Playboy ‘The Year of the Rabbit’ Auction Realizes $2.9 Million

Tom Wesselmann’s “Mouth #8” (1966) is the top lot in the upcoming The Year of the Rabbit auction of more than 125 works from the corporate collection of Playboy Enterprises, to be hosted by Christies on Dec. 8, 2010.

NEW YORK – Contemporary works by Salvador Dalí and Tom Wesselmann to iconic photographs of Marilyn Monroe from the pages of Playboy magazine sold in The Year of the Rabbit auction of more than 125 works from the corporate collection of Playboy Enterprises at Christies on Dec. 8, 2010.

The collection is comprised mostly of works that were commissioned by the ground-breaking magazine. The auction was robust with photographs by the likes of Herb Ritts, Helmut Newton, Peter Beard, Sante D’Orazio and Patrick Demarchelier. Also included were watercolors by famed pin-up artist Alberto Vargas and a selection of classic cartoons. The Year of the Rabbit collection is realized a combined $2,903,438.

“Buyers from across the globe, bid in-person, by phone and online via Christie’s LIVE for works of art and fine photographs said Cathy Elkies, senior vice president and director of private and corporate collections at Christie’s.” The top lot, Tom Wesselmann’s Mouth #8 from 1966 achieved a strong result at $1.8 million, reflecting the passion of contemporary art collectors as well as Playboy followers. This auction featured something for everyone—from avid contemporary art collectors to photograph aficionados and fans of Playboy.”

Playboy magazine was founded by Hefner in 1953 in Chicago. An amateur cartoonist prior to founding Playboy, Hefner had long been interested in the arts and sought to collaborate with top artists, illustrators and photographers to create a modern, visually arresting magazine. In that vein, he tapped Chicago artist and designer Art Paul to serve as Playboy’s art director (1953-1985), where he was charged with commissioning premiere artists, illustrators and photographers to infuse the magazine with vibrancy and depth. The Playboy Art Collection includes approximately 5,000 works of commissioned art including paintings, drawings, watercolors and sculptures, most of which have appeared in the magazine.

Wesselmann’s “Mouth #8” (1966) was the top lot of the sale, bringing $1,874,500. The daring, somewhat sexually explicit scarlet-lipsticked mouth was one of Wesselmann’s iconic ’60s motifs, which propelled him into becoming an originator and leader of the Pop Art movement alongside Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Playboy commissioned the work directly from the artist for its landmark pictorial, “The Playmate as Fine Art: Eleven Famous Contemporary Artists Interpret the Provocative Gatefold Girl” (January 1967).

Playboy commissioned Salvador Dalí to paint “Playmate” in 1966. It sold for $266,500.

Playboy commissioned the renowned Salvador Dalí to paint “Playmate” (1966) and appeared in the magazine’s January 1967 “The Playmate as Fine Art” pictorial. Until recently, the work depicting a reclining nude hung in Hefner’s bedroom in the famed Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills. It was expected to bring between $100,000-$150,000 but ended up gaveling for $266,500.

The roundup of the Top-10 pieces sold (by price) includes:

• George Segal, “Pregnant Woman,” plaster, wood, fabric and canvas, 1966 ($170,500)
• Roger Brown, “Rabbit Head Logo,” oil and acrylic on wood, 1992 ($50,000)
• Roger Brown, “Used in Evidence,” oil on canvas, Painted in 1979 ($46,250)
• Lawrence Schiller and William Woodfield, “Marilyn Monroe, ‘Marilyn Monroe Remembered’, January 1964,” 32 gelatin silver prints ($25,000)
• Alberto Vargas, “He loves it…he loves it not…he loves it…,” watercolor and pencil on illustration board, 1963 ($25,000)
• Photographer Unknown, “Brigitte Bardot, cover, March 1958,” gelatin silver print ($23,750)
• Herb Ritts, “Stephanie Seymour, March 1991,” 11 gelatin silver prints ($22,500)
• Herb Ritts, “Cindy Crawford, ‘Skinsuits’, July 1988,” 5 gelatin silver prints ($21,250)

Christie’s auction of The Year of the Rabbit is a follow up to Playboy’s 50th anniversary auction in December 2003, when the company sold archival works from the collection with Christie’s New York. That sale, which included memorabilia, such as manuscripts, cartoons and photographs realized over $2.7 million. The Year of the Rabbit sale, which celebrates 57 years of provocative and cutting-edge art and photography, offers collectors a rare glimpse inside the company’s art collection and archives which includes more than 5,000 works of commissioned art and approximately 20,000,000 photographs.

For more information about this auction, visit the Christie’s Web site.

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