Marylin Monroe's last photo shoot up for auction

A rare portfolio of photographs from Marilyn Monroe's last sitting is up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Freeman's auction house in Philadelphia estimates the limited-edition portfolio of 10 photos, made from fashion photographer Bert Stern's original negatives from his June 1962 assignment for Vogue, could fetch $10,000 to $15,000 when it goes on the block Sept. 10.

The photos will be on view to the public starting Sept. 6, said Aimee Pflieger, head of the century-old auction house's photography division.

Stern, who died in June at age 83, took more than 2,500 photos of the Hollywood icon over three days at the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. The 20-by-20-inch portfolio photos are from the first day, when Stern and Monroe were alone before the arrival of a cadre of Vogue staffers, and project a feeling of spontaneity and playfulness that stands out from the others.

"He brought a turntable and speakers and three cases of champagne," Pflieger said. "The feeling you get from the photos is they're having a great time."

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Six weeks after her session with Stern, the 36-year-old screen siren was found dead in her home Aug. 5 of an apparent drug overdose. A half-century later, she remains one of the 20th-century's most enduring sex symbols.

Stern's photos were a sensation, partly because they were taken right before Monroe's death and partly because they included the first nude photos of Monroe since 1949. Many of the nudes show the star posing with diaphanous scarves, paper flowers and pearls in bright but diffuse natural light that gives the photos a dreamlike quality.

"She was beautiful and untouched," Stern said. "It was as though she were just beginning."

Monroe is often described in the photos as projecting an aura of damage and desperation, but Pflieger disagrees.

"We project our own thoughts onto them when we look at them," she said. "To me, they're soft, beautiful, clutter-free images just filled with light ... they give you a real sense of her personality and playfulness."

Other Monroe photos are being auctioned the same day, including more from the personal collection of the portfolio owner, who the auction house said wishes to remain anonymous.

Also going on the auction block are nearly 100 photographs from the corporate collection of cosmetics giant Avon's headquarters in New York City. The photographs are all by female artists from the 1910s to the 1990s -- from the little known to the prominent Cindy Sherman and Louise Dahl-Wolfe -- and focus on themes of beauty through the eyes of women.

Part of the proceeds from Avon's auction will benefit the Avon Foundation, which advances efforts related to breast cancer research and combating domestic violence.