Friday, February 19, 2010

Martignette, Illustration Art - Led by Willcox-Smith, Elvgren, Leyendecker and Vargas - continues its inexorable climb to legend at Heritage Auctions

Feb. 19, 2010
Posted by Noah

Perhaps a few of you tuned in to Heritage Live! yesterday to watch how Heritage's Illustration Art auction was going to do... Perhaps you even thought that, with the third segment of Charles Martignette's amazing estate filtering out that prices were going to settle and excitement was going to diminish... If that's the case, then you are disappointed this morning, no?

Let's see. I was at Heritage Slocum location for a good part of the auction in the afternoon, and had it on live on my computer back at my desk, and kept it on at home both before and after dinner until the thing ended somewhere around 9 or 10 p.m. I watched until my eyes blurred and ached, until I couldn't freeze the amazing images out of my consciousness and they seared the background of everything I looked at, ghosting in greens and yellows behind the skaters and skiers of Olympic coverage long after the final tally was set.

That tally? Oh yes, the reason you're disappointed if you're a naysayer (Do you say nay?), is that when the smoke settled, the auction had realized $4.5 million, obliterating the previous single auction record set last year at Heritage by more than $1 million. Serious scratch if ever there was.

While I could talk about the $310,000 Jessie Willcox-Smith drawing, or any of the $100,000+ Elvgrens, or the record setting Vargas Girl ($107,000+), or any number of record-setting illustrations, I will leave that up to the intrepid collector and pop culture junkie to dig through the archives - there is a certain Zen to spending hours doing it.

No. I want to talk about the one painting in this auction that I wanted above any, and that was Rudy Nappi's "Reefer Girl." And once you stop giggling at the quaint title and look at this painting you will see why I - and many more - wanted her for our own.

Reefer Girl was estimated at $2,000-$4,000, and given that none of his paintings had ever brought more than $4950, it seemed reasonable to expect the same range - he's that sort of artist. Quite good, indeed... But Reefer Girl, oh, Reefer Girl... I guess I knew it was destined, like the best of love affairs and liaisons, to end in heartbreak. Yes, my $2,000-$4,000 girl, who I actually entertained a brief second of hope of actually getting my hands on - don't ask how laughable my only bid was, how I would have possibly paid for it and explained it to my wife had I won it, or how quickly said bid tumbled to those with more do-re-mi - soared to $26,290.

Yes, I have good taste. Expensive, too...

I'm sorry for keeping this from you for so long, but love like this cannot be trumpeted too loudly, less it be lost or stolen, and I feared one of this blog's readers would try and take her from me. As it turns out, there was nothing to lose, for my sweet Reefer Girl was never really mine...

Excuse me, please.... No, those aren't tears... It's the smoke, the smoke left from a painted girl with an orange sweater, that's gotten in my eyes...

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-Noah Fleisher

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