CHICAGO – In one drawing, a naked woman leans over a ship railing, her ample backside playfully peppered with travel stickers. In another, a busty blonde runs forward, casting off her button-down shirt with splayed arms and manicured nails.
This is the art of Playboy magazine, and for the second time in five years, it's being made available to the public at a major auction.
The 17 pieces from "Playboy: The Art of Beauty" will be auctioned on Oct. 15 at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, but bids are already being taken online at www.ha.com/Playboy.
Christie Hefner, Playboy's chairman and chief executive, said she and company art curator Aaron Baker chose items from the magazine's archives featuring a range of artists around a central theme.
"We're focusing just on the art of beauty," Hefner said. "Playboy touches on politics and sports and travel and so many subjects. In this case, we thought we would go to the essence of Playboy, which is some of the most beautiful drawings and photographs of some of the most beautiful women."
The pieces by 11 artists include two by pinup king Alberto Vargas, a piece entitled "Yugoslav Nudist Camps" from LeRoy Neiman, two works by Patrick Nagel and a set of four comics by "Little Annie Fanny" artists Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder. They span several decades, from 1956 to 1985.
The pieces from Neiman and Vargas are expected to draw the highest bids, up to $60,000 for Vargas' busty blonde. Jared Green, vice president of Heritage Auction Galleries, said the market has been strong for both artists, and the Vargas works are the first the gallery has had available this year.
It also helps that "both Neiman and Vargas are known for their suggestive illustrations of women, and these paintings are just that," Green said.
Hefner said the timing was right for the auction, given the tough economy; the works are priced well below the six-figure mark found at other art auctions.
Pieces from Playboy's archives were last auctioned in 2003 for the magazine's 50th anniversary, and Hefner said the company doesn't like to do auctions too often because they would "stop being special."
Baker, the magazine's curator, said the focused pieces in this auction represent the company's philosophy toward sexuality.
"This is a sexuality that is upbeat, positive, healthy, liberated and allows these women to have fun," he said. "They're enjoying their lives. These are the girls next door."