After more than a solid year of dominating Heritage Auctions’ Illustration Art Auctions, Pin-up and Glamour Art, while still performing superbly, was forced to cede the spotlight on Aug. 17 to classic Pulp Art, as several icons of the genre burst into the spotlight, led by Hugh Joseph Ward’s The Evil Flame, Spicy Mystery Stories pulp cover, August 1936, from The Estate of John McLaughlin, which brought $143,400 to lead the auction’s $2.591 million in offerings. It is the highest price ever realized at public auction for a pulp magazine cover.
“This painting was not only the most important Ward pulp cover we’ve ever offered,” said Ed Jaster, Senior Vice President of Heritage, “it’s one of the absolute best pulp covers that exists, by any artist, as reflected by the price paid for it. It has all the hallmarks of the greatest pulp covers: sexual tension, violence, a gorgeous woman in danger, all aggressively painted in a way that can’t help but to catch the eye.”
Another iconic piece of Pulp Art that set a record for price at auction was the auction catalog cover piece, Norman Saunders’s The Ones, Marvel Science cover, May 1951, a classic sci-fi damsel in distress painting that demolished the previous price record for Saunders, realizing $50,788, while another record was set for the artist Robert Fuqua, when his May 1930 Fantastic Adventures pulp illustration, First issue, Revolt of the Robots – an illustration for Arthur Tofte’s classic story of the same name – wrestled its way to a $27,485 final price amidst competitive bidding. Both of these classic paintings also came to auction from The Estate of John McLaughlin.
Other highlights from the McLaughlin Estate included Margaret Brundage’s stark and startling A Rival from the Grave, Weird Tales cover illustration, January 1936, an incredibly rare piece of cover art from this much sought-after artist, which brought $37,344, and Frank R. Paul’s The Robot Aliens, Wonder Stories pulp cover, February 1935 – one of the finest and most definitive Paul sci-fi covers in existence – brought $19,120 to become the pulp centerpiece of one determined collector’s collection.
The auction also saw strong results for the related field of classic hard-boiled paperback art, which has also seen its profile rise in the last year, led by the $12,548 price realized for Robert McGinnis’s sublimely evocative So Rich, So Lovely, and So Dead, paperback cover, 1961, from the cover of Hal Mansur’s 1961 Dell novel of the same name, certainly one of this popular artist’s most intriguing cover pieces.
“While pulp cover paintings certainly crashed the Pin-up party that has been the last year in illustration art,” said Todd Hignite, Consignment Director for Illustration Art at Heritage, “Pin-up and Glamour art, led as always by offerings from the Estate of Charles Martignette, continued to capture the imaginations, and bids, of collectors along with stellar prices.”
In most any illustration art auction featuring top Pin-Up and Glamour art, three names are almost certain to lead the pack, those of Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas, and Charles Martignette, from whose epic collection many of the best examples of these artists spring. The Aug. 17 Heritage Auction proved no exception to the rule when Elvgren’s A Fast Takeoff (A Speedy Takeoff), 1954, brought $95,600 and Vargas’ Varga Girl, Esquire calendar illustration, February 1946, realized $77,675.
“Martignette continues to be the standard bearer,” said Jaster. “We’re halfway through his amazing collection and it has continued to impress in both quality and price.”
Further classic Pin-up highlights included records for Peter Darro’s Pin-Up in a Negligee, which impressed collectors to the tune of $22,705, and Maxine Stevens’ (aka Maxine Sunderman Runci) 1950 Brown & Bigelow calendar illustration A Pair of Winners, which showed the artist’s enduring popularity with price realized of $14,340.
Modern Pin-up and Glamour Art has continued to show increased prices and interest over the past year, with several artists realizing consistently significant prices. Modern examples in this auction that caught the eye of collectors included John C. Kacere’s 1988 canvas Anne 88, which realized $71,700, and Undressing, from the late great Patrick Nagel, which finished the auction at $15,535.
It certainly bears mentioning that classic Golden Age American illustration also continued to perform very well at auction, even if it wasn’t the main focus of this particular event, as evidenced by the price of $28,680 paid for Joseph Francis Kernan’s Hunter with Dogs, Outdoor Life cover illustration, c. 1940, a record price for the artist.
All prices include 19.5 percent Buyer’s Premium.