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LeRoy Neiman's 'The Eye' offers a flirtatious peek at 1960s at Heritage Auctions
LeRoy Neiman (American, 1921-2012), The Eye, Playboy, 1966. Oil on board, 32 x 24 inches. Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000.

DALLAS, TX.- The idea that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts" certainly can be applied to people. Think Rodgers and Hammerstein. Abbott and Costello. Mantle and Maris. Neiman and Hefner.

It is somewhere between unfair and absurd to suggest that LeRoy Neiman's rise to an artist beloved around the world is solely a result of his friendship with Hugh Hefner. But it would be equally inaccurate that they did not both benefit from their decades of friendship.

After he became friends with the longtime publisher of Playboy magazine, he landed something of a dream job when Hefner helped the magazine commission an illustration in 1954 for the fifth issue. As Neiman's friendship with Hefner grew, so too did is role with the iconic men's magazine. Before long, he was sent to major sporting events, concerts, or gala events at casinos, telling his stories through eye-grabbing paintings and drawings conjured in a brilliantly colorful expressionist style that became instantly identifiable with the artist who created it.

"LeRoy Neiman's Man at Leisure editorial in Playboy magazine illustrated the excess and irreverence of the 1960s," Heritage Auctions Vice President Todd Hignite said. "In this time of social revolution, Neiman captured glamorous snapshots of life with his brush. Nowhere is this more evident in his renditions of Playboy magazine covers as seen in The Eye. Unlike most of the Playboy covers, this deceptively modest and alluring cover captures the bold and flirtatious new world of the 1960s."

Four of his works will be offered April 15 in Heritage Auctions' Illustration Art Signature® Auction, among them The Eye (estimate: $100,000-150,000), which has the distinction of being one of the rare works that hung in two different Playboy Clubs, in London and Chicago over four decades.

"LeRoy Neiman is one of the great illustrators of the 20th century," Hignite said. "His portrayals of life and leisure in the 20th century meshed fine art aesthetics with the commercial market, thrusting him into the same conversations as Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses among the most popular American artists. When he reached out to Hugh Hefner during the early stages of what was then an upstart magazine, the timing could not have been better. Neiman ended up doing numerous illustration for the magazine and even did murals for the infamous Playboy Clubs. He ended up branching out to other commercial endeavors, many of which were the result of the huge success he had with Playboy."

Other Neiman lots in the sale include:

• Madison Square Garden, 1963 (estimate: $20,000-30,000)
• Frank Sinatra at the Fountainebleau, 1967 (estimate: $20,000-30,000)<
• Three Flags, 1999 (estimate: $10,000-15,000)

Other highlights in the auction include, but are not limited to:

Gil Elvgren's Waisted Effort, Brown and Bigelow calendar illustration, February 1952 (estimate: $40 in the middle of the century,,000-60,000) comes from one of the most important pin-up artists of the 20th century. Over the course of four decades, the prolific Elvgren produced more than 500 paintings for commercial use, including — like this one — for calendars, as well as for corporate titans like Coca-Cola, advertising agencies and significant magazines.

From another legendary illustration artist comes Patrick Nagel's Harlequin, 1983 (estimate: $20,000-30,000). One of the most popular illustration artists of the 20th century, Nagel is another icon whose style immediately identifies a work's creator — many of his works feature a beautiful woman with dark hair, pale skin and dark or bright lips. Widely known for creating the artwork for Duran Duran's Rio album cover, Nagel also has a history of creating illustrations for Playboy. His artwork has fared exceptionally well at Heritage Auctions, where 18 of his works have yielded six-figure results, including his Jeana, 1983, which sold for $350,000 the world auction record, in October 2020.

Harlequin is one of four Nagel works in the auction, which also will include the artist's:

• The Playboy Advisor illustration, October 1979 (estimate: $15,000-25,000)
• Untitled (estimate: $4,000-6,000)
• Kneeling Woman (estimate: $2,000-3,000)

Another enormously popular pin-up artist is Alberto Vargas, who created three of the lots in the sale: Miss Universe, 1948 (estimate: $15,000-25,000), Nude Standing at Easel, circa 1955 (estimate: $6,000-8,000) and Now... That I got What I Wanted- Sayonara study, June 1971 (estimate: $3,000-5,000).

In addition to mid-century pin-up and glamour art, the auction also features a strong selection of classic golden age illustration, a special section on the art of movie poster great Robert Peak, and the increasing popular fields of science fiction and fantasy art.

Other auction highlights include, but are not limited to:

• Robert Peak The Godfather (estimate: $25,000-35,000)

• Virgil Finlay The Time Tombs, Worlds of If Science Fiction magazine cover, March 1963 (estimate: $15,000-25,000)

• Robert McGinnis Always Leave 'Em Dying, paperback cover, 1969 (estimate: $10,000-15,000)

• Jon Whitcomb Portrait of Jackie Kennedy, Cosmopolitan magazine cover, April 1961 (estimate: $8,000-12,000)

• James Allen St. John Black Pirates of Barsoom, Amazing Stories interior illustration, April 1941 (estimate: $5,000-7,000)

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