Pin-ups, spicy pulp and Patrick Nagel's playmate take Heritage's illustration Art Auction to nearly $3 million

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Pin-ups, spicy pulp and Patrick Nagel's playmate take Heritage's illustration Art Auction to nearly $3 million
Jessie Willcox Smith (American, 1863-1935), Christmas Morning. Oil and pencil on board, 18-1/4 x 15-3/4 inches.

DALLAS, TX.- The wide-ranging appeal of blue-chip Illustration Art and Heritage’s reputation as the industry leader in the category continues to expand and explode. On April 23, in its latest Illustration Art Signature® Auction, the auction house nailed its highest-grossing Illustration Art event in years, landing $2,935,858 over approximately 500 lots and a number of artist records broken.

“It was a great day all around at the auction block and reiterated for collectors that Pulp Art continues to be hot. Pin-Up Art, too, had a very strong sale with examples from Gil Elvgren proving particularly sought-after,” says Sarahjane Blum, Heritage’s Director of Illustration Art. “And notably, new auction records were set for a handful of great artists: Rose O’Neill, Richard Lillis, D. Bruce Berry, Edwin Georgi, Lloyd Rognan, and Harry Barton.”

The top lot of the day was the charming oil-on-board Christmas Morning by Jessie Wilcox Smith, which sold for $162,500 and came from an important collection of Illustration Art, a stellar grouping that also included Joseph Francis Kernan’s oil-on-canvas illustration for a 1948 issue of The Progressive Farmer, titled The First Hunt of the Season, which sold for $75,000 — multiples of its pre-auction estimate.

Works by the great Pin-Up artist Gil Elvgren also had an excellent day, pointing to a strong resurgence in the Pin-Up market: The second and third top-selling lots, both going for $150,000, were Elvgren’s Your Choice — Me? from 1962 and Fascination from 1952. Another Elvgren work that landed among the top lots was Last Stand from 1962, which sold for $81,250.

“One of my favorite pieces in the auction was Your Choice — Me? by Elvgren,” says Blum. “It’s bright and sexy, of course, but it’s also a very funny take on the debate about abstract versus representational art, which is its own reminder that even though illustrators weren’t traditionally taken seriously by the art world, they were often in closer conversation with the trends in fine art than people gave them credit for.”

Another top lot in the auction celebrated a gorgeous collaboration. In 1981, the artist and illustrator Patrick Nagel, whose name and images are synonymous with the 1980s, teamed up with model and actress Terri Welles to create an indelible portrait: The 1981 Playmate of the Year is a drop-dead gorgeous woman with gaze that slayed millions, and Nagel’s painting of her captures an entire era that generations of collectors understand and appreciate. That Nagel’s original portrait of Welles had never been editioned, reproduced or offered to the public and has belonged to Welles since its creation only added to its power and rarity, and it sold for $93,750.

Mid-century Pulp Art has been perhaps the single strongest area of the Illustration Art market in the last few years, and cover paintings by Hugh Joseph Ward heated up the bidding wars as his 1941 Mr. Oo, for a Private Detective Stories magazine cover, sold for $62,500, and his indeed-spicy and dynamic 1942 Twisted Time, for a Spicy Mystery magazine cover, sold for $50,000. Another winner that appealed to collectors of Pulp, Paperback Art and Comic Art was a 1971 illustration for a Doc Savage paperback cover by James Elliott Bama, The Living Fire Menace, which sold for $50,000.

Auction records for six favorite illustration artists that were broken on April 23 came from works by Rose Cecil O'Neill, with her 1910 Ladies' Home Journal magazine cover, The Children's Christmas Annual, whichfetched $27,500; Richard Lillis with his 1944 Pulp Hollywood Detective magazine cover, Murder by the Book, that sold for $18,750; D. Bruce Berry with a 1958 Imaginative Tales magazine cover, Giant Killer, that sold for $16,250; Edwin Georgi with his 1955 Saturday Evening Post interior illustration Dawson's Lovely Daughter that sold for $10,625; Lloyd Norman Rognan with his 1957 Imaginative Tales magazine cover The Cosmic Destroyer that brought $8,750; and Harry Barton with his 1959 Hell Cat paperback cover that sold for $4,750.

“That this sale was the strongest worldwide auction devoted to Illustration Art in recent memory is very gratifying to all of us, as we’ve been intentionally committed to the rich and diverse form for many years,” says Todd Hignite, Executive Vice President of Heritage. “We consider our singular, leading role in presenting the best of this endlessly fascinating cultural history to be hugely important.”

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