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Gil Elvgren dominates in $3.725+ million Illustration Art event at Heritage Auctions as Fire Belle (Always Ready) brings $191,200

Fire Belle (Always Ready) by Gil Elvgren, 1956

Fire Belle (Always Ready) by Gil Elvgren, 1956

Gil Elvgren remains the unchallenged champion of American Pin-Up Art, as evidenced by the $191,200 price realized for his 1956 Fire Belle (Always Ready), one of the master’s greatest works, in Heritage Auctions’ Oct. 22 Illustration Art Signature® Auction, and by the fact that fully six of the Top 10 lots in the auction featured his revered name. All prices include 19.5% Buyer’s Premium.

Bidding across the board was spirited in the auction, as 1,192 bidders vied for 903 lots, with the $3,725+ million total in prices realized translating into a sell-through rate of 99% by value.

“This was certainly one of our strongest Illustration sales ever, both in terms of the total and sell-through rate,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President at Heritage. “The market is absolutely great for top quality work – each time a great example by virtually any pin-up artist came up, the bidding was fierce.”

The auction catalog cover lot, Howard Chandler Christy’s Nymphs in Summer, 1946, a lush, monumental nude, was the subject of much collector buzz heading into the auction, and more than lived up to expectations as it soared to a $179,250 price realized, a record price for the famed Golden Age Illustration artist that obliterated the previous price record by nearly $65,000.

“This masterpiece by Christy is the most impressive canvas by the artist that we’ve ever offered, and it performed as such,” said Todd Hignite, Consignment Director for Illustration Art at Heritage. “Nudes were an important subject throughout Christy’s career, and represent some of his most sought after images with collectors.”

The ever-popular Alberto Vargas’s Legacy Nude, First Playboy Pin-Up, March 1957 – the top entry from the Estate of Charles Martignette – a painting that was reproduced on page 56 of the March 1957 issue of Playboy magazine in an article titled “The Vargas Girl” and that marks the first appearance of any Vargas work in Playboy, more than tripled its’ pre-auction estimate of $30,000+ to finish the day at $95,600.

As mentioned above, six of the auction’s Top 10 lots came via the hand of Elvgren, with his Cover Up, 1955, checking in as the second most-popular Elvgren of the day at a final price of $119,500. Not too far behind was Elvgren’s 1950 work Up in Central Park, 1950, which realized a competitive $107,550, while his Dampened Doll, 1967, from the Estate of Charles Martignette, brought $89,625. The top Elvgren offerings are rounded out by Miss Sylvania’s Mishap, circa 1955, and What a Line!, 1949, both of which realized $53,775.

Besides the record price set for the Christy painting, record prices were also realized for pin-ups by a number of artists, including: Edward Runci’s A Surprising Figure, 1949, that saw a final price realized of $41,825; Earl Macpherson’s Blonde Pin-Up on the Phone brought $23,900; Olivia de Berardinis’ Two of a Kind, Heather Kozar, Playboy Pin-Up, September 2004 realized $21,510 and Arthur Saron Sarnoff’s Brunette in Black Negligee in Pink Bed, from The Estate of Charles Martignette, realized $16,730.

As part of the auction, the special stand alone catalog devoted to The Comic Art of Playboy: Over Five Decades of Illustration and Cartoons offered collectors a rare opportunity to acquire artwork directly from the famed publication’s archives, and many jumped at the opportunity. Among the highlights of the grouping was Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder’s Little Annie Fanny: Lost At Sea, complete five-page Playboy story, September 1964, that brought $21,510.

The always popular genres of pulp magazine and paperback book cover art also continued their admirable performances of late, with H.J. Ward’s Two Blues Please, Tattle Tales pulp cover, from The Estate of Charles Martignette, realizing a solid $22,705 price, while a great 1950s movie poster painting,  Reynold Brown’s Love-Slaves of the Amazons, original movie poster illustration, 1957, followed close behind with a $19,120 final price.

Further highlights include, but are not limited to:

Jessie Willcox Smith, Little Girl with Irises, Good Housekeeping cover, June 1930: Realized: $71,700.

Earl Moran, A Run on Sugar: From the Estate of Charles Martignette. Realized: $53,775.

Joseph Christian Leyendecker, The Rescue of Gismonda, interior story illustration, 1906: From the Estate of Charles Martignette. Realized: $41,825.

Amos Sewell, The Audience, Saturday Evening Post cover, July 28, 1956: Realized: $26,290.

Heritage Auctions

Heritage Auctions, headed by Steve Ivy, Jim Halperin and Greg Rohan, is the world’s third largest auction house, with annual sales more than $750 million, and 600,000+ online bidder members. For more information about Heritage Auctions, and to join and gain access to a complete record of prices realized, along with full-color, enlargeable photos of each lot, please visit

Fire Belle (Always Ready) by Gil Elvgren, 1956

Fire Belle (Always Ready) by Gil Elvgren, 1956

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