The bold, the bawdy and the beautiful bring $2.4 million

Whether it was the discriminating tastes of Hugh Hefner, the buxom babes of Gil Evgren, Mort Künstler and Haddon Sundblom, or the pulp art of Margaret Brundage, Norman Saunders or Allen Anderson, illustration art was quite animated at Heritage Auction Galleries’ Signature Auction on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

There was fierce competition over the numerous beauties up for auction, and plenty of jostling for position when it came to the Frank Collection of Sci-Fi and Fantasy Art, along with a host of other great American illustrations. The 442 lots in the auction had buyers in-person, on the phone and via Heritage LIVE vying for the wide variety of examples to the tune of $2.4 million, making it the most successful illustration auction in history.

“We had an inkling that this might be our strongest Illustration auction yet,” said Ed Jaster, vice-president for Dallas-based Heritage, “and it surpassed our last record total, also a record, by close to $500,000. We broke – and in some instances smashed – the previous records for many important artists, including Norman Saunders, Margaret Brundage, Mort Künstler, and George Rozen, whose classic pulp cover painting for The Shadow brought $47,800.  We’re pleased to have achieved lofty results for so many diverse artists.”

The top lot in the auction was $107,550, paid for a beautiful Haddon Sundblom pin-up painting, underscoring how hot pin-up was across the board. A great example by perennial favorite Gil Elvgren brought $89,625, and strong results were also achieved by top artists such as Rolf Armstrong, George Petty, Peter Driben, and Earl Moran.

Records were set for pulp pin-up artist Enoch Bolles, at $28,680, and a great example by Art Frahm closed at a whopping $26,290 – a result that completely obliterated the previous record ($6,600) for the artist.

The special group of 17 artworks offered directly from Playboy, which received national and international attention heading into the sale, certainly didn’t disappoint. An impeccable painting by Alberto Vargas led the way, at $48,995, to a total of more than $230,000 for the group, which also featured impressive prices for Leroy Neiman and complete Harvey Kurtzman Little Annie Fanny stories.

“The Playboy results were quite spectacular,” said Heritage vice president Jared Green. “The total on the work specifically was in excess of 150 percent of the low estimates on those lots, speaks to the enduring quality of Hugh Hefner’s taste in art and ladies.” 

The golden age of American illustration art also performed extremely well, with a group of John Falter masterpieces leading the pack, including a classic 1953 Saturday Evening Post cover, which brought $83,650. Healthy results were also seen from illustration “old masters” J.C. Leyendecker, and Norman Rockwell, with a 1907 Leyendecker Collier’s cover bringing $65,725 and a small Rockwell Post cover rough color study selling for $31,070.

The auction also featured three stand-alone catalogs, with one each devoted to the art of Mort Künstler and the Frank Collection of Science-Fiction and Fantasy Art. Künstler saw a new auction record with $15,535, helping the session total to a strong $166,000 for 59 paintings. The Frank Collection brought in $540,000, and many of the incredible pulp cover paintings from the desirable provenance blew past previous records: Margaret Brundage’s first ever Weird Tales cover went for $50,787, a stellar Norman Saunders Marvel Science Stories cover brought $41,825, and a rare Allen Anderson Planet Stories cover brought $38,837.50.

“Our illustration department is really taking off and we’re committed to continuing to grow with each sale, said consignment director Todd Hignite. “As the results from this auction show, we’ve firmly established ourselves as the leader in the field, and we’re bringing in so much great artwork that we’re expanding from two sales a year to three. We’re already hard at work on our next Signature auction, which will be held on Feb. 10, 2009. It’s a great time to consign and take part in these record results.”

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