in the strong prices across the board,” said Jaster, “the market right now is tremendous for Illustration art of all genres; from mainstream magazine art to pulp and paperback covers, pin-up art, and everything in-between, the demand is tremendous.”