Marilyn Monroe pin-up brings $83,000 in $4.1 million Illustration Art auction

BEVERLY HILLS, CA – The combination of California sunshine, the imminent approach of Valentine’s Day and some of the most beautiful women ever painted proved an irresistible triumvirate to Illustration Art collectors at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills Feb. 11 for the company’s $4.132 million Signature Illustration Art auction. All prices below reflect 19.5 percent buyer’s premium.
“The market is as strong and the demand is just as high as ever,” said Ed Jaster, senior vice president of Heritage Auctions. “We’ve seen nothing but positives since we began having these auctions in Beverly Hills. We love it.”
The more than 1175 bidders who registered to bid on the 732 lots in the auction let barely any slip by, as the sale registered a near perfect sell-through rate of 99.8 percnet by value and 98.36 percent by lot total.
“This auction marks the very center of The Martignette Estate,” said Todd Hignite, consignment director for illustration art at Heritage, “the single greatest Illustration Art collection ever sold at public auction, and there are no signs of a diminishing impact. It continues to stoke massive collector desire and to bring out great examples from established collections eager to sell beside it.”
Earl Moran’s glowing image, Marilyn – a gorgeous image of a young Norma Jean before she became Marilyn Monroe – was obviously the apple of many a collector’s eye as heated bidding drove the final price to $83,650 and a record price for a Moran painting, practically doubling his previous record, and selling for more than seven times the $12,000 pre-auction estimate.
“We’ve seen prices and demand continue to climb for Moran’s effervescent images,” said Jaster. “Given the beauty of the subject, his amazing feel for light and the knowledge of who Marilyn would become, then it’s not surprising that this painting soared to more than seven times its pre-auction estimate.”
Gil Elvgren continued his reign as the undisputed king of the pin-up, with fully five of the top 10 lots in the auction coming from his gifted palette and accounting for more than $445,000 in value. The top Elvgren of the day came when his alluring 1960 oil painting Roxanne, figure 480 from Gil Elvgren All His Glamorous Pin-Ups by Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, brought $179,250.
Alberto Vargas is always an important draw in Heritage Illustration events, and the Feb. 11 auction featured several prime examples, including Vargas’ Gold Carnation (Legacy Nude #9), an important pin-up drawing, considered by Vargas himself among the very best he ever did, painted for his wife Anna Mae at a low point in their lives after being fired by Esquire and before he began his long association with Playboy, brought $89,625.
In October of 2010 The Estate of Garth Williams made its auction debut, highlighted by the original drawings from Charlotte’s Web, in which the cover drawing brought $155,350, establishing a record price for the great children’s artist. The Beverly Hills auction contained the follow-up to the October 2010 auction, and did not disappoint as the Page 1 illustration from E.B. White’s Stuart Little, The Arrival of Stuart Little, brought $65,725, more than 13 times its $5,000 pre-auction estimate, and the iconic original cover art from Little House on the Prairie soared to $50, 788 amid fierce bidding.
Original Pulp and Paperback art continued performing at high levels, reflecting increased collector awareness of the brilliance of the artwork and the complexity of the subject. Hugh Joseph Ward’s Spicy Adventure Stories, pulp cover, July 1935 was the top offering, bringing $33,460, and continuing the strong of strong prices realized for the artist. Original animation art was in demand in the auction, with Gustaf Tenggren’s original promotional art for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, 1937, taking the top spot as it finished the day at $59,750.

Mainstream illustration is always a significant draw in Heritage events and several important pieces had the full attention of collectors in Beverly Hills. Maxfield Parrish’s sublime At Close of Day, 1941, was the top mainstream lot, finishing at $215,100, while the $71,700 price realized for Douglas Crockwell’s Saturday Evening Post Cover, April 4, 1942, shattered the price record for the artist and Russell Sambrook’s Puppy Love realized an impressive $23,900, also a record price realized for the artist.

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