NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite an economic recession and recent dives in art prices, a photograph of Marilyn Monroe could sell for a record price when it is auctioned next week, Christie’s said on Friday.
The image by Bert Stern, one of the last pictures of Monroe before her death, could break the $63,000 mark set in 1994, according to the auction house.
Christie’s also hopes to set a world auction record for a Helmut Newton work, the richest of which sold for $380,725 last year.
Both are part of the Constantiner Collection, which includes the largest-ever grouping of Monroe photos to come to market, more than 100 in all.
“She is an embodiment of the idea of glamour,” said Philippe Garner, international director of photographs at Christie’s.
The collection traces Monroe’s progression from “a fresh-faced ambitious young girl who wanted to make it in Hollywood, to this more mature but in some ways troubled and confused woman who had the dilemma of trying to disentangle her identity from her audience’s expectations,” he told Reuters.
She was still a teenager named Norma Jeane Baker when she first posed for photographer Andre de Dienes, who was instrumental in launching Monroe into a modeling career and, eventually, stardom.
One of those early photo shoots resulted in a classic 1945 portrait of Monroe — still a brunette then — in front of a farm house, hay at her bare feet, smiling at someone behind the camera.
Leon and Michaela Constantiner began buying photos of glamour and style icons in the early 1990s. Their collection also includes works William Klein, Herb Ritts, Irving Penn, and scores of prints by Newton, including several life-size nudes estimated at up to $600,000.
Many of the images are already well-known. They appeared in mass market media and helped define the post-war period, Garner said. That contrasts with much contemporary photography, which is made for galleries and museums, rather than destined for magazines.
Since the turn of the millennium, digital photography has taken over from a chemical-based process, so prints available in the art market now are a part of history.
Some of the famous faces whose images are up for sale: models Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista, singers Michael Hutchence and David Bowie, as well as actors Charlotte Rampling, Al Pacino, James Dean and Katharine Hepburn. Fidel Castro and Margaret Thatcher also appear.
But Monroe dominates.
An essential image in the collection, according to the auction house, is a 1957 Richard Avedon picture of Monroe in a sequined dress, when she momentarily drops her pose, looking reflective and a little sad. The print, made in 1980, is estimated to sell for $25,000 to $35,000.
Another key image is a 1949 color nude of Monroe by Tom Kelley, later used in the inaugural issue of Playboy magazine. It shows the young model, her arm raised, reclining against a bright red backdrop, and is estimated at up to $15,000.
One iconic series of photos came from a New York publicity shoot for the movie “The Seven Year Itch.” It captured the same moments from a variety of angles as Monroe stood on a subway grate, the blast of air from a passing train supposedly causing her skirt to billow up, exposing her legs.
The truth about those shots?
“As far as I understand, there was an air hose (under that grate),” said senior specialist Stuart Alexander. “You got all the press there, you want to make sure you have a great show.”
Reporting by Nick Zieminski; editing by Patricia Reaney